Monday, August 30, 2010

Nothing Escapes Them

Our dogs are so tuned in to us, it seems...sometimes I think Alfie almost knows more about me than I do about him!  Any of you ever get this feeling from your dog?

Alfie in his blue jacket & me in my blue puppyraiser shirt to match; we're in a pet store, standing in front of a bunch of dog beds...and yes, I was really in there to get him a bone!
Yes, I can read your mind:  "Going to buy the dog a bone!" 

This seems to be true of everyone in our family. He always seems to know where we're going to go and what we're going to do.  Today Charissa wanted to practice whistle recall with him (he needs to have solid recall with both the Come command and the whistle).  Now, mind you, she didn't tell him this, though it goes without saying that he was watching her.  She went to get his whistle off the rack and it wasn't there.  So she asked me where it was, and I told her to look in my car.  Off she goes into the garage, rummaging around unsuccessfully...when Alfie pops in behind her, bumps her with his nose til she finally looks at him....and after getting her attention he noses the seatback, where my lanyard (whistle attached) was sort of squeezed in the crack under the headrest.  I REALLY hope his future owner can put this personality of his to good use! Dogs are so fun!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Charissa was practicing Alfie on his recall today...her pictures were so funny, I had to share!

Alfie's a brown furry blur as he bounds toward you, ears flying, tail out to one side, front paws in the air

This one's goofy because as Alfie races toward the camera, his left ear is flying out but his right ear is flying straight up like a bunny rabbit

In this one, three paws are off the ground, just one hind foot touching, and as he dashes up both ears are blowing straight back

closeup of Alfie's nose and open panting mouth as he sits looking up
C'mon, there's a treat for that...right?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

There's A Treat For That

Ever seen those commercials selling apps?  That's what comes to my mind whenever Alfie does something really good.  He just looks at me with this proud, expectant expression:  "Hey -- there's a treat for that!" 

He doesn't get a treat every time.  He'll almost jump over the moon just for "Good dog!" in that happy "high voice."  But every so often, and when he's done something especially good, I'll give him a dog treat.  We had a couple of those moments today.  One's pictured below...Charissa spotted the animal crackers on the store floor so we set him up to practice "leave it."  I gave him the command pre-emptively and he did great.

Alfie's in a store aisle, stepping around a few animal crackers scattered on the tile floor, looking at them as he walks past
I'm leaving it...leaving it...leaving it...

Yay!  There was a treat for that.

I guess I lowered my guard after that, because at the end of the aisle we unexpectedly met up with more animal crackers...he scarfed one...aaack!  DEFINITELY no treat.  Bad dog!  Bad raiser for not noticing it before he did!  So it was go back and rework so he'd get it right.  Sigh.

A few minutes later he was standing at my side, I was distracted doing some price shopping, and he got "surprise-attacked" from behind by a little 2nd or 3rd-grade kid.  Alfie flicked his ear to acknowledge the hit-and-run petting on his rump...all the time keeping his position, eyes locked on me as if to make sure I noticed his self-control.  Wow, it actually surprised me that he didn't try to lick the boy's face!  You're right, Alfie, there's a treat for that!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where's My Dinner?

Thankfully, Alfie's feeling better and everything seems back to normal.  He made it (and WE, amazingly, made it too!) through 24 hours of food deprivation -- but not before telling me exactly what he thought of my neglect!  Poor dog...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tummy Trouble...and, New Favorite Place

closeup of Alfie's snout on a green rug; all you can see is brown whiskers and big brown nose

Tuesday night Mr. Alf actually had an accident indoors -- a sure sign something's wrong in the tummy department, as his housetraining has always been great.  He tried to wake me up, poor guy, but I just couldn't quite get him out in time.   Wednesday I thought he was better but then Thursday I could tell things still weren't normal so I called Larry (puppy supervisor).  He confirmed what I'd guessed -- time for our first line of defense, withholding food for a short time to let Alf's system rest and work out whatever's bugging him. 

Let me just say:  Alfie's NOT going to like this!  Although"output" isn't normal, he's quite as bouncy and happy as ever, and his appetite hasn't suffered.  With our first puppy, Willie, we had to do this any number of times and he just moped around resignedly until it was over.  Dakota, our 2nd puppy, was a bit of a poor eater and the time or two we had to withhold food he actually seemed relieved:  "Oh thank goodness, they aren't going to make me eat that stuff tonight!"  But Alfie is another personality entirely and there's no telling what he'll try when he thinks we've forgotten his dinner.  So wish us luck! 

On another this an odd place to sleep or what?

looking down, you can see the edge of the toilet next to the tub; Alfie's lying on his side jammed in the space between them, nose and front paws sticking out

His coat kind of blends in with the dark floor, especially when he's sound asleep and not's ever so slightly creepy to think you're alone in the bathroom and then notice this...

the shower curtain is bunched up next to the toilet and hides all of Alfie except for a tiny bit of snout resting on the green bath mat; his fur is dark brown, the same color as the floor

...or worse, not notice until a tongue licks your foot...yowza!  He seems to think that teeny little space between tub and toilet was designed just for him!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Downtown Again

Sorry, no action shots today, so here's a random cute Alfie picture for you!

Alphini and I spent the morning working in downtown Austin today. It's neat to see him starting to grow up a bit, acting responsibly, and doing much of his curb work without needing constant reminders.  There was a lot of construction going on downtown today...the stench of hot tar combined with deafening machinery for a nasty sensory overload.  I don't think he liked it, but he was calm, and actually seemed curious about what the workers were doing.  We practiced a bunch of finds and got to work on "overs" and "ins" as we negotiated signs propped up in the middle of the sidewalk.  His crowd work was pretty good today, and he didn't do anything really wrong although we had an embarrassing moment when he sat on a candy wrapper and it stuck to his rear end!  I had to help him get it off, poor guy.  As we worked back to my car we approached a coffee shop where we've stopped before.  I told him to find a seat, thinking he'd get me the bench on the sidewalk.  Instead he wanted to take me to a seat inside the coffee shop!  Maybe he thought the air conditioning in there would be nice, I don't know.  Of course I made him go back and take me to the nearest seat instead (like he's supposed to).  He's still a bit too assertive about thinking he gets an equal vote in where we go! 

But though I tend to focus on all the little areas that could use improvement, I'm actually starting to see that my little pup is growing into a nice dog.  Of course that strikes me the most when we're out around other (pet) dogs, like the other day at the dog park.  Alfie was playing and socializing, when some of the dogs started to chase a squirrel.  He's never been allowed to chase anything, so I don't think he quite understood what the excitement was about, but all the same I called him to me and he came right over.  I praised him, and off he went again.  Then later he picked something up in his mouth and I asked him to drop it, which he did immediately.  A lady who was watching nearby just gave me this amazed look and said, "Wow, my dog would NEVER do that!"  The dog park is the only place I seem able to go "anonymously" so I didn't let on about Alf's secret identity as a guide dog and the countless hours of work I've put into making sure he will do just that!  I also have a healthy awareness that we're far from perfect...sigh...but wow, it's nice when you can see some of that effort start to pay off!

Friday, August 13, 2010


Different schools may have different policies when it comes to escalators, I'm not sure.  At GDTx, puppy raisers don't take dogs on moving escalators.  Alfie used to try to go on them when he was little, and I had to stop him!

Alfie at 9 weeks old is just a dark bundle of fluff in a blue jacket, straining with tail wagging toward the escalator; you can see my hand on the leash holding him back
Looks fun, let's go!

  Still, there are times when the escalators are stopped and you can use them like stairs.  We were at the mall with puppy raising supervisor Larry last week and the escalators were stopped, so he had us work them.  Here's what Alfie thought at first:

Alfie & I at the bottom of the stationary escalator; I'm looking down at him and he's hanging back cautiously, just barely peeking around my leg at it that I'm older and wiser...that thing looks dangerous!

