"Not My Dog": Tales from Puppy Raising

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Murphy's First Report Card!!

I have been dying to hear how Murphy was doing, and we finally got his first report card! I was so nervous, I could barely open the attachment. But our area coordinators think this is a good report -- I'm so proud of him.

I'm having trouble getting the report to copy over and format, so I'll summarize: He was rated "Good" in community run, kennel behavior, obedience, introduction to harness, forward command, and wait command. He got a "fair" in body handling and hup-up, a new command that basically means keep going. (Is this the same dog whose problem as a puppy was that he ALWAYS kept going? :-) )

Here are his trainer's comments:
Murphy is a sweet boy. He shows good initiative and focus. Murphy has a pleasant personality and can be a little reserved at times. He shows good responsiveness to voice, hand signals and the collar. At this point in training, he has demonstrated average distraction. In these situations he can be refocused through voice, leash, and counter conditioning. Murphy is body sensitive; we have worked a lot on this using positive reinforcement with food reward. He is in no way handler reactive. He is however very aware of the leash when wearing the harness. I am careful to be clear with my intentions and commands when using the leash always making sure to follow it with support and praise. This calm clear handling has been working for Murphy and we are making progress. This is just an overall body sensitivity and may or may not dissipate with time and exposure. Murphy is still in the beginning of training and is in the process of learning basic harness and working commands. We will be heading into town towards the end of next week to start working on street work and clearances to start building a foundation for a solid work pattern.Murphy is a sweet boy who loves to play in the community run. His roommates are Betty and Mimi BLF’s.

Now, when Bob read this, he inquired if they had the right dog when he got to the part about "a little reserved."

I was also surprised a little bit about the body handling, as he was always really good for us about being handled, including ears, eyes and nails.

Anyway, I am excited. Maddox, his brother from Maine, also is doing well.

In honor of their progress, it's time to break out some old pictures...

This was taken the day we gave them up .. Beth and Maddox are at left, Murphy and me at right. (You can see how different in size the boys are!)

This was one of my favorite pictures of me and Murphy .. getting a kiss from him. This was a week or two before he went IFT.

One phase down, three more to go!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reflection on loss

When I lived in Kentucky for almost nine years, I rode whenever I could. I never got to the level where I would call myself an experienced rider, but I grew to love horses.

The news of Barbaro being euthanized hit me hard. I was on a business trip when the Preakness occurred, and watched alone in my hotel room as the breakdown happened. I'm not ashamed to say I cried; I didn't believe then that he would survive, but as his drama unfolded, I wanted to believe he would.

What struck me yesterday was this quote from his owner: "Grief is the price we all pay for love."

Truer words haven't been spoken. I think you could apply that, on a lesser scale, to the Guiding Eyes raising experience. What I try to tell people is that yes, it is always hard letting go, but the tradeoff is the love and time you have with that animal.

Poor Barbaro. But from what I've read, his owners tried everything they could to save him -- in my opinion, not for the potential monetary gain they'd get if he survived to be a stud. (That had seemed increasingly unlikely.)

No, just for love.

Nettie is a star!

This article appeared in the Lewiston Sun Journal.. Carol is an awesome raiser -- I've learned a lot from her, and I'm psyched to be co-raising Nettie with her.

Maternal vision
By Maggie Gill-Austern , Staff WriterMonday, January 29, 2007

PHILLIPS - Ever have those adult dog moments - the rude early morning slobberfests when 90-pound Fido nearly crushes your ribs, perhaps; or the malodorous welcome-home gift of trash on your kitchen linoleum when he finally gets big enough to knock over the trash can?
Ever daydream about having a puppy that stays a puppy - too spunky, maybe, but cute and tiny - forever?
Carol Rogers lives that life these days. And while she loves it, she'll tell you it's no picnic, and the inevitable good-byes are bad enough to take your breath away.
Rogers raises yellow Labrador puppies for an agency that trains seeing-eye dogs, called Guiding Eyes for the Blind. for the past seven years, she's mothered 6-week-old puppies through their one-year-old adolescence, teaching them obedience and manners before they head out into the wide world to learn their trade.
The last two-weeks are the worst, she said Thursday. "The last trip to the grocery store. The last trip to the bank," she said. "Of course, you give them your heart."
Now, she has Nettie, a five-month-old yellow Labrador retriever who's smart, spunky, and incredibly loving."The last two were really special, so I decided not to become emotionally involved with this one. You constantly tell yourself this is not your dog," she said.
But Nettie was too cute. "She'll steal your heart," Rogers said. "She's the smartest one ever. But they all take a piece of your heart with them when they go."
Smarts and spunk are difficult to deal with in puppies, Rogers said. Her job is to teach obedience and good manners, and headstrong puppies are notoriously hard to control. But that quality is exactly what makes a great guide dog, when they're all grown up.
The confidence that annoyed you so much when you were teaching them not to jump on people is what lets them stop, when their new owners want to cross the street, or makes them jump in front of a car, if their partner is about to get hit.
Two of Rogers' dogs, in fact, have jumped between their owners and a car, she said. Both are fine now.
"Spago - he was destined not to make it," she said. "He had a mind of his own - he was a happy guy."
He's one of the two that stepped between his owner and a car. His confidence carried him through, she said. He's fine, now.
Nettie's still small, and one of the harder pups Rogers has had to train. She's extremely affectionate, but also curious and excitable, so much so that Rogers has had to cover her box at night to keep her quiet when the sun starts to come up.
With all the dogs, training is constant. Using food as reinforcement, Rogers rewards good behaviors and ignores bad. It's not boring, nor is it a constant struggle, especially using the food, she said.
"It's fun. It just makes every little minute fun. And pretty soon, all those little minutes add up."

