Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snow Day

Natalie had fun playing in the snow with her big "brother" Koal today. I took them out in it again a couple hours ago and at this point the snow is so high she has to bound over it (very cute)! She really enjoyed fetching the tennis ball in the snow. I'd throw it and she would race across the yard, dive head first into the spot she saw the ball disappear, and then come up shaking with it in her mouth. I had a good laugh the first time I witnessed this. Amazingly, she actually found the ball most of the time. Sometimes she would have to search for it a little (frantic digging and nosing would ensue) and we did lose 3 balls out there, but she was surprisingly successful for how deep the snow is.

Natalie's home for two weeks for her Winter holiday break. It's good to have her back. I don't always notice how much I miss having her around until she's hear again. We went to the mall last night and she was on her best behavior. Her trainer, Cindi, gave me the handle that her boy will use for us to practice with over the break. I haven't put it on her harness yet, but I'm planning on working with her on some other things tomorrow so we can add that in as well. I've noticed that she now seems to think "sit" means she should sit for a second and then she's free to stand again so I want to work on that with her tomorrow. Also, we'll work on her out-of-sight down/stays as Cindi suggested. I think she probably just needs a refresher on that because I know she used to be pretty good with them.

Here are some pictures from today:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Happy 2nd Birthday Small Wonders!

Natalie on her first birthday

Today the Small Wonders litter turned two, so Happy Birthday to SSDs Gnat, Lil, Midge, Mitey, Peanut, Penny (now the UN's Jade), and Natalie (formerly Barely)!!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wise beyond her years

It used to take a lot to make me cry, but it seems to happen more and more frequently the closer Natalie gets to being placed with her partner. I feel like a parent who's watched her child grow up, graduate from college and now has to say goodbye as she watches them move on with their life- to bigger & better things. On one hand, it's sad.... Natalie has been a big part of my life for the last (nearly) two years. I can't deny that I've become quite attached to her. But, there's still that other hand...

As Natalie grew and matured from a fuzzy, little puppy to a sleek, mature adult, I was aware that she was something special, something different. When other dogs her age would have ignored their natural instinct and let loose, she often surpised me by embracing it. She comforted people when they most needed it- even if it meant she had to spend time away from me (which was generally unheard of). She walked next to a wheelchair, with little guidance, like she'd been doing it her entire life. She learned new cues with a great determination to figure out exactly what was being asked of her. Walking amongst 42,000 students on campus at Penn State, she amazed me by ignoring every single one of them and focusing solely on her job. It was after all of this that I realized what I had unconsciously known for quite some time- that Natalie was born to be someone's Service Dog.

Last Winter, I took Nattie to the dog park in State College to burn off some energy. Natalie loves to run and especially loves being chased by other dogs, so I was happy to see a large group of dogs there that day for her to play with. But, as I stood at one end of the enclosed field talking to the owners, I couldn't find her playing amongst the other dogs. My eyes scanned the field and finally stopped at the far side where someone's little boy was wandering. Tears sprang to my eyes as I took in the sight; there right by his side was my Natalie. As the boy walked aimlessly around she followed him step-for-step, completely glued to him. The other dogs ran wildly around, but Nat ignored them all to instead listen to the boy chatter nonsense in her ear. Until then, I hadn't considered the possibility of her being placed with a child. It seemed to me that most of the dogs went to people in wheelchairs. But as I watched the pair of them trek through their own imagined world, I realized how magical that could be.

I thought I knew how much getting a Service Dog meant to the people who need them, but when I read the blog created for Natalie's partner, I was completely blindsided. I read how they had been on the waiting list for 2 years and tears welled in my eyes, already threatening to fall with that one thought. Two years....Natalie was born almost exactly two years ago. Was this who she was destined for all along? As I got to the most recent posts, where they had first met Natalie and then been informed by SSD that she had been matched with them, with him- "her" boy, I could tell how much this meant to the family. It was then that I knew I would be able to do this, to give this gift of Natalie to someone I don't even know. I always known it would be hard to say the final goodbye to her, but I am now certain that she is doing what she was always meant to do. And I look forward to that day at graduation when I can officially hand SSD Natalie over to her partner.
Halloween 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Natalie's very special birthday dinner

I've been trying to think of something meaningful to do for Natalie's 2nd birthday (and last with me) for a while now. Finally, I realized the answer was right in front of me the whole time- Natalie herself! So, I decided I wanted to figure out a way to celebrate Nattie's successful journey to becoming a service dog, her birthday, AND her new partnership all together.

