Monday, March 28, 2011

Surprise!

Here we are in late March, officially spring, with daffodils, redbuds, and tulip trees in breathtaking bloom...and what should greet us when we walk out this morning but fresh snow!

Alfie's sitting on a blanket of snow on the back porch; his brown whiskers are dotted with bits of white snow; in the background, snow on the green grass makes an interesting contrast

As you can see by Alfie's whiskers, his initial response was classic dog:  How fast can I eat it all? 

I'm happy to say it's already melting...no snow visible on the grass anymore, and just a hint still lingers on roofs and bushes.  I'm ready for spring!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My, What Big Ears You Have...

...not literally, of course.  Alfie's ears are pretty standard-issue medium floppy dog ears.  But he sure listens well with them!  And you don't have to be talking to him, for him to listen.  He's a confirmed eavesdropper.  I've got tons of stories but I'll just share a few.

Currently, we're staying at my Mom's house while waiting for the Austin house to sell (good news:  it's under contract again, should close by mid-April.  Yeah!!)  All that to say, our living arrangements are a bit makeshift.  Charissa's bunking in Mom's office, where she's got a nice air mattress set up on the floor.  One night she was talking to Tim, Alfie resting a few feet away, seemingly asleep.  She remarked that although Alfie's really good about staying off normal furniture, she thought it was cute how he liked to curl up on her air mattress since it was on the floor...he  always puts his head on the pillow, just like a person would.  Now this may be a coincidence -- but at that, Alfie stood up, looked at her, and quietly walked down the hall to the office, nudged the door open, and curled up on her bed...head on the pillow...as if to say, What a good idea!  Let me demonstrate!  Tim just shook his head and said:  "Umm..that's creepy!" 


closeup of Alfie's furry head resting on Charissa's pillow; he's snuggled under her sleeping bag, next to a stuffed rabbit.
Ah...this is the life!  Maybe when we move I'll get my own air mattress with pillow and stuffed bunny rabbit...

Then one day I was talking to someone -- can't remember if it was Mom, or Tim maybe -- and mentioned that "Paul's coming over."  Immediately Alfie, who loves my brother Paul, jumped up, tail high and wagging, and proceeded circling expectantly at the door...my attempts to explain that I didn't know exactly when Paul was coming over fell a little flat and in fact, only resulted in getting him more excited! 

On another occasion, Alfie was being naughty and stole one of Katharine's stuffed animals.  We were doing our level best not to reward him with the attention he desired, and I told Mom, "Just don't look at him, he'll drop it when he sees we don't care."  So we were ignoring him totally, and Mom remarked to me, "Well, it's sure a good thing he never grabs books!  We have books everywhere, and if he got one of those we'd have to get it back from him."  Ohhh noooo...that was SO the wrong thing to say.  I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it with my own eyes, but Alfie just looked at her...then this mischievous gleam came into his eyes as if, Oh what a good idea!  I'd never thought of that!  He trotted to the other room...and pranced back triumphantly with, oh YES, a BOOK.  And I do believe that is the very first time he'd stolen a book! 

So, all I'm saying is, if you ever come to visit me just watch what you say.  Don't say how great it is that Alfie doesn't chew socks, or steal the remote.  One more thing: tell me exactly when you're coming, so I don't accidentally mention it to Alfie an hour ahead of time!  I promise, we'll all be much happier...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kissin' Cousins

Alfie and Lauren are on the green grass in the backyard; he's giving her a kiss and she's grinning with her arms around him


Yesterday, the girls got to have cousin Lauren over for the day -- much to Alfie's delight!  Lauren's super sweet and really enjoys dogs.  In fact, she shares an interest in dog training -- she's training her own dogs at home as part of a science project!  Charissa showed her the new commands she's been teaching Alfie, and Lauren enjoyed practicing them with him.  He did really well for her!  They spent most of the afternoon just hanging out in the spring sunshine, laughing and talking and playing with the dog.  What could be better?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Find!

If there's one thing that Alfie misses most about being a guide dog in training, I'd have to say it's the privilege of being able to go everywhere with me.  If he's along on an outing and I have to stop by a store, he doesn't understand why he has to stay in the car with one of the kids instead of coming with me!

closeup of Alfie's face; he's panting and looking up with an interested expression
At least they don't make me wear that jacket any more!

