Doggedly Obedient

By Marilyn M. Miller

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  • Saturday, August 01, 2015 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Marilyn Miller

    In May my Rally Coach had a get together for her students. It was there that I met Diane, who has raised several Guide Dog puppies for the organization "Guiding Eyes for the Blind".  Diane agreed to answer several of my questions and helped me write the following article. She does not want to have her last name mentioned.

    Guiding Eyes for the Blind provides guide dogs to people who are visually impaired and service dogs for autistic children. Guiding Eyes is a non profit organization and all of their services are provided free of charge. Diane became interested in puppy raising by watching her neighbors raise a couple of pups for another organization. She looked into Guide Dog organizations and found that Guiding Eyes for the Blind had a raising group in the area where she was living. Diane wanted a puppy to raise and feels the pride and love of seeing her puppy paired with a visually impaired person at their graduation. It is an extremely moving experience to hear how much the guide dog means to their new owners and the independence that these people have gained from this pairing.

    Diane had to attend pre-placement classes before she could raise a puppy. In these classes she learned the skills that are needed to begin training the puppies.

    She receives an 8 week old puppy after the class is completed. Some raisers do not want really young puppies but will take one that was started by someone else. As a puppy raiser Diane is required to attend two classes per month. She also tries to get together with other raisers and their pups on off weeks when they do not have classes. The puppies are taught basic obedience and house manners. They are also socialized in as many different situations as possible. All the raisers are volunteers. At the age of 16 - 18 months the pups are returned to Guiding Eyes for their "In-For-Training" evaluations. Guiding Eyes then decides what the next step will be for the puppy. The pups who pass this training evaluation will spend the next 4 - 6 months undergoing formal training with professional trainers.

    Guiding Eyes breeds all their own dogs and they are bred specifically to become guide dogs. Diane is on her 11th puppy. Her 10th puppy was released at 8 weeks because he lacked the confidence to become a guide dog. Diane was able to purchase him from Guiding Eyes two years ago. He is now her helper and sets a good example for her new puppy.

    During their time with the raisers the puppies are evaluated three times. The raiser must work her puppy through different situations which are filmed and sent back to  Guiding Eyes. If a puppy does not progress as well as expected he will be released and returned to Guiding Eyes. Diane has not seen this happen often. If a raiser must give a puppy up for any reason, another raiser will be found in your area. A questionnaire must be filled out when a puppy is returned. Regional managers have the duty of tracking the pup's progress. More than 50% of the dogs raised become guide dogs or autism service dogs. Still others join the breeding program or become detection dogs. The raiser has the next choice if the dog is not suitable for any of these programs. If the raiser does not want to keep the dog it is put up for adoption. Their is a long list of  people interested in purchasing a released puppy (or dog). There is another list of the very young pups which are released at their 8 week old test.

    The puppy raisers are allowed to participate in dog classes other than the Guiding Eyes classes, however, they cannot show or compete in any Sporting Events. Diane has entered Rally classes and "Wag-It" games because it helps her pups become well rounded. Diane owns two black Labs who share her home with the guide dog puppy.

    Training a guide dog puppy is different than training a regular dog. "Loose line walking" is emphasized as the ability to walk without pulling is extremely important in the development of a guide dog's skills. The dogs are trained with praise and food rewards. The dogs develop confidence and are able to make decisions on their own (such as when it is ok to cross a street) by learning loose - leash walking. Only flat collars are used. No choke collars, harnesses or Gentle Leaders are allowed. The commands are different than in regular training and are adapted to make the training easier to become a guide dog. The puppies learn to play by sharing a toy, however, no stuffed toys are allowed as they cannot differentiate the difference between their toys and those of the children they live with. The puppies are not allowed to play chase games or wrestle with other dogs or humans. The command "Heel" to a guide puppy means to come to the person's left side and sit lined up with the raiser's leg. Diane believes that in most cases training all dogs is similar. The future guide dog graduates are those which are "totally motivated" to learn.

     The people who receive guide dogs pay for nothing, Everything depends on donations. Guiding Eyes for the Blind can be reached at PO Box 709, Yorktown Heights, NY. 10598. I was very interested in learning more about this organization as I am a monthly donor for them. I want to thank Diane so much for her helping me write this article!

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  • Saturday, February 01, 2014 12:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by Marilyn M. Miller

    When I was training and showing my Lhasas in Rally, I always spent several nights before each show watching videos on Youtube. I thought this was the only vehicle to find rally training videos. That, and my "coache's" website where she has videos of some of her students going through courses. Recently I learned there are many other search engines to look at Rally videos. Some of these include Google, Bing, Yahoo, Aol, and Webstarter. These videos include everything from a description of all the signs to demonstrations of all the signs. Also various courses at all three levels of Rally.