A nice surprise

On Friday night at work, my phone rang around 10 p.m. I glanced at the caller ID, figuring it was Bob, wanting to know when I was coming home (since I was supposed to be working days and had gone in at 9 a.m. ... but that's a whole other story.)

It was an out-of-state area code, so I picked it up.

"You don't know me, but my name's David and I just got my first guide dog," the caller said.

David lives in Connecticut. His neighbor had been in Maine visiting relatives when my article about raising Murphy ran, and he brought it back to show him.

David told me about how he'd begun having issues with falling, but how Anna, his new black Lab guide dog, was really changing his life. He said that when he read my story, he felt he had to call and tell me how much raisers matter, how grateful he was for how Anna is helping him.

It was a really wonderful and unexpected joy to talk with him. I told him a few more stories about Murphy; he wondered if I was going to raise again, since I wasn't sure when I wrote the article. I was thrilled to be able to tell him that yes, we were.

I really hope that Murphy can mean as much to someone as Anna clearly means to him already.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Guide horses....

This story was interesting ..


Name change!

Given Nettie's impending arrival, I decided the blog needed a new name. Let me know what you think if anyone is reading this!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Puppy People will not be surprised

I'm not sure if anyone other than other raisers is reading this blog (great to have all of you!), but here's our announcement:

We're going to finish Nettie. She'll come live with us in a couple weeks, just as she turns 6 months old, and stay until she goes IFT.

This will clear the way for Carol to get one of Zola's puppies, which she really wanted to do. She raised Zola, and she was one of her favorite dogs ever. If the pups turn out like mom, they'll be nice, too.

So Miss Nettie -- aka Nettie Spaghetti -- is coming here, and it almost seems predestined. Bessie, our regional coordinator, brought her to evals back in October, when she was trying to find her a home. I cuddled and played with her, and really wanted her -- I knew Murphy would be going soon -- but at that point, I told Bessie that the puppy, Murphy and I would all be sleeping in the car in the garage if I tried to scoot another dog past Bob!

I did spend a couple hours w/ Nettie in November at an expo where Carol and I staffed the GEB booth, and I told Bob then that she was nice.

Well, he was sold after our babysitting her. She's a little pistol at times, but sweet. Not perfect, but smart, smart, smart. Great house manners. Definitely lower energy than Murphy.

We didn't think we'd get another pup until we knew what was happening with Murphy, but at this point, if he doesn't make it, we'll just have two dogs for a couple months. (We do plan to adopt Murphy if he can't make it as a service dog.)

Pictures to come soon. And yes, Sarah, you were right!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Puppy Go-Round

I've been remiss in not taking pictures of our visiting pups. Well, Grant left on Saturday, after an adventure in returning him. Just as I pulled onto the turnpike and accelerated, a warning light started flashing and the car's engine started jerking and going thunka-thunka. Of course, I pulled off immediately. So there I was, with Andrew and the puppy. A state trooper stopped to make sure we were ok, and he thought that both of them were very cute and that the program sounded great. (I have my GEB bumper sticker, of course.) If I ever get stopped for speeding, I hope I have a pup with me.
Anyway, we limped the car home and then taking Grant back became an entire family outing.
With all the hassle with getting the car fixed (fortunately the ignition coil squeaked in under warranty), I postponed getting Kessler for a day. I will be picking him up tomorrow after work. He is 6 months old, but this is his first sleepover, so that should be interesting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

When I said keep them coming....

