Sunday, July 17, 2011

Puppy Sitting vs. Puppy Camp

At Saturday's meeting, I also briefly explained the difference between puppy sitting and puppy camp. Both of them involve your puppy going to stay with someone else, but they are not the same thing.

To most of us, "puppy camp" is a new concept. We may have heard the phrase, but we really don't know what it means. Here are the main features that make up puppy camp (as described in the puppy manual):

- the puppy stays with another raiser, usually but not necessarily from your group
- you may or may not get a puppy in return
- the camping period usually lasts from 2 to 4 weeks
- arrangements are made by your AC
- puppy camp is mandatory for all puppies at least once during the raising period, and it's possible a puppy could be in puppy camp up to 4 times
- puppies must be at least 6 months old
- the raiser camping the puppy fills out an evaluation when it is over, to be turned in to the AC.

Puppy camp is a chance for the puppy to experience life with a different handler in a different environment. Sometimes puppy camp can also be a way to assess a puppy with possible behavioral or medical issues, but all puppies should go through puppy camp at least once. While it's OK to ask the person with your puppy for updates, you should not pester them or attempt to see your puppy during the camping period. If a meeting falls during that time, you may greet your puppy briefly at the meeting but should ignore it thereafter.

Puppy camp is tentatively scheduled to occur in our group in October. I will have more to say about this as plans are firmed up.

"Puppy sitting" is a whole 'nother kettle o' fish. Here's a brief outline of puppy sitting:

- the puppy stays with an approved sitter, usually a current or past raiser; exceptions must be approved by your AC
- the time away can be less than a day to a week or more
- the puppy raiser is responsible for making the arrangements (which in our group you may do through Larry or direct contact with the sitter) and must inform the AC of any arrangements made
- a puppy sitting experience is not mandatory, but it can be good for the puppy to spend time in other living environments beyond what is offered via puppy camp
- there is no age limit on puppy sitting
- no evaluation needs to be filled out after puppy sitting.

It is possible that your AC may require a different sitter for a pup if the original sitter is not considered a good match for the puppy. If you need help finding a sitter outside of our approved sitters in Pinellas County, please contact me; raisers should not be contacting ACs of other groups directly for help finding a sitter. Please note that boarding your puppy at SEGD is generally not an option.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Training Reports

Our Saturday meeting ended with some info about changes at SEGD and changes in our group.

First, as previously announced, new monthly training reports are here. Since my last pup Dodger went IFT in June, I was in the first batch of raisers receiving the new training reports. They are definitely different, so I wanted to explain them.

Basically, the biggest change is that the training report is now less of a report card grading how your puppy is doing on each task and more of a status report of where your puppy is at in the training process. Near the top, the report states the puppy's name and the month of evaluation as well as confirming his or her breeder evaluate status. It also states what phase of training the pup is in, with a brief description of the tasks in that phase.

Something to remember about training phases is that the higher the phase, the less trainer involvement there is and the more the dog has to make choices. It's quite possible that a puppy in, say, phase 2 of training will demonstrate that it is not yet ready for that phase and will go back to phase 1 to build its confidence and better prepare it to move ahead. Again, the phases show what level the puppy is at, not how well or poorly it is doing. If your puppy spends more time in phase 1 than your neighbor's puppy, it is not a reflection of the job you did as a raiser. (Ditto if your puppy flies through training.) It's just a fact of life that some puppies adjust to the training process more quickly and easily than others.

After the training phase come two sections, for "Training/Commands in Progress" and "Behavior: Behaviors exhibited during training." Each section lists commands or behaviors, with checkboxes by each one. Boxes that are checked show specifically what tasks the puppy is learning in training. A checked box does not mean the puppy has completed that task but simply that the pup is working on it. Because Dodger is just beginning his training adventure, he has only 4 out of 25 boxes checked on his first training report.

The bottom of the report is a section for the trainer's general comments about the dog. Overall, the report is also more colorful.

