No big news today, no access-related drama. Just a good day working with a good puppy...nice for a change.
As we walked today I was thinking of how so many extraordinary things are achieved through small, daily effort. My wonderful Grandma crocheted each of her granddaughters an heirloom-quality tablecloth or bedspread as a wedding present. The tablecloth Grandma made me is among my most treasured possessions. But I cherish almost equally the little piece of paper in her handwriting that she gave me along with it: a log of how many stitches...and how many hours...went into her labor of love. I was thinking today that these ordinary little walks with Alfie are like that...each one a little "stitch" helping to build the valuable gift I hope he'll become. It all adds up!
It's been a long time since a business has tried to deny us access. Today, to make up for it, we were challenged twice in one day...at the same place!
We were at the post office getting ready to mail a package and as we waited in line, a postal employee came out and announced loudly: "Miss, you'll have to take your dog outside." I politely pointed out that he was a guide dog in training, and the guy just sort of went back to wherever he came from, not bothering to reply. I went on with my business and the folks at the counter were courteous as usual...after all, Alfie was in his work uniform and I've been taking various pups in training to the post office for a long time now!
As it turned out, we had to go back again later on in the afternoon. This time a different man told me firmly that dogs were not allowed inside. Again keeping my tone polite and cheerful as possible (despite the knot in my stomach -- I hate confrontation!), I pointed out that he was a guide dog in training. The postal employee replied, "Well, are you blind?" I responded that no, I wasn't blind, but I was his trainer and then offered to show him my ID badge and a copy of the Texas state law which grants access to service dogs in training (it's actually printed on the reverse of my badge and boy, was I happy I had it!) Again, he just sort of grunted and went on with his business, never answering me. Sigh!! I was allowed to stay, but I admit it gave me an unpleasant feeling.
As I waited, though, a nice gentleman in front of me in line turned around and gave me an explanation for what was happening. He said that he'd been in the post office last week when a man brought in a dog and claimed it to be his service dog. Some kind of incident ensued, and the customer said the dog's handler wound up angry and cursing everyone, making a huge scene. It probably didn't help that the dog in question was a large pit bull...I really wasn't sure if the dog was behaving badly, or just his master! At any rate, it has my local post office turned against me. Rats!
That really made me sad, and illustrates how the poor behavior of one dog and/or its handler can have such a negative effect on those of us who have a legitimate reason for bringing a well-behaved service dog (working or training!) into a public area. It's such an important part of a puppy's training to get used to all kinds of surroundings and all kinds of people, and this is something you can only do (in my opinion, and the opinion of our school) by working the dog in public environments. At the same time, it's a huge responsibility not only to train the dog, but to make sure it is well-behaved and not an annoyance to people in public...a responsibility I take seriously!
How did Alfie take all this? He behaved perfectly, following every command. But I could tell he felt my tension. He scarcely took his eyes off me. After all that, we ended the day on an "up" note with a trip to the library, which is like visiting the Alfie Fan Club. Hooray for friendly faces!
One of my responsibilities (aside from dog training!) is cleaning our church every weekend. Alfie usually tags along, keeping me company while I work. He doesn't wear his jacket, and he's not officially "working." Yet this is a common sight:
This should score me a kibble!
Yep. He's indicating that "step-up," and definitely hoping for at least a "good boy" for his efforts! He'll sit at the down steps too, if I'm anywhere near close enough to notice. I think he's pretty proud of himself. Makes me laugh every time!
Strange things have been happening to us on our walks lately. Yesterday I was at Hobby Lobby and as I got my card out to pay I put Alphini into a down/stay and dropped the leash, pretty confident he'd just take a snooze til I was done. As I waited for my receipt, a lady walked by, distractedly talking on her cell...with a flexilead attached to a little dog who was, shall we say, "flexiwalking" about 6-10 feet from her (yes, inside the store)!! Alfie saw this too, and was at least as surprised as I was. He picked up his head, looked at them, then looked at me, with "??" written all over his face! What a good boy, he never got up or anything despite it all.
Then today, we were off to pick up some items at Target and as we headed toward the counter to pay, 2 kids somewhere in the 5-7 age bracket careened around the corner, racing full tilt toward us. The little boy wasn't even looking up, but down at a toy in his hands...before I had time to think "where's your mother" we'd collided, while his sister screamed at the sight of Alfie and dashed to the other side! Now that was a real test, even for a well-trained dog, let me tell you! But this is where not only training, but also Alfie's good temperament, came to the rescue: his typical response to the odd, unexpected, or even frightening things that pop up on walks is a great one -- he stands still and just sort of watches, taking it in and I suppose, trying to figure it out! That's just how he's always been, and I love it. Pretty soon Mom and Grandma had shown up with effusive apologies...phew!
After that came an episode I'd rather not go into, but suffice it to say I found it odd to encounter what seemed to be an entire bag of Doritos spilled on the floor of the bathroom stall at the library! Hmmm...talk about a training challenge...