The answer was Isaac's. Isaac's allows you to host "community nights" where 25% of supporters' food and drink bills go to your cause. The total cost to raise and train service dogs from puppies to adults is $20,000. Through SSD's personal grants and fundraising, this is reduced to about $5,000 per partner. That's still a pretty hefty price, though well worth it, therefore I decided to raise the money at Isaac's for Natalie's new family. It may not end up being much, but I hope it helps some.

Below are the emails between me and the coordinator of the community nights at Isaac's. I'm very excited to get this all set up!


Hi Debra,

I'm hoping to be able to team up with Isaac's in order to fundraise for a cause that's very dear to me. I am a volunteer Puppy Raiser for Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), located in Harrisburg, PA. For the past year and a half I have been raising SSD Natalie for them. Natalie has been a special part of my life. I brought her home at 8 weeks old, when "home" at the time was an apartment off-campus at Penn State, University Park. Natalie grew up as a true Penn Stater; she accompanied me to classes, visited friends' dorms, rode the jam-packed campus buses, showed her Penn State pride on football weekends by donning a jersey, and even walked in my graduation with me. She was well-received by faculty and students alike as a much-needed doggie stress reliever and a welcomed break from the almost dog-less campus. In July, Natalie entered Advanced Training at SSD, meaning she went on to the SSD kennel to learn the tasks she would need to know in order to help her future partner. Natalie comes home to stay with me each weekend, part of SSD's kennel stress-relieving program, and though I've missed having her by my side all the time, I've known for a while now that she is ready to become a full-fledged Service Dog for someone in need. Happily, a few weeks ago Natalie was matched with a little boy who has Autism. As his certified Service Dog, she will accompany and support him through his life. In February, Natalie and her boy will go through "Team Training," a rigorous two-week training period that readies both the human and dog partners for their future working life together. I know this is the perfect match for Natalie as she has always loved children and will be ecstatic to have her "very own" little boy.

Natalie turns two on December 1st and in thinking of a special way to celebrate her birthday, I thought of what I could do for her new family. The total cost of raising and training a puppy to become a Service Dog is $20,000. Through SSD's personal fundraising and grants, the price is reduced to about $5,000 per client. Although this reduction is significant, the cost is still a lot for many families. I would like to host a night at Isaac's in honor of Natalie's birthday, her successful journey to becoming a Service Dog, and her little boy in which the money raised will go to the boy's family to help with the cost they will have to pay for her. I would like to do it on or near December 1st and at a location in the Harrisburg area. If possible, I was thinking of potentially hosting another night at your West Chester (where I'm from) location so that friends and family in that area could attend as well.

Please let me know if any of this is possible and if you have any questions for me. Feel free to check out SSD's website at for more information on them. I've attached a couple pictures of Natalie as well. :)

Thank you,
Alicia Gautille

Hi Alicia,

Thank you for your email. I have organized thousands (literally) of fundraisers and your email brought tears to my ears! We would be delighted to partner with you and what a wonderful way to celebrate Natalie’s birthday and new life.

In a nutshell, here is how our fun and easy Community Night fundraiser works:

1. Isaac's donates 25% of food and beverage sales, from 5:00 p.m. through 9:00 p.m., on a Sunday through Thursday night, at the one Isaac's restaurant of your choice. (Our Granite Run, West York, Lionville, and Lemoyne Isaac’s do not do fundraisers on Mondays.) We send the check to your charitable organization within 2-3 weeks of your fundraiser.

2. Each participant hands in a flyer that indicates to our server they are part of your fundraiser. (I am attaching a sample flyer. You can revise this one or make up a new one...either way, I need to approve it before distribution.)

3. You do not receive credit from our regular diners (customers dining without your flyer) and you may not hand out your flyer in our parking lot or in our restaurant to customers not associated with your fundraiser.

