Tuesday, December 30, 2014

All flavors

September 12, 2014

"Puppies are awake, but quiet," I report as Tammy turns the Leader Dog van west. We plan the afternoon's training session as we drive. September's topics are STAY, TRAFFIC, and STAIRS. Of course, traffic is out.

As an American Kennel Club (AKC) evaluator, Tammy can "test" some of the older puppies for the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. She plans to have all the teams participate (good training), with the assistant raisers marking the scores she gives. We'll do FLDs Axel and Bear's In-For-Training (IFT) assessments at the same time; everything except traffic.

Poor FLD Chewy gets carsick during the long drive. We stop in Ishpeming to clean out his crate and park FLDs Hershel and Henry. Although we arrive at the Baraga Correctional Facility about 1:30 p.m., we don't actually get into Unit 8 until after 2:00. Evidently, chocolate labs are popular in the UP and some MDOC employees want to meet the little guy before we present him to his raiser.

"Now we have all flavors," RUM Steve says as he picks up Hershel. Eight puppies now - two yellow labs, three black labs, one German Shepherd, one golden retriever, and a tiny chocolate lab to round out the mix.

When we get down to Unit 8, we hand off FLDs Chewy and Henry to the inmates. I race in ahead of Tammy to be sure I capture the delivery of FLD Hershel.

An african american man dressing in prison blue pants and a white long sleeved t-shirt is sitting in the foreground on the right, facing the camera. His hands are clasped in his lap. On the left is a group of inmates sitting at metal lunch tables. There are two puppies visible sitting in front of their raisers. In the background, two women are coming in through the lunch room door. The first woman, wearing blue jeans and a grey shirts, is carrying a small chocoalte lab puppy.
Raiser Brown patiently awaits his new charge. The room fills with "Awwwwwws" as Tammy shows off Hershel to the other teams.

A clsoer shot of the man sitting in the chair. He is looking at the camera with a half-smile on his face. The woman wearing the grey sweatshirt is standing behind him to the left and and smiling. She is about to hand the small chocolate lab puppy over the man's left shoulder. The puppy is already looking at the man.
Tammy loves this part of her volunteer job - handing off a new puppy!

This is a head shot of the man and the chocolate lab being set on his left shoulder. The man is smiling broader now, and his eyes are sneaking a peak at the puppy. The puppy's front paws are resting on the man's shoulder, still being held by the woman.
The meeting - a bit tentative?

Another head shot of the man, who is now REALLY smiling! He is reaching up to hold the chocolate lab puppy with both of his hands, his left hand over the top of the puppy and his right hand supporting the puppy's chest. The puppy appears to be sliding down the front of the man's chest.
Tentative? I think not. FLD Hershel, meet Brown!

Two african american men are standing in front of a metal  wall, both are wearing white long sleeved t-shirts. The man on the left is cradling the small chocolate lab puppy in his arms, the puppy is on his back and the puppy's leash is lying across his body. Both men are smiling at the camera.
Team FLD Hershel. Brown and Phil, one of his two assistant raisers, pose for a team picture. The third team member was not present.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Three D's and Henry

September 11, 2014
The Soo


We took FLD Chewy with us when we left Pike Unit. Doc Bennett, the veterinarian who volunteers his service for the puppies, saw something he didn't like in the Shepherd's running gait. Tammy was charged with bringing Chewy back to Leader Dogs for the Blind for a complete checkup. But first he'd have to hang with us.

Tammy and I were late getting to the Antler's, a unique restaurant that has always been gracious to visiting Future Leader Dog puppies. This day was no different, although our group was seated in the main dining area instead of the quieter banquet room. Here the pups were treated to bells and whistles every time a ship passed through the Soo Locks.

We left little Hershel asleep in his crate in the van, as it was a cool evening. Tammy brought FLD Chewy in for Frank to handle, Rachel had her golden puppy, FLD Harkin, Kim was with FLD Kayla, and Paula had brought FLD Andie out on furlough from Chippewa. Of course, I had FLD Henry, who recently learned he has a voice. He barked a bit so I took him out to park. Afterwards he was better, but didn't really settle until it was nearly time to go. The other puppies were all well behaved.

As Henry and I got up to leave, a woman and some friends coming in for dinner blocked our passage. "Can I pet him?" she asked.  Her entourage spread out and surrounded us. I had no choice. "Can you help me with his training?" I asked her in return. She stepped forward, "What can I do?"

"Let me get him sitting and then you can approach," I explained. I asked Henry to "sit" and used "touch" to get him to focus on me. "He needs to have four on the floor and he cannot mouth you. If he gets up or licks too much, just take your hand away and step back."

The woman took another step toward us and Henry leapt forward. The woman stepped back. Henry sat down. "Yes!" I said and gave him a treat. He held a squirmy sit as the woman tried again. She stopped. Henry whipped his head around and looked at me as if to say, "This is it, right? You want me to sit, right?"

"Yes!" I said and slipped him another bit of kibble. While I was giving it to him, I asked the woman to come and pet him. Henry didn't know what to do then with his attention; his head swiveled from her back to me. Eventually he controlled himself long enough to accept a nice pet.

The crowd around us had grown. Another group was trying to leave. "Can you see how he improved?" I asked. They all agreed.

Good boy, Henry!


