ACVO eye exam

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Each May for the past number of years ACVO sponsors free veterinary ophthamologist exams for working dogs. It’s a wonderful program and one I am grateful for.

Black lab x golden retriever cross sitting in green grass with a blue collar on

Yesterday Tom and I headed in to the Angell Memorial Veterinary Hospital in Boston for Tom’s annual eye exam. I felt like I had a transportation fairy on my shoulder, the various transit we had to navigate to get there and back went smoothly in a way I usually only dream about. A friend offered us a ride to the train station, she was wonderfully on time, train arrived on schedule, the conductor actually clearly announced the stops, we caught a subway within minutes of arriving in the station, there were people around who quickly and easily answered my “which side of the platform” question, the .7m walk from the subway station to the hospital was a breeze so we arrived for the appointment with 5minutes to spare. Going home the travel fairy was also magically there, even to where as we were walking home from the train station just as I noticed Tom was starting to get hot about a mile from home a friend who happened to be driving by and saw us, called to offer us a ride. Magic I tell you, magic!

Anyway, back to the exam. It was good we went. Tom now has some mild age related changes to his eyes. The vet described them as very typical for a dog Tom’s age and nothing to be concerned about at this time. The vet anticipated likely in 2-3 years those changes will adversely affect his vision, but now they don’t and Tom is good to safely guide me. We will go back again next year as the vet recommended, see if there has been any further progression and go from there. So good, not great, news and more importantly good data to have so we can make the best decisions for Tom and for our safety as a team as time goes on.

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Chipmunk with a death wish

Seriously little guy, there are so many better places you could chose to be.

Chipmunk standing in the grass

Like a thousand within 10′ that don’t involve being on my deck while 4 dogs also sunbathe on it.

Because you had to work hard to get onto the deck. Like active choice. Multiple active choices to get here. You don’t end up on my deck by happenstance. I’ve ensured that. For little critters to get on the deck, you must navigate a number of barriers put in placed to give you a chance to realize maybe this isn’t the wisest decision. I even give you enticements to want to be other places, like you ran through my lettuce patch to get on the deck! Where there is nothing but 4 dogs! 2 of whom get the thrill of a lifetime chasing your kind.

And that you’ve done it any way. Seriously pal, why? Are you a little chipmunk adrenaline junkie? Did your little chipmunk pals dare you to do it? Are you a suffering chipmunk, is this a cry for help?

I hope the run for you life from the dogs who love chipmunk chasing and the fact that this time they were so shocked at finding you willingly coming into their territory they couldn’t coordinate their efforts to actually capture you, makes you think twice next time you consider scurrying onto my deck. I don’t want to host a chipmunk funeral.

Belgian terv puppy, brown fluffy small dog and a black and white corgi sit on the lawn

3 of the chipmunk chasers in question (ok the only 3, Tom doesn’t chase chipmunks)

The Recall Game!

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There are loads of games you can (and I do) use to teach and reinforce the come cue (aka Recall).  Round Robin, Restrained Recall, Tag, The Stalky Stalk Game, Hide & Seek, Treat Toss, The Bowl Game, and more.  But relatively simple game my friends and I often play with the dogs on our walks is calling them back and forth between us.

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Rosie poodle, Zora corgi, Lena goofy dog racing through the green field toward me

The “rules” of the game are pretty simple:

  1.  The dogs start at Human A.
  2. Human B calls the dogs
  3. the dogs race as fast as they can to Human B.  Dogs that actually reach human B directly get praise and food treat (if they want it)
  4. Human A then calls the dogs
  5. The dogs race as fast as they can back to Human A
  6. Dogs that actually reach human A directly get praise and a food treat (if they want it)

The “if they want it” is because we’ve learned some of the dogs prefer to only gets treats from me, or from my friend.  But they learn they will only get those treats if they actually complete the loop of run to the opposite person, then run back when called.  So they race away when called to the other person same as the rest of the dogs, don’t really care or want that person or the food, but are thrilled to then be called back and get their treat then.  Race away, race back, race away, race back.

How far apart we are to start depends on the dogs in the group at the time and where we are (ie what distractions are or aren’t around), and as the dog’s get into the game we gradually move further and further apart.  Sometimes if we’re playing the game on the trails (vs in a field) the dogs end up racing around corners, over fallen logs, up and down hills and generally having a great workout.