4. Please follow this link to our fundraising calendar to pick your date and restaurant: and then let me know.

5. The more participants you bring into our restaurant, the bigger our 25% donation is to you. YOU are responsible for promoting this event (posters, flyers, emails, contacting local news media, if desired, etc. etc.)....we do not do it for you. So, the harder you work, the more money you will make. How much you make is really up to you!

This entire fundraiser is really quite simple and lots of fun for your organization...and everyone needs to eat! I look forward to your reply and the privilege of working with your organization.


Debra M.
Community Care Coordinator
Isaac's Restaurant & Deli

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, October 23, 2009

Praise from her sitters

Service Dogs don't only need to learn how to work for their partner, they also need to learn how to relax and be as well-behaved at home as they are in public. For this reason, the trainers at SSD like to send the dogs in-training to a different sitter other than the dog's regular one (usually its Puppy Raiser) for 2 weekends in a row. This allows them to see how the dog behaves around someone it doesn't know. Does the dog still have good house manners and will it respond to someone it hasn't previously trained with? These are things they like to find out before the dog is placed with its partner.

Recently Natalie went to a family for two weekends in a row, who happen to own her uncle discharged SSD Steele. I was fortunate enough to receive from them the report they handed in to SSD after the two weekends were up. The following is that report and it sounds like Natalie had a great time! :)


Natalie is a delight. She is well behaved, attentive and very affectionate. She loves (needs) to be with you, touching you, on your lap, pasted up against you at night,etc. She is a cuddler at night in bed.

She did very well at work. She never barked, would lay down at my feet if I stopped to talk to someone and spent the day in my office chewing on bones or resting on the big dog bed.

She left us know when she needed to go out. We could leave her alone in the house without being crated and she didn’t get into anything.

She immediately bonded with Steel and us and showed no signs of stress even that first weekend we had her. No panting, excessive drinking, whining, chewing, loose bowels, nothing.

She is very playful and likes to chase balls. She loved the dog park (we went 3 times) and got along with everyone.

She did not chase our cat or eat cat poop.

She loves to train and learns fast. I was working with Steel on the Easy button and unless someone else has done this with her she picked it up faster than Steel when I added the cue.

She does hump Steel. I have not seen her do it to any other dog and it is probably a dominance thing. He could care less.

We worked on elevators, stairs, entering and exiting doors without pulling and loose leash walking. I used her head halter in public but spent a little time each evening at home going in and out of our front door without it. I also worked her without it going into the dog park. It took us a very long time to get from the car to the park because of it. This is hard for her. We also took one walk a night without it. She actually is doing 100% better on our evening walk then the first time we had her. She generally pulls only when she has to go to the bathroom and then walks fairly nicely the rest of the way. We usually walk about 2 miles.

We worked her on both sides but she prefers the left and does better on the left. I have to admit we worked left more than right because that is what I am use to with most of the other dogs.

I only had her bark once coming out of the car when she saw the neighbors on their bikes. She also barked at me when we were working on getting to the dog park entrance and because of her pulling it was taking a long time.

She showed no signs of fear at the office, church, traffic or PA Ren Faire. We went to the Ren faire on 10/10 and she was great. She was not bothered by the greyhounds, elephant, noise or costumes. She laid at our feet when we watched shows or ate. For one show, she laid in Aaron’s lap while he sat on the ground. with people all around them. The only two spots that were a little challenging was the area where they were shooting marshmallows at people. However, she had her head collar on and it wasn’t really a problem. Then a man ask to pet her and unfortunately he was wearing a rabbit skin (real) codpiece which she found very interesting and sniffed him. We had to end the greeting. She did very nice greetings. We were there about 4 ½ hours.

On Sunday we took her to church and she stayed with Steel in the pew while we took communion up front. We ate at Isaac’s and she laid by my feet and then we took her swimming at the indoor pool in Dillsburg. She loved that. Both dogs swam and retrieved for about an hour.

She still has a lot of puppy in her but as I said, she is a delight. She loves people and loves being with them.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


About a month ago, Barely was matched with a little boy who has Autism. Due to circumstances relating to his disability, her name was changed to Natalie. Natalie, fondly referred to as "Bratalie" by myself and those aware of her bratty tendencies, will be placed with her partner in February. She has been in Advanced Training at the SSD kennel since July and will continue learning her Service Dog tasks until she is placed.

