Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Last Day - Graduation!

Introducing from left to right: Kate from Your Neighbourhood Credit
Union - the Sponsors of Pina; Linda and Pina; David and Helen - Pina's Foster Parents for the first year of her life

It has been a long and emotional day! We did the circuit of skills commands this morning, followed by three talks: one from Alex Ivic explaining the contents of our graduation packets that we would be receiving in the evening, one from Julie ?, who is in charge of Fundraising, speaking to us about the Purina DogGuides Walks, and the final one from Melissa who is the Media Contact person. Then it was bath time for the dogs so that they would look nice for "grad"! After lunch, we were given permission for our first solo outings with our dogs off the premises without trainers!!!! Pina and I headed to Tim Horton's, and who should be there but Diane and Zeke, Chris, Alex, and Pesto! I returned to the residence to start packing, and then the dogs had their last "group play" at 4:00. Tony, the cook, had prepared a special graduation dinner of baked potatoes, roast beef, and carrots, followed by apple pie. There were actually table cloths on the tables, and the staff and trainers served us all. A very nice last supper.
The graduation ceremony was tri-lingual - English, French and Sign Language. Each group's lead trainer spoke, followed by a speaker or speakers representing each group of clients - HED, SRD and SSD, and the graduation packages were distributed. Then the emotional part - we met with the sponsors and foster parents of our dogs! The couple who raised Pina are from Waterloo, and the sponsor organization is also headquartered in the KW Area. It was an absolute fluke that Pina was matched with me - from Kitchener. I promised the Credit Union rep, and Pina's foster parents that I would happily be in touch with them as I continue my "Life With Pina". Although I had told her that I didn't need her to come, Lindsay did arrive for the festivities, and it truly was nice to have her here!
And so, dear blog, here endeth the first chapter. Chapter Two may continue, but not until I have made the transition back to my old life with my new dog, and taken care of some other pressing commitments. Good night.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We're winding down..........

Above: Jerry and Lilo having a bit of a problem with "Push/Open" -they were not meant to end up on opposite sides of the door!
Left: Pina and I enjoying a glorious fall day by Lake Ontario on our final group outing

My anxiety/anticipation level was quite high before coming to Oakville, and now it is mounting again as departure time looms! I know precisely how I want things set up for Pina in Kitchener (naturally wishing that the set-up could match exactly what I have here at DogGuide School but knowing that it can't!) David and Andrew have done their best to meet my specifications, but there has been some frustration and miscommunication on all sides! I'll just take a deep breath, and sort things out when I get home!
I no longer remember what we did this morning - I think we did a circuit of various commands, and Tracy demonstrated the "Steady" command which is to be used sparingly and only when absolutely needed whereby the dog stands rigidly to be used as an aid to balance or to get up from a fall. Our class did play a small prank on Tracy - Diane arrived without her dog (having hidden Zeke in Alex's room just opposite our classroom), waited for Tracy to notice that Zeke was not with Diane,and then Diane faked having forgotten her dog in her room on the third floor! Diane was the perfect one to do this, having, at various times over the past three weeks, lost earrings, her keys and even a tooth!
After lunch, we went over the contract that we are to sign with DogGuides Canada, affixed our signatures and now we and the dogs are a legal "team"! We then went on our outing - a trek down Wilson St. to a lovely little park overlooking Lake Ontario. It felt very good to be out in sunshine and fresh air!
Our class had our own special "pre-Grad" dinner this evening, having set up a private "dining room" in our classroom, far away from the noise of the kitchen, and the other groups and dogs. We invited our trainers, Tracy and Paulette to join us for pizza, pop, and Joannie's mom's apple crisp. We then presented them with a gift from our class - a card and a lovely orchid for each one. As Chris, Alex's mom, explained to them: "Since you are entrusting us to take care of the dogs that we have been given, we thought that you should both have something "live" to take care of!"
I had written a personal message for each of my classmates, Tracy, Paulette, and Chris, on "Thank You" cards featuring a sweet picture of five Lab puppies and decided to distribute them at our party tonight. Tomorrow evening may get a little crazy with all the graduating dogs and students, staff, the foster "puppy" parents of all our dogs, friends and family, and frenzied packing for those who are leaving very early Friday morning to fly home to various parts of Canada! The time here has gone by incredibly quickly!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Escape to Oakville Place Mall

