2019  HIKING, ULTRA-WALKING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

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   PRE-ADOLESCENT DON AT HOME & ABOUT TOWN:
MORE ADVANCED TRAINING & EXPOSURES
AT FIVE & SIX MONTHS OF AGE

  WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11

 
 
I talked in the last entry about Don's basic training in Puppy Kindergarten before he "earned his coat" and began going out more in public places.

All the time we spent working on the paw pad, collar cues, loose-leash walking, and impulse control in the first six weeks he was in our home laid a very good foundation for more public outings and more advanced commands (cues) as he approached adolescence.

Above and below: photo shoot of  Dapper Don at 5 mos. old and 46.8 lbs. (11-4-19)

That's the focus of this entry, illustrated with about forty photos of Don at age five and six months old, the very early adolescent phase.

Isn't he handsome??

GRADUAL EXPOSURES

Don has generally been a very calm, laid-back puppy since the day we brought him home at 13 weeks of age. He can get rowdy with Holly, our two-year-old Lab, but he almost always stops playing before she wants to. By the end of December, when he was almost seven months old, he already weighed a little more than Holly (she's small, only about 54 pounds).

Our vet described Don as "an old soul" before he was even four months old. He acts older than his age and because he's getting big, it's sometimes hard to remember that he's still a fairly young puppy.


Almost six months old, with a very serious puppy face  (11-29-19)

Because of his reserved temperament and possible lack of confidence, our regional manager, Laura, advised us to proceed gradually with taking Don on outings. So far, I have kept them fairly short and in less-crowded, less-distracting places to lessen sensory overload.

At six months he's still overwhelmed by all the enticing scents in a pet store so I avoid those for now. He's fine in other businesses, including grocery stores. Human foods don't tempt him like dog foods, treats, and toys. I am gradually desensitizing him to those things in the dog aisles at Target, Krogers, and Sam's Club.

I've also literally approached most new places gradually since Don was younger -- parking lot the first time, walking to the door the next time, just inside the door the third time, then farther and farther into each store or building on subsequent visits. It's time-consuming but instills more confidence.


An employee at Target offers Don some water. They love seeing him there! (12-12-19)

Don becomes more inhibited than activated when he's getting tired or stressed out. We've observed that most of the other pups in our group seem to get more activated during training sessions or outings to new places, such as pulling on the leash, wanting to play with the other pups, whining, barking, or not being able to relax.

Don does the opposite. He tends to become even more reserved during our group training sessions and outings. He doesn't whine or bark, doesn't pull as much toward other pups, and lies quietly next to us or under my chair when we're sitting down during class or on an outing.


Calm and attentive at the Kennesaw State Univ. library  (11-9-19)

Ellen, our area coordinator, sometimes points out signs of stress that Don is exhibiting -- drooling, shaking his body, or scratching himself, for example. And Laura, our regional manager who did his Puppy Kindergarten classes, observed that he is not real confident in new situations.

Trying to determine if and when Don is under stress and needs to regroup has been a learning process for me. He drools at home when food or treats are anticipated and he shouldn't be stressed about anything there. Sometimes I think Don is drooling on our group outings because I give him more treats in new situations like that, but it could be situational stress and not his penchant for food.

"EARNING HIS COAT"

When Don graduated from Puppy Kindergarten at 19 weeks of age we turned in his blue SEGD bandana and he got a handsome blue "coat" or vest to wear when he's working. He quickly learned the "harness on" cue -- instead of putting the coat on him, we hold it out in front of him and he walks into it like he would a full harness for a guide dog.

We don't usually put the coat on him when we're walking in our neighborhood, although he's training then, too. And I don't use it on trails. We do use it when walking anywhere else in public or going into stores and other buildings, especially those that don't allow pet dogs.


Hiking on our first visit to Sweetwater Creek State Park, GA; pet dogs
are allowed on the trails there. If I had Don's guide coat on, I could have
also taken him into the visitor center where pets are not allowed.   (12-16-19)

Fortunately, not only does Peachtree City have a lot of pet-friendly businesses, but Georgia law also allows guide and service dogs in training to access every place that certified guide and service dogs can go. Not every state does this, so if we travel out of state with him we'll have to check on the other states' laws.