Well, we've got even more.

I agreed to help Nina out and take another pup, Kessler, next week, right after Grant leaves.
He needs his first sleepover, as he's almost 6 months and hasn't had one. He was supposed to go to Nina, but, to make a long story short, unfortunately a pup in our region is going to be leaving his home, through mutual agreement between the raisers and the program. So that pup is at Nina's until they can find a new foster home for him.

It's a sad situation -- the raisers apparently just didn't have enough time for this, and I think were pretty actively resisting doing things the way GEB wants us to. The husband told Nina that it's a "full-time job" to do what GEB wants and he didn't agree with several training methods. They were raising a shepherd, which by all accounts is a challenge.

I don't know that I'd agree that it's a "full-time job" to raise a GEB pup -- if it is, I think I'm tired thinking about it, given that the last time I checked, I had a full-time paying job, a 5-year-old and a husband, and plus I still have some hobbies (reading, cooking, stitching, running) that I like to do from time to time!

It gave me pause to reflect, though. People seem to think that Murphy turned out ok, which is a relief, because I always worried I wasn't spending enough time on training or working him enough. I worried the other day when Carol said Nettie was being a pill after she came home.

I'm a little worried about having Kessler -- his raiser is single and works from home, and I suspect, gives him tons of attention and work. I already warned her that in my house, he's going to spend more time in a crate than he probably does there. (I also begged her to try to transition him to not wake up at 5:30 or 6, as he apparently does now, before his visit, since I get home from work at midnight, and usually go to sleep by 1. I am not a nice person after a week of 4 1/2 hours of sleep.)

The other thing that continues to fascinate me is how subjective and tricky the bond between human and dogs can be. I was just skimming an article in People (oh, admit that you look at it too!) on the controversy over Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer." I have to say that I'd never watched his show or read his book, but what I read in this article appalled me. I much prefer the GEB approach of teaching them how to be good and rewarding that.

As for Grant -- aka "this week's yellow pup" -- he's a sweetie, but boy, you do forget how much work the little ones are! He is actually napping in his crate right now in this room -- he has some issues with not wanting to be in a crate if he can see people, so we're trying to get him to accept that. It is about 2 degrees here now, with wicked wind chill, so we've been doing some obedience work inside.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Revisionist history

Nettie was being whiny and fussy this morning, and Andrew declared that Murphy "was NEVER ever bad."

(Of course this is the child who does not believe that he once, as a newborn, wailed nonstop from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Clearly, I remember it well. )

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Keep 'em coming...

Nettie leaves on Sunday, and on Monday, we're getting Grant, a 14-week-old Lab, to babysit him for a week. I think he's about the same shade as Nettie, so this ought to confuse the neighbors. "Hey, Martha, is that puppy shrinking?"

Still famous in absentia ...

Ever since I wrote the article in the paper, it's amazing how many people ask me about Murphy. Nina says that a lot of people have mentioned the article too when she's had Europe out in her jacket. Unfortunately, I don't know much new to tell people, so I'm looking forward to the next training update.
I did get my IFT video, and it was fun to watch it again without the pressure. It certainly seemed like an hour when it happened, and I was surprised at how short it was. I'll have to figure out how to burn the relevant clip to YouTube and post a short snippet here.
Murphy was such a ham, he would have loved being semi-famous!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hooked again

Well, we're in the midst of our first babysitting experience since Murphy left. We have Nettie, a 4 1/2 month old yellow Lab, until the 14th.
What's amazing is how different she is from Murphy. Now, of course, I know that every pup is different, but it's interesting how it plays out. Nettie's two biggest issues are crying/whining in the crate, and not getting on furniture. The funny thing is that, for all the shenanigans he did throw at us, Murphy never had an issue with either of those! So she is keeping us on our toes. However, aside from those, she is a very sweet girl, and definitely a much lower energy dog than Murphy!
What's been good is the reinforcement of how easily we've slid back into puppy mode. I really do want/need another pup again, and even Bob seems to really be enjoying Nettie. I wish my work situation would resolve so I know what my schedule is going to be, and then I can figure out if we can/should do this again. I'm worried that if I'm working days, I don't know when I could train the pup.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Missing Murphy ... most of the time!

We're having an ice storm today, and as I went out to get the paper, slipping down the driveway, it crossed my mind that today is not a bad day to be dog-less.

Tomorrow, I'm sure I will go back to plotting to get the next pup! We are babysitting Nettie starting Friday, so hope I'm not too out of practice.