We regrouped at a local school where Rachel works so Tammy could conduct a training session with us. Immediately we had to practice stairs to get up to the conference room. As usual, Tammy loaded her agenda, starting with the relaxation protocol in "sit," followed by meet & greets (from quiet to excited), and weight checks.

Before we moved on to "stay" we practiced ignoring distractions. Tammy stuck a three foot long piece of painter's tape on the floor, behind which we stood with our foot on our puppy's leash. The leash was long enough for the puppy to move past the tape. From a distance, Tammy wiggled a stuffed squirrel that dangled from a pole and instructed us to treat our puppy at our left side whenever our puppy moved away from the toy and came to our side of the tape.

The tape itself was enough distraction for FLD Henry - the first thing he did was to rip the tape right up off the floor!

Oh, Henry!

Again, the other puppies did much better...

A man wearing khakis and a black top is standing on the right looking down at a large German Shepherd that is standing in front of him. The man is stepping on the dog's leash. The dog is looking to the right, where a woman wearing blue jeans and a marron top is kneeling on the carpeted floor facing the dog and man. The woman is bouncing a pink ball in front of her. She is several feet away from the man and dog. In the background are long tables with chairs behind them, another woman is sitting on the floor in front of the table and has a young yellow lab standing in front of her.
Tammy increases the distraction and now bounces a ball. Frank is firmly planted on FLD Chewy's leash, waiting for Chewy to move toward him. FLDs Andie and Kayla wait their turn.

A closer shot of just the man and the German Shepherd. Now the shepherd is turning toward the man. The man is leaning forward just a bit and reaching toward the dog with his left hand, which holds a treat. The other woman is still sitting on the floor with her yellow lab, facing the camera. Another woman is stting on the far side of the table.
FLD Chewy looks away from the ball distraction toward Frank, and loosens the tension on his leash. Frank rewards him.

The man is still standing on the shepherd's leash, but now the dog has moved to the man's left side, well behind the tape on the floor. The woman wearing blue jeans and a maroon t-shirt is on her hands and knees very close to the tape and has rolled the pink ball toward the dog. The dog is looking down at the ball, but is leaving it alone!
FLD Chewy resists the ball temptation, even when Tammy rolls it right up to him! Notice how Chewy has repositioned himself at Frank's left side.

On to stays. "People always want to rush stays," Tammy said. "That's why they have rotten stays." She told us to remember the "three d's." Duration. Distance. Distractions. "First is duration. Your puppy should hold position for one minute before adding distance," Tammy said. "Never mind about distractions! They come later."

I have lots more work to do with Henry and duration. He dropped into a down at about 10 seconds. "Take notice of that and treat him at eight seconds," Tammy advised.

Thank you, Tammy!

A floor-level close shot of a small chocolate lab puppy. The puppy is lying on the carpet facing the camera. He is busy chomping on a dog bisquit. His leash is attached to the leg of a table behind him.
FLD Hershel is happy attacking a Milk Bone from the sidelines.

Another close shot of the same chocolate lab puppy. Now he is sleeping, with his head resting across his leash.
All this work tires a puppy out!

Later, FLDs Hershel and Henry have some play time in the hotel...

The small chocolate lab is running toward the camera on green carpet. Behind him is a little bit larger yellow lab/golden mix puppy, who is following him. Behind and to the left is a cloth crate.
FLD Hershel takes off with FLD Henry close behind.

The yellow lab/golden puppy is standing over the smaller chocolate labe and they are play-fighitng. The chcolate lab is trying to bit the other puppy'es right ear.
Whoo-hoo! Lab wrestling!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Supposed to do

September 11, 2014

What I was supposed to do while Tammy did the new puppy paperwork was greet all the teams and evaluate the puppies' weights. What I ended up doing (mostly) was field questions from the men. They wanted to know why there were changes, why Deb Donnelly would be coming next month instead of Tammy. (See my post 'On my pledge" from December 3.)

I explained how the prison puppy-raising program has grown, maybe too quickly. For it to be successful in its growth, it needs the oversight of a full-time paid employee. Leader Dogs for the Blind will be hiring someone in January, but for now Deb would be taking over to get a good sense of how things work.

A young chocolate lab is lying on a carpeted floor underneath a plastic chair facing the camera. The puppy is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is hanging free in front of him. A man dressed in the blue prison uniform is sitting on the chair with his legs on either side of the puppy. The man's hands are clasped with his forearms on his knees, but you cannot see his upper body. Another man is sitting next to him to the right, holding a leash. This man is mostly out of view.
FLD Bandit seems to be listening as intently as his handler.

"Are you two ever coming back?" the men asked.

That was a complicated question. Leader Dog pulled the volunteer puppy counselors from the prisons, but gave me permission to tag along with Deb so I could continue to document things. (Luckily, everyone agrees that telling the story is important.) As for the reinstatement of counselors, that is an unknown, and will likely depend on what the new hire decides to do. Tammy and I have always been aware that a change might occur in 2015. It just came a bit sooner, taking us by surprise.

The men weren't happy that we were being replaced. I reminded them that they would benefit from having "the best" (Deb) work with them. Ro said, "But we have a relationship with you guys."

An african american man with corn rows in his hair is cradling a small black lab puppy in his lap, holding her with both of his hands. The puppy is on her back with her legs sticking out. She is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The man is looking down at the puppy with a scrinched up smile on his face.
Ro has a relationship with FLD GeeGee, too. She has captured his heart. "She's spoiled," he says. Ro says she was already housebroken when he got her. "She came to me already trained!"