So far no one in any store, restaurant, or other place has questioned us about bringing Don inside. If anyone does, I have an official SEGD puppy raiser ID card, small pamphlets about puppy raising and what the organization does, and a copy of the law. Puppy raisers are not supposed to argue with anyone about access, but ask to speak to the manager if necessary.


Don got lots of practice on steps near the old mill ruins at Sweetwater Creek State Park. (12-9-19)

At worst, we ask for the manager's or owner's name, document the refusal, and give the information to SEGD personnel so they can follow up and educate the business or other entity re: not only the law they are breaking (they could be fined up to $10,000!), but also the importance of allowing access to guide and service pups in training.

I hope I never have to report anyone. The only push-back I've gotten so far is from my hairdresser, who owns the salon I use. She doesn't like dogs and apparently none of her customers have ever had a guide or service dog. Since I see her only for perms, and those take two hours, I wouldn't want to subject a puppy to all the chemicals and smells in a salon for that long anyway. I did try to educate her on the law, however.


Jim took this picture of Don, our friend Steve, and me at the bottom of a
very long series of steps near the mill ruins above Sweetwater Creek. (12-9-19)

It's important that Don be on his best behavior when he's out in public in his coat.

So far, he has done a stellar job at that! He's so laid-back and well-mannered that people are surprised by how young he is. He heels well through parking lots and in stores and doesn't sniff or get otherwise distracted nearly as much as he does on our regular walks that are loaded with canine pee-mail.

Through the end of December we have taken Don to Home Depot, Pike Nursery, Krogers, Target, Sam's Club, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, BedBath&Beyond, Ross, some smaller locally-owned shops, our city's visitors' bureau/Chamber of Commerce, several strip shopping centers, farmers' markets, Charm Thai Restaurant, Starbucks, several city parks on our walks, Line Creek Nature Area, and Sweetwater State Park.


Helping Daddy and other VFW members when new bricks were being laid
to commemorate local veterans' service in the military and foreign wars;
one of the new bricks is Jim's, right in front of him on the ground. (11-8-19)

We also took Don to Jim's VFW business meeting in November so post members could meet him and learn more about Southeastern Guide Dogs before voting on whether to make a donation to the school. They loved Don and Southeastern's mission, subsequently voting to donate $1,000 to be designated specifically for the service dog part of the program.

As quartermaster, Jim's the one who actually wrote the check and sent it to SEGD. We'll present our area coordinator with a large "publicity" check at our group's January meeting. We plan to take Don to other VFW posts in our region in the coming months to raise money and recruit puppy raisers.

Don's first outing with our puppy group was in early November at the Kennesaw University library. He did very well there with his first elevator ride, his first long set of spiral stairs, walking through aisles of books, greeting students, and avoiding the other pups. He was just a little over five months old.

One of the members of the group took the next three photos at KSU that day:

I split the group photo with all ten dogs and raisers in half so it's easier to see the pups. Don's brother Frank is the black Lab on the right:

Don and I are third from left in the next picture. The fourth puppy, another black Lab, is hard to see against her raiser's black pants:

There was no group outing in December, just one combination training class and holiday party a few days before Christmas.

The area coordinator planned some different activities for the pups that time, including a fun version of musical chairs with the raisers and their pups. Each raiser got an ornament with their pup's baby picture and an embroidered slobber towel (those are handy!):

The AC had lots of gifts for a "dirty Santa" drawing in which everyone got something. Most of the items were useful but a couple were funny jokes. I ended up with a warm pair of cabin socks.

Although there wasn't a gift exchange among the raisers I wanted to do something special for them so I ordered decorated dog cookies at Wags to Whiskers pet shop in Peachtree City with each pup's name. (Don and our girls each got a cookie, too.) I put the bone-shaped cookies in boxes with a list of the ingredients:

I also got a dozen decorated dog cookies in different shapes for the AC and other members of the group and put them in small holiday plastic storage bags:

POLITE GREETINGS

Don is very good with greeting people politely and he loves to give kisses, as you can see in the photos below that were taken at the Kennesaw library and Home Depot.

At only 13 weeks of age he came to us already knowing to keep "four on the floor" when going up to us or anyone else. We were thrilled. Even Holly (age 2) and Casey (age 7) can't manage that every time.

