Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Good Week

By Fred
Our class with Jennifer, the SEGD trainer, this week went especially well. She's helping us learn to keep our dogs focused (which is to say she's helping us stay focused). By the end of class, Cheryl was able to walk Bingo calmly around the room while Mikey, who is similar to Bingo in some ways (exuberance being one), sat in the middle of the room and was a good boy, sort of like Godzilla taking a leisurely stroll around King Kong.

The experience carried over to the following night and our group meeting with Donna, which also went well, relatively speaking, since this time Bingo was able to sit within the good-dog circle and, for the briefest moment (as Cheryl coincidentally happened to snap this photo--that's Bingo in the middle) he sat in perfect form with dogs on all sides. (This is why photos are not used as evidence in court.)

As time goes on, we are developing a better idea of what is expected from a guide dog--it's what appears to be an impossible set of qualities: decisive but not dominant, friendly but not promiscuous, calm but not lazy, brave but not foolish, protective but not overly so, careful but not fearful, smart but not too crafty, eager to work but not impatient, or, as they say at SEGD, intelligently disobedient.

In short, a good guide dog is like a good friend or a good spouse, because life can be confusing and unpredictable and because we all need someone to look after us.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Never Let a Dog Guard Your Lunch

Yesterday was a Bingo day at school. It was also my Anime club during lunch so I had several club members waiting outside the conference room for me to open up the room so they could go in and eat lunch and begin the club meeting. I was coming out of my class and had Bingo with me. I could see them gathered by the doorway as I walked up but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary until Andrew screamed.

We were in the library hallway, so the screaming really caught me by surprise. His screaming made the other girls scream. Then I made out what he was screaming.

"Bingo ate my lunch!"

"What?" Bingo was already at the door waiting to go in. Andrew pointed at his plate of fried chicken wings on the floor. All the other girls pointed as well.

"Bingo ate a wing!"

"EEP!" I yanked open Bingo's mouth and sure enough there was an entire chicken wing in his mouth. He had no idea what to do with it, having never had any people food, so it was just sitting there whole. I grabbed it, unlocked the door and tossed it in the garbage. "Andrew, why is your lunch on the floor?"

"I don't know?"

Sigh. FYI, Andrew ate the other wings. Boys.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sporting Goods

Bingo was a peach at Bill Jackson's sporting goods store. He didn't mind the close quarters at all. What was really good was the ski machine. It was quite loud and Bingo hardly noticed it all.

Today however, Bingo was not a peach. He was a pill. All day long.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Future Profession: Cat Burglar

Look at that face. So smart, so sweet. Cunning and sly, I tell you! We have successfully dealt with his Croc addiction, but Bingo has replaced it with a sock addiction. (I'm worried that perhaps being in the library all the time is making him a bit literary, hence this rhyming of his addictions). He did on occasion snatch the loose sock or two and mouth it (he's never destroyed anything), but he's always brought it over on command and dropped it happily enough. Last week though, he upped the ante.

We were watching TV and Bingo walked in and flopped onto his bed, which was stationed in front of the TV. Perhaps he hoped that the lip of the bed might have hid his munching, but it didn't.

"What do you have? Bingo, come here." It was a sock. He dropped it and went back to his bed for a few minutes. About five minutes go by and I notice that he is being furtive in his bed again.

"Bingo, come here." Another sock. Seriously? Where is he getting all these socks? I put my socks in the laundry basket and they are my socks he has, not Fred's. I want to cast the evil eye over at Fred and say, "Are you leaving your socks on the floor?" and shake the sock around wildly for emphasis, but he'll see right away that it is one of my little athletic socks. No way to cast away blame! I look at Bingo. "Where are you getting these socks?" He stares back patiently. He knows. Give me five minutes and I will be staring at the half pipe cheering on Shaun White and forgetting that he had a sock. The tip of his tail wags. I narrow my eyes. I'm on to you, little man!
So I lean back in my easy chair pretending to lose myself in the Olympics. Bingo goes back to bed. About two minutes later, he's up and walking slowly to the breakfast room. I remain motionless. If I make eye contact, he'll know the jig is up. I wait until he's past me to turn and watch him walk into the breakfast room.