Self-Portrait in Washroom at Mall

Yes! We were allowed out in public on our own for a bit today! Mind you, we did a "group" exercise under supervision upon arrival at the mall - having the dogs "Up/Push" the button to open the door, and then touring the mall as a group, using the elevator to the second floor two at a time under the watchful eyes of Tracy and Paulette, then going to the Food Court for lunch. A trip down memory lane for "Madame Jarrett" occurred, reminiscent of those Grade 8 trips to Quebec City, when Tracy handed out $10 to each of us to go to purchase what we wanted to eat, asking us to bring back a receipt and any change!Except that I am 61, not 14! But, after lunch, we were given free time and I toured both levels of the mall with my canine companion, made a few purchases, and thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of being on my own! I also drove myself, Pina, and one of the trainers from the HED (Hearing Ear Dog) class to the mall and back, so that, too, felt quasi-normal! Hopefully it won't be too too difficult to re-integrate into society after my cloistered life of three weeks here.
We returned "home" at about 2:30, and Tracy suggested that we and the dogs rest until after dinner, and that we would do a short training session and let the dogs have a "group play" then. That would have been a wonderful plan, except that when I lay down for a wee nap, the HED class was doing an extremely loud-yelling-names-activity in the hallway right outside my door. Oh well, I am only in this room for three more days.
We added one new skill after dinner - an "UP/OPEN" to push on lever-type door handles. That won't be too helpful in my house (and I wouldn't want the wood scratched in any case!) but it might work elsewhere!
As we near the end of this training session in Oakville, I am becoming increasingly cognizant of just how much work will be involved once Pina and I are at home. To maintain the bond that is truly in its infancy at this point, to increase it, to keep and build on the respect that my dog has for me, so that she will want to continue to work for me, is going to require time, effort and vigilance. I think I am up to it. Let's hope so!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last week of classes has begun!

Photo: "SSD Dogs" showing how they are NOT distracted from the "STAY" command, even when enticed to do so by having treats and toys tossed on to the floor in front of them! L to R: Pesto, Zeke, Fredy, Lilo and Perfect Pina.

Small disaster after break this morning! I had just finished doing my own personal "relief" (ah, the power of the euphemism!), and about to check in with Tracy/Paulette to say that I needed to take Pina to the "busy-busy" area before we reconvened, when I cut the corner on the doorway just a little too closely when exiting the washroom,trying all the while to keep Pina in a "Behind" command, and managed to dislodge the basket off the front of my scooter, sending the contents (including the small clip-on bag full of doggie treats!) flying and spreading all over the floor of my room!Because our dogs are not allowed to eat from the floor, I had to put Filey (yikes, I mean Pina!) in a "Stay" position while I picked up and reassembled everything. She did stay, and then held off doing her "busy-busy" until we were in the appropriate place, but we were late for class!
Classes today consisted firstly of a "Health" talk - from choosing a vet, to dental care, to nail-clipping, to flea prevention, to weight-management, etc.; then we reviewed "Take-Give", "Go-Get", "Tugs-Close", "Up/Push-Close" and "Paw-Close". I actually no longer remember what skills we are reviewing and which ones are new, and I'm starting to lose the correct terminology - at one point I just wanted to yell "Slam! Dunk!" to see what Pina might do! Our class went for a neighbourhood stroll in the afternoon (it felt so good to get out in the fresh air!), ending with a practice call for help (the dogs did the practice!). Our homework tonight was to have the dogs do two sequences of "Tugs" (to open) "Fetch" (an item) "Give" the item and then "Up/Push-Close" at the refrigerator and at the dryer. I am still eagerly waiting for the go-ahead to use the "Tugs-Close" on our room doors - maybe tomorrow (big help -read "sarcasm", since we leave on Friday morning!)Goodnight blog readers - I'll need every ounce of energy for our trip to the mall tomorrow!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Visitors' Day - Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ahhh! Aren't Pina and Legend a cute pair??? Legend may not be making direct eye contact with the lovely black beauty by his side, but he does have her paw gently held beneath his own!

Well, I committed two crimes today here at Doggie Camp! Both were with absolutely no malice of intent, and, in fact, both were done with the very best of intentions! With no classes today, and not expecting visitors until the afternoon, if at all, Pina and I were a little bored. So I took her to the classroom to do a little review work on skills. Bad, bad Linda! The dogs were supposed to have the day off today! One of the trainers from one of the other programs "caught" me, and explained, very kindly, that I wasn't supposed to "work" Filey (oh oh! I meant Pina!) today! Misdemeanour #2 occurred about a half hour later, when, with Pina on leash and Halti, I happened to hear Alex, his mom, and Pesto having a "play time". We all thought that it would be nice for the siblings to have a chance to play together for a while. Wrong!!! Another trainer "caught" us, and explained, again kindly and gently, that we were only to have the dogs have playtime on their own, unless the trainers were there to supervise - we have had two "group" playdates, but, yes, that was under supervision! The other "bad" thing that happened during this unauthorized playtime, is that Pina and Pesto were having a grand old time playing "tug of war" with a rope toy. "Tug of war" is ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN for Special Skills Dogs! Since they are so highly trained to retrieve items, and give them to us, any "tugging" game (especially as it gets quite rough and intense with another dog) is counter-productive! Wow - I still have lots to learn and only four more days to do so!
We were encouraged to "crate" our dogs in our rooms for up to an hour today, and leave them there with a marrow bone, and a radio playing, as a practice to avoid any separation anxiety. My own separation anxiety was dealt with by "scooting" on this glorious sunny day to Tim Horton's (three blocks away), to have my "usual" (for those who don't know me well, that's a small French Vanilla Cappuccino and a double-toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel with butter), and a chance to start reading, for the first time since coming here,"Three Cups of Tea".
And then, I did have visitors this afternoon! Andrew and Norah stopped by around 3:30 on their way back from Toronto to Kitchener (they had gone to the hockey game last evening, and stayed with friends), and then Lindsay and Lee showed up at about 5:30 en route to Kitchener to pick up their car/return Lee's mom's van (which they had been using to move things to their new abode in Toronto). It was wonderful to see my children (and their "significant others")and Pina was generally impressive with her behaviour and showing off a few skills. I felt badly that David wasn't able to come today. When he was here last Sunday, we had only had the dogs for four days, and interaction with anyone else was discouraged. Today, we were told to first make sure that our dogs were controlled, and then to let them interact physically with family members for a couple of minutes. This really is going to be one of the most difficult challenges - having a "working" dog after having had a family "pet" dog! Four more days of classes!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A bit of a nothing day - dogwise!