I only managed to feel the ribs of FLDs Coda, Adell, Andie, Ashley and Harley (Henry's brother). Tammy rescued me and finished checking FLDs Teysen, GeeGee, Bandit and Chewy. She glanced at the clock. It was already ten minutes to five. There would be no time for training. She promised the guys we'd be back one more time before the end of September so we could do the work we didn't have time for today. Ro said, "I'll hold you to that!"

A woman wearing blue jeans and a royal blue windbreaker is squatting done in the middle of a room full of men inmates. She is facing the right and her hands are reaching down to a young yellow lab puppy lying on the carpeted floor in front of her. She is looking at the men seated behind the puppy.
Tammy talks to the men after helping me check the puppies' weights. She brought the 2014 Leader Dogs for the Blind poster to share.

Many of the men were concerned about the future of this blog. Would I still be able to write it? While they don't have access to my blog, their families do; one raiser said his wife reads it all the time. I assured them that I had Leader Dog's blessing to continue, that I'd do my best to return with Deb in the following months.

Tammy glanced up at the clock again. It was 5:30! So, we'd be late for dinner at the Antlers. Two outside raisers were meeting us there with their puppies, and two volunteers were handling FLDs Chewy and Andie on furlough. Afterwards, we would have a training session at a local school. 

Two bald men are sitting next to each other, looking at the puppies in front of them. They are both wearing white t-shirts and glasses. The man on the left is holding a small chocolate lab puppy in his hands, dangling the puppy's legs in front of him. The puppy is facing left. The man on the right is stroking the head of a grown german shepherd that is sitting in front of him. The german shepherd is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and he is facing left looking at the chocolate lab.
Scott (left) is holding FLD Hershel (who will be going to Baraga) and Doug (right) is stroking the head of FLD Chewy. We say good-bye to Scott as he will be paroled before Tammy and I get back to Chippewa in two weeks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

So little time...

September 11, 2014

Logistics for our trips to the UP prisons can be tricky. Tammy leaves from her house to travel about an hour to Leader Dogs for the Blind. Here she picks up the van and loads whatever she needs to deliver to the two correctional facilities. Usually that includes several 50-pound bags of Purina Pro Plan dog or puppy food.

This trip we are also delivering two puppies - a male black lab (Dylan) to Chippewa and a male chocolate lab (Hershel) to Baraga. Unfortunately, they aren't ready to leave Leader Dog until after 9 a.m. This means a late start, made a little later when Tammy tries to get sleepy Hershel to "park" before being tucked into his travel crate. No luck, so in he goes.

About an hour and 15 minutes from our meeting place on northbound I-75, I get a call. "Bring clean up material," Tammy says. "I was driving down the road in the van and smelled it and thought I should have given him more time." She stops to check and finds out "it wasn't even him!" Dylan was the poopy culprit.

We clean things up and head north. I brought sandwich makings so we only have to make pit stops for the puppies. Still, we don't get across the Mighty Mac until 3:30. We arrive at Chippewa after 4. Lots to do in little time.


A man wearing a green sweatshirt and a blue ball cap and glasses is facing the camera on the left. On the right is a man wearing a white long sleeved tshrit. He is looking at the other man. Between them and behind them is a woman with short white hair and glasses, wearing a blue windbreaker. She is holding a small black lab puppy over the left shoulder of the man on the left. The puppy'es front paws are reaching over the man's shoulder.
Tammy lifts FLD Dylan over Dave's left shoulder as Eric looks on.
The man wearing the blue ball cap is holding the black lab puppy and giving the puppy a big smooch on its right cheek. The woman behind is out of focus and she is smiling.
Some puppy-lovin'.

Another close shot, this one of the man wearing the white t-shirt. He is holding the black lab puppy close to him and is smooching him on his left cheek.
FLD Dylan doesn't look too sure of the attention.

The two men stand together (the man in the ball cap on the left and the man in the white t-shirt on the right( and hold the black lab puppy between them.
Team FLD Dylan.


As Tammy goes over the puppy contract with Dave, I am supposed to greet the teams and check the weight on each puppy. We use the Purina Body Condition chart as a guide and like to see a rating of 4 or 5. I ask each team to rate their puppy. It is interesting that the men rate each puppy at least one number lower than I do. 
Because guide dogs will walk a lot during their career, it is imperative to keep their bodies lean. A lower-than-the-normal-pet-dog-weight will assure less wear and tear on the joints - and a longer working life. The men need to learn what a good Future Leader Dog physique looks like.
I like to tell people to use their own hand as a guide to compare how the puppy's ribs feel. If the puppy's ribs feel like your open palm at the base of your fingers, then the puppy is probably too heavy. If the puppy's ribs feel like your knuckles when you make a fist, then the puppy is likey too thin. The puppy is just right if its ribs feel like your knuckles when your hand is held open.

BANDANA-RAMA (just because it sounds fun)

A young golden retriever/lab mix puppy is sitting on a carpted floor, with his head turned away from the camera. His leash is hanging loose on the floor. He has the blue Future Leader Dog bandana around his neck, and a second blue Future Leader dog bandana over his head. In the background are the legs of several men sitting in chairs.
FLD Harley models his new bandana that was embroidered by a volunteer named Jean.
Now the same puppy has turned his head toward the camera. The bandana on his head has his ears pinned back.
A head and shoulder shot of an African American man wearing a grey and blue jacket. He is holding a folded blue Future Leader Dog bandana at his chest with his right hand.
Ro likes FLD GeeGee's new bandana. He named his puppy after his daughter. "She thinks every puppy I get will come home with me," he said.