I am very proud of little Nattie and know the team of her and a little boy will be a perfect fit. She's always loved kids and will be in Heaven to have her very own boy! :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Penn Stat Alumni

Today Barely walked with me in my graduation ceremony at Penn State. She was awesome the entire 2 hours we were there. We waited in line to go into the auditorium for about 45 minutes, during which she either stood beside me, sat or lied down. Then once we got inside, she lied quietly at my feet while we waited to go up and receive "our" degree. I couldn't have asked her to be any better as we walked across the stage and I received my diploma and shook hands with the president and faculty. My parents even commented at how well she walked across the stage. It was as if she didn't know about 400 people were watching us (and maybe she actually didn't!).

After the ceremony, we went to a brunch hosted by the College of Agricultural Sciences (I'm an animal science major). So many people came up to us to tell me how well behaved she was and to ask me questions about her. Even the Animal Science Advising Coordinator came up to me and told me she was so glad I brought Barely. She said it made the major and college look really "cool" and was a good way to show future students in the audience the fun things they can do while attending Penn State. I was so glad to here that everyone enjoyed her being there and even more glad that I brought her.

For the past year and a half, Barely has been an integral part of my college life and life as a whole. When we walked across that stage together today, I felt like it was the perfect way to close our chapter together. Bare is going to Advanced Training on July 5th and I couldn't be prouder of her. It's funny to think back to last Spring Semester at school and remember her as a crazy, little puppy and then to fast forward to today and see how she has matured into a beautiful young dog. I truly believe she will be the perfect Service Dog for someone.

My biggest fear is that her attachment to me will end up hindering her transition into becoming a Service Dog. Although it breaks my heart to say it, my greatest wish is that she will be able to move on and find the same connection with someone who truly needs her. I feel as though I have readied her for her future career the best I possibly could and it will be with immense pride that I hand her off to her partner during the graduation ceremony next Spring.

Barely's patience, loyalty, and endless love are sure to make her the most incredible Service Dog there ever was.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Busy Barely

I haven't updated in a while because I have been incredibly busy these past couple of weeks. Barely has been doing well with her continued training. I received an email 2 weeks ago saying Barely was to go into Advanced training April 5th, but then it was decided the trainers would not have enough time to devote to her so she will be going into AT in June/July with the rest of her litter. Phew!

The last two weekends, Barely and I visited our good friends in Lititz. Barely loves hanging out with her BFF Gretel and there are always a lot of other doggie friends there to play with including SSD Ross, (discharged) SSD Liberty, SSD Bryce, The Chihuahuas- Hansel, Feliz, Bo, & Kiwi; and Stella the Dachshund! Barely and Hansel's friendship had a bit of a rocky start but they have been getting closer the more we all hang out! :)

One weekend we went to the lake and all the dogs (all the Labs, anyway) went swimming. Bare still isn't sure about the whole "swimming" part, but she likes to splash around in the shallows where her feet can remain on the ground! She also likes to wait for Gretel to bring the toy back to shore and then pounce on her and steal it...ya gotta do, what ya gotta do!

This weekend Bare and I are once again taking a road trip to Lititz for Miss Gretel's 3rd birthday! We can't wait to see everyone and celebrate this momentous occasion!

Monday, March 30, 2009

More Progress!

For a couple months now I have been working with Barely to get her to walk across sewer grates and similar things in streets and on sidewalks. She always avoided them and even luring her with treats was unsuccessful. I kept working on it and got her to the point (through shaping for it) that she would put her front to paws on it but then she would hop the rest of the way over it. Well the other day all of my hard work paid off. As we walked around campus, I started steering her towards the grates on the sidewalks. She initially surprised me when she walked calmly over one that she has been avoiding since she was a pup and then surprised me even more when she began seeking out other grates for the click and treat reward. If she saw a grate in the direction we were walking she would purposefully walk over it instead of going around it as usual. I was so excited by this new development that I even took her to one we had first started training on. I hadn't been back to that one since, but she had always been particularly wary of it and would put one paw on the edge at best. This time when we approached it she walked right onto it without any cue from me and with complete confidence!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