Pictured are the siblings, Pesto and Pina, with their humans, Alex and Linda. Alex is one terrific young man - I have enjoyed his infectious laughter, and his insightful observations, so much. His mom, Chris, is a wonderful "honorary" member of the SSD class!
Because I had special permission to leave Oakville for four hours today (11-3) to attend the Awards Luncheon at the MS Ontario AGM in Toronto, there really isn't much to add today about the ongoing adventure here at Doggie Camp! We had our morning "circle sharing" about how last evening and the night had gone. I brought some "show and tell" items to contribute. I had purchased a cheap but seemingly sturdy rubber doggie toy at Liquidation World yesterday, and Pina (I almost typed "Filey", our Golden Retriever who died in October 2008!)was having a wonderful time playing with it in my room, when I noticed she had managed to bite off a chunk of it! I quickly removed this new toy before she decided to chew and/or accidently swallow and choke on it! The high quality (and more expensive) twisted rope pull that I had purchased at the pet store was definitely the better option (even if she does chew and tear off some of the frayed ends). The trainers have assured me that this is not a problem - just think of it as dental floss! So, "caveat emptor" - you get what you pay for! I also demonstrated the extra Lifeline foam button (which is another way of calling for help besides the necklace which I wear around my neck at home)which I will be training Pina to "Nudge-Alert". While I was in Toronto, the rest of the class went on a city-bus training session (something that I don't need to deal with at this point, thankfully) and they did work on one new skill, "Go Get", involving sending the dog to "retrieve" a person in your home and bringing that person to your side if you needed assistance. David had better beware once Pina and I learn this one!(I'll have to do some remedial work on Monday, I guess!) Tracy (the trainer) left notes on the whiteboard in our classroom about Visitor's Day tomorrow - as long as our dogs are "under control" and do the "sit", "wait", "okay" - then family members can have a short physical interaction with them. The dogs will be out of harness, so that is why it is permissable. Hope I get some visitors!

Friday, November 6, 2009

One week to!

Today's picture gallery: 1) Photo on top can be called "Laundry Train, Ho!" showing me on my way back to my room from a very inaccessible laundry room, with machines whose doors open in the "wrong" direction, going through the HED classroom (whose clients were fortunately elsewhere) 2) Photo on the bottom - Pina is on the right, with Legend and Lilo to the left, all in perfect "Stay" position, even with our trainer, Tracy, trying to distract them by prancing Midnight, the collie, around them!
All in all, a good day today! No new skills were added, and Pina did well on the review of previously introduced ones. We did lose Michelle (Legend) and Diane (Zeke) after morning break - they both had not slept well last night, and went to take naps before the afternoon's outing. Poor Diane - Zeke had the "runs" last night, and on one of her trips to the "relief room" near midnight, she inadvertently locked herself out of her room! What made it even worse is that she is on the third floor, and the key to the elevator was on the lanyard with her room key! She had to knock on Joannie's door and call the staff member on duty to resolve the problem.
It was chilly, but wonderfully sunny, as we scooted and wheeled our way to Liquidation World, for another practice session of navigating aisles in stores, and preparing for people's reactions to the dogs. Upon our return, after a break, we worked on a circuit of Tugs, Fetches, Gives, Push, Push, Push, "Alert" and Help.
We broke a little early today, and our group met to go over the draft for our graduation speech for next Thursday night. I cannot believe that I will be leaving here in one week's time! Will I be ready to deal with the continued responsibility of reinforcing the skills of this incredibly trained dog? Yikes! Good night!
P.S. A humourous, but true, anecdote - While reviewing the commands for putting on the dog's equipment, and with Pina fussing a bit over the Halti, I got a little flustered, and while getting the harness, leash, collar, and Halti all untangled and sorted, while trying to keep Pina in a perfect "Sit" and "Wait" position, all the while giving commands, I inadvertently called her the wrong name:................................................................................................................."Penis! Halti"!!