At this age, when Don's in-coat and working he's still allowed to meet people but shouldn't initiate a greeting.

When he's about ten months old we're supposed to discontinue all petting when he's in-coat so he'll have an easier transition to advanced training later on. As a guide or service dog he shouldn't greet people or be petted when he's working.

PLACES DON CAN'T GO & THINGS HE CAN'T DO

Each guide and service dog school has its own rules regarding puppies living in volunteer raisers' homes. The rules are not only to increase the chance the pups will eventually become successful working dogs, they are also for their safety.

When I first read the puppy manual I thought, wow, Southeastern's pups can't do a lot of the things all of our other pups could do -- chase balls, play with squeaky toys, chew on certain toys like antlers, play tug with a person (only with another dog), eat any human foods except a very few that can go into Kong toys, go to dog parks, be boarded at a kennel or clinic, and other things pet pups can do.

In addition, SEGD's younger pups must be in a crate or on a tie-down near the raiser almost 24/7. They have to ride on the floor of vehicles and be on a tie-down, not harnessed on the back seat like we do with our girls.

  Above and below:  It's important that a guide or service dog in training be clean and well-groomed.
Don loves body handling but he's not real fond of baths -- note his expression below!  (11-20-19)

I think raising and training a potential guide dog is more difficult than a service dog because of the increased restrictions. Many of these things are allowed at Warrior Canine Connection, but they are training service dogs, not guides. There are some big differences, and they begin early in the pups' lives.

Guide dogs must learn about double the number of commands as service dogs and be smart and independent enough to intentionally disobey a command, if necessary, to keep a handler safe.

Southeastern wants as many of their dogs to become guides as possible. About two-thirds of their graduates -- graduates, not all the puppies they breed -- are guide dogs. Service dog and other careers are important but not their very highest priority.


He seems to be saying, "Did I really need that bath??"  (11-20-19)

SEGD has good reasons for every one of their restrictions, and we are adhering to them the best we can.

It's harder to adhere to the restrictions if raisers have one or more pet dogs in the home while they're raising a guide puppy. I can see how disappointed Don is, for example, when Holly gets to chase balls in the back yard and he isn't allowed. I try to distract him with other activities where he can't see her but he knows.


Holly's rump makes a nice pillow for Don sometimes! That's the kind of
sad-sack face he gives me when Holly gets to play ball.  (11-11-19)

Although this might sound like being a guide puppy in training is all work and no play, Don has a great life. He gets a ton of attention and lots of gentle body handling from Jim and me, he has an exuberant two-year-old canine "sister" to play with and an older canine "mom" to mentor him, he has plenty of chew bones, treat-dispensing toys, and stuffed toys, he gets lots of exercise, he can have play dates with other dogs under certain circumstances, and he gets to go to a lot of places where Holly and Casey aren't allowed.  

Don is not deprived by any means!

DISTRACTIONS & IMPULSE CONTROL

Unlike Holly and Casey, Don has displayed pretty amazing impulse control since we got him. Most of it is his laid-back temperament and some is a result of our early training.

He has never shown any interest in chasing wildlife, which is a good thing because we have plenty of critters in our yard and along the multi-use paths we walk every day -- squirrels by the thousands, rabbits, geese, ducks, armadillos, and deer are the most common ones we see.


There were over 20 geese close to the bench that day and he just ignored them. Good boy!  (12-25-19)

Don notices these animals -- and cats in peoples' yards -- but either just walks on by or briefly stops to look at them curiously without making any move toward them. He's been as close as six feet in a stand-off with a deer and kept his feet in one spot until I told him, "Let's go."

I'm impressed! I don't remember ever having to tell him "no" or "leave it." And he's never barked at wildlife.


Three deer ahead and two more right and left, out of the picture  (11-22-19)

Don is very eager to please and learns thing quickly.

With that fabulous combination of traits, it's been relatively easy to also teach him to ignore picking up food on the floor, going after a ball deliberately rolled past him, and waiting until I say "break" to eat treats during what I call the "Wait Game:"

I usually put a couple treats on the three dogs' paws rather than spelling out their names. I do this almost every day to reinforce their impulse control. The longest I've had Don or the girls wait to eat their treat is a minute.