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Wally the blond doodle flying through the grass to me, Lena & Rosie further back in the field

The dogs quickly figure out in order to get a food treat they have to A.  Go all the way to the human calling them, B.  Actually go from Person A to Person B if they want a treat when Person A again calls the group, (except for Tom, he’s special, and as such his version of the recall game involves a sit stay and me moving away) and C. Ignore the other dogs around them.  I’ve found this a great game for teaching dogs the value of not focusing on the dogs around them, I’ve done this game with dogs that have a tendency to want to chase or body block, and by the end they’ve stopped fixating on the dogs running around them and instead race as fast as they too can to get to the human calling them.  We’ve even been able to time our calls with some of the regular dogs to build up to dogs passing each other without a second glance.  It’s great fun for us all! (note, if a dog has a tendency to want to grab other dogs, they don’t play the game while other dogs are also running, safety first always)

Another piece we often add into the game is the dogs not leaving the present human until the other human actually calls them OR the present human sends them to the other human.  This teaching of the send has proved useful on a number of occasions.  The dogs all learn that if they hear the word “Katrin” and race to me, good stuff will happen.  Or “C—” and they race to her, good stuff will happen.  Or “J——” and they race to him, good stuff will happen.

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Group of dogs racing across the field away from me toward C

We do this game close to every walk in the woods as it really helps to remind the dogs that coming to us when we call is a good thing, doesn’t mean the walk is over necessarily, and helps increase the dog’s value for the humans in the highly stimulating environments of the woods, fields and ponds.

A bonus of the game?  The dogs get additional running time and end the walk really tired.

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Tom running to me through the green field

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Last week on May 1st, I mentioned an event Tom and I were going to later that day.  One I knew he was going to be excited about and enjoy.  What I didn’t realize was how much I was going to enjoy it.

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Tom lying on the ground under my leg, waiting for the train to arrive to take us to Boston

Last Tuesday we headed in to Boston to meet up with an incredibly nice group of ladies who also have guide dogs from the Guide Dog Foundation.  There is a GDF Graduates group on Facebook where we realized there are an awful lot of us in the Boston area.  We arranged a time to meet up and 5 of us were able to make it last Tuesday evening.  A couple of the folks had met each other before through other avenues in their lives, but a few of us, myself included, didn’t know anyone in person.  We ranged in ages, life styles and types of vision loss.  4 of us had guide dogs, 1 was between dogs.

It was really nice not to feel like an outsider.

What do I mean by that?

Well, for example we, as a group, changed tables 3 times.  Why?  Because we were all suffering from the angle of the sunlight and glare that continued to move depending on the time.  No one thought twice about it.  No one had to explain themselves.  Or justify it.  Or argue about it.  It was simply, “Hey let’s move” and we all said “Great!”  We all knew why, we all knew what would be criteria for a suitable next location, we all simply got up and moved.

That might sound like a little simple thing, and it was, that’s what I mean.  Never before have I been in a social group where I wouldn’t have had to internally wrestle with myself before saying “hey can we change tables?” because I’d know someone would want to know why, or make a big deal about it, or make an apology for choosing a spot with bright light, or say something rather personal about me to the wait staff, or ask me ‘how about here?  is this good?  why not? what about this spot?’  Where changing tables would be a reminder that I was different, asking everyone in the group to disrupt and move because of me.  Last Tuesday, none of that happened.  We all just got it.

It was really nice to be around people who just plain ‘get it’ but who do so without making a big deal about it.  Blindness and vision loss was just a part of life for each of us.  It was really nice to be around a group of educated, intelligent, very interesting people who also get fully life with disability.

As a bonus, their guide dogs were lovely too.

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2 black standard poodle guide dogs in leather harness standing next to their handler’s, the back of Tom’s head and a black lab guide dog in a red harness

 

Why Ducks are Better than Chickens

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They actually tell you when one gets out!

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the flock of 5 magpie back and white ducks standing in some mud

Yesterday afternoon I was in the yard doing some spring clean up when I noticed the ducks were making a racket.  “What are they freaking out about?” I thought and went over to investigate.

Gizmo had some how gotten outside the fence.  She was quack quack quacking up and down trying to get back in then unable to figure out how, would go out into the neighbor’s yard, then back to quack quack quack at the fence.  The rest of the flock was audibly upset Quack Quack Quack at being separated.

Now would chickens do that?  Noooooo….

I called Zora over, and she and I went into the neighbor’s yard.  Zora helped me to corner Gizmo against the fence so I could grab her, and carry her back into the safety of their outdoor pen and the rest of her flock.  They all settled down immediately once she was back in the group.

One of the many reasons I love my ducks.  They care about each other.  Makes it harder to accidentally lose one!

