RSS Feed

Category Archives: skilled companion dog

Wordless Wednesday: Please don’t eat the coneflowers

Posted on

Brought out of the archives and dusted off, here we share one of my favorite photos of the lovely Inga

Our first CCI puppy on her first morning at our humble abode. Eating my fading coneflowers while looking directly into my eyes. And our first hint at the challenges to befall us as novice puppy raisers.

Friends and co-workers, would it surprise you to hear that Inga just celebrated her fourth birthday on July 9?  Four, y’all.  The lady’s been a Skilled Companion Dog for nearly two years now.

Time passes by so quickly, we know.  But sometimes it happens in a way that warms the heart, it truly does.

Working Dog face

At the tender age of five months, we slipped the working cape over Micron’s noggin and snapped the clip under his belly. You’re not a little puppy anymore, we tell him, it’s time to start acting like a big dog now.

The Mighty Micron at five months

I capture this momentous occasion with a snapshot. To the uninitiated, this may appear to be a pup taking things serious. I’m a big dog now!  See that look of focus on his adorable button-nosed face?  Ah, but look again. That wide legged stance, alert posture. Those brown eyes are indeed focused, but alas not on either of his handlers. Now people, what one word comes to mind when you look at this?  Right. Ok, let’s all say it together, shall we  . . .

Squirrel!

Yep, the distraction factor, just one of the behaviors that makes Micron so charming.

As we were out and about to socialize this fluffy boy over the next year, we’d be asked, so, what do you think he’ll be doing?  A good question that. Of the four types of assistance dogs that Canine Companions for Independence trains and provides, where did we feel Micron would fit? As volunteer puppy raisers, we don’t socialize and train for any one specific purpose. We move forward with our eye on the horizon and try our best to get the pup ready for the Advanced Training program at CCI.  Once there the professional trainers work with the dogs for another six to nine months to determine how their skill sets and personalities best fit in the assistance dog world.

But sure, it’s fun to fantasize about the destiny of the pup in your charge. Of course, it turned out that thinking that Micron would make it through more than three months of Advanced Training was my own personal fantasy. But long before being faced with stark reality, I’d squint my eyes and picture him as a Service Dog or Skilled Companion Dog. Oh, that would be glorious!  But truth be told, that vision was a little blurry. Holding onto that warm thought was like nailing jello to a wall.  It just didn’t feel right. As a pup, Micron just never took anything seriously. Walking into a room, any room, it was like he would throw out his front paws and shout, That’s right, people! The party starts . . . NOW!

Ok then, so what about a Hearing Dog? Well, kinda the same thing I guess. Hey! Hey! he’d nudge to alert his person, didja see it? There’s a squirrel!  I’ll be right back.   No, I suspected CCI’s high value system wouldn’t be able to overlook this behavior. There’s a very specific personality that’s required to be a Hearing Dog and tree rat retrieval isn’t gonna be a required skill.

Even on matriculation day, Micron jokes
with Karsen about picking up chicks at college.

Which leaves the role of Facility Dog. Now, this one gave me a tinkling spark of hope. Micron loves people and basks in any attention he receives. It’s hard to describe really, but it’s kinda like he glows. No, not like emitting a light, but maybe more like an aura about him. People tell me they feel better being near him, by petting him. Now if I could just bottle this magical stuff he has, we could share it and make the world a better place.

When talking with folk about CCI dogs, it seems most have some understanding of the work of Service Dogs, Skilled Companion Dogs and Hearing Dogs. These are teams you come across in daily life in the public arena of the world. A Facility Dog, however, doesn’t get out as much into the public eye.  Not that they’re behind the scenes, mind you. These dogs earn their kibble.  From CCI’s website, we learn . . .

Facility Dogs are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting.

CCI Facility Dogs are trustworthy in professional environments and can perform over 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire clients with special needs.

Facility Dogs are needed in educational settings, such as special education classrooms. And an amazing program that’s really been taking off over the past few months are the Courthouse Dogs, who promote a feeling of calm and security in a visitation setting. My fellow dog lovin’ friends, you can certainly see this, right? Imagine a child about to testify in a courtroom. A stressful situation for any of us, but for a kid with less life experience this can be downright terrifying. Now imagine being able to stroke a calm, friendly Labrador before you walk out there to take your place on the witness stand. No really, close your eyes and think about this. Can you feel the difference it makes? Absolutely incredible stuff, I think.

And in the healthcare setting, our CCI Facility Dogs are trained to assist with medical rehabilitation.  They are there to motivate and encourage folk to pull through otherwise difficult tasks. How so? you ask. Ah, another good question. Well, let me share something pretty darn cool with y’all.

