Monday, January 31, 2011

Problem Child

Her Royal Highness (HRH) Berkeley has a small problem that we are working on: she doesn't like for me or Fred to leave her side when we are out. For me, that is a HUGE problem because I teach research classes so I get up to point things out on the screen. This enormous length of perhaps 5 to 6 feet is apparently so annoying that it has HRH popping up and barking for me "Come back right now!"

You can imagine how that goes over. Usually, it involves a lot of me doing sit, down stays over and over while continuing to lecture with students trying not to laugh at HRH or me. It is quite comical. However at Honors Chemistry class, something different happened. I think it was all because of Simon.

I always have certain students who particularly care for the dogs I raise and Simon loves Berkeley. So he was really happy that we had research day on a Berkeley day and he watched HRH behaving badly with a calm demeanor (Simon is always calm).

"Perhaps Berkeley would be better without her coat on?" He said. I did recognize the longing to pet her behind the request and when I looked up and noticed the stillness of the rest of the class as they realized that I might actually go for it. I thought, I have tried all day everything else, why not try free range puppy?

"OK, Simon." Then I told them they had to be really focused, pay attention to what I was saying, not call her, only pet her when she walked by and she could be visible for the period.

Then I took the coat off. And class continued the same as always.

But every now and then a black dog walked by someone and they reached out and loved her and she slowed down for them. And she did find her way over to Simon, her biggest fan. Here are the Honors Chem boys and HRH.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

She's Not Bad, She's Just Drawn That Way

She looks sweet doesn't she?

She looks like she wouldn't ever do anything wrong. Sweet, innocent, all adjectives you would think might apply to a delicate flower of a 50 pound, tiny black lab, 9 month old puppy in training.

You would be wrong. Unless you ate with the pre-k teachers. For the last several weeks I have been eating on the deck with the pre-k teachers and they are delightful. When I was out sick for a couple of days, they sang me the welcome back song. We went to pre-k to do the wrap-in for the holidays, so I have an idea of the environment they work in. But you really don't understand it until you have a bad day and plunk yourself down at the table next to two of the most optimistic ladies in the universe.

"How is Berkeley today?"

"Oh, Berkeley is being a very BAD girl!" Then, just as I was getting wound up for an extended rant, Janey put a calming hand on my arm.

"Berkeley isn't bad. Her actions are bad." Julie nodded. They both smiled at me. You might think this was patronizing, but they are pre-k teachers. All they know is genuine and sweet. And they love Berkeley.

So I have learned now that when I start to say what a bad girl I have, I amend it to what bad choices she has made. Which kind of falls in line with what Jennifer, our trainer at obedience, was saying about having a slack leash. Let the dog make the choice to do the command or not. It's all about free will.

Drawing from He Who Cannot Be Named's Blog

Berkeley isn't bad, she just has free will.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Queen Hears Queen and We Avoid a Huge Peesaster

On Friday, Fred, Her Royal Highness (HRH) Berkeley and I joined our friend and fellow puppy raiser Stephanie and her friend Nancy for dinner and a concert. We met up at Red Mesa Cantina in Downtown St. Pete.

I've mentioned the Cantina before, it is my favorite restaurant downtown and they had a wonderful early bird special dinner: drink, salad, entree and dessert for $14! It was quite a deal. I made the mistake of ordering the seafood mofongo. It was odd. But everyone else got something amazing. HRH was chilling under the table and nancy quite forgot she was there.

It was such a lovely night and Mahaffey was fairly close so we decided to walk over. It would give Madame Pees-alot a chance to relieve her bladder. As we approached a possible pee station, Fred took off her coat and coaxed her onto it. Nancy and Stephanie started to laugh.

"I don't think she likes it."

"I know. It's not grass." I shook my head. HRH was tip-toe-ing on the barking and rolling her eyes as if to say "Really? This is the best you can do?" By the time we did get to some grass she was so disgusted with us that she was to annoyed to pee.

We walked up to the counter to get out tickets accompanied by murmers of "Oh, look at the puppy in training. She's so cute." That always makes me smile.

