Monday, June 28, 2010

Experimenting

Alfie's always been the type to experiment.  I'm not talking chemistry sets or anything; it's just that from time to time he'll try some new mischief on for size and see where it gets him.  As a friend said about kids, "They're just runnin' it up the flagpole and seein' if anyone salutes."  Alfie reminds me of my days teaching elementary and junior high school.  He's like that smart kid who can get all his work done in 5 minutes, then spend the rest of the time engineering a spitwad factory or something.

Alfie in his work jacket, sitting politely in front of a bush of yellow flowers
Just testing the system!

Our latest test has had to do with his jacket.  Although Alfie loves the walks that go with the jacket, he's never been a big fan of the uniform itself.  Just lately, though, he's been utterly refusing to come get it put on before walks.  If I set it in the car to be put on at the training location, he won't get in.  Let me hasten to add, he's not AFRAID of it (I've seen puppies who are, but believe me, he's not).  His goal is to get me to chase him around with it while he dashes about laughing...well, dogs don't laugh but if he could this would be the time...thus accomplishing his twin dreams of being the center of attention and being in charge.  Not quite what I have in mind though!

Michelle and I talked recently about the situation and we implemented a few changes to the routine which have helped somewhat, such as feeding him in the jacket and taking it with us all the time when we go outside, not just before walks (keeping him guessing!) More obedience sessions and the maturing process in general have resulted in very nice home behavior overall.  But he hasn't totally given up on his anti-jacket schemes. 

So Friday, after coming in from doing his business he noticed me getting everything out for a walk...my ID badge, some dog treats, keys, etc.  Before I could even reach for the jacket he'd dashed off, tail high, with this look of "Catch me if you can!"  I wasn't even chasing him but he was clearly taunting, dodging this way and that.  I just kept getting ready, since previously ignoring these antics has brought him around.  Not this time.  I told him to get in the bus and he trotted cheerfully to the garage...only to veer off at the last minute, the rascal!  But in the garage he was easy to catch, and I just walked up calmly without a word, grabbed his collar, marched him to his crate and locked him in.  A few moments later I was driving off...yes, WITHOUT him...to the accompaniment of outraged barking.

He did not bargain on getting LEFT!

While Alfie's perfectly fine about being left home alone in his crate when there's no expectation of a walk, he KNOWS the difference between that and what had just happened.  Normally he gets left with a kong or something to chew, and maybe I'll leave the radio on.  He never gets worked up about it.  But when I get his gear ready, he's amped up and ready to go!  My hope was that since I know he wants to work and actually it's the highlight of his whole day, perhaps leaving him behind would get through to him.  As usual, this great idea came not from me but Michelle...ah, the joy of having tech support for puppies!!

The results surprised me!  I had to drop Katharine off at church, just a 5-minute drive from home, so I was back in about 10 minutes.  I decided to give him another chance.  Without any fanfare I walked up to his crate and was met with the most submissive-looking face I believe I've seen Alfie wear.  All I had to do was open the door and say the word...he was so relieved to come.  Wagging and subdued, he seemed to realize he was going to have to play by my rules if he wanted to come along at all.  A few moments later he was calmly seated in the car, leash and jacket in place.  Ah...that's better!   
Alfie, jacketed, walking briskly down a sidewalk in the late afternoon sun; the light turns his fur all reddish gold
Didn't see that coming!

After putting me through all that, it's only fair to add that Alfie went on to do one of his best walks ever for me!  He truly enjoys his work and it's so fun to watch him thinking through little obstacles and "problems".  Admittedly, I've got perfectionist leanings and a strong tendency to "tell" him what to do so he "gets it right." Lately, though,  I've been trying to dial that back (again, thanks to Michelle!) and let him figure things out on his own -- making his own decisions and learning from them.  If he messes up, no big deal, we just go back and rework it.  He doesn't mess up the same thing twice in a row, I've noticed that! 

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cozy

Alfie loves to curl up in little cozy spots.  While I'm sitting in this old green chair, he loves to squeeze himself right underneath...

Alfie's lying on his side under an upholstered chair, head and front paws sticking out, a half-asleep look on his face

...but under the bed is also nice.  He always leaves something sticking out though, like a paw...
a bit of Alfie's furry brown rear paw, and a smidgen of tail, are showing from under the bedskirt

...or his nose.
this time his face is sticking out from under the bed; his chin is resting on the floor and he's looking curiously to one side

But when I sit down on my bed with a book he somehow knows I'll be there a long time.  Then he puts himself to bed...
Alfie's curled up contentedly asleep in his wire crate; a red kong is holding the door ajar

...sweet dreams!

Where does your dog like to snooze?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Halfway?

Well, it was just about 7 months ago, on the day after Thanksgiving 2009, that this little character entered our lives...and has been keeping us busy ever since!
Alfie at 8 weeks old, a roly poly brown puppy sitting on some gravel and looking much too small for his collar and leash
Remember what a cute puppy I was?

Since then, Alfie's grown into that leash and collar a bit...