And just because a clip of some herding practice this morning.  The beauty of video, tells me exactly how many mistakes I made.  Poor Zora, putting up with me!  This is the first time we’ve practiced with this set up of a ‘course’ I was pleased overall that we could get them around the cone and through the gates!

What’s in that bag?

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Upon reading “It’s in the Bag” over on LA’s blog, I laughed.  It was a great post!  As I go around with my backpack as standard attire, people are often asking me, “What’s in that bag?”  As in “Isn’t that heavy?”

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My red with grey accents backpack against a wall

For me, the backpack is part hands free convenience and part occupational therapy.  The added balanced weight of it helps with proprioception when I’m walking.  Without it I often feel like I’m falling through space.  That said, for the first time in my life I am currently researching a smaller purse type option for when hubby and I are out together.  I’ve never purchased a purse in my life, and my fashion friend S. is already excited to help.  When you are not a fashion person (my mother refers to my preferred style as ‘frumpy’.  I prefer the terms ‘utilitarian’ and ‘comfortable’ but ‘frumpy’ works too), I have learned it is always good to have at least one friend who’s eyes light up at the idea of shopping for you.

My current backpack I was surprised how much I like it and how well it has held up over the past nearly 2 years of daily use in all weather.  The one prior was falling apart and this one was a reasonable price, good Amazon reviews, seemed to fit my criteria and had free returns.  Sold!  I would buy another in a heartbeat.

 

So what’s in it?

As my back pack is what I grab to go whether I’m walking, taking a Lyft, getting a ride, going on the train, it carries the things I use nearly daily and other more emergency but still often used things.

In 1 side pouch are 2 tennis balls, in the other side pouch is a small dog treat bag, in the front strap is a lightweight set of ear bud head phones.

In the main section:

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A blue cap, white folded cane, pink dog dish & black eye glasses case on a table

  • A NFB style folding white cane with metal glide tip
  • A spare brimmed hat
  • A collapsible dog water dish
  • & My bulky mountaineer style sunglasses in their massive case
  • depending on where I’m going I may also have a water bottle in here as well

In the smaller zippered section

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  • My disability parking placard
  • A small first aid kit with ace bandage & band aids (comes in handy way more often than I’d care to admit.  enough so it warrants a permanent place in the backpack)
  • Some benadryl (after the wasp nest incident last year with the dogs in the woods, it too has earned is place in the backpack)
  • Roll of dog poop bags
  • An empty plastic grocery bag (useful if I have to put something wet back into my bag)
  • A pen
  • A gentle leader
  • A small tape measure (has come in handy also more times I care to count)
  • A clicker
  • A couple of business cards
  • A copy of the dog’s current rabies certificates
  • & the printed laws I can hand to Lyft, Uber & Taxi drivers when they try to refuse me service

The things in my bag have over the years earned their place in their degree and frequency of use.  Stuff for me, stuff for the dogs, stuff to help ensure I can get myself safely to and from.

So, what’s in your bag?

 

 

 

Games Dogs Play

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Dog play is fascinating and hysterical!

Lucy spaniel invented this game today and played it over and over and over.

She takes the ball, and goes under the a-frame.  Pushes the ball in the space under the a-frame, then uses her paws to pull it back.  If it goes too far out of range, she barks.  Zora grabs it, decides it is too slimy and gross, and spits it out.  Lucy takes the ball back, and under the a-frame to play her game once again.

7 Years of Teamwork

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7 years ago today, May 1st, I met Tom and he met me!  I arrived at the Smithtown, NY campus of the Guide Dog Foundation just a few short hours prior, had my juno walk with our trainer and then got to meet Tom for the very first time!  I remember being awed at his size, he was much larger than I had anticipated for a lab x golden retriever cross, and so glad his fur was comfortable for me to touch (texture stuff, many lab coats I can’t stand they are too spiky feeling).  He’s still a big moose and still lovely to pet.

Today we went on a great walk with friends at the state park.  And this afternoon we have an exciting event planned.  Stay tuned for that adventure, I plan to write about it later this week.  Tom’s going to be so excited when he realizes what’s in store today!

Here’s hoping for many more years with this guy leading the way.

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Agility Trial Routines

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I’m a rather routine, predictable person. I find routines comforting and reassuring. I like having plans. It’s harder to get lost, lose things and be forgetful when life is orchestrated with many patterns. It’s no surprise I have any number of patterns I tend to follow when it comes to agility trials. Everything from how things are packed in our car, to setting up or breaking down our crating space. And of course pre and post runs.

