Tag Archives: service dog training

Learning and Growing (the hard way)

With this blog you will find many entries written from Casper’s perspective.  We like to play with what we think might go through his mind as we go about our daily life. From time to time you will find pieces that come directly from me and share what I think and how I feel. I’m apprehensive to write many of them; okay, all of them. Today is no different, and I will do as I always do and leave it up to my editor (Lauri) to decide whether this passes muster or gets swept up with Casper’s cookie crumbs and the cat hair.

There is a reason I’m unsure if I should share this or not, that reason comes down to one word, and a concept that is uncomfortable for most of us, that word is failure. Yes, failure. For me, just the word sends a shiver down my spine and a sinking feeling to my stomach. To help us feel better about it I would like to share a quote. “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill (To name drop, my understanding is that we are related on my maternal side of the family.) With this in mind, let me change tracks here and make this post about having the courage to continue. (There, I feel better already!) Since I’m not dead, and far from, done all that’s left, is continuing…and to learn from the rough patches. I’m sharing this because I assume that many would not.

The road to success starts back in Connecticut, at the Ye ole Condo, where we first brought Casper to live with us. I will tell you now I love him (and Lauri) more than you can understand. I’ll say this now so you keep it in mind as we go. The Condo was great and fit my needs for quite some time. We quickly out grew the home as Lauri and I committed to each other, not to mention the two kids, three cats and Casper. Not only did we run out of indoor space, but I quickly felt confined by the association rules around dogs and the lack of freedom for Casper to stretch out and run the way he could before he was released for service. I vowed that when we moved he would have a fenced yard so he could run free.  We found our home and although we are replacing the fence because 75% of it is inadequate for the long run, it is fenced and safe for him to run in. I somehow thought that if I didn’t give him space to be free and to ‘be a dog’ that I wasn’t showing him the love he deserves for wanting to work for me. (Casper really loves his job. He practically runs into his vest and correction collar when I hold them open.) So this, if I haven’t foreshadowed it, is where I went wrong. I didn’t see that I went wrong, others did, Lauri did and she told me. I didn’t listen. I heard her but I was blinded by what I wanted for Bubba. I mean look at him out there zooming around the yard, exchanging barks at the neighbor dogs from time to time, and digging a little trench in the flower bed. He’s happy, right? Sure, he’s happy. Until I need him and he plays, with a big wide grin and tongue lolling while I try to call him to me. To him it was a back yard game we played; fun! For me it was the stuff of my nightmares. My dog that I love with my whole heart didn’t want to obey. When I was super frustrated I got told how wrong I was by the woman I am going to spend the rest of my life with. (Editor’s Note: I did not say, “Hey, you are wrong.” I just suggested, and maybe yelled a couple times, that he needed to chill out a bit.) These things, for me, are crushing; virtually blinding. Keep in mind this process took weeks.

I now had two different dogs. One dog in a vest, that is good in public and one dog that was a jerk at home. I am stubborn, to put it nicely. I knew, deep down, that I had to go back to basics. One step crawl, a lead when “doing your business”, and treats for responses I wanted. I was even told this by Lauri and trusted advisors, but somehow I didn’t act. The only explanation I can come up with is that I needed proof, again. OK then, let’s prove the two faces of Casper. We went to an event at Creek County Fairgrounds called Vintage Market Days. The event was centered in a large arena that most often, houses large animal events, based on the dirt and straw floor, and waste receptacles labeled for or against specific output. There were food vendors selling everything from funnel cake to BBQ to stir-fry outside. Inside there were easily a hundred vendors selling all types of antique and hand-made up-cycled items. We didn’t buy anything because most of what I saw was at full retail and we were in a tag-sale state of mind. Still it was great to see creativity abound. On top of this, it was a great “work” environment for me and Casper. We took each other through tight booths crammed with items and through throngs of people. We did this as if we were a professional dance team. We even had one woman, behind me; reach through my bent arm to pet Casper. I’m sure if it were a guy I would have tried to liberate that arm from its torso, but Lauri and I sufficiently “notified” her not to touch a service dog! He did an amazing job.