All Grown Up

Barely never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday in English class she was phenomenal. She lied quietly under my desk during class. So quietly, in fact, that a student 3 seats away from us was so shocked to see a dog emerge from under the desk at the end of class he exclaimed, "Holy shit! Where'd that dog come from?!?!" I took that as a big compliment that Barely was so good he didn't even know she was there. Many other students and my professor commented on how good she was. Go Bare! :)

Then last night Barely and I went with a friend to Champs bar & grill for dinner and the Flyers game. Barely was an angel considering the (literally) hordes of people there and immense noise. She lied patiently under our table while we ate and then under the bar stool when we moved to watch the game. She did get tripped over twice because she refused to lie down out of the way, but then I was able to convince her it would be better for her to tuck herself under the stool. Towards the end of the game she gave up watching me intently for the next treat and started to fall asleep. (see picture above)

Just now I took her for a walk down the block and she surprised me once again. I decided to not use her Easy Walk to see how she did and was dumbfounded. She was amazing! She kept the leash slack about 90% of the time, the other 10% being when she pulled me over to the grass to do her potty dance or smelled something particularly interesting. But even with those few indiscretions, she was awesome. Not since she was a puppy have I been able to have a nice relaxing walk with her with only a collar and leash! I guess all that LLW work paid off!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barely Goes Back to Class

Since Barely has been doing so well with not whining during extended down/stays in public, I decided to start easing her back into going to class with me. The class I chose for her today was my Microbiology lecture. As you might imagine, a Micro lecture at Penn State is quite large, so I chose a seat in the front row where Barely couldn't become easily distracted by all the students. She immediately settled into a down stay while I sat down and got myself settled. A few minutes later my professor walked in and suddenly noticed her there. Worried that he might object, I started explaining that I was training her and asked if he minded but was cut off mid-sentence by him saying "Oh cool! Don't you leave class early now!" Sure enough at the end of class he came over before we could leave and said hi to Barely. I was so glad he was so cool and supportive about it. :)

Anyway, during class Barely was really good. I only heard her whine a single time, very softly but when I ignored it and then treated her for being quiet a little later, it never happened again. She did stand up a few times next me, but she was quiet about it and didn't browse around on the floor so I would wait until she went back into a down on her own and treat her. It was a pretty long class (an hour and 15 minutes) to take her to after her few months of hiatus, but overall I think she did really well. I'm hoping to take her to English class tomorrow. Wish us luck! :)

Small Steps

I think Barely and I have finally reached the turning point in her training. By this I mean that she has now done two lengthy down/stays for me in populated places without whining once! If you've read my Whining thread you know that this has been a major issue with Barely. Well, last weekend Barely and I accompanied Gretel & Linzey to Barnes & Noble where we sat in the Starbucks cafe area talking and reading magazines for a while (and by a while I mean over an hour). Barely snuggled up to Gretel and fell asleep for most of the time. She remained in a down/stay just about the entire time. (I'd also like to mention aka brag that I told her to stay and left to use the bathroom and she never moved once the entire time I was gone!)

Then tonight at Cold Stone, Barely surprised me again by lying nicely next to our little table while I had ice cream with a friend. Our table had the unfortunate position of being right next to the door where a long line formed. However, Barely was an angel and didn't pay attention to anyone unless they talked to directly to her in which case she looked at them and wagged her tail but still didn't move. It was easy enough to get her attention back after this too. A girl even stepped over Barely and she didn't budge or even look at the girl! I know this all doesn't mean we're completely past the problem yet, but I'm happy with these small successes.

Barely was also wonderful as we walked around campus today enjoying the weather. She gave me nice attention and ignored the hordes of students walking around. When we entered buildings, she hit the door open buttons dead-on on the first try just about every time. This is also a major success for Barely because it used to take her a few tries to actually hit the button right so the door would open.

Overall, I'm just very pleased with how Barely is coming along!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Harness Shmarness

Barely's recently been showing some harness sensitivity. She generally walks away when I hold it up for her to "get dressed," a command she once loved. This all become evident to the trainers at SSD when they did her 12-month eval and they said to discontinue use of it until a later date. Well, not that I don't think they know what they're talking about because they obviously do, but I decided to instead work intensely with Barely everyday and try to get her back to where she once was.