A man weraing a long-sleeve white t-shirt is sitting down facing the camera. He is holding a blue bandana up between is outstreatched hands. Embroidered on the bandana is the outline of the Upper Peninsulat with the word "Chippewa" under it. There are two black dogs with a yellow dog between them embroidered on it. Under each dog are the names (from left to rigth) Tara, Granite and Coda. These are the three "finsihing" dogs the man has raised. Behind the man is another man who is holding up a poster facing away from the camera and reading it.
Jeremy holds up the bandana he received with the names of the three finishing dogs he raised. He said he likes getting the "rehomed" dogs because "they have character." He admitted that he enjoyed FLD Granite the best, but is very pleased with the progress he's made with FLD Coda.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On my pledge

December 3, 2014

Tomorrow, FLD Henry and I head north with Deb Donnelly, Puppy Development Supervisor at Leader Dogs for the Blind, and FLD Valor, the German Shepherd puppy she is currently raising. She will also have two little puppies that are destined for raising at the Baraga Correctional Facility.

First we stop at the Chippewa Correctional Facility, where Deb will conduct a training session with the teams. We will leave with FLD Ashley (she is due to return to Leader Dog for her formal training), and spend an overnight somewhere between Kincheloe and Baraga. (Keep in mind we'll have two little puppies, our own two puppies and Ashley.)

Second stop, Baraga Correctional Facility, where Deb will hand the two new puppies over to their raisers and conduct another training session. When we depart, we will take FLDs Axel and Bear with us, the first two puppies to come to the facility. It is their time also to return to Leader Dogs for the Blind for training. Another night on the road, again with five, albeit older, puppies.

Wish us luck.

And then forgive me, readers. I confess that I hit the wall in my blog-catching-up marathon. I have not fulfilled my pledge.

This blog IS "caught up" through August 2014, but no further. Write as I might, I found there is too much to share (and too many photos to process) to zip through without giving the story the attention it deserves.

You may have noticed no mention of puppy counselor Tammy in the above itinerary. Late in August we learned that the Leader Dog prison program has been suffering from a good problem - it has grown too quickly! Three prisons in Iowa, one each in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and three now in Michigan (one in Jackson started earlier in the year), plus, two more correctional facilities in Michigan (one in the UP and one in mid-Michigan) are waiting to get started. 

Who knew? Being successful is great, but it can still be a problem.

Leader Dog had budgeted to hire a dedicated staff person to oversee the prison puppy-raising program, but that position would not be filled until January of 2015. The program needed someone right away. There were no "official" Leader Dog protocols in place for things like furloughs and prison-readiness. Puppy counselors at the facilities already on line were doing the best they could, but it became clear that consistency was lacking. It was too much for just volunteers to handle.

So, effective October 1, Leader Dog assigned Deb Donnelly the task of assessing the situation (and taking over the monthly visits) until the new person came on board. Puppy counselors were pulled, but fortunately I was invited to continue documenting the program.

Thus, Tammy and I had our last UP prison visit together in September. I promise to post about that trip (or, as it turned out, our trips).

In October, Deb scheduled her prison visits to start in Iowa; she came to the UP via Minnesota and Wisconsin. FLD Henry and I met her in Baraga and followed along to Chippewa. I will post about this journey as well.

In November, a family trip precluded my going to the UP with Deb. I thought the break would be enough for me to catch up! Not so. To the inmate raisers (who cannont access this blog, except through their families), I offer my sincerest apology. Can you bear with me? Because I will continue...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Okay to cry

August 15, 2014

Our session was drawing to an end, in more ways than one. FLDs August, Sammy and Ekco would be leaving with us this day. Tammy would take them back to Leader Dogs for the Blind so they could begin their formal guide dog training.

Emotions ruled. Abe, who suffered through this last April when FLD Zella left, gave sage advice to the teams. "You know it's alright to cry, right?"

Tammy announced each puppy's new "dog" tag number and presented its raisers with thank-you certificates from Leader Dog. Lots of us had blurry vision. Pick (an inmate who volunteers to help in the program in any way he can) was so distraught he left the yard and retreated into Pike Unit. Eric never took off his sunglasses.

A bald man wearing the blue prison uniform is sitting in the bright sun on the seat of a picnic table. Between his legs sits a young yellow lab, whose leash is hanging on the ground. The man is smiling at the camera, his right hand is touching the dog's neck from behind, and his left hand is holding a certificate on his left thigh.
John and FLD Ekco with the certificate.

A man wearing sunglasses, blue prison pants and a white t-shirt is sitting in the sun on a picnic bench, facing the camera. Between his legs is a young yellow lab. The man is holding the dog's leash with his left hand on his knee, and a certificale in front of his body with his right hand. There is a brick building behind him. The man has a somber look on his face.
Eric and FLD August.
A man wearing glasses and the blue prison uniform with a blue ball cap is sitting in the sun on a picnic bench. He is holding a certificate in his right hand by his knee. A young yellow lab is sitting between his legs facing the camera. The dog's eyes are closed. There is a brick building behind them.
Dave and FLD August.