Here we are before the concert looking lovely. I was a bit concerned that HRH might haul off and let loose a bark or two. She had to be removed from convocation that morning for barking during a piano recital. Very disappointing!

We proceeded into the Mahaffey. I took her with me into the ladies room where she was very good and she ended up surprising a couple of ladies, but not too badly. 8-) Then we headed out to our seats. That's when Fred heard it.

"What's that? It's not a guide dog is it?"

"No, it's a puppy in training."

"You know these people are really pushing the limits of what they should be doing!"

Fortunately Fred didn't tell me this until we were seated.

"They said WHAT?"

HRH took it without a peep. Here she is curled up under Fred's chair like a good girl. The concert was the Florida Orchestra performing selections from Queen, which having HRH watch Queen was quite ironic I thought. 8-) I was wondering what she would do when the music started and it wasn't much.

ROCK MUSIC: HRH sleeping.

She could have howled and no one would have heard it. At the intermission we went out and HRH started to pull a little on the leash, and Fred said,

"Peesaster on the way! Exit, Exit!"

So we hurridly made for the exit and then for the green, lush grass of the Mahaffey Center lawn overlooked by about 20 concert goers. Lit softly by the bare winter trees, HRH sighed and peed.

This was more like it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Almost Perfect

By Fred
Cheryl and I were watching a TV show called Community last night, and it introduced a new character who is supposed to be the "perfect guy." Like all perfect guys, his purpose in life is mostly to annoy other guys. This guy happens to be a doctor, good-looking (with big hair, of course), young, good-natured, etc. We see him first as he enters a classroom with a big smile. And what is the first thing out of his mouth?
Sorry I'm late. I train seeing-eye dogs and today was graduation day. I couldn't leave before shaking each one of their little paws.
And all of the girls in class said "Ahhhh".

Interesting that some television writers got together and decided that being a guide-dog trainer was the ultimate perfect thing to be.

A picture of Berkeley asleep during my meetingCoincidentally I took Berkeley to work with me yesterday. I almost always work from home but once or twice a year I venture out to see a client. And even before seeing the show, I realised that taking Berkeley with me to see the client, while a good experience for her, might also help put me in a more favorable light and help gloss over the various defects in my character and appearance. Being a consultant is often like being an unloved and unwanted step-child, so I need all the help I can get.

But I had a full agenda: 4 meetings back-to-back, 6 hours total, plus a 90-minute drive both ways. I wasn't sure how Berkeley would do. When she's at school with Cheryl, she's often on the move and surrounded by kids. The corporate world is not so much fun.

For 4 hours she was perfect. We took a tour of the facility, and I might as well have been walking with the Queen of England, with adoring fans on all sides. Amazing. But in the afternoon session, someone asked a question that required me to leave Berkeley for a minute. So I tied her leash to the conference table and walked away. She let out one little whine, then another, then another, each one louder. No! I said firmly. A woman in the room said, with a little girl sad voice, "Oh, come on, she's been so good all day." So Berkeley escalated to a bark. All eyes were on me.

Knowing Berkeley, and knowing how Cheryl has been struggling with this same problem at school, I realized that she would not back down. I knew that she would bark for the next 10 days straight if necessary, 24 hours a day, until I gave in and walked back to her. So I did. I gave her a little correction (very little), and then took her back with me.

Except for this one incident (something we'll be working on at home) she was just perfect.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


By Fred
Last night's meeting took place out in the country, or so it seemed, under some giant live oak trees and in a nice big yard, so big that no neighbors could be seen, and no street lights interrupted the darkness beyond. These folks have a beautiful Florida home with a wrap-around porch and plants everywhere.

A picture of Cheryl working with Berkeley on Down StayAll of the dogs were on pretty good behavior--maybe they were afraid that some cougar or bear or vampire might jump out from the darkness any second. Berkeley, in particular, stayed close and stared out from between my legs. She squinted and strained to see into the side yard all through the meeting. (What a baby.)

A picture of Jennifer working with one of the dogs.Jennifer suggested that Berkeley seemed a little fearful of the dark and that she would probably benefit from more walks at night, so Cheryl and I plan to take her, though it's hard to find anything resembling actual nighttime near our house, with street lights on every corner.