The ruggedly handsome Jarvis was teamed with Margie Benge of Triangle Therapy Services in February, 2012.  For those of you out there on Facebook, I invite you to check out Triangle Therapy Service’s page, especially the photo album on Jarvis – First month at work. Margie’s photos tell the story of the important job of a dog involved with occupational therapy with children. Talk about the Wow factor.

If you’re not on Facebook, then what the heck are you doing with all your spare time anyway? Cleaning the house or something? No what I mean is, check out their website at Triangle Therapy Services to learn more about their pediatric occupational and speech therapy work.

After Micron’s turn in to CCI’s Advanced Training program, I held onto the Facility Dog dream for a while. Actually, for three whole months until The Phone Call.  But, I plead, he loves people!  He has an aura and everything! Can’t he be a Facility Dog?  To which Gwen replies, Yeah, it was a nice try, Donna. But there’s too much Microness there.   Too much Micron happening? Sure, I can see that.  Heck, I lived with it for eighteen months, so the news was not a shocker.

What? This is my Serious Look [snort]

What to do with this college dropout?  Well, that’s where the pet therapy training comes in.

At a glance, there could be some connection seen between a CCI Facility Dog and a dog involved in a Pet Therapy program. In the world of assistance dogs, there’s even some ambiguity with terms among different organizations just to keep us all a bit confused. Lessee if I can help with this without making things worse.

Both occupations require a calm, confident dog. A canine who is at their best around people. A good start, but let’s summarize the nitty gritty of things to see what’s really different here.

A Facility Dog’s work is goal oriented.  The dog is highly trained dog to guide an individual – adult or child – with a specific task. Such as physical rehabilitation, in which the dog is assisting an individual in improving a motor skill or relearning how to use certain muscles after an injury. This type of work is termed as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), bringing the term therapy as another ingredient into the confusion soup. Some of CCI’s Facility Dogs are indeed assigned to AAT work in healthcare. But you recall that other Facility Dogs may be working in a courtroom environment or elementary classroom.  All assignments, however, are goal oriented.

How ’bout this? My mouth is closed.
Serious enuf for ya now?

Now a dog involved in Pet Therapy is pretty much what the title says. A person and their pet dog who goes out to make the world a happier place. A noble goal to be sure, but not the goal oriented work of a Facility Dog. What this team does is more recreational.  Showing up to bring a smile to someone. Ask anyone who’s had their day changed after a visit by a pet therapy team and you’ll understand the value of the program. I’m telling you from experience, the training is tough. No doubt there. But it is a different focus on skill sets for you and your dog.  In our pet therapy course, we’re reinforcing good behavior and basic obedience skills. We’re not doing anything especially fancy here. With me and Mike, our thing is encouraging party boy to show some self-control. Like not trying to take the yellow tennis balls off the feet of the walker.  While someone is using it.

So in the past I was telling Micron to stop it already with the goofy looks and put on your working dog face, because darn it, you’re wearing your cape and you’ve got to look serious, and well . . .

Today I can look into those sparkling brown eyes and smile back at his open mouthed doggie grin. I know now this is his working dog face.  His job is to bring happiness into a room. Any room.

raising a super dog
There it is. Micron’s working dog face.
The one we know and love so well.

Wish us luck, won’t you?  Four weeks down and six more to go in our pet therapy training. So far, so good, but we need plenty of positive thoughts sent our way.  This dog has a destiny, you know.

Wordless Wednesday: Why we do this (Reason #1)

Inga IV and Joseph
(photo used with permission by Trib Total Media)

Joseph’s mom says this expression on Inga’s face is her this is my job and I have a purpose look. The lovely Inga takes her job very seriously, it seems.  As her puppy raisers, we’re just bursting to full with pride. 

She loves her job and just adores Joseph.

Good dog, Inga.

_____________________

The photo above is by the courtesy of Trib Total Media (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sunday, Feb 26 2012). To read the entire related story, including photo gallery and video, go to:
Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving

Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1
Local heroes in action

PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, February 26, 2012

Full article link:   Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving

___________________________

Here we have in this short video, just under four minutes, that covers .  . . 

  • Words from a family who volunteer for Canine Companions for Independence as puppy raisers. Fifteen year old Katie Weiss talks about what it means to raise CCI puppy Jaleen.
  • O’Shea, a facility dog that helps with the grieving process after a loss in a family.
  • The Skilled Companion team of Inga and Joseph.
  • Footage from the February 2012 CCI graduation in Delaware, OH.

CCI touches so many lives in positive ways.  And this particular video brings things even a little closer to home for us.  We have met, or are close friends with, so many of the amazing folk seen in the video. A glimpse of our heroes and mentors, the Amos’, who were our inspiration to be puppy raisers. The voice of Suzanne, CCI’s puppy program manager. We would surely go astray if not for her wise guidance. And we see a few of  the graduate teams that keep us grounded in this puppy raising business.  Why do I open my life and home to a dog that’s not mine?  Just to give the pup back after sixteen months?

