Thursday, January 30, 2014

After Santa...

December 19, 2013

The puppies in Chippewa Correctional Facility were SO good...

How good were they?                    

They were so good that Santa Claus came early - and brought puppy gifts!

A man dressed in a white t-shirt and blue pants with an orange stripe on the leg is bending from left to right toward a black lab dog. He is trying to get the dog to back under a chair. Santa Claus is sitting on the chair.
FLD Nell needs a little coaxing by her raiser to slide "under" Santa's chair.

But after Santa, there was still training to be done. 

A yellow Lab is sitting in the foreground, facing away from the camera. She is looking at a young man wearing a white long sleeved shirt and blue pants. He is bending over with his elbows on his knees looking at her. There are a few men and dogs in the background.
FLD Bravo waits for the cue to "come."

 Practice recall. Add distractions.

A golden retriever is lying on a light brown tile floor facing to the left. He is wearing a light blue jacket. A man is squatting behind him, wearing a blue shirt and green pants. The man is lifting the dog's left rear foot and looking at it.
FLD Drummond gets his nails checked.

This golden retriever is also lying on the floor, but is facing the camera. A man dressed in a blue shirt and blue and orange pants is kneeling behind him and bending over looking at the dog's left rear foot, holding it with both hands.
FLD Bravo has his nails checked too!

Perform the "handler's exam." Check puppy paws and nails. Look in ears and smell them.  Lift lips and check  teeth. Eyes clear? Body weight lean?

Then puppy counselor Tammy gave the inmate raisers a task they couldn't resist:


A yellow lab wearing a blue jacket is facing left and is being hugged by a young man in a blue shirt with an orange stripe across the shoulders. He is smiling like a little boy. The photo has been "posterized."
FLD Zella gets a big hug!

A black lab is being hugged by an African American man wearing a blue shirt with an orange strip across the shoulders. The man has tattooes on his forearm and has corn rows in his hair. He is sitting on the floor with the dog and the dog looks like he is hugging back! In the background is the legs and arms of another man who is sitting on a stool
FLD Sammy seems like he is hugging back!

And after all of that, the puppies are sprung on furlough to attend a Pickford High School basketball game!

Five older puppies sit on the shiny green floor in front of the bleachers in a high school gym, with their handlers sitting on the bleachers behind them.
FLDs Drummond, Bravo, Sammy, Harper and Sadona sit along the sidelines. Sadona is being raised by Greg on the "outside."  FLD August is off to the left, not in the picture. Tammy is in the middle smiling at the camera.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


An african american man wearing a white tshirt and blue pants is walking toward the camera with a young black lab puppy on his left side. He is holding a brown leather leash in both hands in front of his torso. The puppy is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red works that say Future Leader Dog. There is a door with a window in the background.
FLD Sammy and his raiser.
Guitar music hung lightly in the lunchroom of Pike Unit on the afternoon of November 21. First to perform - FLDs Sammy and August and their inmate raisers. Entering on loose leashes, the teams faced off for a dueling demo - sit, down, stay, kennel, under, ring the bell.

Suddenly, both handlers said "leg." Both puppies swung their rear ends into alignment with the handlers' left legs. Perfect heel position!

I was flabbergasted. Not only because of how well each pup responded to the cue, but that the cue was used at all.

During our very first visit to the Chippewa Correctional Facility, when Deb and Tammy and I handed our puppies over to the inmates, FLD Dutch's handler tried to get him into a heel position. Dutch wasn't having any of it. I whispered, "Tell him 'leg.'" The handler said, "Leg." Dutch launched himself to the man's left side, slamming his hips against his leg.


A woman with short brown hair dressed in a rose colored fleece jacket and blue jeans is standing and facing the camera. She is holding a brown leather lease attached to a goldern retriever, who is sitting on the ground on her left side, looking up at her.
FLD Dutch anticipates my cue of "leg."

In March of 2013, I attended the Clicker Expo in Connecticut with FLD Dutch. Returning home, I practiced a training technique I had learned at the Expo to address Dutch's tendency of migrating out of heel position. His enthusiasm with the process of "mark the behavior and then reward it" showed me the power of the "click." In was, in fact, thrilling.

I won't go into the many steps I took in working with Dutch, but before long he figured out what I wanted him to do. At that point I needed to attach a cue to his animated leap back into heel position. Just in case I muddled things up, I chose a word that surely, no one would ever think of using.


I glanced over to Deb Donnelly, Puppy Development Supervisor at Leader Dogs for the Blind. She was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Oh boy, was I in trouble!