Tonight I first started with her favorite treat in the world: cheese. She was very willing to put her head in the harness for that! We kept repeating the "get dressed" cue over and over. Then I left the harness on her and practiced having her listen to commands with it (which is also part of the problem). She did well at this so I decided to take a break for a little while.

When I started again about an hour later, she still was showing some reluctance to put her head through the harness so I decided to change tactics. It's obvious Barely will willing put her head through it if she knows she's getting a treat, but she should be able to do it anytime- treat or no treat. So, when she tentatively stuck her nose through I praised her with a very excited "Good girl!!"and lots of pets then asked for her to get dressed again. She again stuck her nose in a little but wasn't sure so I repeated my praise. The 3rd time she stuck her head through and I erupted with complete excitement and plenty of "good girls" and "you're so smart!" She quickly got excited and loved the attention. Her tail started wagging faster and faster (something it doesn't do when I first put her harness on) and she rubbed up against me for more pets. We repeated this exercise several more times and each time I asked her to "get dressed" she would exuberantly shove her head through it and get visibly happy when I praised and pet her. I think this is a step in the right direction and I want to keep working on it every day.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My buddy

So I came down with a bad cold for the third time in the past month or so and have been exhuasted all day. After classes I slept for about 3 hours. Bare was so good at just curling up on my bed and napping with me. I could tell after a while she was totally bored but she stayed with me. It's so nice having a buddy to stick with you when you're feeling pretty crappy. I think we're both feeling a little off since she's going through her puberty thing and I'm sick again. I don't know what I would do without my little buddy always here making me feel better. :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Big Day for Barely

Yesterday Barely went into her first heat. I've been wondering when this was finally going to happen and frankly, was starting to get a little worried that it never would! Well, it has and it's really not that big of a problem. The biggest issue is the daily argument Barely and I have over whether or not she should have to wear her diaper. I always win of course because, let's be honest, I'm the one who would have to deal with it if she didn't wear it. But, I feel bad because she just stands there or lies down and won't move. Normally she always follows me into the kitchen hoping I'll drop something on the floor, but today she stood in the doorway of my bedroom and peeked around the corner at me and wouldn't move until I offered her some cheese. :( A bit dramatic, yes, but sad all the same.

I'm really hoping she gets evaluated for breeding and passes! Can you imagine?! Little Bare puppies!!! I would be a grandmother! :-O haha

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Back to the Basics

I took Bare for a walk around the neighborhood (neighborhood? ok, more like around the block) today and decided to work heavily on LLW (loose-leash walking for those of you not in on the service dog lingo). I did the whole "every time she pulled on the leash I plant my feet and make her come back to my side" thing. It definitely started to work. After a few times of that, Barely was catching on that we weren't going anywhere unless she kept the leash slack. I didn't bring any treats with me, but I figured the reward of just moving forward plus some praise would be enough and it definitely was. By the time we turned for home, she was consistently keeping the leash loose (with it only attached to her collar--no Easy Walk!). :)

I'm ashamed to say that I have allowed her to get away with pulling when we go for walks for way too long. It's not like I let her just pull me down the sidewalk, I always shortened the leash enough that she couldn't do that, but she was still keeping it tight so that wasn't a good thing at all. It's strange how different she is once you put her SSD harness on and take her out in public. She rarely pulls me anymore in public. But obviously she realized she could get away with it when we go for walks...again, totally my fault. :( Anyway, I'm glad that she's catching on so quickly and I'll definitely keep it up!!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lazy Saturday

Barely and I ended up taking a trip to Whipple Dam again today because the dog park was a muddy mess and so were all the dogs playing in it. I'm not usually a clean freak about my car but I really didn't have the energy to give Bare a bath and scrape mud off my seats. We only stayed at the lake for a little while because there were guys ice fishing and I was worried Barely might run out there to them (she never actually tried, but she did give them a few glances). She has some solid recalls there until she found this rather large rock-looking thing and decided it would be fun to run around like crazy with it. Eventually I convinced her to drop it and we headed out to Target. I prefer Target over Walmart for the sole reason that it's way less crowded and people (thankfully) generally ignore us. I'm happy to say that not one person tried to pet Barely or even asked to. I love when people leave us alone!!!