But probably his favorite aspect of the work itself was the "finds."  Happily for Alfie, he doesn't have to stop "finding" things!  I want to do further training with him on scent discrimination, but for now we play fun games that have to do with him "finding" various items -- or even people! -- around the house and backyard.  We're experimenting with hiding things in "hard" places as well as "easy" places...sometimes we'll hide a toy where Alfie actually can't reach it, so he has to "show" us where it is, and then we reward him by giving him the toy to play with.

One really great thing about the "finding" game shown in the videos below is that, as long as the kids help hide his toy, I don't have to do anything at all, except sit with my ankle propped up -- yeah!

[Video description:  First video shows me holding Alfie with my hand over his eyes so he can't peek while Charissa hides his toy.  Then he has to sniff around til he finds it behind the entertainment center nearby (it takes him about half a minute to find).  Second video shows the end of one of these games, where Alfie finds the toy stashed in the space between the fridge and the wall, behind and on top of a folded TV tray.  When he catches a whiff of it he sort of "points" to it, then grabs it.  That was a tough one -- he's pretty excited about getting it!]

video


video

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Trouble With Moles

...So, everything was going great.  I was so enjoying my daily outings with Alfie (see last post!)...walking and even jogging for miles each morning and getting into the best shape I've been in years.  Ahhh...that was Tuesday!

On Wednesday I was running around in the backyard with Alfie and Katharine, playing a new training game, when I stumbled into a mole hole -- rolling my ankle to the side with my whole weight on it.  (Note to readers:  Do not try this at home!) 

picture of Katharine's hand next to a hole made by moles; the little burrow is about the same diameter as her hand and pretty deep too
I've heard of molehills, but here the moles only seem to make little burrows...

Pop, pop -- ooohhh, that can't be good, I thought -- but surprisingly, it didn't hurt too bad.  Not one to let a little incident like that slow me down, I went through the rest of my day normally.  Up and down 3 flights of stairs at my brother's office more than once...cooking dinner...running errands...all you other moms out there will understand!

That night I went to church as usual, but unlike usual, I had a tough time concentrating because all of a sudden, all I could think was:  OW, my foot hurts!  By the time church was over, it was quite swollen and I was in such pain I had a tough time driving home.  (Husband Tim wasn't with me and Charissa's not quite old enough for her drivers' license, alas...)  To make a long story short, the doctor confirmed my suspicions on Thursday:  torn ligaments that'll take a while to heal. 

How to explain this to a certain brown dog I know?  He's been sniffing my splint, sniffing my crutches, and you can tell he's trying to understand what's going on and why I'm acting so strangely.  Poor boy, now he has to wait for his walk until the kids are done with school.  He's got far more energy than he knows what to do with...never a good thing!  Like most dogs, he tends to get into mischief when bored and frustrated.


Alfie's sitting with one of Katharine's stuffed animals at his feet, trying not to look too guilty
Who, me?

His favorite attention-getting device is to grab something he knows he shouldn't have, then parade with it in front of us in an attempt to get us to chase him (the best approach is usually just to ignore him!)  He did this so much yesterday, that today he's on leash at Charissa's feet and seems more or less resigned to being good.

Both Charissa and Katharine have been spending extra time playing and practicing obedience with him, though, and they're really doing a good job.  There's nothing quite like watching them work together, or the pure joie de vivre of them playing a round of fetch in the backyard. 


Katharine and Alfie at the top of the stairs coming off the back deck; he's sitting, watching her
Practicing "wait" at the steps...


Alfie in heel position at Katharine's side, tail waving as he walks along watching her
Nice "heel"!


Alfie standing watching Katharine intently
"Watch me!"


Alfie and Katharine are on a low brick retaining wall; he's in down position facing her
For extra credit...practicing "down" on a little wall!

Let's just hope they don't step in a mole hole!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Simple Joy

There's absolutely nothing like an early morning walk.  I love the cool, invigorating air; the birds; the sky; and just the way it makes me feel glad to be alive (not to mention the exercise)!  Somehow, though, without a walking buddy it's hard to have the discipline to take time for myself like that.   I think of all the things I have to do for everyone else, my agenda fills up, and I figure I'll squeeze a walk into my afternoon somewhere...maybe! 

