Saturday, November 26, 2011

Darby's growth in 4 months

I was looking through old Darby pics today and found one from when he was 3 months old (the one on the left).  I then decided to recreate it today to see how big he has gotten.  The results surprised me!  HE IS HUGE.  Amazing how big he grew in only 4 months (he is 7 months now, the pic on the right.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Under the big top we go...

Or at least into the United Center we go.  On Sunday my friends Heather, Becky and I took Serena and Darby to the Barnum and Bailey Ringley Brothers Circus at the United Center.  I took Darby and my friend Becky handled Serena.  Serena was NOT happy about this.  She loves Becky but was super pissed off that I was paying attention to Darby and not her.  It was very good for her to have to listen to someone else while in a public setting with me around.  She is going to have to do a lot of this as a service dog ambassador especially when I have a puppy in training.

We got to the circus a little late which actually worked in our favor.  We were very nicely walked from will call to the ticket booth, shown where to go up the stairs then walked from the top of the stairs to our seats.  It wasn't very crowded in the hallways so I didn't have to worry about navigating Darby through crowds and crowds of people.  He didn't care about the twirly objects, shinny lights or the general excited atmosphere.  He definitely knew something was new and exciting but listened very very well!  The only thing he really wanted was the popcorn all over the floor but a stern "leave it" combined with a leash reminder combined with a treat at his nose kept him from trying to get the popcorn and he successfully walked through a pile of it without even trying to sneak a bite!

I had called the United Center beforehand and got us assessable seating tickets so the dogs would have room to sit.  They were great seats!  The United Center was very good about the dogs.  I was also able to do some education of their staff who had great questions.  Most people there thought that only guide dogs were allowed in public.  I had to explain to them that all service dogs are allowed and that guide dogs are not the only service dog out there.  It was great to teach a few more people about how great a dog can be for someone with mobility disabilities.

We got to our seats just in time for the horses to come out so we were all very excited since the three of us all ride horses.  Serena made herself comfortable to watch the show:

Darby didn't like how high up we were but enjoyed the show too: 

By the end of the circus both Serena and Darby were content just lying down.  Serena did throw a fit about not sitting by me.  She whined and moved around a lot.  Finally we put her between Heather and Becky so that she was closer to me.  This seemed to make her happier and then she settled down.  She is so jealous when I am not her handler.  Poor princess.  I don't think they really understood that the things below them were real live animals.  This is Darby either sleeping or watching the tigers:

They handled the fireworks, confetti and general loud noises amazingly.  Darby was super afraid of falling through the railing and tried to avoid walking next to it at all costs.  After sitting on the floor during intermission I was able to get him to walk sort of by it.  At the end of the show I was able to get him to do an "up" on it  by lifting his paws up onto it but he was still very unsure.   Serena, of course, started showing off and kept doing an up wondering why she wasn't getting the treat.   

After the show we answered some more questions to the United Center staff.  One woman wanted to pet them so we let her say hi to Serena.  She then asked if Serena would give her paw.  We told her to just say "shake" and hold out her hand.  This apparently was the cue Serena had been waiting for.  She shook with the lady then proceeded to do every trick she could while on leash.  She heeled, sat, went down, spoke, gave 5, gave 10, took and bow and some random combinations of things.  Everyone loved it and Serena was very happy to be the center of the universe.  Darby was very good about just sitting there and letting his sister show off.  I would definitely take the dogs to the circus again (and the United Center in general).  The crowds, the noise and the smells make for a great training day.  Both dogs got in the car and instantly went to sleep!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Each dog is an individual

After training 3 dogs (well really 2 and a half since Darby is halfway done) I have come to realize that each dog is an individual with their own very unique personality and way of learning.  I have kind of always knew this but Serena, Jack and Darby have proven it.  Let's start with the similarities:

-They are all labs

And that is where the similarities end.  For example Serena retrieves a ball when it is convenient for her, Jack retrieves a ball obsessively and Darby retrieves because he just wants to please his person but he doesn't care if you throw it again as long as you are happy.  

Serena: As we all know she is freaky smart.  Like take over the world smart.  She will either work for a firm but fair hand or for someone with a treat.  She likes to out do Jack and Darby.  If Jack or Darby are in the room and I ask them to do something Serena will do the same thing but with an extra flair.  I asked Jack to heel one day while we were shopping at Saddlers Row.  Serena heard this from across the store and came running to the nearest person and heeled next to them.  She also knows what the rules are and tries to bend them to fit her needs.  I say "out" while eating dinner and Darby will go away from the table.  Serena will crawl under the table and curl up under a chair hoping that we don't see her.  She knows she is supposed to be out of the way but wants to stay under the table so she tries to see what rules she can bend.  Out of the three of them she is the one I trust most in public to do what I need her to do.  This is partially because I have known her the longest and partially because she has this sixth sense of knowing when she is supposed to preform.  This is why she makes such a good service dog ambassador. 

Jack: This dog is smart in his own way.  Once he knows his job he will do that until the world blows up.  Jack thrives on boundaries and love.  I had the hardest time with this dog but probably learned the most from him.  He had the unfortunate task of being right after Serena.  I tried so hard to train him like I trained Serena and that just didn't work.  I got super frustrated for awhile because I didn't get why he wasn't learning or doing what I asked.  This was when it became very clear that I was very new to training dogs and had to learn how to train all dogs not just freaky geniuses.  I only had Jack for 6 months but am lucky enough to still see him at the barn or around town.  Jack was meant to be an animal assisted therapy dog.  Out of the three he is the one I would trust the most going to nursing homes or hanging out with children.  He just has this loving calm air about him that draws people to him.  Tom (Jack's person who owns Body Fixx where Jack works) put a bed for Jack by the door in Body Fixx.  That was "Jack's spot."  He knew to hang out there when he wasn't needed for therapy.  Tom then realized that it was a busy spot for Jack to hang and thought that Jack would prefer a more quiet nap spot in the office.  Tom put Jack's bed in the office and the next day Jack dragged it back out to the door and went to sleep on it.  Jack wants to be surrounded by people and loves knowing what his purpose in life is.  

Darby: This puppy is completely clueless to how good he has it.  He is so naive to how horrible the world can be.  I like to think that Serena and Jack tell him horror tales of how when they were puppies they had to walk to school uphill both ways.  Being that naive means I had a clean slate to work with.  Everything Darby does he has no preconceived notions to what is going to happen.  He lives to make me or Alice or whoever is working with him happy.  If his person is happy, he is happy.  Darby thinks he is the bomb, and in most regards he is pretty awesome.  Though this makes him very set in his ways sometimes.  For example if Serena is getting attention and he is not allowed to make a friend he used to whine and throw a huge fit.  It would take a good five minutes of "Darby settle, uh-uh, heel, oops" and any other correcting word for him to give up and just sit there like a good puppy.  Now that he is getting a little bit older, he is taking less time to listen and is starting to realize that not everyone wants to pet him or will pet him just because he is there.  He is the first of the three that I have been able to train using the commands "thats it" and "yes."  "Thats it" means keep trying you are getting closer and "yes" means they did the command I wanted.  "Yes" substitutes for a clicker since most disabled people can't have a clicker on them while using their wheel chair and holding a dog leash.  I didn't know these commands with Serena and I learned them right before I got Jack but was having such a hard time with him that didn't use them as much as I should.  With Darby I finally used them and OMG do they work.  His tail goes crazy when I say "yes."  He lives for it.  I cannot wait until Darby gets to pick his person and spend the rest of his life making someone as happy as he makes me.  We are only halfway there but the next 8 months are going to fly by!