     All kinds of information on Rally can be found including: How to get started in Rally, different Rally - O courses, signs, classes, videos, information on Rally in Canada and where to buy the equipment such as all the signs and jumps. I learned that Bud Kramer was the main founder of Rally Obedience which came from the practice of doing an interesting assortment of  obedience warmups and freestyle exercises. His book "The Style of Rally Obedience, 3rd Edition" explains all one needs to know to get started in the sport.

     I did not realize that there are as many as five "sanctioning" groups of Rally - O in the U.S. These include: The American Kennel Club (AKC)

                                    Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)

                                    Canine Work and Games (C - Wags)

                                    Canines and Humans United (CHU)

                                    United Kennel Club (UKC)

     Watching these videos helped me evaluate my own performances and be more aware of myself and my dog in the ring. Some of the things I was made more aware of were: allowing the dog to bump the handler, poor posture of the handler, how the approach to the signs makes a big difference on you and your dog's performance, and how bending over for large breeds is unnessary. I would recommend not beginning with hand clapping or knee slapping  in Novice to encourage the dog. This is a hard habit to break as you advance into Excellent where it is not allowed. Get your dog started in doing a straight down, not a down off to one side or in front of you. Make sure there is a notable difference between the slow, normal and fast paces. Above all: train for distractions (which takes a major effort if you train alone).

     Some of the videos I watched are very  creative and fun to watch. One example is an English Springer Spaniel doing a RE course to a big band rendition of  "There's No Business Like Show Business".  Another dog ran a RE course to the song "I Wish to Rule the World."  I watched a really good run  by a French Bulldog at a Fun Match. That dog had a lot of enthusiasm!

     There is one item that needs to be improved in these Rally videos: There are still extremely few of them that show the new exercises, which aren't that new anymore. If you haven't already looked at these videos on the computer it is fun to do and you can learn a lot by watching. I know I did !

  • Wednesday, January 01, 2014 12:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Written by Marilyn M. Miller

    A few months ago (last April)  Dillon was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This was discovered with other tests that were done on him before surgery. Dillon's top number in the BP reading was 280 !. A dog's blood pressureis tested like a human's with a cuff on a front leg. Their numbers are also equivalent to ours. A reading of 280 was way too high !!!

     Our vet prescribed the BP medication "Metronidazole". This made him violently ill and after a couple of days I called the vet and stopped giving it to him. The next drug prescribed for him was "Benazepril" which also made him violently ill. This medication was stopped also. According to our vet, it is extremely rare for either of these meds to affect a dog in such an adverse way. The third one that was prescribed for Dillon was "Enalapril" which did agree with his system. We were to try this for one month, then take Dillon back for a recheck. At our next appt. I was told by the vet that they wanted to keep Dillon there for a few hours to calm him down and take several BP readings. I was sent home. I was not too happy about this. I knew that Dillon would not become calm at the vet's no matter how long they kept him. His anxiety would only get worse.

     We took Dillon back once a month for a few months to be rechecked.  On one visit for a recheck, the vet tech called me after a few hours to say we could pick him up. There was a dog in the clinic who was barking for hours and this was not helping Dillon relax. I said "Of course he doesn't like the barking. He hates it when Luckee Fella barks in the house. It does upset him."  The numbers had come down somewhat but were still around 220 - 200. Our vet finally gave up and sent us to a canine cardiac specialist in Portsmouth. I should have suggested this months earlier.

     At our first appt. with Dr. McGregor, he gave Dillon an echo cardiogram. I was with Dillon during the test, talking to him in a calming voice. Dr. McGregor said Dillon's heart looked healthy and that if the pressures our vet quoted were in the upper 200's all the time his heart would show damage and he most likely would be dead. The specialist's diagnosis was that Dillon is a nervous dog. He has what is equivalent to a human" "white collar" syndrome which I have every time I have a doctor's appt.

     Dr. McGregor took Dillon off the vet's BP medicines and put him on "Atenolol" which hopefully will reduce his stress level and lower the blood pressure. Dr. McGregor wants to see Dillon again the first week of January and hopefully his BP will come down by then.

     I did not find Dillon until he was 4 months old so he missed out on the most formative months of his life. Who knows what his life was like before I rescued him. He is afraid of a lot of things. I waited until Dillon was 5 years old before I began training him and taking him to Rally classes. He caught on to his exercises fairly quickly and was able to achieve a Rally Excellent title. He did stress out over the jumps and refused to go over them a few times but we persevered.

     Thanksgiving Day Dillon was invited to go with us to friends in Deerfield, NH for dinner. He was shaking in the car, thinking it was another trip to the vet's office. Dillon had never been to anyone's house before. He had met our host and hostess when they were at our house on different occasions. Dillon loved all the good smells in the kitchen and walks in their huge backyard with all deer and other wildlife smells. I took a Nylabone for him to chew while we were having cocktails. He was content just to be with us. At the dinner table he laid right between Glenn and my chairs. There was no begging. He was as good as gold. I was very proud of him !

     Our host and hostess would be happy to have Dillon again in their home. Training does pay off !!!

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