She had an awesome down/stay in the book isle. I put her in position and then walked a little further down the isle to look at some books. As soon as I walked away a mother and her little boy came up the isle. The little boy looked like he really wanted to pet Barely but the mother told him he wasn't allowed to (yay for her!!). Bare turned her head to watch the little boy as he walked by within inches of her and her tail thumped a few times on the ground but she didn't change her position or move an inch. Then she looked right at me as if to say, "Didn't I do good, Mom?"

I'm really pleased with how good she has gotten at ignoring distractions in public. The one thing we definitely need to work on is stopping her from trying to sniff/lick/pick up things on the ground. She has a tendency to sniff noticeable spots on the ground. I'm beginning to wonder if I play an unintentional part in this though. I've recently noticed she seems more likely to notice something on the ground if I notice it first and look at it. Today she ignored a variety of things on the floor that I also ignored so maybe there's some truth to that claim??

The lady at the register told me she is raising two guide dogs (don't remember what organization it was for), a Lab and German Shepherd. She asked me what Barely will do as a service dog and we swapped condolences on having to give them up soon (her shepherd is going into training in a couple weeks). On the bus ride from the lot I park my car in, another woman asked me about her. Although I hate when people try to pet or talk to Barely, I love when people ask me directly about her training and how she'll help someone someday. I could probably go on forever about what Barely knows and what she will do and service dogs in general (hence this blog!). I like enlightening people about service dogs so that they hopefully will go share that information with other people. If everyone knew even just a little about service dogs and what they do than maybe there wouldn't be so many ignorant people out there causing problems for service dog teams!!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ugh People

Ok, so maybe it was just because I was having a bad day yesterday, but I really wanted to punch this lady at the dog park (does this sound more like me now, Chris? lol). Katie and I brought Barely to play for a little and as soon as we let her in, 2 dogs rushed over and basically attacked her in a not-completely-aggressive-yet-still-rude-way. They were growling and caring on and although I don't think they meant anything serious by it, it was still pretty confrontational so Barely rolled over on her back in her usual "I just want to be friends" submissive way. Well, the stupid owner of the more rude dog out of the two was like, "Oh my god, she's playing dead! That's so funny!" Then she preceded to ask me if she always does this....umm nooo only when people have unruly, untrained dogs that are intimidating!! But what I really said was, "She's really submissive and they're all on top of her so..." or something like that. But her damn dog would not leave Barely alone and poor Bare just kept rolling over to avoid conflict. I've never seen her so submissive at the dog park, probably because dogs don't usually insist on constantly antagonizing her! Now, in truth, the American bulldog thing was probably just trying to play, but it was in a pretty dominating sort of way that annoyed the hell out of me. And the stupid owners would not control her! Even when I called Barely over to put her on the leash to leave and the bulldog was jumping all over her and growling they were slow to finally come over and pull her off (meanwhile I'm getting more and more pissed and to the point where I'm about to give the dog a huge shove if she doesn't stop jumping all over Barely and sounding ferocious). I've never had an experience like that at a dog park..NEVER. The owners had the nerve to say that they were duped into getting her obedience training after they adopted her...I'm sorry, no dog should act like that towards other dogs. It's one thing to play rough (Barely has no problem playing with Pits, Rotties, and even my friend's huge English bulldog), but a completelely different thing to be so dominating.

Anyway...that's my little rant. I don't think Barely's scarred for life or anything, she's pretty unfazable (yes, I know that's not a word). It was just really irritating.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I've wanted a Great Dane ever since I read the book Amazing Gracie. I'm a big dog person...the bigger the dog, the more I like it. (Ok, so that's not always true, case in point- little Barely is only 50 pounds.) We have a Great Dane named Mickey who always boards at the kennel I work at. He has to stay in the break room because he's so big and he's pretty slobbery but all-in-all he's just a really sweet guy. I love that some people might find them scary when in reality I don't think I've ever met a mean Dane. The major thing holding me back (besides the potentially colossal vet bills) is that they generally only live to be around 7 years old or so. A seven year old Dane is considered sad is that? I think the general 11-13 years for a Lab is way too short as it is, but 7 years?! That's heartbreaking. But against my better judgement, I've been looking to Danes for adoption online (I've sworn to never buy another dog). There's this one really sweet looking girl named Babbette who pretty much stole my heart. She's deaf but I don't really think that'd be much of a problem. It says she's currently learning hand signals and I don't think it'd be overly difficult to teach...dogs learn body language and signals better than verbals anyway. Oh god, I can't imagine what my parents would say if I brought home a Great Dane lol! I'll definitely have to have my own place before I get one.

