"Not My Dog": Tales from Puppy Raising

Sunday, July 30, 2006

560 miles, two days, two pups, one boy

Belatedly, here's the report from the weekend of driving dogs.
We had a good time.

The mission: drive Zola to New York for her training eval. Pick up Murphy, languishing in the GEB vet facility, waiting for a ride home after a tooth extraction. Snare a tour of the breeding facility and throw in the 4-year-old for Mommy/Son bonding. (Daddy gets a sanity weekend. No kid. No wife. No dog.)

So here we are, ready to head out with Zola.

The trip down wasn't bad, if you define "not bad" as "not bad, except for the steady rain punctuated by three 'car-wash' rainstorms where traffic slowed to 35 on the interstate." whew! I was glad not to have Argos. Coordinating a pit stop with Zola and the boy was tricky enough. Still, Zola was perfect and just snoozed on the floorboard. I had decided to be a 'good mommy' and downloaded the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack. If you play it enough, he's a happy (and compliant) kid. My brain is a fuzzy mass, now, but oh well.

We arrived at New York and dropped off Zola. While we were waiting to see Murphy, Andrew bonded with Virgo, the first of the many promised puppies he'd see. They brought Murphy in, and he initially raced around like a wild pup before he saw us and then raced around in a happy dance.
I'd stupidly never considered this prospect, but the guest house is outfitted with a dog crate in every room. We were asked if we'd like to have Murphy spend the night with us, and I quickly said yes. The GEB folks were kind enough to give us some breakfast for Murph, as I hadn't brought food, and off we went.

The house is a great touch -- a common kitchen and living room/hang out area, with four bedrooms. When we were there, it was relatively full. Erin, an intern from Maine, is living there. We also met two nice ladies from Maryland who were bringing their dog for IFT, the initial exam that determines whether he goes in for training or goes up for adoption. It turned out their dog was a brother of a Shepherd who'd been raised in Maine. It's a small world after all.

As you can see here, the room was quite nice and comfy for all three of us.

Part Two --- our tour of the breeding center -- to come soon!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Like a bad Lifetime movie.....

When Murphy went in for his vet work, they scanned his microchip and made a shocking discovery.
He wasn't Murphy. He was Maddox.
My puppy was switched ... well, not at birth, but somewhere between GEB and Maine. We were supposed to get the puppy who wound up in Freeport.
So ... I asked the kennel manager slowly ... what exactly does this mean now?
"Oh, we switched their names in the computer," she said. "He's Murphy now in our records."
If only it were this easy for switched babies.

(For the record, we are glad we got this one, and this explains some things. I'd always wondered why the "runt" (6th of 8) Murphy outweighed his 'firstborn' brother by a good 20 pounds.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Less zaniness = more sanity

We leave for New York in the morning with Zola, who is really a sweetie. Tomorrow is her birthday; I promised Carol, her raiser, that she would get a doggie biscuit and Andrew might even sing.
Just one dog. The more we all thought about it, the more we all felt that one dog, one boy is enough fun for all.
Pictures to come from the trip and the tour at GEB, which Andrew and I are eagerly anticipating.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Houston, we have a plan

My agenda next weekend: A station wagon. A 4-year-old. A German shepherd puppy named Argos. A yellow Lab named Zola. Five hours to New York!
Then we'll do it again the next day with Murphy coming home.
Actually, Andrew is very psyched about this. He's good in the car and he wants to see the "puppy place". And actually, so am I.

Reports and photos to come from the road.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Averting even more chaos

I'm adding here that part of the reason I want to get Murph home is that I think Squeegee and Socks -- Socks especially -- are thinking that they've gotten rid of him again. You can almost see them doing kitty high-fives.
But having been through the Utah re-entry, after he'd been at Nina's for two weeks, it's really annoying to go through all the hissing and posturing again. I'd just as soon burst the cats' bubble sooner rather than later.

Chaos even when he's not around

Saturday's class went remarkably well. The Gentle Leader seems to be taking; Murphy behaved himself even among a dozen other dogs, and performed quite nicely.
It's been determined that he probably had an ear infection, and he definitely has a baby tooth that refused to fall out and needed pulling. So he left on Saturday with Bessie, and as I write this, is now at the Guiding Eyes facility in New York for his vet care.
Now, getting him back starts to become a doggie logistics mess. Nina was going to pick him up on Saturday at Lance's graduation, but that's been delayed, as they decided that Lance and his person were not a good match.
The next option is that Andrew and I may take a New York road trip next weekend to retrieve him, since we're all going camping this weekend. Then, word came that a GEB employee is heading toward Maine Thursday and could bring him. Of course, that would mean scrambling to find a sitter for this weekend.
I think it says something about my life when I'm thinking that a 5-hour one-way road trip with a preschooler and at least one dog each way (we might be ferrying two down if we go) sounds kind of fun. No, really. I'd love to see the GEB facility. Heck, I found out tonight they even have a guest house, which I'm betting beats the Motel 6.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The dirty little secret of puppy raising...