Then at the store this afternoon I had a rather unusual exchange with my checker, who wondered (in a sincerely concerned voice) why I talked to my daughter as if she were a dog (you know, giving little commands, kissy noises, etc.)...only to find that, really, I was talking to my dog...oh dear! It's been quite a day.
The good news is that with all the strangeness going on, Alfie's been a real trooper. Larry from GDTx came to visit and do a short walk with us and was very pleased with his progress...hooray!
...We're talking about Alfie's respect for Katharine, which needed a little shoring up. He's always tested her more than the rest of the family, possibly because she's the youngest and he thinks he might just get away with it! We started off earlier by putting her in charge of his meals (including the obedience routine he does before each meal). This helped him tune in to her, but I could tell more work would be good. So Michelle decided to have us meet her at the mall for a training walk...only this time, Katharine would be walking Mr. Alphini! As Katharine put it, "I feel like an underage driver!"
Although Katharine's pretty familiar with the whole puppy-walking drill, it's different to be the one actually holding the leash. Michelle gave her a few helpful tips and they were off. I mainly bit my tongue (the urge to shout out random things to your puppy like, "No, leave it, in, steady, watch me!" are surprisingly deeply ingrained)...and avoided making eye contact with him. Katharine needed to be in charge, and Alfie needed to get his information from her. At first he kept glancing over his shoulder at me, like, "Hellooo back there, help me, is this OKAY?!" ...but with Michelle's coaching, Katharine coaxed his attention back to her. They did surprisingly well!
Hmm, think she'll let me cruise over and check out the food court?
And below, 5 seconds of gripping action footage! Grab your popcorn!
You could tell they were both tense, not in an antagonistic way, but just because they were unused to communicating on this level. We walked and walked...at one point, to give them a break, I took over the leash and they both got a little breather. There was a train in the mall -- first time we'd seen that!
Alfie: Are trains allowed in here?
Train guy: Are dogs allowed in here?
Katharine worked Alfie some more...taking a break and putting him in a down every so often. It was very cool for me to see Alfie do so well with her...following her commands, "checking in" with her, and wagging that tail like crazy when she praised him.
Aaahh, a well-earned break.
At the end of one full tour around the mall, Alfie was more exhausted than if he'd walked several miles with me. Such a good mental workout for him! Katharine is committed to ongoing obedience mini-sessions with him outside the home, which should help keep him tuned in to her. Relationships are always better the more you work on them, don't you think?
Some of you readers may remember Alfie's affinity for otters. From certain angles, I even think Alfie looks a bit otter-ish himself. Something about the round whiskery snout...what do you think?
...So anyway, the kids were watching Nature on PBS Sunday night, featuring among other things, otters. Alfie slept through the early part of the show and the various noises the otters made. But when one of the otter pups got separated from its mother and siblings, Alfie snapped to attention. Something about its cries must've been like a universal animal SOS. Alfie looked up, looked at the TV, then trotted nervously to the back door and the front window, in full alert mode! He didn't quit this anxious patrol until (thank goodness) pup and family were reunited. The funny part was that none of us humans could really tell a difference between otter noises that meant "help" and their normal play talk. But to Alfie the difference was so pronounced it woke him up! Aren't animals interesting?
Yes! We just got Alfie back, and his eyes, elbows and hips are ALL CLEAR. Excellent news!!
From what I hear, he enjoyed his time staying with the Pawsitive Approach unit and they gave him very positive reviews...not even any jacket issues...more good news. He also enjoyed spending a little time with Michelle's dogs at her home. (No burs this time!)
Most of all, it's the eyes...the way that whenever I look down his eyes lock on with this excited "What's next?" look, making me chuckle every time! Alfie's zest for life is quite contagious! Yes, I have enjoyed a little break -- I needed it. But as Amanda said in her comment, the left hand feels empty somehow without that leash.
And Alfie? Haven't heard anything since Friday, when he was so busy playing with Jethro I don't think he could possibly have missed me! I love how dogs live in the moment. But since I'm not a dog, I do miss him...and look forward to Thursday!
Feels like he's barely settled back in and now Alfie's off again...
What was that? Off where?
This time, it's just for routine tests. All future guides must pass eye exams and x-rays. The way the scheduling worked out, today was the best day for Michelle to pick him up for his appointments in San Antonio next week. Due to the holiday, though, those appointments are pushed back to Tuesday and Wednesday...so, we won't see him again 'til next Thursday. All the same, it sure beats the alternative, which would be me driving him clear down to San Antonio for 2 early morning vet visits...bleah! Thanks, Michelle, for taking him!!
While he's gone, he'll be staying at the Dominguez Pawsitive Approach unit, along with their dogs (Petey, for one!) It'll be a good experience for him I'm sure. Have fun, be good, and get all A's on your tests, Alfie! In the meantime, I get a little break from puppyraising...time to relax!