So smart

Bare's hearing training has been coming along nicely. First I had to teach her "touch" which means she comes and touches me on the leg with her nose when I give the verbal cue. She enjoyed learning that and was offering the behavior even without cues, something we're still working on stopping. Then we added the next element: the alarm sound. I used the a tone on my cell phone to mimic an alarm clock type sound. Each time I set the alarm off I said "touch" right after so that she eventually learned that the sound is another signal for her to give me the touch behavior. She was doing well with that and I started making her sit or lie down first and then set off the alarm, which caused a bit of confusion initially (imagine someone always telling you to "sit and stay" or "down and stay" and then all of sudden telling you that its ok if you come out of the sit or down, but only for the alarm...confusing, right?), but she's gotten a hang of that too.

Today we took the next step...adding "show me" after she alerts me (comes and touches my leg) to the alarm. I was amazed at how quickly she caught on that "show me" means go to the source of the alarm and basically point to it or touch it with your nose. I increased the difficulty by moving my cell phone around the room so she wasn't always pointing to the same spot. We're still perfecting this since she still tends to want to go find the alarm in places it was initally set, but she almost always finds it after some encouragement. I'm happy at how much she seems to really enjoy this work. It's just a big game for her...Ooo I get to come poke you when I hear the alarm and Ooo! look! look! here it is!! and of course the tons of treats she gets as rewards help too. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thank you

I've been thinking a lot about the near future when I finally have to make that drive to the kennel to drop Barely off for the start of her advanced training. I can't believe how the past year has flown by. Wasn't she just a little puppy chewing my mouse cord? The first thing people always ask me when they find out I'm raising a service dog is, "How are going to be able to give her up?" At first, it was easy to reply that I knew she's wasn't really mine and that she would be going on to help someone. But as the days have gone by and we've grown nearly inseparable it's gotten harder and harder to think of ever giving her up....

I've never wanted anything less than the best for her, but I think there's always been a part of me that had hoped for some loop hole that might allow me to keep her forever. But in the end, I know I could never keep her from her real mission in life. I know she has the potential to become an awesome service dog for someone who really needs her and how could I ever stand in the way of a partnership that is destined to be incredible? I have no doubt that she will be quickly matched with someone. With her super-friendly, outgoing, and loving demeanor I know someone will immediately fall in love with her. The hard part is imagining her belonging to someone else...

I'm certain that wearing any form of makeup on graduation day will be a mistake. I'm going to be a complete mess. Of course I'll be sad that my journey with her will be over, but I'll also be infinitely proud that her journey with someone who truly needs her has just begun. I hope she finds someone young, loving, and active who will take her places she's never been before and show her things she's never seen. If I could have one wish for her it would be that she goes to someone who will love and appreciate her everyday as much as I have.

Barely's taught me so many things over the past year that I truly do owe her a huge thank you. She's showed me good things come when you work for them, that you can't judge a book by its cover, that patience is the key to success, that there's more than one way of looking at things and being stubborn won't get you anywhere, that sometimes the small things in life are the most important and the ones to be cherished, and that loving someone with your whole heart creates a bond that can never be broken.

The second question everyone always asks is if I would do this all over again. Would I raise another puppy even if it once again meant heartbreak in the end? Absolutely. There will never be another Barely, but that's something I'm thankful for. No new puppy can ever replace her or the bond I have with her, but that doesn't mean someone out there waiting for a service dog won't develop that same bond with another dog I raise, and that's what makes it all worth it. Because in the end it's not about me and the small role I've played, it's about the dog. The dog that will open new doors to light up a world of possibilities for someone who's been trapped in the dark for quite some time.