Hi, my name is Angie ... and I'm a competitive dog mom.
There, I said it. It's out there.
Getting Murphy's jacket is a big deal. It's a vest that says GEB puppy in training, and the dog wears it when working. He has to be at a certain training level (lest he embarrass the program publicly) to get it, and we were really hoping to get it at eval on Thursday. It's a recognition of the work he's done, but practically, it's also a great way to keep well-meaning bystanders at bay when you don't want them to be distractions.
I knew from about the first five minutes that Murphy was not getting his jacket, after he lunged at a friendly construction worker so enthusiastically that he nearly yanked Nina off her feet. Bessie, the GEB regional coordinator, remarked dourly that my shoulders have probably been getting a workout (they have) and the next thing Murphy knew, he was in a Gentle Leader. It's a contraption that looks worse than it is, though he hates it. It loops over the snout and around behind the ears; if the dog tries to pull, it puts pressure on the snout and makes it seem like not such a good idea. Basically, it's a tool to help this 70-pound puppy curb his enthusiasm and learn to listen. After a training work at USM yesterday, I'm a believer.
It's not a remedial thing, as at least two other pups got them on Thursday. And I actually was pretty ok with it. Sure, I would have liked Murphy's work to go better that day. I do think -- and so does Nina -- that he is a better dog than Bessie seems to think he is. (She has flatly rejected the idea that he's stud potential.) But I'm at the point where I'm realizing that it's a journey, that we work with him where he is, and deal with the issues as they are. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to work with the dog you have, not the dog you wish he were or will be someday.
My zen lasted until I heard that Murphy's brother got his jacket.
Now, let me just say that M. is a perfectly fine dog. He is not, however, nearly as good-looking as Murphy, who is larger, has a lovely wavy coat, and is better proportioned. M. is also, I believe, not any better behaved than Murphy; certainly not when you're not dangling food in front of him at every moment, as his raiser does. (I'm not fond of his raiser, can you tell? Oh, I'm on a petty roll.)
So there it is. I'm a competitive doggy mommy who is determined to prove on Saturday's training class that my pride and joy has been robbed!
Look out for me when Andrew goes to kindergarten.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Lance's last report

Here is the final report on Lance's training ... as far as we know, he's supposed to graduate later this month!
What a dog! Just read what these guys have to learn and do. It's really incredible!