Alfie today, almost 9 months old, sitting on a bridge in his work gear looking much more grown up
Look how much bigger I am!

...and, we hope, he's also growing into the role he'll eventually fill as a guide.

Alfie and I are stepping up a curb; he's getting a treat while he waits for me; the sun's going down, turning the edges of his fur golden
Need help crossing the street? 

Now, add 7 more months, and we'll be looking at January 2011...and guess who's scheduled to head in for his assessment?

 Alfie on the bridge again, red handrails behind him; he's laying flat with his chin on the ground and eyes rolling up, giving him a doubtful expression
Ummm...who?

If all goes as planned, Alfie will join a group of 5 others (including buddies Petey, Bob, and Celia) somewhere around the beginning of 2011.  They will be evaluated in many areas, both to make sure they're ready for Advanced Training and to give GDTx the information they will need to make appropriate client/dog matches.  After the assessment, the dogs will either go directly to Advanced Training, return to their raisers for a few months until an opening is available, or possibly even wait until the next assessment in certain situations.  Of course, though I don't even want to think about it, there's also the possibility that puppies could be released from the program if it's determined that their temperament or health is not ultimately suited for guide work.  However, I anticipate good things from all the puppies I know!!!

So we're somewhere around halfway!  The second half, in my mind, is actually the most fun.  Of course there are always challenges and I know enough to expect the unexpected.  But basically, by now you've got a nice, social, well-behaved dog who's house trained and reliable anywhere you might like to take him.  For the time that remains, you get to polish his skills, smooth down rough areas...and enjoy him.  Time flies way too fast!

closeup of Alfie's smiling face
Lovin' life as a guide dog in training!

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's That?

Alfie in his blue work jacket, tail wagging, walking along with me on the sidewalk near a busy intersection

Today we got to walk past something potentially scary...this odd whirly thingy out in front of a car wash.  Well, yes, I know "thingy" is not technically a word, but what would you call it?  Its movement has always gotten my attention as I drive by -- I guess that's what it's designed to do! -- and I've been meaning to work Alfie past it.  I had some slight reservations about this because, to be honest, that thing freaks me out a bit...it's wacky!

His reaction was, to say the least, anticlimactic!  Alfie sat and looked it over (his usual response to new stuff), then walked past as calm as you please.  The light changed, cars whizzed past, and he put his ears back a bit as if he understood that traffic is what you really have to watch out for, not silly whirly things!
Alfie sits next to me, watching the THINGY, it's basically a car wash arm with the blue fabric strips on it, motorized and set up vertically on a base so that it twirls erratically

Alfie and I walk past the THINGY as cars pass us on his side

He actually found these balloons quite distracting as they tossed in the breeze.  I think he would've enjoyed sitting and watching them as long as I let him, silly boy!

Alfie's sitting, absorbed in watching a bunch of colorful balloons; I'm bending over trying to get his attention

Then it was on to a store to pick up a few grocery items.  I confess, I am a label reader.  All 3 puppies I've raised so far have eventually figured that out.  They learn that as soon as I start reading a label they may as well settle in and get comfy...it'll be a while!

Alfie's lying spreadeagled on a concrete floor in front of a shelf of coffee and tea
Mmm, good thing the floor's nice and cool!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wow

Here's your laugh for the day.  Alfie and I are leaving a store where we've been working and as we walk through the parking lot toward our car, another car door opens.  A man's voice booms out with such excitement you'd think he'd won the lottery or something:  "WOW!!!!!  A BROWN  service dog!!!"

That just struck me funny...out of all the things that are unusual about Alfie, I never thought his COLOR was really one of them, or at least not at the top of the list! 
closeup of Alfie's face inside a store
Yep, I'm brown all right!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Bed?

Alfie seems to like my suitcase, which I haven't quite gotten around to putting in the attic yet.  I probably should do so before he starts thinking it's his new bed!
Alfie's looking up with a smile from where he's curled up inside my old green suitcase.
I'm a convenient travel size...just take me with you next time!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Strike Is Over

Who knows why Alfie quit "finding" things while on swap...or what, if anything, he was trying to accomplish by it.  I do know that he's clever and not above manipulating circumstances to his advantage, so wonder if that may have played into it somehow.  I'd give a lot to be able to understand what goes on inside that little furry head...

Alfie's face looking cute with his wavy chocolate fur and mouth open panting
Don't you wish you knew!

...but the main thing is, he's back!!  On our very first post-swap walk together, Alfie was happy to work and we started off with the basics.  Curb work, straight line, sit, down/stay were all great, as was his attention.  If anything, those areas were better than ever.  He seemed more grown-up, less distracted than I remembered from before. 

Alfie & I walking down an aisle in a store; I'm looking down at him and his face is tilted up looking at me
"Watch me!"