Reaching the breakfast room, he turns and moves slowly into the kitchen and out of sight (This is a seriously circuitous way he has chosen to get to the dining room table. He could have just turned right and been in the dining room, but no, he put some thought into this.). As he is hidden from me, I get up and move so I can see into the dining room and the dining room table, which I now see is stacked with folded laundry (another reason not to accuse Fred: he did all the folding!). Bingo leaves the kitchen on the side of the dining room table that has the mound of freshly laundered socks, piled high and gleaming whitely in the dark.

I bend down so I can see through the legs of the table and at that moment Bingo turns his head to get a sock and sees me looking at him.

We stay that way for about a minute.


I walk over and show him a sock. "No." I point to the table. "No."

He seems a bit deflated. But he doesn't get any more socks. I claim victory over tonight.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Reality of Bingo

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Bingo was on exceptionally good behavior. I had a student come into my office to practice with him to see if he would jump and he remained seated (good boy!). So he got some loving, which made everyone happy.

I also got some great news while I was tutoring a fellow faculty member on how to use Twitter (I'm cdmclean on Twitter, the SEGD trainers are DogguideTrainer). I was going through all the ins and outs of Twitter and was showing her the replies I had received when I noticed a reply I hadn't noticed before, it said: "I love you. You describe the pics. Esp since I'm blind. It's really nice." For all of you who don't know about Twitter, you are limited to 140 characters. So you have to be brief and to the point. (Note: I added punctuation to her reply and spelled out you. Stuff you leave out in Twitter! 8-) That made me feel really good. But I have to give credit where credit is due. When we started this blog, we didn't have captions. I only put captions on after reading Rebecca's blog Journey of a Southeastern Guide Dog Puppy. That's when I realized that we needed to be thinking differently, that we had a different audience than what I was used to writing for in my regular blog. So I started adding figure captions.

Fred came up with a way to make them smaller and connected with the photo. After I told him about Twitter comment, he started thinking about the software that the blind and visually impaired use to read web pages, so he went and looked up the proper way to do the captions.

So, if anyone else is doing a blog and you want everyone to be able to read your blog and know what is going on, here is the official way to put in captions:

In the code for your photo there will be an alt tag that looks like this: alt="" change it to title="" and in between the quotes type in the description on the photo. That is your caption. It will float over your photo and whenever anyone mouses over the photo, the caption will appear.

Now you might be wondering about the photo at the bottom of the blog. I've learned that with Bingo you have to be willing to open yourself up to lots of new experiences. Being ok picking up poo in public places, having long conversations with total strangers, it is all par for the course when you are raising a puppy for SEGDs. But yesterday was one of those moments when I thought, "Oh, what the hell. Sure. Take the photo."

Here's what happened. I stepped into the ladies faculty restroom at school and could hear Amparo and Katya (administrative assistant and French teacher/school counselor) talking in the hallway outside the restroom. Still talking, one of them opens the door, a big gasp follows, immediately followed by laughter and a closing door. Then the door opens again. A very sweet voice with a French accent asks, "May I please take a photo?"

Katya explained that until that moment when she saw Bingo poking his head out of the stall that she hadn't realized that he would be with his blind person every minute of the day, in every situation. (If it were any other bathroom, Bingo would be standing, but our bathrooms are spotless.)

What's a little dignity worth in the face of my coworker's epiphany?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Leather Leash

By Fred
Last week Diane Anderson gave us some good advice about leashes and leash management. Like any good hobby, working with dogs comes with its own high-end equipment, and she recommended a new leather leash, which fits better in the hand because it is thinner (narrower, to fit within your knuckles) and less abrasive than the nylon.