A close head and shoulders shot of the man dressed in a prison blue shirt and blue ball cap and glasses, with his left arm wrapped around the neck of the young yellow lab. The dog is pressed against the man's cheek.
Dave gives FLD August a big hug.

An african american man dressed in the blue prison uniform is sitting on a picnic bench leaning over a black lab. The man's arms and hands are cradling the dog's chest and snout, he is holding a leash in his right hand at the dog's chest, his left hand is under the dog's snout. The man is looking up to the right with a pained expression on his face. It is a bright sunny day with a bright blue sky behind him. The dog's eyes are closed.
Ro and FLD Sammy.

A close head and shoulders shot of the african american man from above. The man has cornrows in his hair. His arms are wrapped around the head of a young black lab that is in front of him. The man is pulling the dog's snout to his face and giving the dog a big kiss on his nose.
Ro plants a big one on Sammy.

The men shared stories.


Ro said that FLD Sammy LOVES apples. He told us that Sammy once stole five apples off the top of his crate over the course of a week. Ro had admonished his  roommate for giving the apples to the pup. The roommate insisted he did no such thing. "On Saturday I stopped by my room after lunch to drop off my apple," Ro said. "Sammy was snoring on his back outside the crate, so I quietly put the apple up there and went to work out." His roommate called him back. "There was Sammy in his crate eating the apple!" Ro said.

The picture is taken on an angle. An african american man dressed in the blue prison uniform is standing on the left with an apple in his right hand at his chest. His left hand is at his side. The man is looking down at two black labs sitting in front of him. The closest lab to the camera is a very small pup, her leash is draped on the ground. The young male lab is sitting beyond her with his tail in a curl and his legs poised like he his about to spring up. He is totally focused on the apple in the man's hand. There is a brick building behind them with four windows.
Ro shows FLD Sammy an apple he had hidden in his pocket. (Ro's new puppy, FLD GeeGee wants in on the action too.) We had never seen this normally laid back lab so animated. After a quick series of "puppy push-ups" (sit/down/stand/down/sit, etc.) Ro gives Sammy (and GeeGee) some treats. He puts the apple back into his pocket. "You are planning to give that to him in the van, aren't you?" I ask. Ro smiles.
An african american man (left), wearing a white t-shirt and blue prison pants, and a shorter man (right) wearing the blue prison uniform, stand in front of a brick wall. The african american man is cradling a small black lab puppy in his arms and the man beside him is resting his right hand on the puppy. This man's left hand is at his waist. Both men are peering at the camera with a "tough guy" gaze.
Hello FLD Sammy. 2013.

Ro and Abe wanted to re-enact their first photo with FLD Sammy from last September. 

What a change in all three of them!

A head and shoulder shot of the african american man (left) and the shorter man (right) in front of the brick building. Now they are holding up a large black lab between them. The man on the left has his arms cradling the dog's body, while the man on the right is hugging the dog's head to his, with his hands holding the dog's head. Both men have big smiles on their faces, in starck contrast to the previous photo.
Good-bye FLD Sammy. Almost a year later, Ro (left) and Abe (right) hoist up a much bigger puppy.


John shared how FLD Ekco would come to wake him up in the morning. "He'd put his front paws on my bed and nudge me with his nose," he said. "Get up!" John also told us how Ekco always stretched before getting out of his crate, so he started saying, "bow," whenever the pup stretched. "Now Ekco bows on command," he said. A brilliant example of putting a behavior on "cue."

Scott said, "We don't believe you. Show us."

A man dressed in the blue prison uniform is standing on the left side, slightly bending over. His head is not in the picture. The man's right hand is curled at his chest and his left hand is holding the leash of a yellow lab that is "bowing" on the right. The dog has his nose and chest toward the dirt and grass, with his rear end in the air.
FLD Ekco "bows" on John's command.


FLD August's raisers were quiet and no one else ventured a story about him. So I did. I talked about the first time the little guy went on furlough with Tammy and me in the Soo and we took a walk on the bike path next to business loop I-75. August responded quickly to positive reinforcement for loose leash walking. "He just pranced right along," I said. I thought he was a puppy who was eager to learn.

Two men stand in front of a brick building with some plants behind them. The man on the left is wearing a long sleeve white t-shirt and blue prison pants and a blue ball cap, the man on the right is wearing a green sweatshirt and blue prison pants. The man on the left is holding the leash of a small yellow lab puppy, whick is lying on the grass at the feet of the man on the right. The men have somber expressions on their faces.
Dave (left) and Eric (right) with FLD August last October. These three have changed also!


For some reason, the photos I took of the guys putting their puppies into the Leader Dog van were all a little bit blurry. My camera has auto-focus, but perhaps I was shaking. Just a little. This never gets any easier. I'll let my "photo-shopped" pictures tell the story of good-bye...

A man dressed in a blue prison shirt is reaching into an airline crate that is sitting in the back of a van. There is a yellow lab inside the crate looking out at the camera. The man is looking at the dog. There is a blue ball in the van on the right side.
John says good-bye to FLD Ekco.

Two men wearing blue prison shirts (the man on the right is also wearing a blue ball cap) are facing the camera with a yellow lab dog to the left. The dog is coming out of the airline crate that is in the back of a van. The man in the middle has his right arm wrapped around the dog's back and is smiling at the camera. The man on the right with the ball cap is reaching his right arm over the other man along the top of the crate and his reaching his left arm in front of the other man to pet the dog under his chin. The man with the ball cap is wearing sunglasses and has a serious look on his face.
Harlan (right) can't contain himself and has to come out to the van to say good-bye.