With all that going well, I decided it was time for the big test and asked him to find a trash can.  Immediately his head went up, sniffing and scanning, tail went up wagging, and he trotted off quite eagerly...but my heart sank as he led me PAST not 1, not 2, but 4 trash cans...and finally stopped in the customer service area (which had a seat, trash can, and a counter...all things he used to find...)and just looked at me with a puzzled expression.  Oh dear!  Well, at least he was trying, I told myself (which is apparently more than he did before!)  With trial and error, he finally figured it out.  This procedure replayed three more times as we v-e-r-y slowly found a couple more trash cans and a seat.  Then, all of a sudden, it was as if something clicked.  Alfie's old confidence came back and the rest of the afternoon he found everything on the first try as he'd done before.  

I'm bending down outside the door of the ladies' room giving Alfie a treat as he sits parallel to the door facing me
Alfie gets a treat for "finding the girls" (ladies' room).  He's sitting incorrectly - he shouldn't be at right angles with me like this - but I was so happy he found it I sorta forgot about correcting him, oops!
 
Today's walk was similar.  When I asked him to find a trash can he sort of walked up near one but then circled around noncommittally, unsure of himself.  Inside the store I asked for a seat and he led me past several before finally indicating one.  But the rest of the afternoon went almost perfectly.  One time in a shoe store he "found" me a seat stacked high with shoe boxes -- so he technically found the right thing, but I couldn't sit there because I didn't want to sit on top of a customer's shoes!  The command for that situation is "sort it out"-- which basically means, "good job, you did it, but there's a better answer."  He did "sort it out" perfectly, leading me to the very next seat and impressing the shopper whose shoes it was!  Hooray for victories!  He was especially happy to do all the bathroom finds, leading me confidently and quickly to each one.  When he "found the sink" for me, there was a little girl there washing her hands with her mom's help and she said, "Oh look, Mom, that dog knows where the sink is!" Alfie knows when he's doing well and looked up at me all pleased with himself.  Funny boy!


You can see the back of Alfie's head & shoulders as he lies down; ahead of him is a mirror which reflects his head and my feet
Alfie in a down/stay at the mirrored seat in the shoe store.

Michelle asked me to make a note of all this on his weekly report, as it will be important for his trainer to have on record when he eventually leaves us for advanced work.  We may also try to arrange a couple of short swaps in the interim to see if the "on strike" behavior crops up again and if so, what's at the root of it.  For right now, I'm just happy to see that he's back working happily and doing a great job of it.  One day at a time!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Good News, Bad News

So I get this phone call from Michelle yesterday..."Hi Beth, I've got good news and bad news for you -- which do you want first?"  Well, I don't know about you, but I'm a "good news" kind of person so I asked for that!  "The good news is...you can get your dog back today!  The bad news is...he's been playing with Jethro at my house and the back of the property has burs...so he's covered in burs...and I don't have time to clean him up for you.  I'm REALLY SORRY."   

She wasn't kidding, was she?

I have literally never seen so many burs on one animal in my life.  I could hardly recognize Mr. Alf at first!  But oh, was he happy to be home...and he most definitely recognized me!

All four of us took turns combing and de-burring, off and on, through the evening.  Although Alfie doesn't shed, sometimes bits of fur come off in the comb, especially when they're stuck with these little clumps of 20-30 burs!  So by the end of the evening this is what we had...


...and I estimate we're only about half done!  I'm pretty sure Michelle owes me something after this...not quite sure what but I'll think of something, haha!  But really I'm just happy to have Alfie back, burs or no.  Apparently his swap family turned him in to Michelle all beautifully groomed, and really I don't think he's very hard to keep nice under normal circumstances.  But one definite downside to doodles is that their super soft, nonshedding fur is the world's greatest bur magnet.  Am I ever glad I clipped him extra short beforehand!

In other news, meanwhile, I'm very curious to take Alfie on a walk again.  Why?  Well, as usual after a swap, I was eager to hear how he did for his new handler and family.  Not surprisingly, they had their ups and downs as we all do.  In general, though, it sounded like by the end things were going fairly smoothly around the house and on walks.  Apparently Alfie did well on keeping a nice straight line, and it sounded like his "curb work" (sitting at down curbs and indicating up curbs) went fine also.  What didn't go fine was his "finds."  Apparently Alfie refused to find a single thing for his new handler!  Not one seat, trash can, door...not a button...not a single solitary elevator or bathroom...nothing!!  Now, since in the past this has been just about his favorite thing to do, I'm puzzled.  When he went to stay with Natalie he was pretty little, but even then I remember she did finds with him.  When he boarded at the Travis County Jail I never heard about it being a problem.  I know his swap handler, who is a very experienced puppy raiser, so I'm pretty sure it's not HIS fault either!  But for whatever reason, Alfie decided not to do it.  From what I understand, it didn't sound like Alfie was even trying...I don't think he was "finding" the wrong thing, more like he just ignored the command.

So it remains to be seen...will he agree to work for me now he's back home?  Or has he decided that finding things just isn't in his job description?!  Wish me luck and stay tuned!

But for now...I'm just going to enjoy having my dood back.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Friday!

That's when Alfie comes back! Life has been fun and busy with my brother's family visiting last week (cool!!), and Petey leaving us to return to his raiser. Looking forward to seeing "my" puppy soon...