The word 'leather' is one of those magic words for Cheryl--like 'Facebook' or 'sale'. We looked at PetSmart but couldn't find what we wanted, so she found and ordered one from SEGD. It just came last night, which means that I'll use it first (since Bingo is with me today), and if the truth is told completely, Cheryl likes to open packages and to play with new things first. OK, she was a pretty good sport about it this morning.

[ Note: we are now using Title Tags for our photos.
Move your mouse over the photo to see the caption.]
Also we learned that Jennifer from SEGD will be giving another obedience class, but it's primarily for dogs who have not yet taken the class. Hopefully there will be room for Bingo and we'll get to attend.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tudo Bem!

By Fred
While Cheryl is a wiz at Portuguese, I know only a few words, and so when we visit our friends in Brazil, I normally sit in the corner and smile and nod while everyone else chatters away.

On Saturday Cheryl and I discovered a nice family-owned Brazilian restaurant (Terra Mar) in Pinellas Park, and soon everyone (except for Bingo and me) was speaking Portuguese and laughing. Brazilians always do this: they make you feel like family--always happy, always glad to see you. And the people in the restaurant seemed especially glad to see Bingo, just like he was a member of their family.

Luckily Bingo was on his best behavior. We had just come from the Woofstock event in Largo, so he was really tired and, we thought, ready for a quiet nap under the table. And for a while, that's just what he did.

In the meantime we are drinking strong black coffee and eating more and more food. I love black beans and rice with Brazilian rolls called pão de queijo. For dessert we had maracuja (passion fruit) pudding--the real thing and Cheryl's favorite. Great. But the next time we checked on Bingo we discovered that he had reached up and pulled down an extension cord and chewed it in two. It was hidden behind the table cloth and up against the wall, and we just didn't see it.

Of course we felt terrible. Fortunately it was unplugged or he could have gotten a nasty shock. It was even more surprising because he has never shown any interest in the electrical wires here at home--maybe some food had dropped on the one at the restaurant? Anyway, the lessons go on: always look for chewable things, always try to think like Bingo.

The owners couldn't have been nicer about the cord, and they tried to stop us from leaving money for the damage. Also, we showed them the Urban Spoon app on my iPhone and how highly rated they are. And we promised to spread the word (see Cheryl's review here), so I think we are welcome to come back, which is a good thing. Stop in if you get a chance.

A photo of Bingo and Willow curled up in Willow's bed

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Kiss Good Morning

[Closeup photo of Bingo's face looking directly into the camera. He is resting his head on his red tartan bed.]

A few weekends ago I was startled awake by Bingo jumping on my head and giving me a kiss good morning. Not quite the gentle, slow Saturday wake up I was looking forward to. Evidently my thrashing and screaming "Bingo NO!" woke up the gentleman in him because yesterday morning I was woken up to a very quiet whine. The sort of noise that might indicate that Bingo needs to go out and potty. Since Fred was on Saturday morning potty duty, I immediately opened my eyes and looked over to the crate where I supposed Bingo was. My thinking was Fred is really in trouble because this was my morning to sleep late!

But Bingo was sitting by my bed, right by my face and he gave me a good morning kiss. I don't know how long he waited there. But it was pretty sweet. I still got up and marched his cute little butt out of the bedroom and into the hallway where I shut the door and went back to sleep.

He was sitting by the door waiting for me when I woke up again. I consider it Bingo's early Valentine's Day present to me. Happy Valentine's Day to you all.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Please and Thank You

[A photo of the Puppy Raiser Tent and the bundled up morning crew at Woofstock. It was COLD!]

Fred had an interesting interaction while we were at Woofstock today. He was walking Bingo (sans coat) and passed a young couple with a dog on a leash. Bingo, Mr. "I am so distracted by other dogs", lunged at the other dog and Fred gave him a correction. As the couple passed by, Fred heard the girl say to her boyfriend, "They were only trying to play!"

