Where you come for your share of Puppy fun!

Friday, July 19, 2013

To Poop or Not to Poop

Ah, poop. As a puppy raiser, this is a topic that I have talked a LOT about. I've had conversations about poop schedules, poop consistency, objects in poop, puppies eating poop...and more. And these aren't short conversations. I had one last up to an hour. It's fair to say that I talk about poop more than is entirely comfortable, but that's the job.

Why is talking about poop "the job"? Because pooping is a big part of puppy raising. So, if any of you out there have been thinking about puppy raising and just can't handle touching, smelling, freezing, or looking through poop...don't become a puppy raiser. Just don't do it. 

Pooping is a big part of puppy raising because we don't want the puppies pooping (or peeing for that matter) in stores or restaurants. Now, to some of you the fact that we don't want them to pee or poop whenever they want may seem a little cruel. Let me put into perspective a little. These puppies will go on to be Guide Dogs who are forms of transportation to their blind/visually impaired partner. Much like a car is to someone who drives, many people I know who have used a Guide Dog can't imagine travelling without one. We don't want the dogs pooping or peeing in harness while they are guiding for a multitude of reasons. You don't want to be late for work because you had to stop to clean up after you car. So, we don't want to make anyone late because they had to stop to clean up after their dog. I know the analogy isn't the best one, but you get the idea. 

A better one might be that we do the same with our children. At some point it just becomes unacceptable to go whenever they want and we make them wait until we can find an appropriate place (i.e. the bathroom) and the older they get the longer you expect them to hold it. 

This is why we teach the command "do you business" (and in the UK, "busy busy"). It is the dog's signal that it is ok to relieve themselves. Now, for me, there is a specific spot in the backyard that we always go to so that Dulcie can "do her business". We have a potty break right before we leave on and outing and right after we get back. I do not generally allow relieving on outings unless they are long. What constitutes long depends on the puppy's age. For Dulcie, if we are out for 1 hour or more (which we aren't often in this heat) I find an acceptable place for her to relieve, take off her jacket, and tell her to "do her business". 

I got a question about whether or not I could really regulate the puppy's pooping by when and how much we feed them. The answer is yes. Much like most humans, most dogs have a "relieving schedule" which can be thrown off by many things. If you feed them an hour later than normal then they may not poop until an hour later than normal or if you start feeding them more they may poop more at once or poop right after the meal and then a couple of hours later. 

Of course, not all puppies quite get this and "inappropriate relieving" is a droppable offence. Meaning that if the dog consistently relieves in harness then they will be career changed. Not only because we don't want this because it makes it hard to know when we can take them out in public but also because relieving too often can be a sign of stress (can be but is not always).

Finally, I will leave you with this thought. Always, ALWAYS pick up after your dog. Please do not be one of "those people" who lets their dog poop right in the middle of the sidewalk and then doesn't pick it up. You would not throw dirty diapers on the floor of your house would you? Same concept. If you can not be responsible enough to clean up after your dog, do not get a dog. Especially if you let them use other people's yards. It's the same as going into a stranger's house, pooping in their toilet, and then not flushing. Don't be "that" person. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dulcie in the Big City

*Warning: Contains a ton of images*

I suppose the title is a little misleading as Dulcie really never entered the "big city" as it were. Hilly, Dulcie, and I went to visit my mother and step-dad in the LA area about a week ago and since Dulcie was still not fully vaccinated and still very young she really couldn't go many places. But she did get to go to a few places.

As I said, Dulcie made her first trip to LA when she wasn't fully vaccinated and my parents' neighborhood is very dog friendly. This meant we had to get a little creative in exercising Dulcie. She couldn't stay cooped up in the apartment all week, but we wanted things to be safe and low key. For this, I choose Desconso Gardens. Minimal to no dog traffic and the dogs that do go through there are all service dogs as it isn't open to pets. It's also one of the less visited gardens in the LA area so there isn't a lot of foot traffic either which means it wouldn't be over stimulating for Dulcie. And to top it all of there are paved walkways so we could keep puppy paws off a grass. To be honest, it's probably safer than walking her in my neighborhood back home. Dulcie was a very good girl and got nice and tired. I carried her to the cafe area since she was so pooped (though my perfect, little girl didn't poop) and she had a nice nap before we got in the car to drive home. She slept the whole way back. 
Dulcie at Desconso in front of a flower bed
Dulcie at Desconso in front of a flower bed
Dulcie at Desconso in front of a flower bed
Dulcie on a bridge to the Japanese Garden
Another great outing was the Getty Villa. Again, minimal to no dog traffic with those dogs being service animals, paved walkways, and still low foot traffic though a little bit more than Desconso. The Getty Villa is a recreation of a Roman Villa with a museum. In accordance with her "classic schooling" she learned all about ancient Rome and Greece. I think she even picked up a bit of Latin. She did not disappoint at all. She was such a wonderful puppy and handled it all like a pro. And, the best part, she slept very well that night.
Dulcie at the entrance, it's in Malibu so you can kind of see the ocean behind her
Dulcie in front of the atrium pond
Dulcie ext to a column in the museum
Dulcie in the main garden, behind her is a long 'pool' with statues of maidens
Dulcie in front of a fountain with beautiful mosaic work
Dulcie and I hung out in the kinds room for a little for a rest and took this picture of us behind a screen. It made up into a silhouette which is suppose to look like something you might find on pottery from the time. 
The rest of her outings were pretty mundane. We went out to eat, went to the grocery store, visited a book shop, that sort of thing. She spent a lot of her time in the apartment playing and resting and having a grand old vacation. My parents absolutely fell in love with her and my mother almost didn't let her leave with me she was such a good puppy. Except for eating the cat's food. To be fair, he wouldn't come out from under the bed and he left his food there for a full two hours. I suppose it's a mistake that any puppy could make once...or thrice...
Hilly and Dulcie playing in the apartment
Hilly and Dulcie playing in the apartment
Hilly and Dulcie playing in the apartment
Hilly and Dulcie playing in the apartment
Now that Dulcie is all vaccinated her next trip to LA will be even more fun. We are looking forward to taking her to Huntington Gardens next time. 