These aspects of Don's impulse control are great but there IS something that totally distracts him:

DOGS & DOG SCENTS

At six months of age Don still needs work ignoring other dogs and dog scents on our neighborhood walks. Fortunately, he does pretty well with dog distractions when he's wearing his coat in other public places. His demeanor is already different when he's got the coat on.

Most Labs are just very sociable by nature, with both people and other canines. Despite having two dogs to play with in our home, Don is still interested in meeting almost every dog he sees on our walks, even ones that bark at him. We can see progress, however.


Don also watches dogs on TV a lot more than our girls do.  (11-28-19)

As Don gets bigger and stronger I sometimes have him sit off to the side of the path while another dog passes, a technique using distance as a training tool.

I also distract Don by talking to him and having him focus on me as much as possible. Right now that's easier than continuing to walk past another dog. He gets a treat and lots of verbal praise if he sits still, then continues walking with me on a loose leash after the other dog goes by.

Dog scents are the biggest training challenge we have with Don currently. Laura has taught us specific ways to deal with that but it's a work in progress.

ON PATROL?

I'm trying to understand the reason(s) why Don has recently begun something new on our walks. He does it several times per walk and usually not in the same places.

He will stop abruptly, usually move into a perpendicular position right behind me, look all around for a few seconds, then get back into heel position and continue forward when I say "Let's go."


On a beautiful autumn walk at Drake Field by Lake Peachtree  (11-20-19)

Because he usually perks up his ears as if intently listening to a sound I can't hear, and/or twitches his nose like he detects a new odor, it seems to me he's possibly assessing the situation and getting his bearings. I call it his stop-look-listen-sniff "patrol" position.

On the other hand, it could be a fear reaction, one more manifestation of his lack of confidence.

I'd rather think he's being very observant and "has my back." That seems like an admirable trait for a guide or service dog to have, although suddenly stopping isn't! Time will tell why he's doing this.

WALK & TALK

At least twice before SEGD's puppies go back for advanced training at 15-18 months of age,  the regional managers do a formal evaluation called a "Walk & Talk" with each raiser and pup at stores like Home Depot, Lowe's, REI, or Bass Pro Shop -- large stores with lots of people and other distractions, new or novel things, and a variety of surfaces.

Although I was nervous before we had our first Walk & Talk in early November -- the day after Don turned five months old -- Laura was looking more at his reactions to various stimuli than in Jim's or my handling ability.


A different day at Home Depot, at Santa's Workshop when it was deserted;
Don's been to Home Depot more times than any other store. (12-23-19)

The first part of our Walk & Talk was held at the nearby Home Depot store.

Laura videotaped Don as we walked into the garden center and through the store, noting how well he responded to commands and collar cues, different types of distractions (people, large fans, things on the floor, etc.), and various textured surfaces (mostly in the flooring and lumber departments).

She gauged Don's reaction when she wound up a mechanical Christmas toy and aimed it past him. He watched it curiously, looked up at me, and didn't move. He'd never seen anything like that before and his lack of a strong reaction was exactly what we were all hoping for.

Above and below:  These photos at Home Depot were taken on two different days in  
November, not during the Walk & Talk; we were too busy then to take pictures.

The second part of the evaluation was conducted outside Home Depot as we walked past a grocery store with automatic doors that opened as we went by, and up some concrete steps to a parking area.

Although Don had been in Home Depot before this test and we'd already exposed him to a lot of different textures, sounds, and sights before, many of the things he experienced that day were new to him -- and he mostly aced it.

GOOD boy! I mean, "YES!!"

CANINE CONDITIONING & BODY AWARENESS

One thing Laura noted during the testing at Home Depot was Don's lack of hind-end awareness -- not really knowing what his back legs, butt, and tail were doing in relation to the rest of his body. This is common in a five-month-old puppy.

So we set up some agility-type training on the patio and in our back yard for him to practice on every day -- weaving between half a dozen milk jugs filled with water, stepping over the rungs of a ladder laid flat, three PVC and metal bars threaded through milk jug handles and used like Cavalettis, stepping into and out of cardboard boxes, crawling under benches, running through our agility tunnel, etc.

 


Jim originally made this jump from PVC for Holly. I lowered the bar
for Don to step over since he's too young to be jumping much.

He loves all these exercises and they are good for increasing his strength and sense of balance. We will continue doing them as long as we have him.

