Yesterday Stephen got to go on a long drive out to East Texas to watch some baseball. A little league baseball tournament is a sensory overload for a 6 month old pup! Wow!!
There’s food EVERYWHERE! French fries, nachos, popcorn, candy, hot dogs, chips, more candy, more french fries. On the ground, on peoples laps, on hands, on faces. The smells wafting through the air and trailing on the ground. Babies crying. Moms and Dads and coaches yelling. Lots of clapping and screaming. Cleats clomping by followed by bags and coolers on rollers. Balls flying through the air.
He met LOTS of kids. Kids who wanted to hug and kiss. Kids who were afraid. Kids who wanted to feed him chewing gum. Kids who wanted to just sit with him.
On our drive out we stopped at Buc-ee’s for gas fill-up and potty break. This person does not like Buc-ee’s. It is sensory overload for me and more than I like to deal with. But I thought it might be an interesting stop for Stephen. And it was. We encountered LOTS of oohing and aahhhing. Lots of “can we pet?” Lots of smells. Good and bad. Both at Buc-ee’s and the ball game there were lots of legs to maneuver around.
We had many opportunities to educate about puppies and guide dogs and service dogs. About good behavior. For pups and kids.
It all required a good deal of patience. And Stephen had what it took!
Stephen has been out and about ALOT lately. Spending LOTS of time in the car. Fortunately for us both he’s a very good traveler!
Stephen got to meet all the “Powers That Be” in Somervell County. The county auditor, the county attorney, the county judge, lots of clerks. A whole bunch of nice folks. He learned a lot about county government.
We had a couple of fun outings with our fellow puppy buddies
A soccer game
The local feed store
The Toyota service department
He’s learning all about public bathrooms
He attended a funeral at the National Cemetery in Dallas. He really liked hearing TAPS.
And he did a bit of shopping with Mom. Oh, the aromas of new clothes!!
He’s been to banks and post offices and church and the grocery store. And LOTS of restaurants.
Stephen is such a gift to my psyche! He finds such JOY in everything he does. The world is just full of new and wondrous things everywhere you look – and sniff.
I hope you can go out and find some Wonders in your world this week!
Stephen had a BIG day today visiting Mrs. Kotwitz’s (aka daughter Julie) 2nd grade class. It was his 1st time to be around so many youngsters! I think overall he was a bit stressed, but he handled it all well.
We began with a book. Looking Out for Sara by Glenna Lang. (Rhythm did a review of this book on her blog – HERE.
The kids seemed to like the book and we had a good discussion about the world of the Blind. I don’t think Stephen thought too much of the book, but he was really interested in the shoe laces that were right under his nose. Letting the kids pet him while I read was a little much for this little guy, so I put him under me for the duration.
After storytime, I let everyone pet Stephen a bit – just a few at a time. Then I decided to let them play a game with Stephen. At home, Stephen and I play the Name Game. I call his name and if he responds he gets a treat! He knows his name REALLY well. At home, he comes running if he’s out of sight and if he’s close by he comes to attention. He’s good at this game!! Or so I thought.
I thought it would be a good one since he does so well at home. I expected him to be a little off his game because he was in a strange environment and he didn’t know these kids. But I gave all the kids a couple of treats for him and had them sit at their tables. Mrs Kotwitz went around and picked an individual to call Stephen. I instructed them to be nice and loud and clear and if he came to say “Yes!” and give him a treat. Well, evidently he doesn’t really know his NAME! He seems to just know ME! My VOICE is what he’s responding to at home! So, sometimes he didn’t acknowledge his name at all. Sometimes he looked at me.
We tried it a bit differently. I had the student stand kind of close to me and call his name. At first he just looked at me still, but after a couple of times he figured out that that hand over there had a treat in it and he would follow the hand. But not necessarily his name.
So, the day turned into a learning experience for me! I know that dog’s don’t naturally transfer knowledge from one environment to another and from one person to another, but I expected him to do better than he did. So, now we’re going to be playing the Name Game with a lot more people in a lot more places!!
Be ready! Stephen and I may show up at your front door!!
Stephen is not the only dog residing at the 7 Acre Wood. He shares space and time with the Big Man on Campus, Walker.
Walker was once a Guide Dog Pup in Training just like Stephen. He was part of a prison program that Southeastern was involved with at one time, and was raised at a women’s facility in Ft Worth. We were his weekend raisers.
After going off to College at Southeastern he was Career Changed. This means that he went through his guide dog training course, and then a decision was made that he would be more suited to a different career path. In Walker’s case, it involved a knee injury. One bad enough that the school felt his working life would be limited. So, Walker came back to live here with us and became a Therapy Dog. And that turned out to be just the right job for him!