I'm walking along the sidewalk with Alfie; he's looking up at me

Why is it so easy to put off doing something you know is good for yourself?  That's the great thing about Alfie: he gives me motivation to get out there first thing in the morning, totally guilt free.  Good dog.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Awesome Blogs -- Awesome Nose!

Many thanks to blogging friends Lisa, Ellie, and Hosta AND L_Squared for this award!  I'm passing it on to some more awesome dog blogs you'll enjoy:  Raising Ruby, Assistance Dog for Autism, Ours for a Lifetime, Service Dogs: A Way of Life, and Southeastern Guide Dog Puppy.  Tail wags all round!

The Awesome Nose Award, however, I can take no credit for.  I'm awarding it personally to the Alf for his latest little adventure.  Last Saturday morning I was walking him at the local cemetery, taking a path I hadn't taken with him before.  As we rounded a bend, Alfie hit the end of the leash pulling hard -- very uncharacteristic for him. Curious to see what bird or squirrel he might have in his sights, I followed along.  He led me at a brisk dash across the grounds, past a good 25 to 30 markers...straight to...my Dad's grave!  There was no question that was exactly where he was headed, because when he got there, he stopped and thoroughly examined Dad's headstone, sniffing and licking with great interest.  Then he looked up at me with a satisfied smile and a wag, and sat down!  Now -- to explain -- Dad passed away 5 years ago so nope, Alfie never knew him.  But I do come out and visit Dad's grave from time to time, and each time I do, I'll stop and rest, spend a little time in prayer, and wipe the marker clean with my hands.  So my thought is that Alfie was responding to my scent, or maybe even scent from other family members, accumulated at the site.  The only catch:  I haven't been there for weeks, since before our huge snowstorm!  And, after asking family about it, it seems I was the most recent visitor.  While I know that cool, damp conditions are favorable to scent survival, I was still incredulous that Alfie seemed able to detect scent that old.  Of course, dogs' noses are incredible -- I've learned that firsthand in the process of training service dog Dakota in his diabetic alert work. 

Have any of you ever come across similar situations with your dogs?  Leave a comment -- I'd love to hear about it!  Hats off to all our dogs...and all their amazing abilities!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The More Things Change...

closeup of Alfie's and my faces; I'm leaning on the porch railing & Alfie's chin & front paws are resting on the porch rail too

A little over a week has passed since Alfie came home.  One change you'll notice -- his cute haircut.

Alfie's standing on the front porch of my Mom's house, ready for a walk; his curly chocolate-colored fur is trimmed the same length all over, his reddish whiskers are slightly longer, and you can see his bright eyes


I left about an inch of curly brown fur to ward off the spring chill, but overall, I think he feels better, and looks neater.  He's certainly easier to brush!

But in most ways, Alfie's exactly the same as I remembered him. He still loves attention and petting more than anything.  He loves people...

Alfie getting a hug from my niece and nephew; all 3 are smiling!
New friends, awesome!

...and people seem to love him!  

Just like I remember from his guide-dog-in-training days, Alfie loves to learn new things.  One difference is what he's learning!  As a service dog, Alfie wasn't allowed to do "tricks"...however, now that he's our dog, Charissa is enjoying teaching him fun and cute little things.  So far she's got him to "shake hands," "spin," "roll over," "back up" and "bow."  It seems like every time I turn around, Alfie's doing something new for her!

Alfie looks at me soberly as he shakes my hand with his paw
Look what I can do, Mom!

Another thing is still the same, too:  Alfie retains his ability to surprise me!  Last week we had guests over at Sunday lunch and, wondering where my nephew was, I asked Alfie to "find John."  I wasn't actually expecting him to do it  -- after all he'd just met John the day before, and I didn't think he'd remember him by name.  He did, though -- trotting straight over to John, nosing him, and then giving me a pointed look to make sure I noticed!  When we all laughed, my sister-in-law asked what happened, and could Alfie please do it again?  All 9 people gathered around to watch -- and to be honest, I didn't know if it wasn't just a fluke!  So I had Alfie sit, "watch me," then I told him again to "find John"...Alfie literally pranced into the living room (show off that he is), threaded his way through all the other people and around all the furniture, going straight to John and giving him a definite nudge.  When spontaneous cheers broke out at this little achievement, you'd have thought Alfie had won the doggy lottery or something!  For an attention-loving guy like him, that was better than all the liver in the world -- he smiled, twirled, wagged and was ever so pleased with himself.  Funny boy!