Sunday, November 24, 2013

Not all sunshine and rainbows, y'all

Got toes?
It wasn't a loud scream, but was heartfelt nonetheless.  More like a vaguely verbalized noise that could have been an Oh!  Quickly followed by that scared me.

Micron! I admonish the then young dog who has moved his head under the partition to look into the next ladies room stall. Quit peeking, you perv. 

Because a bit of humor can diffuse an awkward situation. Right, sometimes it can. But humor is not always a horse you can bet on.

I don't know how effective this attempt was either. It's not like I was privy to any resulting gesticulations or facial expressions going on the other side of the TP wall.

Mistakes are made.
Lessons are learned.
Heh, did you see what I did there?  Privy? Ladies Room? hahahaha [snort].

Yeah, so anyway I was just reading the latest post from one of my favorite bloggers, Alex at Help on Four Legs. Alex has that magic blogging trifecta of being frank, funny and fearless. Where anyone scanning my adventures-in-puppy-raising posts will experience pretty much sunshine and rainbows and puppies riding unicorns, Alex is here to remind y'all that life can be very real sometimes. Her insightful stories of sharing her life with service dog, Bright, brings us into her world for a minute or two.

From my view as a volunteer puppy raiser I count on people like Alex. I do.  Those folk who are open about their personal experiences with a service dog at their side? It keeps me grounded in this puppy raising thing.

Alex recently posted Things that are awkward with a service dog. A knock on the head to remind me that my efforts in puppy raising are not all sunshine and rainbows. Maybe it's time to fess up on a couple of ... well, misadventures in puppy raising.

Here I'll share with you just a few examples of how, as a volunteer puppy raiser, I took one for the team. So to speak.

Dogs on airplanes


Yaxley fits comfortably at my feet in the regular seat
on the flight back home. My feet had a less
comfortable experience.
When pup-in-training Yaxley and I flew to a conference in Washington DC a couple years ago, we talked about this trek at When dogs can fly and With the wind at our backs.

Nobody claiming a clear mind enjoys the airport experience, right? That whole thing with hurry up and wait and messed up connections. Now add in the logistics of toileting a puppy, a face off with an energetic bomb sniffing dog and Hurricane Irene messing up the flight schedules. I was pretty darn proud of Yaxley, who was a rock star right up to, during and after the TSA pat down in DC. I, however, struggled with the kindness of strangers.

I don't usually engage in animated conversation for a full hour with my close friends, nevermind someone I just met. Say, like the flight attendant who bumped the paying customer from the coveted leg-room seat at the front of the small plane to allow the pup and me residence. Yaxley had a safe spot, I had reasonable leg room if I held them suspended straight out, and the FA had a jump seat. Right in front of me. Nose to nose we talked dogs.

For an hour.

Sure, I see you shaking your head.  I agree that's not so bad, really.  Even a devout introvert like me can survive something so basic as friendly conversation.

So let's move on to an edgier topic, shall we?

The Poop Walker

Excuse me, she said.  Did you see what your dog just did?

Here's a quiz question for you.  How many times does it take for your pup-in-training to drop a hearty steamer while walking for you to tag him as a Poop Walker?

One. The answer, of course, is one.  After that first time, every single outing with your puppy is stalked by those sisterly black clouds of Doubt and Insecurity.

How this puppy, no names mentioned but his initials are Micron, could pop out a well-formed loaf without even breaking stride is a enigma for the ages. A natural skill that's deigned to make lesser dogs jealous.

And this amazing feat marked the first time I considered a rear view mirror for our outings.

Micron has since outgrown such embarrassing outbursts, so to speak. But we do still deal with things like ...

The dog can't hold his licker

Oh, it's ok.  I don't mind if he licks my [blank].

That fill-in-the-blank answer might be hand or face or even small child. But rarely is this sentence completed with the word toes.  Seems that's a boundary not to be crossed.

A boundary that's hard to explain to the mighty Micron.

We puppy raisers go through great, and sometimes frustrating, effort to teach our charges not to lick folk. A challenge brought to a new level when big-hearted dog lovers encourage such behavior. And when we have a pup that considers their destiny directly in line with tasting folk, we're tasked with the near impossible.

Micron, who we once considered less than a problem solver, was able to avoid corrections by sticking his tongue out of the side his snout. The side not facing me.

It's simply not becoming of a service dog to lick people. Actually even more important, it's a behavior that distracting them from their most important job of all.