He spent several years going to school and reading with students. He walked the halls of school and greeted each and every student and teacher. He brought smiles to everyone.
He also helped out at Pate Rehab Hospital in Dallas encouraging patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries to do what their therapists asked of them, and he visited a Juvenile Detention Center where he helped bring smiles to rebellious teens.
Walker is quite famous in certain circles as an artist. He paints with his tail!
Now Walker is retired and lives a pretty uneventful life at the 7 Acre Wood. Until a pup shows up to turn his days upside down.
Walker recently had a birthday. #11! Every year since he was a pup, we try to get together with 2 of his brothers who live near by and have a big celebration. One brother couldn’t make it this year, but we had some fun with brother, Honor, and some other canine friends. Stephen thought it was all rather grand!
Birthdays are times to celebrate. Even for dogs. Every year that they are with us is precious time. Time goes by so fast. One minute they’re a rowdy pup and the next they’re grey and slowing down. These last couple of years have taught me so much about appreciating how fleeting time can be. I don’t know how much longer Walker will be with us. You can’t really count on any tomorrows. So, I try to make every day with Walker a good day. I’ve kind of thrown a wrench into that idea by bringing a pup into our lives, but Walker is learning to appreciate little Stephen a bit. Maybe they’ll get to be good buddies. Time will tell.
I wish you all Happy Days – whether it’s Birthdays or not. Make the most of them!!
Stephen was very patient today – on a tie down – while I did household chores and some gardening. So, as a reward, I decided it was a good day for a river adventure. His first foray into the waters of the Paluxy!!
Stephen just recently got his “Big Boy Coat.” This means he is now old enough to go out into public in a big way. His coat is his official introduction to the public that he is a “Guide Dog Puppy in Training.” In Texas pups in training have access rights the same as working dogs – as long as they are accompanied by a trainer. The puppy raiser is considered to be the pup’s trainer.
Stephen was not overly excited about his new attire. That thing rubbing his belly was a bit of a nuisance. But that’s part of his training. As a working guide dog, it will be necessary for him to wear a harness that goes around his belly and his chest. His new coat will help him get comfortable with all that equipment.
Since Stephen’s uniform is now complete, he can accompany me on adventures out and about town. We have been doing easy outings so far. Not too much noise or chaos. Like the post office.
And the bank
And the Dr. office – where they were very impressed with how polite he was.
And church. For a quiet evening of Stations of the Cross
And our busiest evening took place at a Public Meeting held at the high school. This was a meeting to let our local citizens learn about options being proposed for a 2nd bridge across our Paluxy River. There were LOTS of local folks there along with big maps on easels and maps on tables. Lots of milling around. Lots of legs and feet and hands wanting to pet. Everyone wanted to meet Stephen. And he was a real champ!
After we viewed all the maps and wrote out our comments we took some photos out in front of the high school.
And then he didn’t want to leave!
He said – You go on without me!!
Stephen is becoming a Man About Town. His fame is spreading!
Well, we just experienced a pretty intense weekend of training and dogs and people and distractions and fun, fun, fun!
This was the FIRST Puppy Training Conference starring our Southeastern Regional Manager – Cheryl Herman and hosted by our friends down in Houston – the Houston Puppy Raisers! It was 2 days of training. Learning new techniques and new ideas – new for the pups and new for us handlers. There were 17 dogs in attendance. 6 little ones from the Dallas area, 10 older pups from the Houston area, and one little guy who was on his way to his new home in Ft Worth.
The training emphasis was on “Yes!” marker use and impulse control. The school uses clicker training when the pups go off to college in Florida, but they don’t want us puppy raisers using clickers. So, we use the marker word “Yes!” and treats! With this training, timing is crucial! If you miss the EXACT moment that the pup does the correct behavior, you might be training him to do something very different from what you’re after. We practiced this timing bouncing tennis balls. The “Yes!” had to come at the exact moment the ball hit the floor! And then a treat should follow.
Impulse control is also crucial. You can’t have a guide dog who is leading a visually impaired partner get distracted by another dog walking by, or food on the ground, or squirrels, or people, or strange noises, or whatever. Those working guide dogs have to keep their attention on their person and that person’s safety. It’s a serious job!!
Positioning is also crucial. A guide dog needs to be able to stand right beside their person – straight on without moving in front or sideways. If the dog gets out of position, it throws the person out of position and then everybody gets messed up.
Whew!! Lots to think about! And lots to work on!!
There was plenty of down time for the little guys. Play time, chill time.
It was a long drive to Houston, but well worth the time. Thanks to the Houston group and to Cheryl for making it all happen!!
The days and nights of a Guide Dog Puppy in training