There is another picture to paint and it is a dog that doesn’t want to work in his yard. When I try to use him to brace while I pick poo, it’s HIS poo, but fine. Then when we go out for the final walk of the night wants to play in his yard and will not come until he is damn good and ready. I tried and could not get him to come without a stuffie. Lauri and I finally got him inside after I was damp, dirty and so upset that I was seeing red. This is a night that I got the “I told you so…” treatment and neither of us slept. I was mad at her, I was mad at Casper, and I was furious with myself because in reality the entire event was something I had created. This could be horrible, horrible news and if I don’t do something I could lose my service partner, and if we string enough sleepless nights together Lauri too; but like I said in the beginning I love both of them too much to allow that ridiculousness.

So, epic fail, now what? Now we look at what we know. We know Casper really does know his job, he wants to do his job, and we work well together. We also know that I stopped listening, I stopped seeing, and I needed to change. That ought to be enough to make the machine function so I set out to get us all back. I put cookies in my pocket, a lead and correction collar on Bubba, and went outside. We one step crawled around the yard. We one step crawled down the driveway and up the street to the corner and back. We worked quickly at exhausting the treats in my pocket. We proved he will in fact work in his yard. In the days since I always keep a supply of treats in my pocket and a calm demeanor. I can now call him in (off lead) from the yard at will with a happy tone and a treat. If I do need him in immediately, he will happily do his ‘business’ on a long lead and come back in. Yes, he gets a treat every time now. (Editor’s Note: It only took a day or two to get back on track. They both know what they are doing, but just got lazy.)

The next test was to take this show back in public. To do this I tried the Leanlix treat stick (…that Lauri bought us to start recall training in the yard and I so famously ignored weeks before.) Lauri and I dropped the girls off with their grandparents and we decided it was a beautiful day to visit the Philbrook Museum of Art. We walked indoors and out. We worked up and down stairs with no rails, past Koi ponds, past other visitors. We even worked past a garden cat who wanted to make sure Casper knew he was the boss. We worked and I treated each success with a beefy lick. (I think Casper may want to write about Philbrook too, so I won’t steal his thunder.) The day, and Casper, was perfect in every way.

I have learned what Casper was teaching. He taught me to not take the little things for granted. Just because someone is your friend it does not mean it’s alright not to thank them for their help. Friends and family don’t have to be there for you when you get angry and thoughtless. In Casper’s case cookies and treats and letting him know I value him by working together as often as possible.  In Lauri’s case, letting her know I value her by actually listening and taking the advice that she, and others give, rather than just hearing the words. Just because I didn’t want to hear her doesn’t make what she had to share was wrong. (I knew damn well she was right, and I was just being a brat.) (Editor’s Note: He totally was. We have RARELY fought. He is usually the most thoughtful man on the planet. I hesitate to ever yell at him or boss him around, but he needed it!) Please don’t make the mistakes I made and not pay attention. Your well-being may be on the line. Now it’s just about time that I refill my pocket and take a drive or a walk and see what I’m looking at, hear what I’m listening to, and be grateful for what crosses my path. If I can do these things there is no possible outcome but success.

SDP, Again! (Finally)

Hi Friends –

I have to take a few minutes and tell you all about yesterday. Mom & Dad got up and Dad asked what Mom wanted to do for the day. Mom said we could stay home since Dad’s back has been a bit stiff and she doesn’t like the way he’d been moving. Dad grinned and said: I’m fine. (Mom says Dad is the King of Fine.) Mom asked about the weather forecast; Dad said, mostly clear but only in the low 30’s. It only took a couple of minutes to decide that we were going to see our SDP family. I don’t know how long it has been since our last trip up. I do know that the last time we were there my friend Tony was probably weeks old and behind the puppy gates, now he is doing overnights as part of his social training. (…and it feels like forever.) I can tell you this for sure, nothing lights a fire under the human puppies like yelling, “Hey kids, come up and get dressed, we’re going to see the dogs!” Before we hit the highway we did stop and try to get the girls some foul weather boots because Dad says they are growing like a Dane and they seem to outgrow things weekly, especially the eldest. (She can fit in some of Momma’s shoes now!) We didn’t have any luck so we asked that they not aim for the puddles. I don’t know why. I think that is the best part! (huuhmf… humans).