When we lived in Arizona we could walk out our door to see a million stars. We'd walk our dogs into the desert and hear the coyotes laughing--boy, that really would spook Berkeley; she hates the sound of barking when it comes from a distance.

The meeting ended well and safe. Berkeley was an angel, but aren't we all when the nighttime gets too close?

Monday, January 17, 2011

St. Pete Market

Last week at obedience class John had mentioned that Dodger was very distracted by all the non-SEGD dogs at the Sarasota market. Jennifer suggested maybe a trip to the St. Pete market was in order. John emailed us and asked if we were still interested, so we set up a meeting spot for Saturday.

Here we are by the musician stand. You can see the nuttiness of the market in the background. There were dogs everywhere! Talk about distraction city. It was a huge distraction for our pups. Plus the crowd was very big. We listened to the music for a bit, which the pups didn't seem to mind (open space for them, I think they liked it). Then we decided to move to a less crowded spot for a sit down.

We got all three dogs in a down-under under the table very easily as the table was pretty big. Unfortunately, the table was in some serious shade and we all became very shivery fairly quickly and abandoned our table to walk some more.

Since it was after 11, we decided it was close enough to lunch to find a restaurant and eat. So we headed down to beach drive. Along the way we stopped and did a little obedience (a few doggie pushups).

It was fascinating to watch how people reacted to the dogs. At one point Stephanie was bent over Princess trying to put her coat back on and only taking up her half of the sidewalk. Along comes this old woman with a sack of St. Pete Market purchases and a very sour look on her face for Stephanie and Princess and the fact that they didn't move completely onto the grass. Mind you, there was more than enough room to pass by on the side. So she sweeps past and knocks into Stephanie. Sweet. Really sweet. But that was countered by the elderly couple who had us all stop so they could take a photo of the three dogs. The elderly gent loves taking dog photos on their mornings out. Then they both started asking us questions about the dogs and the program, which we were able to answer and we had a lovely conversation.

It was also rather cute that when we went past a table of diners on Beach Drive I heard them say, "Those are Southeastern Guide Dog Puppies! Look! There!" I didn't turnaround. I was smiling too hard.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Start Your Morning Off with a Bang!

It's all my fault. I blame my own clumsiness. You see, grace has never been my strong suit, I have the unique ability to stumble in a pair of flats. In fact, when I was a child in ballet class, they had to rechoreograph the final routine because I couldn't do the pirouettes. Yep, I was one of the tall flowers in the back to two other very sullen flowers who could spin and who shot daggers at me. Me, I was just happy not to be in front and not to have to try to look at one spot and turn my body without falling.

So, getting into the car holding a large cup of coffee and milk (cold to lukewarm, I'm not much of a hot coffee drinker) and then jostling myself so that I spill almost ALL of it ON HRH was not much a stretch for me.

"Oh CRAP!" A soaked black head looked up at me with puzzled black button eyes. "What is this stuff that you have tossed on me? It smells rather tasty. In fact, I'm going to drink some of it. " A crazed glint appeared on that little foxy face and I was worried. I now have a coffee with chicory addicted royal personage who can't start her morning without a shot of the brown stuff. So my morning ride starts with fending HRH off the latte.

You can get a feel for how much she likes it by her dreaming of heaven expression and her closed eyes and licking her lips to get every drop.

But she's in for a rude awakening on Tuesday morning! Big cup with a big lid! Take that Nosy Nora. No more stealing my coffee.

I may be clumsy, but I can buy a cup with a lid.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Indestructible Bone

Turns out, Her Royal Highness Berkeley has the best teeth on the planet. They are made of solid diamonds and can chew through a block of wood in seconds flat. In fact, in a race between HRH and the dreaded Formosan termite HRH might win if the goal were to chew up an expensive dog toy that marketed itself as indestructible.

If the package said triple seamed and made from extinct weatherproof sloths who died from sleep and old age, never from a cut, tear or stab wound, then it took ten seconds longer for her to rip through it.

At the last puppy meeting we were told to look for Nylabones, but I was thinking about the greenies and easy chews that she had easily demolished. No, no, they said. There are others. Much harder. Tougher bones.

