Wednesday, April 29, 2009

eau de bitter apple

Well I can't keep wearing the rubber boots in the house all the time, so we broke out the bitter apple . I have been spraying my pant legs and that seems to be a temporary deterrent for Boston. She's also trying to carry around pieces of furniture so we spray those too. Let's hope we have found the cure. It doesn't seem to have the same effect on humans as Richard keeps comin' around. That's a good thing.

Boston is growing every day. Definitely more active. Last night she was doing laps around the house - what we refer to as getting her "ya-ya's" out. She has a new trick (skill?) where she runs across the kitchen toward the water dish and goes into a home plate slide, swinging herself to land right in front of the dish for a drink. While it's been hard to get a picture of her in action, I do have a picture of a miscalculated maneuver.

She's also learning to count - to two, so far. Boston knows that when you take one shoe away from her there is another one exactly like it nearby.

Training is going well. Here is Boston doing a Recall. Tried to make it a cute "puppy running to me" kind of picture, but guess it's a good representation of her activity level.

Although she can have her quiet moments. Here's proof. She's actually chillin' with Sage!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It Takes a Village

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
~ Margaret Mead

Our Program Director, Eileen Bohn, has always said it takes a village to raise these puppies, and she is absolutely right. We have already received help from several 'village members' during the few short weeks we've had Boston.

In the spirit of National Volunteer Week we would like to thank these people for their contributions:

  • The Coleman family for the care of Cheers' litter the first eight weeks
  • Staff at Helping Paws for their dedication to the cause
  • Instructors and class assistants for their committment to weekly training classes
  • Melanie and Doug MacLean, and Carol Martin, owner of A Tail of Two Cities, for the workday stopovers to feed Boston (we will be paying the MacLean family from our summer bounty of garden vegetables, raspberries, and cherries)
  • Friends and family who have helped with greetings, socializing, etc.
  • Those current and future persons we don't know, and who don't even know they're helping - they see the pup and ask if they can pet, give us the opportunity to explain why we do what we do, etc.
We couldn't do this without you!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Meet the Sponsors

The service dogs-in-training have sponsors, who provide funding for the care and training of the dogs while with their foster homes. Sometimes you know and meet them, sometimes you don't. Sometimes it is one individual, sometimes it is a group of individuals who pool together to provide financial support. Helping Paws' mission could not be fulfilled without the generosity of these people.

We are very fortunate that Boston is sponsored by my nephew's family, the Wojciechowski's: Kevin, Colleen, Alex (14) and Tyler (11). My family has always been supportive of the dogs we have trained and I'm looking forward to this one truely being a family event. (Note: Wojciechowski is my maiden name. I won the 'name game' with my sisters as we each got married in that I acquired the shortest last name of Post. Can you imagine hyphenating that one??)

On to Boston. She is growing like a weed and we can see changes every day. She's especially getting taller - the better to reach those items on low tables! We are staying busy puppy-proofing our home.

Here's what we have learned about Boston:

  • Type A personality continues to be prominant
  • Loves shoelaces, expecially when the shoes are on your feet
  • Likes her 'brother' Sage and will terrorize him at any chance. (She bites his feet. Sage now lays with his feet curled in at the ankle)
  • Enjoys a good belly rub
  • Takes fewer naps which requires more supervision on our part
  • Very smart and learns easily
Boston still continues to bite at pant legs when she wants to play. It's hard to ignore that behavior when she has also latched onto my leg. With her getting taller the rubber boots don't always work anymore - think I might have to upgrade to hip waders.

Training is going well. Helping Paws uses the clicker method of training, in which we will mark the behavior we want with a 'click' and give a treat. Knowing that click=treat is one of the first thing we teach the dogs, and they pick up on it very quickly.

Each week new skills are added to the class homework. In the beginning we do a lot of behavior shaping that will become a command when the dogs are older. Behavior shaping is breaking a skill into smaller steps, and eventually chaining these skills together to create the command. For example, a new behavior we are shaping this week is the Gentle Leader. Right now I present the leader and click-treat for any interest Boston shows in it. When she has shown consistent behavior I will raise the bar and have her put her nose into the leader. The goal is to have the dog willingly walk into the leader as part of the "get dressed" command.

In addition to training for skills and commands we also train for environmental factors such as walking on different surfaces and various noises. As the dogs will go everywhere and anywhere with the person they are placed with, we want to make sure they are comfortable in any setting.

This week we worked on different noises, and the weekend was full of them with all the yard work we did. Chain saw, garden tiller, rake, hammers pounding. She also had a lot more visual changes. I've always trained our pets in obedience, but training service dogs gives a whole different perspective and a heightened awareness on my part. I am amazed at what little changes in something the pups are used to can become so different to them. Boston has seen the gas grill covered and the outside shed and has paid no mind to them. This weekend the cover came off the grill and the shed door opened and that presented a whole new view for her, and we had to reintroduce those items to her.

I welcome questions or feedback that you may have on Boston. Please let me know!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Meet Boston

We received Boston on March 27, 2009, the third service-dog-in training we will have for Helping Paws in Hopkins MN. She is a beautiful golden retriever and came from a litter of ten, all of which are either in training or the breeding program.

Helping Paws places service dogs with persons who have physical disabilities. A foster home training model is used whereby volunteers take puppies into their homes around the age of eight weeks, and train the dogs for two-and-a-half years by attending class on a weekly basis. It's truly a rewarding experience to see these little puppies become highly skilled dogs, dogs that change lives. I am the primary trainer in our household but couldn't accomplish what I do without the help from my husband, Richard.

A common question a foster home will get is, "How can you have the dog for so long and then give them up?" I actually wondered the same thing while training our first dog, Echo. It all came together for me when she was placed with her owner, Chuck. In addition to the companionship Echo offers she also does a lot of work for him. Things that some of us might take for granted: picking up items from the floor, opening doors, tugging off socks or a jacket sleeve. It is evident that Echo brings a lot of joy to Chuck's life, and that far outweighs any sadness I may have felt with her leaving. In fact, I went into the training for the sole purpose of helping someone else live a more fulfilling life, and was surprised at how much I got in return.

The second dog we trained was Laker, who was placed with my sister. That was a thrill in itself. The bonus is that he has stayed a member of our family, and we get to see him quite often.

But enough about me.

Boston spent her first day with us in a dazed and confused state. You could see it on her face..."Where am I and what happened to my siblings??" We learned she is the first born and her Type A personality quickly came out on Day 2. She seems to be fitting the classic first born theory.

Boston lives here with our pet-dog, Sage. Sage is extremely excited to have another dog in the house. He has to do laps around the yard to get his ya-ya's out.

She's a very busy, active little pup, whose world was big from the very beginning. Where other puppies we have had would take several weeks to climb stairs, Boston started right away. She's very aware of everything around her and takes advantage of running throughout the yard. (She now goes out on a leash :) Boston is a terror in the mornings and I have three pair of torn pants to show for it! I showed her though - I wear my knee-high rubber boots when she's in a mood.

We've already started training class and are working on "watch" (eye contact), retrieving play items, recalls, a lot of socializing, and just all around getting to know each other.

All for now. Check back often to read about Boston's "marathon".