Because there’s a chance we might become part of something bigger than ourselves.  Because of people like Joseph.

We brought Inga home at eight weeks old and said good-bye to her such a short time later. A kiss on the nose, a long hug and our wishes to go do good stuff.  And by God, did she. You know, all these dogs touch my heart in some way.  But the lovely Inga, my first CCI love, holds that special place. I’m so proud of her, so proud of Joseph.

Good girl, Inga. We love you.

Inga on the job: an update

Kiss the sky

As volunteer puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence, we are well aware of the high standards the organization has for the dogs they place. For many of us, it’s the very reason we choose CCI over other service dog organization. And while we do everything we can to ensure these fuzzies know all their basic commands and are solid in public, we know there is a chance that the dog may be released from the program.

And it may be that the dog has exhibited the most minor of behaviors, such as a hesitation around unfamiliar objects. Something we would tend to overlook in a pet, but is not acceptable for a service dog. A sobering fact is that less than 50% of the pups in training will graduate the program.

The rest?  Well, they may find another career, such as search and rescue, or change someone’s life as a loving family pet. A highly-trained, intelligent, healthy pet that is.

We hear, So that pup you’re raising, do you think he/she will make it? That’s a hard one. My answer?  I sure hope so.

When Inga, our first CCI pup, graduated as a skilled companion dog, we were jazzed beyond description. That she was placed with a young boy, her favorite kind of person, was perfect. Divine, in the purest sense of the word.

Also, as puppy raisers, we understand when it’s time to say good-bye. When we hand the leash over at graduation, our journey with this dog is done. Our dog, who is not our dog, has moved on to where they belong.

Working girl

On a very personal note, we are especially blessed that Inga’s family keeps us updated on their new life with her. We hear magic words like, she brings so much joy to our family.  It’s been a few months now that Joseph and Inga have been a team and they’re now hitting some milestones with her; birthday celebrations, family vacations and such.

Inga went on her first airplane ride, rode in taxis and stayed in hotels. Each experience was new to her as we didn’t expose her to these as her puppy raisers. But this dog is a professional now and she handled everything as a skilled companion dog should. A nod to her solid nature and the stellar training she received at CCI, as well as credit to her young handler, Joseph. He knows the dos and don’ts of traveling with his companion – how to work as a team.

Time for some R and R

Not a first for Inga, though, was a trip to the beach. We had traveled by RV to Myrtle Beach for her first experience snorting sand when she was a pup. We hear she is still true to her water dog nature. Inga enjoyed the seashore and ocean vacation time with her family.
For a fuzzy memory, here’s a couple of puppy photos from our beach trip during the summer of ’09. 
Thanks to Inga’s handler, Joseph, and his family for permitting me to share this update on her working life.



There’s a word for that

Cool Beans
Gnarly monarch butterfly at CCI graduation
I’m a child of the 70’s. An era of great music and horrifically bad fashion. Anyone else out there remember sporting those one piece pantsuits and trying not to fall off your platform shoes?  How about making your bell bottoms even bell bottomier by cutting into the seam and adding a triangle of bandanna fabric so when you walked between classes at school it sounded like a huge pillow fight with all those jeans smacking into each other?
Remember laying on the sidewalk in front of your house and yelling for your mom to come out and save you because your bell bottoms got jammed into your bike chain – again. 
To all you young folk out there trying to bring back 70’s retro fashion. I’m asking nicely . . . please don’t. Really.
Of course, we had our own slang back in the day as well. We expanded Cool into Cool Beans. (I can’t explain why or how this one came about; or even why I still hear it said today.) Other ways to describe something wonderful was Boss, Funkadelic and, my favorite, That’s gnarly, Dude.
In today’s culture, I hear the word Awesome thrown around as if it means the same as Cool Beans, and frankly, it bugs me. Even worse, some folk will use Awesome as sarcasm. As in . . .  Dude, did you know your cat just threw up something kinda orange colored on your sofa?  Response: awesome.
That ain’t right. Something awesome is, well, awe inspiring. Not just pretty good, but instead is the apex of wonderful. It stops you in your tracks. Maybe it causes you to pause and reflect on what is happening right in front of you. It is something divine.
If we misuse Awesome, then we’re left with a diluted word and no way to explain the things that change lives.
Now this is Awesome
Something wonderful has happened. Our first CCI puppy, Inga IV, has graduated as Skilled Companion for a young boy. Ok, to be painfully honest about this, I’m pretty jazzed that I didn’t totally screw up in raising this dog. ‘Tis true. This admission alone speaks a volume about the professional training staff at CCI.
Inga IV
Inga and I spent nearly a year and a half together working on the basics; obedience, socialization and such. Her success was top of mind for that entire time. But while all this was going on, there was the knowledge that less than 50% of CCI pups in training actually make it to become assistance dogs. That thought follows a puppy raiser like a cloud of gnats; hard to swat away. You can do everything right, but what it really comes down to is if the dog wants to do the job.
Because CCI’s values are so high, because they will not place a dog with someone unless it is absolutely the right thing to do, many of the pups are released from the service dog program. When I titled this blog Raising a Super Dog, it was because that’s exactly what these dogs are. Not just really smart pets, but a level higher. Confident, healthy, compassionate and intuitive dogs with an unshakable work ethic.
So what happens to the pups that don’t make it as a service dog? They become Change of Career dogs. COC’s in CCI-speak. These dogs may move into another service field such as Search and Rescue or Therapy Dog jobs. Or they may become really wonderful & loving pets. 
The work that CCI does is amazing. I would even call it awesome. Because making a profound impact to a person’s life, especially in a way that provides independence that wasn’t there before, is nothing less than awesome.
And I honestly can’t think of another word to describe it.
Yellow Cape (turn-in) Cookie
Blue Cape (graduation) Cookie