These bones are not at MY Petsmart. So I went to another. There they were. Big fat bones. HARD, INDESTRUCTIBLE BONES. Hmm, yeah. I had been told that before.

We would see.

This video was taken in the library. We learned to never let her chew this bone in the library because

1. It makes a hell of a racket when she flings it around and it hits the metal shelves!

2. She cries or growls when it doesn't fall apart like she wants it to

3. The hopping, dancing and butt jumping is extremely destracting to the children and to me and really funny and we don't do our work and end up taking video and laughing at her, which is bad, very bad.

It should be quiet in the library. Bad HRH. Bad Librarian. 8-)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Courage from Friends

Thursday morning. In Clearwater it was dark, stormy and filled with driving rain. AT 5:25 am I hurried down the stairs with two dogs who had to pee urgently. We ran to the French doors.

I had them sit and opened the doors. The sound of rain pouring off the awning filled the family room and there was a booming crack of thunder. Her Royal Highness jerked her head up to me as if to say, "How rude. Loud noises in the morning."

"Forward." Everyone piled out onto the porch. I stayed on the porch. Willow ran off into the inky darkness and HRH, with only a tiny look backwards, followed her. Then about then seconds later, a wet black seal appears at the side of the patio in the bushes (HRH soaking wet), and starts to pee.

"Good busy busy!" I say to encourage her going to the bathroom in the pouring rain. Just in the middle of her pee there is a major lightening flash. HRH stutters and I can see that she is thinking "PEE FASTER!!!" For in 2 seconds she is finished and on the porch waiting to be let in the house. Willow comes back a few seconds later.

After breakfast, HRH usually has to go again immediately (royalty doesn't put off unpleasant tasks evidently). So she goes over to the door and sits. I let her out and she steps onto the porch and stares into the dark rain and listens to the thunder with just a little shiver. She looks back at me and turns around. She has decided that poo can wait. Then Willow races through the open door and disappears into the rain and the black night. HRH looks at me. Her spine stiffens. She turns around and runs after Willow.

About ten seconds later, a black wet seal appears at the side of the porch and does a little circle to poo. In the middle of the poo a terrific clap of thunder occurs (right over our house)! "POO FASTER!!!!"

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dogs and Snails

By Fred
I've been sick with a sinus infection for over a week now, and everything is in slow motion--or rather I'm in slow motion and everything else seems in a blur, including Berkeley's rapid-fire waggy tail.

Coincidentally Cheryl gave me a really nice book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, for Christmas, written by a woman who is very ill and spends most of her day at home in bed. One day the woman's nurse brought in a plant from the garden to put by her bed, and the plant had a snail attached to it. In her condition the sick woman found great comfort in watching the snail moving at such a calm pace, so she made a pet of her snail, feeding it mushrooms and learning all she could about snails, which turn out to be pretty smart creatures. When they find a new food, for example, snails will take only a single bite and then will go away and wait for day to see how the food agrees with them. Snails see and smell from their little antennae, waving them in all directions when a new scent is in the air.

So, yesterday Berkeley was pretty frustrated with my slow-motion self. No long walk in the neighborhood, sorry. No trip to the store. I watched her play in the back yard for a while. Suddenly she stopped and held her head up high, sniffing the breeze intently, stretching out her neck to the limit. What is going through her head, I wondered. I was reminded of the snail wiggling it antennae wildly over a mushroom.

In the snail book there's a quote from Helen Keller, who wrote:
Touch sensations are permanent and definite. Odors deviate and are fugitive, changing in shades, degrees, and location. There is something else in odor which gives me a sense of distance. I should call it horizon--the line where odor and fancy meet at the farthest limit of scent.

A picture of Helen Keller reading Braille with her left hand and petting her dog with the other handI like the part about "odor and fancy" meeting.

No surprise that Helen Keller was very fond of dogs, was always with dogs, though apparently she never used one as a guide dog, at least not in the way they are used today. I'm not sure how she felt about snails.

"What did you smell out there," I asked Berkeley when she came back inside. She looked at me and just laughed, like I could possibly understand.