We hit the road with the required stop at Dunkin’ for coffee. (Have I mentioned Dad runs on Dunkin’?) With the typical traffic caused by the questionable merging skills of most drivers, Dad getting frustrated, Mom pointing it out, and then calming him with a look (she has that effect on him, it’s kinda funny), we were off. The trip up was rather uneventful except for the fact that Dad unknowingly missed his exit and landing us in Boston for a trip past Fenway Park, through a couple of tunnels and over an amazing cable stayed bridge (the Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge). Mom turned on the GPS to get us the fastest route and Dad took his mistake in stride and when questioned by the human puppies he told them that doing the same thing all the time was boring. (I was proud; what in the past would have turned him to ranting, he had fun with and enjoyed the detour.) Mom also mentioned that we should come back later in the spring and check out the Freedom Trail. Dad and I thought that this sounds like fun! Long walks outside and history, what’s not to like for a pack like mine?  Ghahh, geeks, whaddya gonna do?

We finally made it Ipswich and Dad rolled down my window so could throw my head out and sniff the way. Once we got to the farm I could hardly contain myself. I always feel like a puppy when I’m surrounded by my extended pack and can run free. It really was a chilly day so we found the humans all in the main house. Dad knew that there could be all sorts inside so we entered cautiously by asking if we could all come in. (There is always a possibility of conflict so Dad and I would have gladly stayed outside and played.) As it turned out, when Mom asked “Can Casper come in?” everyone was so happy to see me that I got so many pets and kind comments that I felt like a star.Carlene lit up and even gave me a hug! That was great! I’m sure my tail wagged for an hour straight. Dad went over and talked to Miss Carlene, and when she complimented both of us I could tell he was proud. Dad thinks very highly of her and her approval is important to him. (He told Mom on the way home that those two minutes made the entire drive worth it for him.) I knew he was doing just fine so I went on to play with my young brothers and sisters.  I didn’t know this, but we also got to celebrate Miss Maria’s Birthday! Of course, I gave my piece of cake to Dad; it was a fudge chocolate layer cake so I couldn’t have any but he did give me a sniff. (He’s cool like that.) Happy Birthday, Miss Maria!

When we felt like we had enough of the house we headed outside and down to the barn. I had to say hello to Clementine and meet Tangerine, the resident donkeys. Mom and Dad fed them apples and gave out pets. I was preoccupied with the training that was going on in the arena, so I was locked out until Dad could pay attention to me. We watched for a break in the session and I asked Dad if we could join. I felt like a couple of examples may help them. Dad said we could, but I needed to be on lead. I was happy to, so we leashed up and kept our distance by trying some of the agility setups. That was easy kibble. Soon after we approached the training group and I showed them some smooth moves like how not to pull on lead and how to stay attached to my handler on a slow walk. I also showed them how to stay still during moments when it is easier to be distracted and play. Dad made a joke and said I was so good I should be a service dog.

Not too long after this I went with Mom back up to the house to say our farewells while Dad visited the wash room and moved the truck up to the top of the hill. I was off lead and really listened well to Mom. If I saw someone I wanted to see she said to stay and I did! (Sometimes I don’t listen to her as well as I do to Dad.) As we came around the house I saw our truck and wanted to run down to see Dad, but he was still parking and someone else was in the driveway so I stayed with Mom until she told me to go get ‘em. I happily ran down the hill straight to him, gave him a once over to sure he was in good shape and we loaded up for the trip home. We did stop for some dinner at a local restaurant. As our server came to the table she told us how happy she was to be serving my family; she thought I was handsome.  Dad quickly shared our card and we told her how she could volunteer at SDP. She seemed real excited about the whole subject so I hope she does gift some of her time to the pups. I know the future recipients will appreciate it just the same as we do. After the family ate Dad fed me in the truck, holding my bowls of course. We hit the road soon after and everyone napped on the way home. (Except for Dad, I hope, since he drove) It was such a good day that the human puppies took their baths and asked to go to bed early! I don’t think there is a pack leader in the universe that would deny that request.