Dog Name Lance Tattoo XXXXX Raiser's Name Nina/Patricia
Report Dates 5-18-06 Trainer's Name Kate B.
For some dogs, the fourth phase follows directly after a month of training in the third phase. For many dogs,
however, the third phase may take many months or the dog may begin to show worry indicating a need to return to
more basic lessons or a quieter environment where the dog is comfortable. Each dog learns at its own pace and must
demonstrate a reliable work pattern before it can be asked to handle a more difficult environment or more
The fourth phase is a time for fine-tuning and also a time for applying learned lessons to new situations. For
example, they are taught to handle traffic when crossing the road. You can understand how important it is for the
dog to understand curb stops which indicate the road and to make quick straight street crossings in order to find the
opposite corner before learning to intelligently disobey a forward command to cross the street if a car is coming or
to stop and back up if a car suddenly appears in their path.
By the end of phase four, the dog must demonstrate the initiative to take responsibility in all guiding situations.
They must perform reliably and safely each time. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on the dog to be a
responsible guide dog. Think of it in terms of driving a car. You might have felt comfortable driving your car on
the quiet streets in your town but in New York City where there is so much to watch for, you may feel less
comfortable and will likely be a bit stressed. After experience and, hopefully, successful trips driving in the city,
you will eventually begin to relax and feel more confident. Some dogs thrive on the excitement and challenge of
this type of work, others can handle it but not as a steady diet. How they handle the intense pressure of city work,
helps the instructors decide where the dog will be placed.
Health ( X ) Has been healthy Has had a health problem.
Physical - This is often called the “pre-class physical.” It does not mean your dog will definitely be
selected for class but is the time that the dog receives a thorough re-exam of the eyes, heart and other body
systems and a review of the complete medical history to be sure the dog passes our stringent health criteria.
Dentistry – Each dog also gets a dental check up and gets his teeth cleaned and polished if necessary
Notes on health:
General kennel behavior: No problem. Needs some work.
Your dog continues to enjoy community run twice daily, five days a week and continues the work with the instructor
assistant on body handling including nail cutting, grooming, and ear cleaning.
Notes on general kennel behavior:
This is the most advanced stage of training. All lessons previously taught are solidified and applied to new
situations and the dog is also taught new lessons. Your dog will most likely work in some of these places: New
York City including Manhattan and the Bronx for city experience and subway work, Peekskill for uneven sidewalks,
White Plains for many applications, country roads without sidewalks around Yorktown and in the Training School
building and restaurants for good social skills.
(P:Poor F:Fair G:Good F/G:Fair/Good, etc. ) Being worked on.
G Steady pace and pull.
G Turns, down curbs and street crossings, clearances, platforms, escalators, revolving doors, stairs, Stores
and malls.
Remedial problems being worked on to build confidence or obtain proper response in situations such as
stairs, under-footings, control with distractions, concerns with noises, people or objects, over-friendliness,
etc. (See Notes.)
G Blindfold work – The dogs are tested for their reliability by being worked by a blind-folded instructor.
Blindfold work was also done in phase three to identify weak areas that needed to be worked on but there
are more blindfold workouts in phase four.
G Subway and city work – Every Guiding Eyes dog must demonstrate the ability to guide safely in the city
and in subways and on all types of transportation before they are ready to graduate. This environment
really tests the dog’s self-confidence, composure and ability to guide. Pedestrian traffic poses the extreme
in moving obstacles, the traffic is so heavy that a sighted person has a challenge finding a safe time to
cross the street. The subway is a noisy and intimidating environment where crowded cars and people
rushing on the platforms are commonplace.
G Traffic – Phase I - The dogs are taught the appropriate response of backing up when a car get too close.
The lessons begin on quiet sidewalks with a car pulling in or out of a driveway. When the dog backs up
in a straight backwards direction, the handler is also moved backward, away from the oncoming car.
Since the dogs work slightly ahead of the handler when in harness, the person remains safe. As with
other lessons, the dogs are shown how to back up when a car is driven slowly toward them. Their first
tendency is to turn away from the vehicle rather than to back up, but they usually catch on quickly.
Traffic training is very stressful to the dog and many dogs worry with other aspects of their guide work
after traffic training sessions. Some dogs need a little vacation from training or have the intensity of their
training reduced if their worry is severe.
G Traffic Phase II -- Once the guide dog demonstrates the appropriate response to traffic, the dog is
expected to react appropriately on its own when a car comes too close. Vehicles driven by GEB trainers
display special signs reading “TRAFFIC TRAINING” to inform the public that the handler is not rudely
run down by a crazy driver. The dog is exposed over and over to varied situations where a car comes in
close from various directions and different turns such as driveways, roadways, crossings, etc.
G Traffic Phase III – The final phase of traffic training involves natural traffic and real situations. The
handler waits at a crossing until the perpendicular traffic has stopped and the parallel traffic begins
moving. When the handler does not hear any oncoming parallel traffic, the dog is given the forward
command. If a car is coming, the dog is reminded not to go. Eventually, the dog learns to disobey a
forward command when a car is coming. The response of backing up when natural traffic gets too closed
is also reinforced during phase III traffic training.
G Shorelining on a country road -- Blind people and guide dogs living in the country where there are no
sidewalks. They find it difficult to stay close to the edge of the road and much move off the road when
cars are coming since they are actually traveling on the side of the road. Shorelining teaches the dog to
move tightly to the edge of the road and to stop when a car is coming.
G Practice Dog for a student -- When your dog is in the fourth phase of training, he is not too far away from
being “class-ready” or, in other words, deemed to be a reliable guide and ready for matching with a blind
person. Students entering class are given an opportunity to work with guide dogs that are in the fourth
phase of training but not yet class ready. Your dog may be selected as a practice dog. Practice dogs give
the blind person a chance to learn the basics of handling a guide dog without the risk of straining the
relationship with the dog that they are going to be matched to. It also gives the instructors a chance to
evaluate the student with a dog and make a more informed match. For the dog, it gives the instructors,
who are preparing the fourth phase dogs for an upcoming class a chance to see how the dog reacts to the
real situation of a blind handler.
G Restaurants and social settings – Similar to puppy raising, guide dogs must lie down quietly in restaurants
and public places. The work you did is evident in all aspects of training and especially here. The
instructors greatly appreciate the good manners you have instilled.
Notes on training and reaction to the environment:
Lance has progressed very well through training. This past training period, he has polished his
guide work skills in many different towns and cities, including New York City. He is well-behaved in
all settings and works well in all environments. Last week Lance had his final blindfold evaluation.
The evaluator wrote that Lance is a "Lovely tempered dog that is a methodical worker. Well
established work pattern. Nice dog for a variety of clients. Good initiative and problem solving
skills." Way to go, Lance! He is definitely a candidate for the upcoming class.
Each stage of training with Lance has been a pleasure. Now that he is finished with training and is
responsible for working on his own, it is very enjoyable to go on long workouts with him, where he
deals with many different situations with intelligence and aplomb. I will miss his great work, his
good humor and his fuzzy neck, but (should a good match for him come in ) he should make a
wonderful guide.
Puppy Evaluator Date