Charissa was with us, so we had her walk up the escalator first, followed by Larry.  When Alfie saw they were getting on okay, he was willing to try.  His face looked tense and his tail was down, but he gave it a brave effort despite the odd footing.  All the praise and attention he got for it must have made it worthwhile though, because the second time around he went on with much less reluctance.  By the third time, his head and tail were high again and he seemed quite pleased with himself.  He's a showoff and shameless attention seeker -- when he learns new stuff he seems proud and wants you to make a fuss.  That can be good or bad, depending on the situation...on this day, I just thought it was funny!

at the top of the escalator, looking down, you see Alfie and me climbing up; although his attention is focused on the steps his tail is high and wagging
Here's how it's done, folks!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's Wrong With This Line?

We're at the grocery store.  I've gotten the three things on my list and am ready to go so I ask Alphini:  "Find the counter."  This he does, and he's all wagging and proud of himself for getting us right up to the edge of the counter -- his objective.  There's only one shopper ahead of us in this line!  The only's a mom with two kids and approximately half the store in her cart.  Hmmm.  I wonder ruefully if GDTx has tips for teaching the concept:  Express Lane ?  Just a thought!

Alfie's lying on the concrete floor, looking up, in front of a magazine rack near the checkout
Picky, picky!  I say, more time to relax!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day at the Museum

Over the weekend we enjoyed a delightful time with family...Tim's cousin Kristin and her husband Greg happened to be visiting on business all the way from Manhattan!  Fortunately their schedule permitted some time with us, so we decided to stop by the Texas State History Museum -- an Austin icon and, just as important, a place where you can walk around and visit in air conditioned comfort.  In this 100+ degree summer heat that's a must!  Naturally, I hoped Alfie would be on his best behavior...maybe even show off a little of the great work he's been doing lately.  But it was not to be!

closeup of Alfie's blue jacket with a green sticker on it that says:  The Story of Texas/Texas State History Museum
Alfie got his own admission sticker -- how cool is that?

You see, the evening before, Kristin and Greg had come by our house for dessert and gotten acquainted with Alphini.  Naturally he loved them both, but for some reason he went kinda nuts over Greg.  He adored Greg!  The feeling was mutual, and they were best buds for the evening.  Then when the next day came along and we met them at the museum, Alfie lost all focus.  He didn't actually do anything outright bad, like bark or jump or lick...he still obeyed (most) commands (eventually)...but his concentration was completely shot.  He panted excitedly and pulled like crazy...and Alfie NEVER pulls!  As we worked our way through the exhibits, I was kept constantly advised of Greg's location by which way Alfie's nose was pointing.  Alfie may think he's a big dog, but I was reminded that 10 months is still very much adolescent territory! 

Looking up a large curving staircase, you can see me standing at the top; Alfie's dark fur is hard to see as he sits next to the railing.
Can you spot Alfie?

Closeup of us from the last picture; you can see Alfie sitting very tall at my side.
A nice "sit."  One of the few things he was doing well.

Still, he didn't cause any major disruptions and all in all I think it was an extremely valuable experience for him.  Greg did a great job of ignoring Alfie, which was just what he needed!  I did have an interesting moment when one of the docents approached me and kindly warned me to be very careful, as the footing throughout the exhibits was uneven (it was uneven, with many different surfaces, and even artifacts embedded in the floor!)  It wasn't until she walked off that I realized what had happened and asked Kristin, "Oh -- did she think I was blind?"  It's always an odd feeling when that happens...

I was pleasantly surprised at Alfie's behavior in the theater.  They've got a little 20-minute Texas history show complete with all sorts of special effects:  billowing smoke for the war scenes, thunder that shakes the seats and strobe lightning effects throughout the seating area, talking figures, seats that "pop" (to simulate a rattlesnake strike -- yikes!)...not to mention water misters that spray all over the audience as Galveston gets ripped apart by a hurricane.  Alfie was fascinated by it all.  He sat erect at my side watching and sniffing with intense interest but no real signs of alarm.  I guess he figured that as long as we were enjoying it, he might as well enjoy it too!