Hilly also really liked her trip to LA, but I'll let her tell you all about it on her blog

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Frankie Update #3

Oh my goodness! I can't believe that I forgot to post about this!

Unlike here in the states where you are never allowed to see your dog while they are in training, in the UK they have a visit day. I can only imagine that this is because they don't have a graduation ceremony where you can see your puppy one more time before they official enter the working world.

Well, we were hoping that what I have come to term "Frankie Day" would come before I went state-side for the summer. Unfortunately this didn't happen. Was I disappointed? You betcha! I adore Frankie so much that I was sad that I missed the opportunity to see him strut his stuff in harness. But, since I knew there was always a possibility of this happening, he and I had a good talk before he left on his last visit to my house. I told him that I loved him and that I knew he was going to make me so proud. So, I've come to terms with the fact that I will most likely never see Frankie again. Teary eyed? Yes, but he such a good boy and well on his way to learning how to change someone's life forever.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to make me sad. It's to tell you all about "Frankie Day"!

His main walkers went down to Forfar about two...maybe three weeks ago now to see him. They say that he's doing awesome! (Was there really ever any doubt?) His trainer absolutely LOVES him and says that he is doing well. She said that since he came up with the big German Shepherd he is the only one who will stand up to him and take him on while they are on free runs.

If all continued to go well he should have transferred over to his "big city" training center either by now or within the next week. I knew he would make me proud!
Frankie in his training harness. Fun Fact: In Scotland the dogs in training wear brown harnesses while the fully qualified Guide Dogs wear white harnesses.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Guide or Breeder?

In the last post I wrote how Dulcie's heart murmur had sorted itself out and that that meant she was definitely still a candidate for something that is colloquially known as Breeder watch. A friend of mine (you should all really check out his blog linked here: he thinks that some people won't agree with him, but his passion for wildlife is so apparent through his blog that I think most readers of my blog will enjoy it. I know I do.) basically asked what it meant to be a breeder. I'm paraphrasing a lot, but that was the general gist of the question.

So, for new readers of the blog, after the puppy has spent "x" amount of time with their puppy raiser (for GDB it's anywhere between when the puppy is 15-18 months of age) they go back in for formal training. What is the point of this formal training? Well, puppy raisers don't teach their puppies actual Guide work. We teach them the basics of being a good dog and get them used to being out in public. So, I'll teach my puppies basic house manners and commands (e.g. sit, down stay, etc.) and take them with me to restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, malls, etc. The actual Guide work is taught by licensed instructors once the puppy has learned all the basics and we are all confident that they have a shot at being a Guide (it takes a lot and not every puppy can do it, but that's another post).

When the puppy is done with the puppy in training stage and is ready to move onto their formal training there are two possible routes. The first is that they will go straight into harness training. They get an extensive health check and if everything checks out OK they go through the phases of harness training. Each school does it differently. At GDB we have 8 phases of formal training and in each case the dog learns something new that will help them be a great Guide along with fine tuning the basics. Once they make it to phase 8 and pass their final blindfold test they are considered "class ready" and just need to wait for their perfect person to come around. (I've always thought that there shouldn't be a phase 8.5 or something to indicate that the dog has passed their final exam and is just waiting because we aren't told when this happens and seeing them in 8 week after week after week can be nerve wracking.) If all goes well, in our new system, the dog should be finished with their training in 2-3 months and then the rest is just a waiting game.

The second route of formal training is going into Breeder Evals. I sometimes call this the "Breeder Black Hole." Why? Because we don't hear a thing about the dogs in breeder evals until they either pass or fail as a breeder and the evals take about the same time as formal training. So, what I am about to give you is a real basic idea of what happens when a dog goes in for breeder evaluations. When they go in for breeder evals they also get an extensive health exam, but this one is much more intense than that given to dogs just going into formal harness training. This is because we don't want any odd genes that may pass on diseases in our breeding colony, but they could still be used as a guide. So, if they pass all their health and temperament exams (and there are quite a few of them) they make it as a breeder. Once a dog is officially selected as a breeder a "Breeder Custodian" (BCs) is found for them. The BCs are families who take these dogs in and agree to bring them in whenever Guide Dogs needs them for a "date". Because of this obligation, GDB has made rules as to how close you can live to the San Rafael campus to be eligible to become a BC. If the dog is a female they have an average of 4 litters (unless they are really, really prolific) and if they are males they can breed for as long as they are turning out a good number of guides and breeders. If they don't make it as a breeder one of two things can happen. They will either be spayed and put into harness training or they will be spayed and career changed. The latter usually happens for some sort of health issue but can happen for temperament issues.

A dog that is on breeder watch as a puppy can be cut from it at any time. If the breeding department had it their way, every puppy would come in for formal training "intact". Of course, sometimes the only way a puppy has a chance of making it through the program at all will be if they are spayed/neutered to get their hormones under control. This is what happened to my first and third puppies, Freya and Hilly. Both Dylan puppies and Dylan was the most prolific breeder at one stage so they wanted to keep as many of his pups intact as possible. Unfortunately for them, they were both too hormonal and distracted. The Breeding department does select litters to stay intact due to their parentage. Usually first time breeders won't have all puppies in their litter stay intact because they don't know if their genes produce suitable temperaments. Most of the time, if it's a first breeder, they will only keep the females in the litter intact (usually, not always).

Why do I want to raise a Breeder so bad? I'm glad you asked. It's because you get to help name the puppies and it's the only time every you can request a specific puppy. So, if Dulcie were to become a breeder I could request a puppy from her first litter and GDB would give it to me (since she's a female I could probably request a puppy from all of her litters; males tend to have many more litters than females). And I absolutely LOVE helping to name these puppies.

This is why I was so happy that Dulcie's heart murmur sorted itself out. She has an absolutely wonderful temperament and is a super stable puppy. I think that the breeding department would really, really like her and it would be such a shame if she didn't at least get the chance to compete with her brothers and sisters for the breeder position.

Compete? Oh yes, I forgot to mention that. Which dogs become breeders really depends on what the breeding department is looking for at what time. They need to keep a balance between yellow and black labs so that we can turn out more or less equal amounts of black and yellow labs every year. This is because we never know what our "clients" will want. Some request black (good on them!) and some request yellow (I'm sure they'll see the light eventually). This has absolutely nothing to do with whether black or yellow labs make the better Guide. For some, it's that they still have some usable vision and would like to see their dog so they request a yellow lab and for others it's that their first Guide was a black lab and they fell in love with them so now they only want black labs. It's just a preference thing. Anyway, the breeding department does not usually take a whole litter for breeding (maybe for color, more likely because they want a mix of genes) if they are all intact. They will choose the very best candidate. Maybe two females are exactly what they are looking for but one has a higher hip score so that one will become a breeder over the one with the lower hip score. However, with goldens, I have seen them take multiple breeders from one litter multiple times. It might have something to do with the fact that our Golden population in the breeding colony had to be "altered" a while ago and we are still working back to it's full size. It might have something to do with the fact that if you have stable, well mannered goldens you want them producing more stable, well mannered goldens (note: goldens tend to be a little softer than the labs and are less adaptable; again this is usually not always). So, in the case of Dulcie, it may be that multiple pups are pulled for breeding from her litter.

That was probably the most long winded answer to a simple question and much more information than was wanted, but...well I write long winded answers.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Puppy Raiser's Favorite Word


Dulcie turns 16 weeks old today, but since today is the 4th of July we took her to get her "big girl" shots yesterday afternoon. 
Dulcie sitting on the vet's exam table being all cute and such. 

She weighed about 26.4lbs! My goodness what a big girl! Almost 27lbs at 16 weeks old. At this point we still carry in the puppies so it's no wonder my arms were feeling a little weak and tired by the time we got her into the exam room. 

She did so well during the whole exam, though she did look a little upset when they stuck the thermometer where the sun don't shine. I can understand though. It is a little undignified. And she wasn't really concerned at all by the dogs going nuts in the waiting room. In fact she was a little distracted! (Oh no! Not another one!) But she did just lie there and let the vet love on her and touch her and check up on her. So, she's all up to date on the shots and now we just need to wait a week for the vaccines to kick in. So ready for that!

Dulcie was also born with a little heart murmur. A few of the pups in the littler also had one, but theirs had all been cleared up by their 12 week shots. Dulcie's had not. (Cue the freak out) So, she had to get that checked up on yesterday. The vet spent so long sitting there listening to her heart and, of course, this means that I started thinking that it had gotten worse. The vet finally stands up and says that she can't hear anything even though she was really trying to! Hooray! I'm so happy that it has cleared itself up not only because this means that I won't have to send her up to Guide Dogs for a week for a cardiology exam but also because she's still in the running to become a Breeder! (For those of you who don't know, I've always wanted a Breeder and both of my girls were on watch because their parents were prolific but both were cut due to being bad too much dog.)

Dulcie, Hilly, and I went to LA this past week to visit my mother and stepdad and I have a couple of pictures and stories that I will post later, but I really had to share the good news about Dulcie! 

She's still such a good, good puppy.