Patrick, GUGP's 2015 Guide Dog Puppy

Patrick, GUGP's 2015 Guide Dog Puppy
GUGP Website

15 March 2016

My puppy keeps barking!

Barking is a natural behavior for dogs, and some dogs bark more than others. Some bark at certain things, some bark at everything. Sometimes it is an alert bark, sometimes a happy bark, or sometimes a protective bark. But for a service dog, barking is almost always a no-no. Nobody wants to be seated in a restaurant at a table next to a dog that barks because they heard a noise or someone that looks weird to them walks by. Or be in a hotel room next to another room that has a dog staying in it that barks at every bump or noise. One of the worst is walking with your own dog and having someone else walk by with a crazy reactive dog that goes nuts when it sees your dog. Unfortunately, I seem to be the poor person walking by with the crazy dog-reactive dog.
Patrick barking at other dogs has been an issue since we got him as a baby puppy. He is great with dogs he knows but very reactive when he sees dogs he doesn’t know. Around 14-16 weeks of age he was making pretty good progress and doing better and we were very excited by his progress. And then while on a hike (on a trail where dogs are supposed to be leashed) an off-leash Golden came running up to Patrick, Ricki, and me. It stood in front of us and stared. Well, Patrick really didn’t like that and went into a huge barking fit that went on even after the owner of the dog came and took it away from us. That one moment set Patrick’s progress back—all the hard work and training seemed to just disappear. After that day, Patrick was very reactive with almost every dog he saw on a walk or out in public. We had to start our training all over again.
How can you fix this issue? Every dog is different and will respond to training differently. This is our first time working a puppy through this specific issue. I have raised puppies in the past that were very fearful of different situations and the best thing for them was to take a break for a few weeks and not expose them to what was bothering them. Patrick, on the other hand, does better the more stimuli you give him. As an experiment I decided to take him to a pet expo a few months ago where we knew lots of dogs would be there. He barked a little bit with excitement when I got him out of the car, but then no more while we were there. Although I had a hard time keeping him from pulling at times while walking, to my surprise he was quiet despite being around over 100 strange dogs. Now this hasn’t fixed the problem but it was definitely a step in the right direction. 
Since then I have been working Patrick to walk quietly around dog parks—not in them, just around them. There are multiple dog parks close to where we live, so it is easy to work him at many different locations. My goal is to be able to walk Patrick up to the fence and have him watch the other dogs inside running and playing, all while being able to remain calm and quiet. We aren’t there yet but making baby steps. 
We are also making trips to pet store, where the goal is to be able to walk calmly and quietly through the store even if he sees another dog. Once again, he isn’t perfect at this yet, but making progress. For me, it is a lot less embarrassing to be in a store that allows dogs if Patrick lets out a bark or two, than in a store where we may run into a pet dressed as a service dog and he lets out a couple of barks (and yes, this has happened). 

Patrick can smell if there is a dog close by him and his body language does change. One time, we were shopping in Target and I noticed his body language change. Sure enough, someone was passing by with a small dog in the shopping cart. I got lucky that Patrick didn’t see it in the cart and we were able to continue without any outbursts. 
We are also now attending dog training classes to get Patrick around other dogs in a controlled setting. I purposely put him in a class called “dogs with attitudes” so that he would at times be “set up” to be around other dogs that bark at things, because he will often bark if another dog by him barks first. After attending two classes I already see some improvement. I did have to laugh a little bit when I first joined that out of the seven dogs in attendance five of them were German Shepherds.

I will admit that I do get a little anxiety when working Patrick in public. I never know when we will come across another dog. While Patrick is doing much better when multiple dogs are around him, it seems to be the surprise appearance of a single dog that sets him off the most. His barking is embarrassing at times.One time we were walking in a mall and he saw another dog across they way and barked. He completely frightened the people walking in front of us, who had no idea that Patrick was behind them. Not to mention that a 65-pound Shepherd barking can be a little scary to some people. 

Another time we were having lunch with a friend and were seated outside on the sidewalk because Ricki and Ozzy were there as well. Along came a person walking down the sidewalk with their dog. That dog barked at us and then everyone was barking. That was probably our most embarrassing moment.
Patrick’s barking issue isn’t going to away overnight. Issues like this take a lot of time, work, guidance, and patience to get through. Despite this issue being frustrating and embarrassing at times, I still have high hopes for Patrick. He has been making progress in the right direction and he is so solid on almost every other aspect a working service dog needs. He settles nicely, has great relieving habits, is very confident, super smart, loves to learn new things, and most of all seems to love to work. I hope that by sharing some of my struggles with Patrick’s training I can help other people who are raising not feel so alone with their struggles. Puppy raising is a journey with good days and, well, let’s just say not so good days. I have learned with past puppies not to give up when things are hard—sometimes they will really surprise you. Some puppies take a little longer to mature and learn, so give them a chance to grow and learn at their pace.


01 March 2016

Don't get your kid a dog

When I was seven, like a lot of kids, I asked my parents for a dog. Like most (smart) parents, they said no. They told me I could have one when I turned nine.

I turned nine. They said I could have a dog when I was 13.