We also have him sit and lie down in boxes that are a bit snug for his size so he learns to "make himself small." This is important when he's in a restaurant, on an airplane or bus, and in other places where he can't just sprawl out. He's gonna be a Big Boy!

The next photo shows Don making himself fairly small in a "down-under" at our dining table. Holly and Casey practice a "down-stay" while we're doing this:

Another thing Laura advised us to work on was teaching Don to walk up steps without any pulling. He goes my pace down steps/stairs just fine but we started working more on going up in sync.

Since we have no stairs at home, I hunt them out in shopping areas, stores, and parks. I've introduced him to steps and stairs in a variety of types and materials -- wooden, concrete, metal, carpeted, closed, open, mesh, etc. He shows no hesitation so far on any surface and he's learning to go my pace both up and down.

 


This is a set of four metal mesh steps on a slide. (12-8-19)


This set of playground steps is much longer but has landings every
3-4 steps. It's a great place to teach him proper pacing on stairs. (12-18-19)

Another part of Laura's evaluation during the Walk & Talk was his reaction to her body handling -- his level of comfort being handled by someone besides Jim and me. He did well with that but he was hesitant at first to walk away with her in the store.

Laura cautioned us about him getting too attached to only one person (me!) so Jim began walking and playing with him more often and having him on a tie-down next to his desk sometimes, too. 

OTHER CUES & CONCEPTS AT THIS AGE

Post-kindergarten we continued to reinforce Don's early training so he could learn to generalize commands in different situations.

For example, he needed to know that a sit-stay meant the same in a busy store or a distracting city park as it did in our quiet, familiar living room. He seems to generalize most cues pretty easily.


Don did well with a stand-stay while I took his picture on this large tree stump,
another example of generalizing commands in a different place.  (11-28-19)

We also added other commands as Don matured, such as "turn," "close" (sitting between handler's legs, facing outward), "down under" (scooting back under a chair, bench, seat in restaurant or on public transportation, etc.), "switch" (behind the handler to the right if he needs to pass through a door safely with hinges on the left), "harness on" (walking into his coat), and "place" (settling quietly on a mat or dog bed).

Above:  Well before he was scheduled to learn the cue "down-under,"
Don was doing it on his own when I was in one of the few chairs in
our house he could get under -- and did his best with the rest! (below)

Another concept the pups are taught at any age they are in raisers' homes is relaxation protocol, specific detailed steps by Dr. Karen Overall or Suzanne Clothier to help the puppies learn to lie quietly without actually telling them to.

I haven't had to do this formally very much with Don because he's so relaxed to start with!

I've got a bunch of photos of him lying on his back, totally "chilled out." He's so cute. When he's doing this Jim will joke, "What's wrong with HIM??"


At home Don feels very secure and often sprawls out on his back like this.  (11-4-19)

Don's house manners are also generally very good. For example, he doesn't jump up on people or furniture, beg or counter-surf for food (just drools and has those puppy-dog eyes!), chew on socks or shoes left lying around, or bolt out the door. I've never really had to "train" him on any of these things.

We've learned to keep wastebaskets where he can't get into them (tubs in bathrooms, up on a table near my desk) and we try to make the house as safe as possible so he doesn't damage or ingest things he shouldn't. He has always shared toys well with the other dogs and doesn't run off with items he shouldn't have except to play "keep-away" with Holly-pup. He does have to be supervised so he doesn't eviscerate stuffed toys and swallow the fiberfill.


Those eyes will melt your heart . . .  (11-20-19)

Except for some of Don's medical issues that have stressed us out, he has been a complete joy to have in our home. He's relatively easy to train, gets along well with Holly and Casey, and is as sweet as he can be.

Here are a couple photos of this handsome boy from his six-month photo shoot in early December:

 

At six months (December 4) he was already up to 55 pounds, one pound more than Holly. By the end of the month he weighed 61 pounds. That's a lot of puppy to love!

It's going to be hard when Don leaves for advanced training next fall but we hope he will give independence and comfort to someone who needs him more than we do. I'll continue to post updates in the 2020 web journal.

Next entry:  making Don look dapper -- easy instructions for sewing your own dog bows and bow ties 

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, and Holly-Pup

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2019 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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