Pomp, Circumstance and . . . hand me that lint brush, will ya

I cried yesterday. In public. But they were all happy tears and I was just joining in with everyone else at the CCI graduation for the North Central Region. Some seriously positive Karma going around in that auditorium. Good vibrations, if you will.
Canine Companions for Independence holds graduation ceremonies four times a year. People who have been partnered with a skilled assistance dog by CCI complete two weeks of team training at the regional center. A graduation ceremony is then held after the successful completion of this unique bonding and training experience. Let’s stop here for a second. Those last two sentences hold so much and it is truly difficult to put into words just how profound this process is. It would take a book to hold all the words, I think.
And how to explain the emotions at a Team Training Graduation?  It’s one of those “you had to be there” kinda things, but I’ll give it a heck of a try. Ok, so imagine yourself in a auditorium. It’s a sold out event and late comers are left standing in the back and sitting in the aisles. Now imagine that for about every three or four people, there is also a dog. Except for the occasional dog hair in the dust motes, a casual observer would have no idea that the auditorium is filled with dogs. No barking, no dog smell, no dogs moving around. 
Board of Directors VP, Carolyn, takes the stage and asks everyone who has attended a graduation before to please stand. We look around to see who is still seated, there are so many first timers here. These new people are our future, she tells us. These are the CCI supporters, volunteers and maybe even new puppy raisers. We’re to make sure they have tissues for what’s next.
The puppy raisers with matriculating dogs are now on the stage to be recognized. After the ceremony, they will drive to the regional center to turn the pups they’ve raised over to CCI for the next phase of advanced training. These folk and the pups have been together for the last 14 months or so. Some stand there straight and strong on stage. Others may have a tear or two roll down. For those of us who have stood on that stage, we understand.  How do we give them up, we’re asked. With a lot of pride and a box of tissues, we say.
Now it’s time to meet the new teams. Yesterday’s ceremony had eleven graduating teams, some adults and some children. One team at a time is brought on stage. The individual first, then the puppy raiser of their skilled companion joins them on stage. We’re not going to see a paper diploma handed over here. Something else intended to help them on their journey as they move onto this next path in life. The puppy raiser walks their new skilled companion to them to “pass the leash.”  This is it, people. The proudest moment for a CCI puppy raiser; whatever we did over those 14 months, everything that the amazing CCI trainers did, everything the dog can offer. The puppy we love so much is now in the hands of someone who will love them even more. Our dog, who is not our dog, has found their destiny. This is it.
To repeat what I said before, you really have to be there to get this experience. I’ve shared how I feel as a new puppy raiser. It’s an experience unique to each person. Information on the next graduation ceremonies for each regional center can be found on the CCI’s website (CCI graduation dates).  A search of youtube will bring up some excellent presentations like this one: puppy raiser presentation.
Each CCI Team Training Graduation is a feel-good time, but this particular one had even more meaning for me than most. Fellow puppy raiser, Jeff, turned over Nao’s leash to a young boy and his family. That’s Nao in the photo (top) and the other is with the lovely Inga on their last play date. I’ve known the ruggedly handsome Nao since he was a young pup as he grew up in the office as the same time as Inga. I’ve not yet had the honor of “passing the leash” so I can only guess how wonderful this must feel. I am so happy for Jeff, Nao and especially this young family. What a perfect, blessed match.

Please excuse me now. I think I have something in my eye.

%d bloggers like this: