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Category Archives: volunteer puppy raising

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.


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.

Well, Hello Deer

Why, hello deer

You know, I’ve always kinda liked the humble little burgh where we live.  So much so, that apparently I’m willing to drive an hour to my job, which is located in a more upscale locale with a denser population. We’ve grown roots here in this town, we have. Family, friends and many of our interests are comfortably close by.

We chose this community to put the Favorite Kid through the local public school system, having moved from an even smaller town*. The schools here have boasted an Excellent rating for several years and now that I have a college grad for a kid I can lay claim that we made a pretty good choice coming out this way.

A couple things I miss out here, though. It would be lovely to have bookstore with a coffee shop to lounge about in.  And . . . well, actually that’s pretty much it. Oh wait, no.  A bookstore with a coffee shop and an outdoor patio.  Some flowers, a couple of throw pillows** . . . [sigh]

But when I tell The Husband about the upcoming training event for the CCI pups at a Cabela’s in Columbus, I realize that a big, honkin’ sporting good store might spark the interest of some folk as well.

Google Maps tells us to expect this to be an hour and a half drive to the new Cabela’s, the first of its name in Ohio, located within all the bustle of Polaris commerce. As we navigate through this fancy commercial area, we’re reminded of all the other shops and eateries missing from our simple burgh. Polaris shows herself to be a rapidly growing area. Similar to watching your buildings time lapse like in SimCity 4, there are new stores of all genres going up on every street and avenue. And just when you think you’re on a main road, it’s all nope, this is just a sub-street to a parking lot and you have to find another route across to get to where you want to be. Like a labyrinth, but one designed by a city planning engineer.

But no matter, we make it on time for an obligatory after-the-drive potty break for Euka and to join the other CCI puppy raisers outside Cabela’s entrance.  Walking towards the gathering group I realize, if memory serves, this is only the third time Euka has been in the presence of so many other CCI puppies in training.  We give her a moment to process this info across the canine neurons (play or work?) before we move into the training event in the store. 

I catch a shot of her with a ponderous look.  Such deep thoughts, one has to wonder what profundity is working through the noggin.

Don’t labyrinths have minotaurs?

This isn’t our first visit to a Cabela’s with a CCI puppy, so we had an inkling of an idea of what to expect inside with Euka.  Every dog is different, of course, so best to not get distracted from any signs that the puppy is feeling stressed. In dog language, a full on stare and stiff body exhibited by another dog is an aggressive challenge. So it could be that a full size taxidermied critter might bring on a fight or flight response in a puppy. Be aware, but don’t be stressed about it — the puppy will pick up on this too, we know.
Micron’s trip to a Cabela’s a couple of years ago in Virginia, back when he was a mere pup in training, was a non-eventful affair. No problems then with staring prong-horns or beady eyed catfish in the aquarium. Well, just that one worrisome moment when I thought the big guy might claim a stuffed jackrabbit as his very own fluffy bunny, but that passed without security getting involved.

Oh, c’mon, people. Even a dog can make a smore.

Euka doesn’t have the same stuffed animal fixation as the mighty Micron, so we move smoothly among the taxidermy art to practice Ups, Unders, Visits and such in this distracting environment.

On left is Euka demonstrating Up, a command that the CCI trainers will build on as they teach the dogs to turn on light switches.

Do note the boxes on the left display there.  Those are campfire smores kits. In a box. When I was a kid, we had to make our own smores from raw ingredients like stale graham crackers and sticks out of the yard, and not from some prefab stuff in a box. You kids today have it so easy.

Moving on, in the photo below Euka is demonstrating her Derp face as she performs the Under command.


At the fish tank, Euka shows no interest in the whatever those are finning around in there. No, our little tart is more interested in the cute guy on the left.

look at me look at me look at me

Next to the Dead Thing Mountain display, we have the pups do a Jump onto a cedar bench. I’m not in any hurry to work on this one. With that Tigger spring in her butt, Euka has no problem with Jump.  She can jump efficiently, even without a command. Like the time she jumped, all four paws now, onto my desk at work to get a better look at a favorite co-worker. Yep, this white girl can jump alright.

So we watch the other pups. Euka is in a Down observing one pup after the next.  Jump!  Good Dog! [photo op] Next . . .

Oh, this “Jump.” I thought you
meant the other one.

We go last, nearly everyone else has moved onto the next training challenge. Which, in hindsight, I’m grateful for. Because yep, shore nuff, Euka has completely forgotten this skill that she was, indeed just this very morning, so very proficient in.

Euka! I say. Jump!  Euka puts both front paws on the bench and turns to look at me.  She is smiling and wagging her tail like she just did the most amazing thing.

Well, I say. Good “Up”, Euka.  I swing her back into position and repeat the Jump command with the same sad ending. Alrighty, let’s try this again. Darn it, she knows this one.

You know how they say to determine that you’ve gotten a bit unhinged in the noggin parts?  You keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results***.

So yeah, fine. Just fine. Oh, for . . . just pick her up and put her butt up there, I tell The Husband.  I want a picture of her with the deer in the background.  I look at the digital image in the camera, deem it a pretty crappy shot yet somehow good enough because I’m getting stupid frustrated about this whole refusing to do the Jump thing.

Which is, of course, exactly why it’s so important to do these training outings.  No, not just to frustrate me. I can get that at home without the three hour round trip drive. Rather this is a good reminder of why we need to proof these puppies in unfamiliar and distracting environments.  Euka certainly knows her stuff at the places we frequent and it’s so very easy to set this as a pattern of behavior. But as she showed us at the cedar bench, we need to practice her commands in the new and different. Something we’ll now throw ourselves into with a renewed effort.

A thank you goes to Cabela’s and staff for being such gracious hosts and supporting the puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence.  We had a blast meeting y’all. And sorry about that Dead Thing Mountain comment. But it kinda is, right?

*Ok, it wasn’t even a town.  Our prior residence was a village, a farming community.  When we put the kid through kindergarten screening was when we decided it was time to bolt.  Get this . . . after testing my five year old, we were informed that because he couldn’t skip, he would be certainly be a poor reader.  These scholars were ready to slap a remedial label on the kid before he even stepped a sneakered foot into a classroom simply because I never bothered to teach the boy the essential life skill of skipping. They even handed me a paper how “research has shown us” this factoid of theirs. Yep, I actually still have that paper. And apparently from this little rant, the grudge as well.

**Young Frankenstein (1974)

***A quote attributed to Albert Einstein, but a disclaimer that I have not fact checked this. It does sound like something he would say though, right? And wasn’t he just a bit, um, eccentric too? So if you claim to be insane, are you really? How would you know? Oh, never mind.

Five Things I Stopped Doing After Becoming a Volunteer Puppy Raiser: The Rerun

We’re working on a big project this week that does not involve cloning.  Which is too bad, really.

Because if multiplicity of one’s self were possible, I would be able to knock out some never-before-seen photos of Euka II doing something clever and cute.

But not today.  My energies, as they are, must be funneled into another realm of my fur covered existance. It’ll all be worth it in the end.  I do hope.

Anyway, on today’s Story Sunday I’m serving up a popular blog posting from last fall for your reading pleasure. 


It was four years ago that I began this journey as a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. On September 5, 2008, we welcomed the lovely Inga into our lives as an eight week old cotton ball. In these mere few years there’s certainly been no shortage of opportunities to learn something new. Always those helpful life lessons on how to do things right.

But you know, there’s the other side of the leash as well.

And today I share with y’all . . .

Five Things I Stopped Doing After Becoming a Volunteer Puppy Raiser


1. Wishing I had three arms

We human beans been granted the brain power to multitask, but frustratingly enough, we’re a little short-handed, so to speak, on the body parts. This was especially apparent to me as a young mom carrying a fussy toddler in one arm and rummaging across the bottom of the purse for enough change to buy Tylenol because anything stronger needed a prescription. How many times did I wish for a third arm those days.

Kid munching on Cheerios in the highchair, dog strategically positioned with maw open like a moat gator catching the crumbs, dinner on the stove, pots soaking in the sink. You know the rest, the phone’s ringing, the man wants your attention for some such thing, and the washer buzzes that the load’s done. Those days it would have been nice to have one hand on a magazine, the other in a delicate grasp of a glass of chilled white. Instead my greatest wish was to have an extra appendage to just expedite the evening.

Um, speaking of needing a hand here

It’s different now, my mindset on this. Puppy raisers learn to do it all with only one hand free. Oh! Don’t even try to make that dirty, now. Honestly, people. I’m trying to be all serious here.

When folk ask me, would you like me to hold the dog while you do that, I politely decline.

You see, I wonder what it would be like if I actually had limited mobility. With this pup in training, how much can I trust him to hold a command, to stay still by my side until it’s time to move along again?  Can distractions be ignored? The best way for me, a fully physically able person, to determine this is to limit my own range of motion in some way.

So, I’m learning. Do you want to leave the pup with me while you go through the buffet line?, asks the Husband. Naw, I say. I’m good. I’d like to walk her near the food and reinforce her self-control.

With the leash in my left hand, I balance the plate and its mounded deep-fried buffet goodness in my dominant right. The pup is at Heel and totally solid. In tune with my movements, she answers every Let’s Go and stops to sit when I pause. We’re like dance partners. It’s beautiful.

Oh ugh, the sour cream is stuck to the spoon. My attempt to give the spoon a sharp shake to dislodge the clotted mass goes terribly awry.  The dairy glob takes a right turn at Albuquerque and bypasses my baked potato. Instead it smacks squarely on the pup’s cape. She looks up at me to ask what she should do about this.

Well, I say. Shit. Which I know is totally unacceptable at a buffet.  Even Golden Corral, the Wal-Mart of buffets. But in my defense, I kinda forgot myself, not having the previous life experience of slapping sour cream on a dog in a buffet line. How does one react to such things, anyway?

2. Asking my dogs to follow commands

Say it like you mean it, I tell co-workers. He’ll sit the first time. We dog lovers want to be gentle and caring with our furry family members. We want to be kind, we do.

What do the dogs want? Well, consistency is a good start. Ok, we say, you can lie on the sofa next to me, but not if you’re muddy. Yeah, that kind of thinking doesn’t chug well through a dog noggin.  And if you want them to sit, you tell them Sit with that tone that makes clear there’s not really an alternative option here. If you ask them kindly to sit and they just stand and look at you, you going to have to ask a second time. Or even a third. By the fourth SIT! with your hand pushing on their butt they will finally plant it. So now your dog knows that he doesn’t have to do anything until you ask four times. And that’s consistency.

So I don’t ask my dogs to do things. I let them know what behavior is expected and what will get them praise and possibly score them a cookie.

An assistance dog must be responsive. These dogs love having a job to do and want to do it well. And we want them to feel good about themselves, after all.

3. Leaving offerings to the food fairy

Did you catch that gaping maw moat alligator mentioned in Number One above? Ah, there was a magical time in my life that I didn’t really clean the kitchen floor all that much. I had a dog.

A friend with small children was lamenting about how her otherwise adorable kids had taken a carton of eggs out to the living room and cracked each one open on the carpet. A dozen eggs!, she cried. How do you even begin to get that out of the carpet?

You know what I’d do? I said, calmly sipping my coffee. I’d just let the dog out there. Better than a wet vac, in my experience. A Labrador would suck every trace of that egg slime out of the fiber, now wouldn’t he?

Oh, but it’s not the same with an assistance pup in training. An assistance dog cannot walk into a restaurant with his handler and be hoovering the carpet all the way to the table. And this starts with the puppy raiser.

With three dogs in the kitchen as I work at the cutting board, food flying everywhere like it has super powers or something. A potato morsel lands next to a dog nose, but no matter. These furries are being trained to ignore food on the ground.  Their goodies come from their food bowl or a dog cookie from my hand.

Why didn’t I do this before I was a puppy raiser? Never again will I have a begging dog at the dinner table.

So, whatcha eatin’?

4. Panic over a torn dewclaw

Or other such small things. Just like kids, the more dogs you have come through your house the more relaxed you get about minor emergencies.

I was a Cub Scout leader for a few years. I’d hear things like, Mrs. Sword! Bobby poked me in the eye with a stick! And I’d ask, Is it bleeding? Still got the marble in your head? You can still see? Then get back out there and play capture the flag, kiddo. Come back if you’ve cracked a rib or something.

Before puppy raising, we just had Jager as an Only Dog in the house. My sister went on a long deserved vacation and I’m keeping the kids for a couple of weeks.  The two kids are playing fetch with Jager in the backyard when he gets so excited he somehow rips a dewclaw. Holy cow, but do those things bleed.  I try some basic first aid, but the dog has ripped the thing at the root and there’s tissue damage as well.  Fine, no prob. Ok, maybe a little bit of a prob. I’m just a bit rattled.  I pack the kids and the bleeder in the car (Direct pressure, kids. Elevate that leg). and we head off to the vet for a stitch or two.

Jager can get a wee bit intense when playing

Problem is, I left all the bloody gauze and smeared blood all over the kitchen floor without nary a note of explanation. The Husband comes home from work to this CSI crime scene. Which one was it, he wonders. The wife, the niece or the nephew? Well, at least I answered my cell phone to What the hell is going on! to keep the police out of it all.

Since then, I’ve taken a Red Cross first aid course for pets. I’ve not had the opportunity to put a dog snout in my mouth to give CPR respirations, but I’m ready for it should the need arise.

With this gig of raising valuable dogs that aren’t even mine, well, I want to do the right thing to keep the furries safe, sound and healthy. I do feel more confident about handling certain canine emergencies. But still hoping to avoid the CPR dog snout thing.

5. Forgetting the camera. Again.

You just can’t plan for this kind of adorable

A pup in training is a 24/7 photo op. After about a hundred and two times of wishing I had a camera to capture the moment, I finally starting carrying a permanent purse camera. I was thwarted in the attempt to save money by buying an inexpensive model and had to replace the cheap little piece of electronic waste with another purse camera. And for serious stuff, I have my beloved Canon to capture the pretty portrait shots. It’s entirely possible I might have more cameras stashed about the house, too. Theoretically and all.

So, how many cameras do you have, asks the Husband as he observes me pulling equipment out of the camera bag like it’s a circus clown car. Oh, I don’t know, I admit. Isn’t that like asking how many pairs of shoes I have? [sigh] says the Husband.

Raising a puppy is a 24 hour gig. I want a camera to be there for all the adventures.

Awesome isn’t something that you can plan. It just happens.

That’s it, Micron!  Work it!

And in volunteer puppy raising, awesomeness happens a lot.

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