At the end of the performance by the teams, six puppies in all, Deb spoke to the group and then took questions. The thoughtful questions made it evident that the raisers were busy educating themselves on dog training and were thoroughly engaged with their puppies.

One last question stood out.

"Deb," one of the men asked. "Does Leader Dogs prefer the word 'leg' or 'heel?'"

I choked. Deb grinned again. Here it comes, I thought. "Well," she said. "Heel is the traditional word, but you can use leg. It's a pretty ingenious cue that Patti made up." She grinned even wider and tears sprung to my eyes.

Every puppy in the Chippewa Correctional Facility has learned "leg."

The next day during our visit to the Baraga Correctional Facililty, Deb used FLD August to demonstrate the skills that the Chippewa puppies had learned from their raisers. She even said, "Leg." August swung into a tight heel position on her left side!

A floor-level shot of a small yellow lab sitting next to a pair of legs dressed in blue pants and white tennis shoes. The puppy is looking up at the handler and is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red words that say Future Leader Dog. The puppy's name "August" is embroidered on the blue part of the patch.
FLD August looks up at his Chippewa handler.

LEG - my "leg-acy" in Leader Dogs' Michigan U.P. puppy-raising program!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Honorary member

November 21-23, 2013

All I said was, "Well, that's no good for you two."

Really. That's all I said.

Deb and Tammy and I were relaxing in our room in a Marquette hotel. FLD Harper was entertaining himself by tossing a Kong in the air and chasing after it. FLDs August and Sammy were blowing off some steam. They had a long day in the van and then did some great work during our visit at the Baraga Correctional Facility.

So, while calmly retrieving a laptop charging cord from the tug-of-war play of the August and Sammy, all I said was, "Well, that's no good for you two."

That's all I said and then a giggle broke out from across the room. I caught it faster than a stifled yawn in a boring meeting. I giggled in return.

"Wait," I said. "What's so funny?" Deb's giggle escalated. "Well, that's no good for you two!" she chortled, mimicking my cheery admonishment of the pups, who by this time were happily playing with the Nylabone I had exchanged for the cord.

I giggled harder. Her giggle grew. We volleyed our giggles like tennis player pros. By the time Tammy came out of the bathroom we were practically rolling around on the floor in uncontainable laughter, tears rolling down our cheeks. I thought I might need my inhaler.

"What's so funny?" Tammy asked. This only resulted in another burst of unabashed giddiness. We cackled.

I guess you'd have to be there. It was the second night on the road for us and maybe, just maybe we were a little bit tired.


On Thursday morning, Deb picked up Tammy and I at stops along I-75 for the drive north. We had an afternoon training session scheduled at the Chippewa Correctional Facility. As usual, the inmate raisers were lined up in the yard outside of Pike Unit waiting for us. But we were in for a surprise...


A close shot of a golden retriever puppy's head sniffing up to a fireman's face mask.  

After that amazing presentation, Deb and I took FLDs August and Sammy out on furlough. We met a group of outside puppy raisers for dinner at the Sundown Lounge in Pickford and then gathered at the Pickford Fire Hall. The puppies got to meet firemen in full gear and were exposed to the distracting noise of the fire trucks.

A group shot of thirteen people with 11 Leader Dog puppies on a wood floor with brown walls and windeow in the background. Most are kneeling, four are standing. Two of the poeple are firemen in full gear.
Future Leader Dog puppies and handlers pose with Pickford firemen.

A night shot of two golden retriever puppies in the foreground wearing blue jackets. They are facing away from the camera toward a fire truck that has its lights blinking. There is one man holding the leash of one of the puppies. There are other people and puppies in the background closer to the truck.
Dave Bardsley holds the leash of FLD Drummond while the other pups and handlers walk by the Pickford fire truck.

That night we stayed in the Soo. A short walk and a play session in the room assured a good sleep for all of us.


The next morning started early with another long drive, this time west across the U.P. to Baraga. Warden Thomas Mackie's staff had been busy following their visit to Chippewa in October. Everything for a puppy-raising program was arranged; they just needed Deb's approval. (See the Baraga Correctional Facility page.)

RUM Steve Niemi met us in the parking lot when we finally arrived. He gave us a tour of Housing Unit 8. We met with the potential raisers in a small classoom. Deb talked to them about Leader Dogs for the Blind and the responsibilities they would have as puppy raisers. FLD August impressed everyone with hid demonstration of things he had learned at Chippewa - sit, down, "leg," and under. We handed our leashes over to the inmates.

Now Christmas had come early to Baraga.

That evening we drove east to spend the night in Marquette. The next day we still had to drive back to Chippewa to return FLDs August and Sammy before heading home. Oh, and break out Strider, Deb's career-changed German Shepherd, who had spent the night in Pike Unit.

A goldern retriever puppy wearing a blue jacket is looking away from the camera toward an adult german shepherd dog that is lying on a light colored tile floor. The german shepherd is looking up at the puppy.
Career-changed Strider gazes back at FLD Bravo.

After drying our eyes from the hilarity that we shared, I told Deb, "You could be an honorary member of the Cackle Club."

What's that, you might wonder? Some years ago one of my nieces dubbed my sisters and me the "Cackle Club" during our annual Christmas cookie bake. Get one of us giggling and it's all over.

Welcome to the club, Deb!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

And then there were six...

October 3, 2013

The morning after our "furlough fun," Tammy and I head back to Chippewa for a training session with the inmate raisers. Dutch hardly notices I am there when we gather in the classroom. His host continues to handle him.

A full grown golden retriver is lying on a brown floor facing the camera. He is wearting the blue bandana with the white triangle patch with red letters that say "Future Leader Dog" and a black paw print. Sitting behind him is a bald inmate wearing a white tshirt and blue and oragne pants. He is bending over and petting the puppy with his right hand and holding the leash with his left.
FLD Dutch and his inmate handler.

Tammy had planned out the session's exercises the night before. There is so much information and work to do with the guys and puppies that I'm not sure if we'll get everything in. Somehow she manages to cover it all.

We start with a "relaxation protocol." The raisers have their puppies "sit" or "down" while Tammy reads, step-by-step, from "Day 3" of a 15-day protocol.
  • Have your puppy sit for 10 seconds - treat your puppy
  • Have your puppy sit for 15 seconds - treat your puppy
  • Have your puppy sit while you take two steps back and return - treat your puppy
  • Have your puppy sit while you jog five steps backward from the dog and return - treat your puppy
  • Have your puppy sit while you walk halfway around the dog to the right and return - treat your puppy
  • etc...

The head of a black lab puppy is in the bottom right foreground; he is looking up to his handler, but the only thing you can see of the handler is part of his blue pants and shirt- he is standing on the far left side. In the background is a man clapping his hands, he is wearing a white tshirt and orange shorts. A golden retriever puppy is lying on the floor facing him. Two other men in white tshirts are in a doorway in the background on the right side.
FLD Sammy looks up to his handler. FLD Bravo is in the background.

All the puppies are expected to hold their positions while the handler performs the tasks. The protocol is designed to start off easy, gradually get more difficult (in duration and/or distractions) in a random pattern, and then taper off to finish on easier tasks.

The protocol is an excellent tool to help the puppies learn to "settle." While some of them find it impossible to stay in position throughout the entire sequence, eventually they learn that all they have to do to keep getting treats is to stay put!

We do some structured "meet & greets" and then head out to the yard for loose leash walking. While Tammy coaches one group,  I take another to walk their puppies through the rungs of a ladder. This teaches the puppy he has back legs! When the puppy gains coordination of his back legs, stairs typically become less scary.

A small golden retriever puppy, wearing that blue bandana again, is stepping through the rungs of a ladder that is lying ont the ground. He is approaching the camera. His inmage handler is on the left side bending over assisting the puppy. He is wearing a white tshirt and orange shorts and white tennis shoes.
FLD Bravo masters the ladder...with a little help.

Before heading back inside for some blindfolded activities, Tammy has the raisers release their puppies into play. No problem having a safe, fenced yard in a prison! In spite of size differences, all pups play appropriately (all change positions in play and raisers are able to call their puppies out of play several times).

A group of about four or five puppies anre playing in the grass and dirt. On the left side is a small black lab. The other three are golden retrievers. There are three sets of legs in blue and orange pants are in the background.
Can there be any bigger joy than a pack of playful puppies?
A bald man wearing a paper blindfold, white tshirt and blue and orange pants is kneeling on the floor feeling the face of a small golden retriever puppy. The leg and arm of another man dressed in blue is to the left of the photo.
FLD Bravo is examined by his blindfolded handler.

An african american man dressed in blue and orange clothes is sitting on a chair to the left in the photo. He is holding one end of a long red lead attached to a small black lab that is approaching him. The puppy is wearing the blue bandana. In the background are about seven men sitting or standing  with a couple of golden retrievers under their chairs. A lady dressed in a blue tshirt and jeans is kneeling on the right side.
FLD Sammy "comes" to his handler during the blind recall exercise.

By the noon chow time everyone's brains are full and the puppies are tuckered out. Tammy and I (and FLD Dutch) drive south on I-75 in a quiet car. FLD Harper is spending time at Chippewa while she takes a much-deserved vacation with her family.

Before the end of the month, Tammy returns with FLDs Zella and Nell, the two females puppies that need "finishing." (See the Chippewa Correctional Facility page.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Furlough fun

Note: I know that many readers can't wait to hear about the presentation of two puppies at the Baraga Correctional Facility. Please be patient while I try to get caught up here...thanks!

October 2, 2013

Rob and a couple of URF* inmate raisers meet us in the parking lot to haul crates and food into Pike Unit from Tammy's car. As they walk away from us, 50-pound bags of Purina Pro Plan Sport dog food perched precariously on their shoulders, FLD Dutch strains at his leash, whining. He wants to go with them.

Looks like my concern about him being too attached to me might be unfounded. Still, we go ahead with our plan. An inmate returns with FLD August and his puppy supply bag. We trade leashes. Dutch is spending the night in prison and August is sprung out on furlough.

A small yellow lab is sitting on the floor board of a car on the passenger side, looking at the camera. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red letters that say "Future Leader Dog" and a black paw print. The puppy has a leather leash attached to its collar.
FLD August sits on the passenger side floor board of Tammy's car. He seems to be enjoying his first car ride.

Mr. Dutch is sure to have the time of his life. He will be the sole entertainment at Chippewa for the evening. FLDs Sammy, Bravo and Drummond are out on furlough too, handled by the Bardsley's and two other U.P. raisers currently without puppies. A couple of outside puppy raisers join us for dnner and a training session too, thanks to Tammy's planning.

Little August settles nicely at the restaurant, even as several young children run back and forth behind our chair. He is content to sit on his gray, hand-sewn prison mat and watch the action.

At a local school after dinner, Tammy blindfolds the handlers to practice recalls and handler's exams with the pups. It is an eye-opening experience. Sorry for the cliche' - but you try grooming your puppy without being able to see!

Loose leash walking on a "rally" course set up in the school hall is done without blindfolds. We need to help our puppies learn to ignore distractions. Handlers and puppies follow a route marked by signs that indicate an exercise such as "Sit your puppy for 10 seconds" or "Turn left." Strewn about are balls, wrinkled tissues, squeaky toys and other lovely temptations. Puppies lunge right and left - we have our work cut out for us. Too bad the hall was not wider so our pups had a better chance to succeed with greater distance. Ah well, just like with life, stuff happens.

FLDs Sammy, Bravo and Drummond return to Chippewa Correctional Facility, but FLD August joins Tammy, her puppy FLD Harper and me at a hotel in the Soo for the night. We take a walk, but baby August can't keep up with the older Harper. I tell Tammy, "Go ahead, we'll meet you back at the room."

As Tammy and Harper disappear into the darkness, August pulls to go after them. I stop. When the leash is loose I take a few steps. "YES!" I say when the leash is slack. I reach down and stuff a bit of kibble into August's mouth like a mother bird. One or two steps further, with the leash still loose, I say "YES!" again. This time August looks up in anticipation and he isn't disappointed. He gets another bit of kibble. It doesn't take more than a block and August is strutting along like a champ, a hearty "YES!" and a bit of kibble randomly reinforcing his loose leash. He doesn't even pay much attention to the traffic whipping by us on business loop I-75.

What a quick learner! And quite the poser, too.

A small yellow lab puppy is sitting facing the camera. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog with a black paw print. He has the cutest head tilt to the right as if he knows he is cute.
"Oh yes, I'm so cute!"

A small yellow lab puppy is sitting facing the camera on green grass that has some brown oak leaves strewn about.. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white patch with red letters that say Future Leader Dog with a black paw print. The puppy's leather leash is around a tree trunk behind him.
A fall pose. (And he didn't even chase after the leaves!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

FLD Bear has landed

A group shot of 11 men and four puppies. Six men are standing in the back row and five men are kneeling in front. They are dressed in the blue and orange uniforms of the Baraga Correctional Facility. One puppy being held in the back row (by the seond man from the right) is a 10 week old yellow lab. The second man from the left kneeling is holding an 8 week old black lab, next to him on the right a nine-month old golden retriever is sitting and next to him to the right is a 3 month old German Shepherd.
Leader Dogs for the Blind inmate puppy raisers at the Baraga Correctional Facility pose with their first two puppies, FLD Axel (yellow Lab) and FLD Bear (black Lab). Included are FLD Harper and FLD Jedi, who were overnight visitors.

More to come...             

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bear slept all night!

With the recent spell of sub-zero temperatures, I wonder if Bear thinks he must live up to his name. 
He is a Champion sleeper.

A floor-level shot face on of a small black lab puppy sleeping. He  is laying on his left side and his right front paw is against his muzzle. In the foreground on the left side is a cream colored Nylabone. In the out-of-focus background there are table and chair legs and a women's lower legs and feet.
FLD Bear takes another snooze during lunch at the Rose City Cafe'.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The hand off

Saturday, August 31, 2013
Sammy and August make four

Tammy and I have an early morning rendezvous in Mackinaw. She and her family are camping in the area during the Labor Day weekend; I drive two hours from home with FLD Dutch. My Prius should be secure for the day, parked on a side-street beneath the bridge.

The packages are safe in a crate in Tammy's car. We head north over the Mighty Mac - our target destination for the hand off is the Chippewa Correctional Facility, or "URF" in Michigan Department of Corrections speak.

ARUS* Rob Batho meets us in the parking lot. Behind the fence, inmates watch us unload. We leave everything behind except what's need for the two new residents, Sammy and August. Once cleared and IDs exchanged, we enter Pike Unit.

The meeting room is reeking with anticipation of the drop. Brawny tattooed inmates become eight-year-old boys before our eyes as we hand them two wiggly, furry, seven-week-old puppies. Black Lab Sammy and yellow Lab August will be their charges for the next 10 to 12 months.
A photo collage of four men prisoners, all are wearing the blue shirts of their prison uniforms. The top left is an African American with corn rows in his hair, he is holding a small black lab puppy in his lap with his left hand on its head. Another inmate is blurry in the background - he has a big smile on his face.The upper right is a white man with longer grey hair holding a yellow lab puppy on his lab cradled in his left arm and hand. The lower left is a younger man holding the same black lab puppy on his back with both arms/hands. The puppy's legs are sticking up and you can just see his belly. The lower right is a younger while man cradling the same yellow lab in his arms like a baby. The puppy is on its back with legs sticking up and belly exposed.
Four inmates pass FLD Sammy and FLD August between them. (Can you see the little boys in all of them?)
Cuddly-ness aside, there is still work to do. Dr. Richard Bennett (DVM) gives the older puppies, FLD Bravo and FLD Drummond, their next round of puppy shots. He physically examines all of them, including FLD Harper and FLD Dutch, who have come along for the ride and are now being handled by the inmate raisers.

A group shot of five men and two puppies. The two men on the left are wearing white t-shirts, one is sitting on a chair, the ohter is kneeling and holding the leash of a small golden retriever puppy that is sitting on the floor and being examined by the vet, a white-haired man with glasses, wearing a light blue shirt and khaki pants. One inmate is sitting on a chair behind the group, he is wearing the blue and orange prison uniform. On the right side in the foreground is another inmate sitting on a chiar holding a leash - he is lookig toward the vet and puppy and wearing the blue uniform. An older golden retriever puppy, wearing the Leader Dog blue working vest, is on the left side straining forward toward the other puppy.
Dr. Bennett checks out FLD Bravo while inmates (and FLD Dutch) look on.

FLD Bravo and FLD Drummond try to hold a sit while FLD Harper is heeled past.

Tammy takes the group out to the yard for training exercises. Drummond and Bravo's raisers are surprised when the puppies seem to have forgotten how to "sit" on cue. "But they know how to do this!" the men insist. It's a great example of how a change in location and added distractions indicate that the puppies have not "generalized" the cue. The raisers see they have more work to do.
FLD Bravo has trouble holding his sit.

FLD Dutch makes me look good when he is calm during a meet & greet between his prison handler and Tammy.

FLD Dutch stays calm during a meet & greet.

The puppy hand off is a success!

FLD Sammy and FLD August are tuckered out!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Bringing in 2014

After a late night at the ball drop in downtown West Branch, Michigan, FLD Bear slept in to a late 7:00 am!


A floor level picture of a small black lab puppy sitting in a gold new year's eve hat. He is wearing a blue bandana that has a white triangle patich on it with red letters that say Future Leader Dog, with a black paw print.
FLD Bear just barely fits into a golden New Year's Eve hat.