[Jennifer and Mischa, an 8 month (I think) black lab in training, look into the camera]

Which makes me think about what we are trying to do with our puppies. And that brings up manners. What would that girl think if she had children but didn't teach them any manners? Or told them to only say please and thank you in the house, but not outside of the house? Either you have manners or you don't. You don't have manners part of the time. What happened with Bingo and that other dog was an issue of manners. It is impolite to rush another dog. The owner of the other dog doesn't know if your dog is friendly or aggressive. And if your dog is close to 80 pounds and black like Bingo, he can seem pretty formidable and scary. So, making sure that he greets other animals politely EVERY time is just plain common sense.

[Doreen and Wally, a very young black lab puppy in training, look in to the camera. Wally is wearing a red leg warmer that Doreen cut holes into so he would stop shivering, it was so cold and he is that small.]

Woofstock proved to be a constant challenge for Bingo. One circle of acceptance after another: first by the tent (he ended up five feet out, but started out across the sidewalk) and then over at the obedience practice circle where he was part of the circle FROM THE BEGINNING! Perhaps the hour and half of walking around with other dogs around finally wore him out. Here is a short video of Bingo and Diane (Don had every change dogs) in the circle. One of the things I love about this video is that Bingo gets distracted, gets corrected, calms down, stays in a sit and watch for the cute tail wag when she praises him.

[Sideview of Fred and Bingo, notice the slack leash, with the other SEGD dogs in a line watching the police dogs do their thing.]

Fred walked Bingo over to a bronze statue of a German Shepard at the park. Evidently, dogs find the statue very unsettling because the dog statue doesn't smell right and it has empty holes for eyes. Notice in the video that Bingo does initially get freaked out by the empty eye sockets, but he goes back.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Puppy Sitting

Above is a photo of Bingo with Stephanie and Joe who will be puppy sitting him when we are off on our spring break trip to Ireland. Stephanie is sitting in a wheelchair and Bingo is sitting next to her. Joe is standing behind Bingo with his hand on her chair. Bingo wasn't afraid of the chair at all. In fact, he didn't react to it. It was a non-threatening item in his eyes. (Yea Bingo! One more item off the checklist.) When Bingo and I got out of the car to walk down to their house, I was a little nervous because both Stephanie and Joe are experienced dog trainers and Bingo was pulling on the leash. I was doing my best to show some leash control, but he was really excited. So there was a lot of panting and pulling and me stopping along the way. Not quite the entrance I was hoping for.

The only thing I can think of is that Stephanie succumbed to Bingo's charms because she declared him a handsome boy and said that he was doing very well for his age and she even praised me (for which I KNOW I deserve no praise!). He must have been uncommonly cute that afternoon. At one point Bingo scooped up a rock and tried to eat it and I fished it out of his mouth; then he tried to eat mulch, then he tried to eat some strange 5 inch seed that had dropped from a nearby tree. Sigh. All this and she still said that they would love to take him on for us while we were in Ireland. My heart lightened. These were people who got Bingo. Who thought he was a good dog. I have a feeling that Bingo will come back to us a better behaved dog than when we gave him to them. I'm feeling a trifle guilty about that. Wee, small prickles of guilt, but guilt just the same. 8-).

On the walk to the car, Bingo walked right by my side, no lunging or pulling. I whispered, "Good dog. Good dog. Good dog." All the way back.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Obsessive Compulsive Bingo

Fred has some slippers that Mom and Dad bought him for Christmas. They are Crocs. They have a lining. And according to Fred, they are the best slippers EVER. Evidently, these slippers have some sort of magnetic pull on Bingo because he will pass up my cow slippers, my dearfoam slippers and even my plain Jane slippers and go straight for Fred’s Croc slippers. Here's an official look at the Croc Blitzen Polar slipper:

We do not allow Bingo to chew on the Crocs. We always say, “Drop it!” Followed by “Good boy!” He does drop them, then he picks it up again. Followed by another “Drop it!”