To pay attention to their handler.

It's that important.  And speaking of distractions . . .

Stuffed animals are his kryponite

He's unpredictable in his unpredictability.
Ball?

That was the verdict on Micron, the definition of why this otherwise amazing dog was not meant to be a service dog.

I wish I could say this surprised me.  After all, I'm certainly no expert in the actual training of a service dog. I leave that important work to the professional trainers at CCI. Instead we puppy raisers are tasked with socialization, proper public behavior, some intermediate level commands and such.

But before Micron went off to Advanced Training at Canine Companions for Independence, I had some indication that he might not have the proper work ethic.

You may not actually need the red arrows to show you the object of Micron's attention, but I stuck them in there for the less attentive readers.

Those of you truly on the ball (get it?) in dog behavior may also notice the tell tale self-defense position of Snoopy's paws.  Ok, fine. Snoopy's entire body is one of please don't grab me and carry me around in your mouth.

How does a puppy raiser train out this fixation behavior?  I have not a clue. I still have to keep a close eye on Mr. Therapy Dog lest he grab a stuffed teddy bear from the gentle ladies at the assisted living center.

When your well-behaved puppy is the bad guy

After a while in this puppy raising gig, you learn to let some things just roll off your back like water from a duck.

Taking a pup-in-training into the public venue is a whole nuther kind of animal. Socializing the pup in places where dogs are not expected to be, or worse,  not permitted to be, is an experiment in polarization.  People either love it or hate it.

Many times the two teams are identified by facial expressions as obvious as colored jerseys.

In our local grocery super store I've seen kids fingering their noses before snatching a free grape in the produce section. One young girl was methodically poking holes in packages of chicken breasts with her index finger. A toddler is making up for a lack of a microphone by screaming full strength while his mom shops from aisle to aisle. Well handled and smooshed items are snatched from a child's desperate grasp and replaced on shelves.

Meanwhile I'm getting skunk eye for having a dog with me. And when I catch these glances, I admit it does irk me a bit that the CCI pup is better behaved than some kids.

You know how the grocery puts the high value items right there in the checkout line?  Yikes, it's hard enough for us grown ups to deny ourselves the ubiquitous choices in chocolate goodness. Saying No to our kids is even tougher.

A little girl is denied her chocolately reward by her dad. She throws herself into a neat little tantrum. When this is ignored, she uses toddler logic in her decision to run off at full speed.

And comes to a screeching halt to find herself eye to eye with a puppy the same height as her.

Cue in the total meltdown. Freak out. Fright fest. The screams, the horror in her eyes. The pup stands by my side, exactly as trained. Doesn't even flinch.

What happens next, do you think?  Go ahead, give it a guess.  Right, the dad swiftly lifts up the little girl, clutching her to his chest like she was just rescued from a rip tide or something. Oh, then the best part comes next. He looks at me, giving me a glare like this was all on me.

How dare I?

Like I said, sometimes it's water off a duck.  And then other times? This kind of stuff just raises my hackles. But I smile anyway, closed mouth.  No harm done, dude, my eyes say.

Jerk, my inside voice says.

That other critical job

Well, some of that is off my shoulders.  It's good to step off the rainbow once in a while and just share some real.

There's more, of course. So much more. We're out there doing stuff with our dogs where other dogs fear to tread. Or something. Anyway, we puppy raisers are doing what we can to knock down some barriers for the future handlers of these dogs. It may not be much. It may not even be enough.

But people, we know it's better than doing nothing. Puppy raising is not for the meek.

It's for those folk who love other people. And of course, we love these dogs.

Yeah, and adventure. That's good, too.

And that other thing that's not in the puppy raiser manual, but we do anyway?

We puppy raisers chronicle that pivotal first year of the dog's life. Whatever the destiny of these amazing creatures, we alone know the whole story of their puppy lives.

Oh, and the side benefit of all this memory making we're collecting ...

We got these dogs photo ready for y'all. These furries are no stranger to a camera.

Over the shoulder, you say?  Like this?

Yeah, you're welcome.  Oh hey, actually ... it's our pleasure.

It really is.


1 comment:

  1. Great post. Many people have outrageous expectations for their dogs. I occasionally suggest that if service dogs, with all their socialization and training, aren't always perfect why should we expect perfection from our non-working dogs?

    ReplyDelete

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