A man dressed in the blue prison shirt and a blue ball cap with glasses is standing at the rear of a van that has the doors open. The man is facing the camera with a sad look on his face. His left hand is closing the door of an airline crate. You can just see the tail of a yellow lab in the crate.
Dave puts FLD August into the Leader Dog van. Eric could not bring himself to come out to the van.

An african american man with corn rows in his hair and wearing the blue and orange prison shirt is backing a black lab into an airline crate. Both his hands are grabbing the dog's chest and the dog is looking down trying to come out. The man is looking at the dog.
Ro puts FLD Sammy into his crate in the Leader Dog van. He tossed the apple in with Sammy, who waited until Ro left before he ate it.

The african american man is turning toward the camera, walking away from the open side doors of the white Leader Dogs for the Blind van. He is holding a leash and collar in his hands at his waist. He has a sad look on his face.
Ro turns from the van. Nope. It is never easy.

DOGSPEED puppies! And great job raisers!

Two airline crates in the back of a van hold two yellow labs. The lab on the left is sitting down, the lab on the right is standing. Both are looking at the camera.
FLDs Ekco and August, in their crates for the long drive south.
A black lab is sitting in an airline crate, looking at the camera with his tongue hanging out.
FLD Sammy, apple eaten.

"The better to hear you with, my dear."

August 15, 2014

Two lines of puppies are lying along the edge of a wide sidewalk, each of their leashes secured under a large rock. Most of the puppies are looking away from the camera toward a group of about a dozen men standing in a line facing the camera. The area behind the men has been blocked out in green. The puppy that is closest to the camera on the left is a german shepherd, the closest on the right is a black lab. The rest are black and yellow labs, one chocolate lab and a golden retriever.
"Hey, look over here!"
Before we get started on grooming, Scott orchestrates a group photo. He has the men make a "human wall" so the shot could be taken without the fence behind them in view (prison regulations). I end up greening out the fence in post-production.

It is evident the teams spend lots of time grooming their puppies. Coats are clean and shiny, nails are short and all the pups tolerate handling.

Tammy is particularly impressed with Jeremy and FLD Coda. This "finishing" puppy was extremely standoffish when she came to the Chippewa Correctional Facility at the beginning of July. She was not comfortable being close to anyone. 

Yet, here she is just a few weeks later, almost snuggling against Jeremy when Tammy comes to check her ears.

A young black lab is sitting down in the middle of two men and a women. This is a close shot. The man in the left corner is wearing a blue ball cap and has a red beard, he is holding a treat to the puppy's mouth. The man in the middle is kneeling down, supporting the puppy around her chest and side with his arms. He is looking down at her and he is wearing the blue prison uniform. The woman on the right is wearing glasses and a tan t-shirt, she is holding the puppy's left hear up and squirting an ear cleaner into it with her right hand.
Tammy squirts a few drops of ear cleaner in FLD Coda's ear, with the help of Jeremy (center) and Aaron. Notice how Aaron is giving Coda a treat to make this a positive experience. When asked how he managed to gain Coda's confidence so quickly, Jeremy said he followed a positive training plan called "By My Side." He rewarded Coda every time she came near him.

A close shot of a young chocolate lab, wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana, lying on cement and having one of his ears cleaned. There are two sets of arms - one supporting the puppy's head and the other administering the ear cleaner.
FLD Bandit gets his ear cleaned.

This close shot is of two bald men with the head of a german sheherd between them. The men are squatting down. The man on the left, facing the camera, is wearing a white t-shirt and green pants, he is dripping ear cleaner into the shepherd's left hear with his right hand. The man's right forearm is covered in tatooes. The man on the right is facing away from the camera toward the dog, he is wearing the blue and orange prison shirt. There is a bit of grass and part of a brick building in the background.
Doug (left) and Carlos (right) clean FLD Chewy's ear.

A man dressed in the prison blue uniform and blue ball cap is squatting over a young chocolate lab. The lab is lying on his right side on cement with his head nearest to the camera, he is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is resting on the cement. The man is looking at the dog, and is petting his side with his right hand.
Harlan takes a moment to give FLD Bandit a pet.

An upwards looking shot of a young man dressed in a white t-shirt holding a small black lab in his left arm. The man has a big grin on his face and the leash looped around his neck. The puppy is wearing a blue Future Leader Dog bandana with the name "Teysen" embroidered in white on it, he is looking at the camera. The sky behind them is deep blue and there is a brick building behind them too.
And just because this team is so darn cute. Meet Joe and FLD Teysen!

Risky recalls?

August 14, 2014

The chow hall is crowded with teams and puppies and Nylabones and Kongs are strewn about on the floor. The door to the yard is propped open for the summer breeze. Practicing off-leash recalls in a prison isn't very risky. After all, where could the puppies go?

Tammy starts a series of three recall exercises with a "blind" recall. She holds each puppy at the far end of the room and has the handler go out of sight. When he is hidden next to the ice machine, or squatting behind the trashcan, or just tucked in behind another team at the end of the lunch table, he calls. Tammy releases the now-excited pup.