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Tom looking at the camera hanging out in our crating area at a trial.  My husband’s feet as he sits in a chair next to Tom

 

Zora and I have what I call our Corgi Warm Up and Corgi Cool Down routines. She recognizes each phrase and the predictions of behavior it means. As I feel warm up and cool down is important with the canine athlete I thought I’d share our routines

Our Pre-Run Corgi Warm Up Routine

We have 2 types of corgi warm ups. One involving handling warm up and one involving stretching.

The handling warm up we do first thing of the day before the general briefing at the trial, and depending on the courses then set may or may not do it at other points before certain runs. During the handling warm up we find an open area, might be where the club has the practice equipment set up, might not, and we review various motions and cues. Switch, out, here, go, tight, wait, and so on. Get as in sync with each other as we can. If a particular course has a spot that looks rather tricky, we will practice the motions so that when we actually get on course there is a better (but not guaranteed as yesterday’s trial proved. LOL) chance I’ll handle it correctly. During our handling warm up I try to vary type and positions of rewards to further reinforce where on course I’d like Zora to be relative to me when we do that motion or cue once on the field.

The other warm up we do, this one we do before every single run, is our stretching warm up. Which includes portions for me and for Zora. We start off with some walking and trotting, then some moving in figure 8s to the left and the right. Next we do some leg, neck, tail and back stretches, and light muscle massage. From there we move to the ring as either we are first dog or last and there are now about 4 dogs to go. We jog to ring side for a bit faster movement. Once ring side we do some pivots, sit down stand position changes, hand touches, and turns to the left and right, working to ensure our muscles are warmed up before running the course.

By then it’s our turn, we walk to the line, Zora moves into her down, I cue her to “watch” which means look down the line my foot is pointing to show her where she’ll be going on the release. We get our “Good luck” cue to remove the leash from the judge. Leash off, I move to my starting position, and off we go!

 

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Zora set up ready to run the agility course at a competition

Our warm up stretching routine usually takes about 3min. When we are first dog on the line, I have to time my walk through so I’m done with a minute left in the walk through. That way I have my 3 minutes as it’s usually about 2 min after the walk through ends to first dog, us.

Our Post-Run Corgi Cool Down Routine

Our Corgi Cool Down routine is similar to our warm up stretching routine, only done in reverse with an addition that makes Zora’s eyes sparkle. Aka Squeaky Ball. Squeaky ball doesn’t actually squeak. Maybe it does still now that I think about it. But Zora doesn’t squeak it. She holds it, carries it, and fetched it, no squeaking. She loves loves loves Squeaky Ball. It’s her special post trial run toy that she only gets now a days at agility trials. Oddly enough at home she likes it ok, but she loves it at trials. I think she’s associated it with trials hence it’s value there. At home she’d chose a tennis ball, at a trial she wants Squeaky Ball all the way. It’s a soft plush fluorescent orange or yellow (we have one of each so just depends which I happened to pull out of the bag) ball with a squeaker in it. Squeaky Ball is always part of our Corgi Cool Down routine.

We finish the course, the leash runner hands me Zora’s leash. I hold it out, Zora shoves her head into it, and we leave the ring together. Head on over to where we left our treats and Squeaky Ball ring side. She gets a couple of good girl treats then I say the magic words, “Let’s go play Squeaky Ball!” And she starts prancing. We jog together to the exit door or open area to play a little game of Squeaky Ball fetch. After our game, we do some body stretches, figure 8s, trotting, walking, light massage, Zora gets a drink and then quiet time until we do it all over again for the next run.

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Zora and I exiting the ring after a run, Zora on leash looking at me as I’m cheering

Do you have a pre or post exercise routine? Please share, I’d love to hear them!

A Town Walk with Tom & Zora & a slew of PSAs

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As it’s International Guide Dog Day, I thought I’d balance out the walk in the park video I did the other week with a walk through town video.  I was feeling a bit talkative, as this video was shot the day after my voice returned from the 4 days I was sick with a cold.  So there are a number of my pet permanent pedestrian vs privileged people with a driver’s license rules of the road rambles.  All sorts of gems, like “How it actually works when you press the walk signal button at a lighted crossing,” “How to not be a moron driver when you notice a pedestrian waiting to cross the road,”  “When stopping for pedestrians actually ends (it isn’t once the pedestrian has passed only your car), “Why I hate middle turn lanes on suburban roads,” “Zora’s puppyhood feelings on creepy children statues” and more!  I also had fun with the video editing software…lol

And this is what Tom and Zora did once we were home that day.  Neither felt our 4 mile walk through town and back was sufficient.  “please sir, I want some more,” channeling Oliver Twist and all.

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Tom standing looking up at me and Zora sitting looking at me.