We rounded out the day with a trip to Amy's ice cream...ahhh.  By this time, Alf was too pooped to do anything but lie on the cool floor and pant.  He even ignored dropped spoons and bare toes walking past...good dog!

Top view of Alfie lying under a red chair, chin on the floor

His reward?  Taking off the jacket for a last goodbye hug from Kristin and Greg.  Thanks for all the fun, guys!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Big Dog?

closeup of Alfie's furry brown head and chest as he sits panting in front of an open door
I think I like the sound of that:  "Big Dog."

I always think of Alfie as somewhat on the small side.  He's smart and strong and big enough to do his job just fine.  Still, at 36 pounds soaking wet, Alfie's much smaller than the 50-70 pound labs and shepherds at GDTx.  But today, I stand corrected!

We were rounding a corner at a thrift store when a little girl squealed:  "Oh Mom, look at the little dog!"  "Oh no," her mother corrected, "That's a BIG DOG."

I went on with my shopping and didn't think much of it until our next stop, the grocery store.  As we worked our way through the frozen section, a little boy behind us excitedly pointed us out to his mom:  "Wow, look, a puppy!" Her answer?  "Oh no, that's not a PUPPY.  He's a BIG DOG, look at him working!"  (This was also significant for the fact that she called him a boy...I've learned that to most people, poodle mixes are all "girls"! ) 

Made me chuckle...  Hopefully, if people call Alphini a "BIG DOG" it means he's not acting quite as much like a puppy, right?

Alfie's in his work gear, sitting and smiling up at Katharine, who is doing some obedience work with him on the sidewalk.
Even big dogs have to practice obedience, though!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Back to the Post Office

Alfie in his blue jacket, lying on stone pavement in front of a white fence
Who's afraid of the Post Office?

Well, after my last two trips to the post office , I was rather dreading having to return.  But today I needed to pick up a parcel and ship something, so there was nothing for it but to take a deep breath and face my fears.  After all, I hadn't done anything wrong!

We started off at an office supply store to purchase a box, which gave me a chance to practice some obedience, finds, and straight-line work with Alfie.  He did a good job of listening and working through the store, even in fairly crowded conditions.  We've been working on his distraction around children, and today he did well -- interested in them, but still able to focus.  I paid for the box and we worked our way back out to the car, where I realized that I was short on tape as well.  Rats!  Oh well, all the more practice for Alfie. 

Back we go to the store, find the door, right, left, right again, guide around the display in the middle of the aisle, GOOD BOY!  OK, down/stay while I look for tape and answer questions from a clerk...nice job Alf!  Up-sit, let's go, find the counter, steady, watch me, GOOD boy for not licking that little kid right in front of you, sit, down, wait while I pay.  Time to go now, but first answer more questions from the nice lady behind us, then find the door, and out we go to the curb.  GOOD BOY for that automatic sit at the curb, let's go!  GOOD dog for indicating the step up, LEAVE that grackle alone, find the "bus" (my car), good dog for sitting, get in the bus, treats for the good dog.  I think Alfie was hoping I'd forget something else so we could do it all a third time, but thankfully that wasn't necessary.

With that nice warmup, we headed to the Post Office.  Leash in my left hand and giant box in my right, I walked in and joined the line. It was very busy, with clerks at each of the four stations.  As I entered, four heads snapped up...turned in my direction...and just as I cringed for the worst they all went back to work without a peep.  One of the clerks even smiled at me!  I could scarcely believe it. They were not only polite, but downright friendly...such a pleasant surprise.  It made me wonder if they had received some kind of memo about ADA law since my previous visit!  The clerk who helped me got to chatting about Alfie, and I mentioned being questioned about him before.  He said he could tell he was a service dog with his jacket, and was very welcome, but did remark that they've "had some problems lately with people bringing in their pets."   All in all, things ended on a very good note.

All's well that ends well.