One puppy takes advantage of the situation. His paws scrabble on the tile floor, he snatches a Nylabone and hightails it out the door on a run that reminds me of Norman Rockwell's painting, "No Swimming". His handler goes to fetch him.

This one isn't the only opportunist.

After a few more puppies make a break for it, I can't hold back. I say, "What are you teaching these puppies? How to escape and steal things?" Everyone laughs.

Tammy switches sides for the recall past a distraction (me again, on the floor with my camera); the puppies are recalled away from the door. This works much better.

A very blurry shot of a young black lab running from right to left. The dog is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. There are four men sitting on lunch stools along the left side, all are wearing blue priosn pants and white t-shirts. There is a woman in the background on the right side wearing blue jeans and a tan t-shirt. She is on her knees, with her hands on her thighs. There is an open door in behind the guys on the left.
I have no clue which puppy this is running past me. Note the open door in the background - he completely avoids it!

In this blurry shot another young black lab is running to the left, but the dog's face is more in focus than the rest of the photo. Two men are sitting on the left, one is leaning his tatooed forearms on his knees. The woman behind the puppy has her hands open because she just let the puppy go.
This pup races to his handler and ignores me too.

After these two risky recalls, Tammy has the teams practice the In-For-Training (IFT) recall. The handler has his puppy sit, down or stand, then walks in front to the end of the leash and calls the puppy to come. The pup must not do a "fly by" and must stop close enough for the handler to grab the collar. Easy-peasy.

Two men in blue prison uniforms stand on the left side holding the leashes of two labs that are on the right. The man closest to the camera is bald and is looking down at a young chocolate lab. The lab is walking toward the man and looking at him, he is also wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The second man is behind the first man and is an african american, although he is mostly out of sight. The leash he holds is attached to a young black lab that is sitting further to the right looking at him. In the background sitting in front of two large windows are two men.
Chris (in front) and Ro call FLDs Bandit and Sammy.

Before heading out to the yard for more training, Ro rolls a large blue ball into the room as a distraction. 

A group of at least five men and their puppies circle a large blue ball that is on the floor. Some of the puppies aren't interested and are looking away, others are straining to sniff it.
Oooo, the big blue ball!

Friday, November 28, 2014

On the spot at Chippewa

August 15, 2014

Without puppies to slow us down, Tammy and I get to the Chippewa Correctional Facility with two minutes to spare. The guys, as always, are waiting for us.

Two men are standing in front of a brick building looking at the camera and smiling. They are wearing white t-shirts. The man on the left has a blue baseball cap on his head and is cradling a small yellow lab puppy in his arms. The man on the right is resting his left hand on the puppy's side. The puppy's front legs are hanging over the man on the left's right forearm. The puppy is looking at the camera and is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana with the name "Adell" embroidered in white.
Tim and Bryan meet us in the yard with their charge, FLD Adell.

A man wearing the blue prison shirt with green pants is squatting on a tile floor with a young yellow lab sitting between his legs. The man's hands are wrapped around the dog's chest. The dog is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and is looking toward the camera, with his leash hanging to the left. The man has his head turned to the left and is smiling devilishly at the camera. There is a woman in the background over his left shoulder, she is wearing a black shirt .
Harlan strikes a pose with FLD Ekco.

FLD Henry pays me no mind when we enter the chow hall where we will have class. Tammy starts the same training plan we put together for Baraga with the relaxation protocol. Eric does a nice job handling Henry.

Two men wearing blue prison pants and white t-shirts are standing with two small yelow lab/golden retriever puppies. The man on the left is stepping toward his puppy, holding his leash with his left hand. The man is looking at the puppy. The puppy is sitting and looking at the man. The man on the right's head is not visible. He is standing a step away from his sitting puppy (which is the same breed as the other puppy), and he is holding the leash with his right hand. The puppy is looking up at the man. In the background are steel lunch tables with attached stools, a white brick wall and two windows.
Eric (left) takes a step away from FLD Henry during the relaxation protocol. Henry's brother, FLD Harley, sits for his handler Brian.

This time Tammy decides that I will demo how to teach the stand. I hope I'm up to it - the nine-week-old Henry doesn't know stand and this is a tough crowd. Not because they are inmates, but because many of them are accomplished puppy raisers. My demo is rough.

I take Henry from Eric and ask the pup to sit. He swings out in front of my left side to face me, and sits. In the just over two weeks I've had him we've made good progress with sit, but not position; Henry is a long way from knowing "leg." I could use light leash pressure to help guide him back into proper heel position, but without thinking I reposition myself instead. I take a half step forward to encourage Henry to stand. It takes a couple of attempts before he stands, but then he sits right back down. This is one way to teach stand. Another way? I kneel down and with slight pressure forward on the leash I help him up with my hand on his belly. I rub it a little to keep him standing.

Somehow my stand demonstration morphs into a discussion about "silky leash" training. The guys want to see what I'm talking about. Henry rocks this demo - every time I give slight lateral pressure on his leash, he gives into the pressure and moves toward it. He is learning to overcome his natural reaction to pull against pressure (oppositional reflex).

Ideas for applications for this technique fly around the room. Loose leash walking, positioning (into heel or under tables, for example), ignoring distractions, direction changes, "around."

See what I mean about accomplished puppy raisers? Thinking all the time, just like we want our puppies to do.