Here's a shot of Fred's Blitzen Polar:

[Fred's Blitzen. Oddly, I could only find one.]

[Close-up of Fred's Blitzen.]

[Bingo facing camera but looking right and pretending that he doesn't see the Blitzen on the floor in front of him. Good boy!]

The other morning, Bingo walked into the room carrying the Croc slipper in his mouth. I said, “NO. Drop it.”

Fred said, “Just the other morning I gave Bingo a long talk about how those were my slippers and he wasn’t supposed to chew on them. He has other toys. Why does he always go for my slippers?” There was just that tiny edge of frustration in his voice and a bit of fear for his Crocs.

I shrugged. “He can’t help it. He’s a Croc whore.”

I have to admit I had been waiting a while to spring that line on him. It was finally the right time and I delivered it perfectly. I love it when that happens.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Into the Good Dog Circle

[A photo taken quickly, while Bingo was being good.]
By Fred
Some stories are better told in reverse, like this one, with Bingo finally being a good boy and sitting in the good dog circle of the training class Wednesday night at the Lions Club on Treasure Island. "He made it into the circle!" Cheryl said with such pride on the way home, as if the story begins and ends with that moment. It does not.

We had high hopes for our new plan--to expose him to his distractions, and to keep him at a distance from the other dogs in the class, allowing him to stay calm, and then gradually come him in closer as a reward for being good. But the night started off with a chance meeting in the parking lot. Bingo's brother Jim arrived at the same time, and Bingo was transformed, like one of those cartoon animals who turns into a bottle rocket and shoots straight into the air. Once in outer space, it takes a while for him to float back down.

[A photo of a good dog and raiser on the left and
me and Bingo in exile on the beach,
his eyes shining in the dark]
I took Bingo immediately away from the other dogs--only there was nowhere to go except off the porch and onto the beach. At first I imagined that we could stand out there in the quiet, contemplate the stars and the big emptiness of the gulf behind us, have a nice quiet moment before we inched our way back to the porch. But no. He jumped and laughed and dived, coming up one time with a big mouthful of sand, and laughed some more, twisting and rolling. As it turns out, sand is a another huge distraction for him. Discouraging...

Then it was Cheryl's turn. Everyone practiced going into the front door and using the Switch command (moving the leash from the left to the right hand). Bingo darted and pulled, chasing after every bug, still jazzed up in hyper mode. At this point I'm getting pretty discouraged. But Cheryl was patient and good with him. By the end of class he calmed down, just in time for the good dog circle. The nice thing about doing this with Cheryl: when one of us is discouraged, the other can encourage.

Cheryl and I always pick up something helpful from the training classes, like interrupting a walk with Sit commands as a way to calm him down. (Who knew there would be so much to learn?) Yesterday Bingo and I walked through the neighborhood and it was beautiful: we'd walk a few steps, sit, a few more steps, sit, more steps, etc. and he seemed like he really enjoyed doing it.

Bingo has many good points: he's smart, fearless, tireless and sweet. And he is very obedient when not distracted. With time and maturity and more work on his distractions (and hopefully better guidance from us), he will make it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Avert Your Eyes!

Today Bingo made it into the the realm of the gods. As we walked down the lower division hallway on the way to the restroom, there were three 5th graders in the hallway by the bathroom door reading: two girls on the left, one boy on the right. When the two little girls caught sight of Bingo's magnificence, one of them yelled out, simultaneously throwing her thin arm up and over her eyes, "Don't look at him!" Her friend immediately did the same thing. They remained, eyes covered, as Bingo and I walked into the bathroom.

On the way out, we had to pass the little boy who was exactly at the same height as Bingo. He was sitting right by the bathroom door. As I stepped over the threshold with Bingo on my left, Bingo looked over and caught sight of the little boy and his shiny pink ear. And...yes...he stuck his tongue in it.

I stopped and looked down at him. "I am so sorry."

The little boy looked up at me and in a very serious voice said, "I'm ok."

He didn't avert he eyes.