Raisers might feel frustrated that they no longer see their dogs graded on a variety of tasks as with the old "report card" training reports, but this change came about because some raisers were inadvertently discussing training issues that their pups had had with the students who received those pups as their new guides. I think we all understand the importance of a visually impaired student learning to trust and bond with his or her new guide dog in their first few weeks together. Discussions of training issues listed on report cards had the potential to undermine that trust and make a delicate time for student and dog even more difficult, so the new training reports were devised as a way to continue giving raisers updates on the puppies they raised while ensuring the best possible outcome for SEGD students.

The more information raisers have, the more incumbent it is upon them to be discreet about sharing it. Many guide dog schools prefer to limit the information they share with raisers to avoid a lot of issues. We are fortunate that Southeastern shares as much with us as they do.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

PetSmart & Pinellas Trail Overpass July 9th

Our Saturday meeting in July was a twofer, with the PetSmart on Tyrone Boulevard sitting right next to a part of the Pinellas Trail where a bridge crosses a busy intersection.

As the puppies arrived, they were met by one of SEGD's life-size plastic yellow donation dogs, to see how they would react. None of the pups were particularly fazed by the immobile canine. They were more interested in the animated canines around them. We did a forward circle around the plastic pup and added a couple of live ones in the middle, then did a weave through them all. Everyone did very well.

Next, we got out some towels to wipe down the puppies' paws, just to make sure they were OK with having their paws deep-cleaned. Again, all did well, as Heather and Mitch demonstrate.

Now for the fun part! We split into two groups, with Marcy taking half the group to the Pinellas Trail overpass in the hot sun, and me taking the other half into the air-conditioned pet store. (There are perks to being AC.) As we did at Michaels, the PetSmart group went into PetSmart first out of coat, in case any pups hadn't yet experienced all the interesting things therein. Here is Hunter reflecting on the significance of his name as he encounters the guinea pigs. They don't seem to notice, but fortunately his raiser Eileen does.

Next, we put the coats on and went into working mode. Tammy makes it clear that she doesn't much care for fish, making puppy sitter Stephanie's handling job easier.

Georgie calmly thinks to himself, "Here kitty kitty kitty" as Jennie and family look on.

And Bob takes it all in with David, the only raiser lucky enough not to have his head chopped off by the photographer (that would be me).

Alas, I could not be in two places at one time, so I have no pictures from the Pinellas Trail, but I know our pups got to experience passing bicycles, walking along a bridge with an open view over the roar of traffic, and practicing on concrete stairs, while the raisers were reminded to walk at right angles as a visually impaired person would do rather than take shortcuts through open areas. Marcy also talked about the importance of having a first-aid kit for our pups and what should be in it.

Oh, and there was the experience of sun and rain! As the last puppy raisers were leaving PetSmart, there was a downpour, and I couldn't see Marcy's group anywhere in our covered meeting spot. I'm thinking, "Marcy's going to kill me." Luckily, they were just around the corner and had escaped the worst of the weather. We'll see if Marcy shows up at any more meetings...

With everyone back together again, all that remained was for me to make some announcements, which I'll detail in a followup post.

Tuesday Meeting at Michaels June 28th

Our Tuesday evening meeting in June was held at craft store Michaels on 66th Street. We started off making sure everyone had the supplies they needed – puppy manuals, new and improved Paws for Patriots brochures, and lots of business cards to help spread the word about Southeastern Guide Dogs. Whenever someone stops you to talk about and pet your pup, be sure to hand them a business card so they can go to the SEGD site, call, or visit to learn more about SEGD's mission and become a donor or volunteer.

We got moving with a forward walk to work off some energy. No one seems too dog-distracted here!

Then we practiced putting on and taking off puppy coats the Mersereau way, with stand-stays as we slid the coat over the puppy's head, simulating how it will put on the harness one day.

Next, we headed inside Michaels to check out all the neat sights and smells – first out of coat (since Michaels allows pets), to allow our dogs to feel comfortable with the unknown, then in coat to learn to ignore these same distractions. Don and Echo show only a mild interest in the dried flowers.

Ditto for Buster while Victoria chats with some other raisers.

Everyone did great, and as far as I know, no flowers were eaten. Good work, guys!