Two small yellow lab/golden retriever puppies are sitting on at tile floor like bookends. They are brothers and look like it. The puppy on the right is slightly ahead of the other and is looking right at the camera. He is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is going off to the right. The puppy on the left, slightly behind the other puppy, is looking up toward where his leash is going off to the left. There are stools behind the two puppies.
FLDs Henry (left) and Harley (right) sure look like brothers, don't they?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

All in a day, across the UP

August 14, 2014
en route to Chippewa

With the click of the gate echoing behind us after our training session with the Baraga teams, Tammy and I start our long drive across the UP. We are to meet up with a group of furlough volunteers, with Chippewa puppies, for dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in the Soo. But first, a stop in Marquette, about one and a half hours east of Baraga.

Mary, one of Tammy's Independent puppy raisers, lives in Marquette and is raising a male yellow lab named Stellar. Mary asked Tammy if we could do FLD Stellar's In-For-Training (IFT) assessment on our way through.

Every Future Leader dog puppy must be assessed after reaching the age of 10 months and prior to its date of return to Leader Dogs for the Blind. The IFT "standards" give puppy raisers a goal to shoot for in training the puppies, most of which have to do with developing self-control. The IFT includes obedience skills such as sit, down, stay and come, loose-leash heeling through doors, up and down stairs, in a crowd and next to traffic, and dog, noise and motion distractions.

The ever-accommodating-Tammy squeezes Mary and FLD Stellar into our schedule. I have to wake a sleeping FLD Henry to use as the dog distraction.

Another interesting coincidence. Turns out that Mary was the raiser of a puppy named Glacier, who ended up becoming Jess's second Leader Dog! (Jess is my blind blogger friend who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and had visited Chippewa with us.) Mary wanted to know why Jess had retired LD Glacier at a fairly young age. This is what Jess posted on her blog:
"Glacier retired himself at age five and a half. His sensitive, sweet and goofy nature was just not cut out for guiding a totally blind person. He is now happily living with a friend who takes him to work and spoils him rotten; which he deserves. I miss him terribly, but know that he is getting the best retirement any dog, or handler, could ask for."
After the IFT, we have about 170 miles to drive from Marquette to the Soo. Luckily there is no snow on the roads this time of year, but we still arrive a few minutes late. ARUS Rob and Joyce, Chippewa Correctional Facility staff, are waiting for us with FLD Ekco, Greg and his wife are handling FLD Chewy, Dave and Paula have FLDs Ashley and August, Julie handles FLD Sammy and Lion Tom has FLD Bandit.

The tall tables at Buffalo Wild Wings make dinner with seven puppies more of a challenge, but we make it through without too much commotion. I end up standing most of the time, my foot firmly planted on FLD Henry's leash, keeping him out of reach of the others.

After dinner, Tammy conducts a "furlough training" class outside the restaurant. While furlough volunteers aren't expected to "train" the puppies they take out (that's why the pups must be at least four months old, so they go out having some skills), we want to give them tools to help manage the puppies. Puppies might know things like "sit" and "down" when in the prison, yet not so much with a new handler in a different environment. Tammy wants to see how the puppies do with the volunteers and teach them redirection techniques like name recognition and touch. We also cover tips for loose leash walking and proper bandana/jacket removal and use.

Six people are standing in a row on a sidewalk against a brick walled building, on the left side of the photo. On the right, a woman wearing jeans and a light colored sweatshrit is facing them with a piece of paper in her hands. All the people agains the wall have a puppy sitting on their left side.
Nope, it's not a firing squad! It's just Tammy (right) having the furlough volunteers run through some obedience with the puppies.

Someone wearing red pants is standing off-camera to the right facing a young black lab lying on a cement sidewalk in front of a brick wall. The lab is facing the person and looking up at her. He is wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana and his leash is looped loosely from his collar to the person.
FLD Sammy lies down and looks longingly up at his handler.

Two men are walking around puppies that are lying on a cement sidewalk. The man on the left is wearing dark blue pants and a light blue long sleeved shirt. He has the puppy's leash in his left hand and is looking down at the puppy while reaching into his pocket with his right hand. The puppy at his feet is a small chocolate lab wearing the blue Future Leader Dog bandana. The man on the right is wearing blue jeans and a black and grey jackeet. He is looking down at a small yellow lab/golden retriever mix puppy and holding the leash in his right hand. The puppy is lying on the cmeent, facing the brick wall which is behind the men. In the background behind the man on the right is a woman wearing blue jeans, a grey sweatshirt and holding a big purce. She is leaning agains tthe brick wall.
Tammy leads the group through the relaxation protocol. Here Lion Tom (left) and ARUS Rob (right) walk around FLD Bandit (chocolate lab) and FLD Henry.

The same two men are now both leaning over toward their puppies to give them a treat! The puppy on the right is starting to come out of the down position to get the treat.
Gentlemen, treat your puppies!

In this partially blurry shot, the woman wearing blue jeans and a grey sweatshirt is running from left to right in front of the line of people and puppies in front of the brick wall of a building. All of the puppies are sitting nicely.
Tammy gets into action, providing a moving distraction for the puppies. Not one is perturbed!

Before the pups return to Chippewa, Tammy and I do the "traffic" portion of the IFT with FLDs August, Sammy and Ekco. We will be taking these three back to Leader Dog with us tomorrow. Even though by now it is dark, all pups do fine.

Henry goes with Joyce; she's dropping him off to spend the night at Chippewa. Tammy and I are puppy-free!