I used to be kind of bitter about this. Many of my friends' families had dogs, and they didn't have to be 13. How unfair!

But as I've gotten older, I realized that what my parents did was brilliant. And if they hadn't, I doubt I would be the type of dog person I am today.

Since I had to wait for what seemed like forever for my first dog, I researched. Well, as much as an elementary-school kid can. I went to after school care at the local Rec Center, where once a week or so they'd troop all of us off to the library down the street. Methodically, I managed to check out and read every single book in their dog section. Every week, I'd return the five or so books I'd taken the past week and get the next five on the shelf.

I learned about all the different breeds I could. My parents thought it was a hilarious trick that I could be walking down the street and immediately rattle off the breed of every dog we passed. I learned about what happened when you put time and effort into training a dog, and what happened when you didn't. I learned about The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in America, based in Morristown, New Jersey. I realized that my dream dog (at that time a German Shepherd) was probably not the best choice to have in a townhouse where it would have to amuse itself alone for six to eight hours.

By the time my parents and I seriously began our search for my first dog, I knew pretty well how to pick a dog suited to our lifestyle. We needed a young adult dog; nobody was ready or willing to take on the challenge of a puppy. We could offer about an hour of walking a day, so a high-energy large dog was out of the question. Short coat was a must, since extensive grooming wasn't and still isn't my favorite thing. We decided to adopt, and went through several shelters before arriving at Pets In Need, a rescue I'd done a report on in sixth grade. (When I was in school, if you gave me an open-ended project you could bet money that it would either be about Jackie Robinson or dogs.)

There, we found Buddy, a black Lab mix with some emotional baggage. I wanted him; the parents were less sure. Finally, I convinced them. My mom called Pets In Need and discovered that just that morning, someone had walked in and adopted this dog who had been in Pets In Need's care for more than twelve months.

I was devastated. But just a short time later, Pets In Need called to tell us that a two-year-old female Doberman mix had come in, and they thought she'd be perfect for us. She was gorgeous. She was sweet. She wasn't loud or pushy. She, like Buddy, had certain baggage; she had had at least one litter, and had a somewhat shy and reserved temperament. We brought her home and named her Angel (not because she was so lovely, oh no—because I was and still am obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and she had to be named for the vampire with a soul, Angel).
Lots of kids, when their parents get them dogs as soon as they ask for them, lose interest fairly quickly. To be honest, parents need to expect that on some level, and not turn the dog into some kind of life lesson where if the child forgets to walk him, the parent returns the dog to the shelter (yes, this happens). I, on the other hand, had been waiting six years for this dog. I was so ready. I had enrolled us in a training class, I was getting up early to walk her before school; if Angel needed something, I was going to do it. Except for walking her alone late at night, which became my dad's job.
Angel and me a few weeks after we got her.
I made a ton of mistakes with Angel, and she taught me a lot. I still cringe when I think about how often I walked her on a Flexi leash let out to its full length, or how I let other dogs get in her face to "say hi." I did not keep her nails nearly as short as they should have been. I also let her wear nylon collars her whole life (mea culpa!).
But Angel was a perfect first dog. Within three days of coming home, she was refusing to be confined in the dog-proof front hallway. So we let her have the run of the house, and she never destroyed a thing or stole a morsel of food. She was super food-motivated, so I had a fantastic time in training classes with her. She learned to be a lady in public, and everyone loved her. I was able to take her anywhere that dogs were welcome and know that she would behave properly. She wasn't a service dog, but looking at old photos, I realized that we did do a rudimentary type of deep pressure therapy together.
Angel did freak out during thunderstorms and when she heard fireworks, but otherwise, you couldn't have asked for more in a dog. I was heartbroken to leave her with my parents when I went to college, and crushed when she passed away while I was in Michigan in December of 2007, and not home with her.

Because of Angel, and how I had to work and wait for her, I was a much better dog person when I got Juno, my wild woman turned service dog. Angel taught me how great life with a dog is when you fulfill that dog's needs. I don't just mean food and shelter—I mean proper exercise, mental stimulation, and affection. She also taught me that Dobermans are the best. I'd known Dobermans most of my life, as my childhood best friend always had a rescue Dobe in the house, but being quite a short person, I was often intimidated by them. They were basically at eye level with me a lot of the time, after all. But once I got Angel, I knew I always wanted a Doberman or Doberman mix in my life.
Without the work and wait for Angel, and the rewards that followed, I wouldn't have become so passionate about dogs and dog training. It's not enough just to love dogs. I was and am constantly learning new things about dog body language, dog etiquette, dog training, the works. I am convinced that you cannot be a successful owner-trainer of a service dog unless you are devoted to learning constantly about dogs in general and training specifically, as well as doing all you can to improve your own training techniques. Training has to be something you think about every single day, something you're passionate about, something you want to talk with people about endlessly.

I doubt I would have developed my passion, and therefore my skills, if my parents hadn't made me wait six long years for a dog. So, Mom and Dad—thanks for NOT getting me a dog when I asked for one. It was a really good decision, and one I'll be grateful for the rest of my life.