Category Archives: GDApupPatrick

Patrick is a black Labrador, and a big one at that, and one of several siblings who were donated to GDA in March 2014.
Patrick’s Puppy Raiser mom couldn’t continue raising him, so he came to live with us, and graduated as a Guide Dog in 2016.

Working With Patrick

So, how have we gone about trying to “fix” Patrick’s suspicion issues?

Firstly – what is suspicion?
Essentially, its when a dog reacts fearfully rather than curiously to something he hasn’t seen before. Not all dogs develop suspicion, and if the parents are suspicious the pups can develop the same trait.
Patrick walks beautifully on lead – pulling a little but listening when you tell him to. He’s not dog distracted at all either, having a look if a dog barks when we’re walking but not much more than that.
Seeing something like garden services in a yard or pedestrians walking past the car would spook him though. Instead of a single curious woof, like “Hey! I’ve never seen that before!”, he’d back away a little with lots f barks, and occasionally he’d run.
A Guide Dog can’t be suspicious, it would mean he was on the look out for potential threats instead of focusing on guiding his partner safely, so if possible it has to be fixed.

I started by teaching him to look at me, at my face. This can be done with a clicker but I didn’t use one. I’d sit on the bed or the couch so as to be at his level and each time he made eye contact I said “Good boy!” and he got a treat.This focus is very important for all aspects of a pup’s training. This is ongoing as is his obedience training – sit, down, stand, stay and wait.

When my other dogs run to bark at something I call him to me with a small treat (a single pellet of his own food). Their barking spooked him initially, so I encouraged him to come to me instead and sit quietly next to me, praising him if he was calm and quiet and treating him if he looks at me.

I walk around the house banging two of the dogs stainless steel food bowls together – at different times on different days, sometimes fast and sometimes slowly, sometimes mixing it up.

If something on the TV catches his attention I rewind it (I have a PVR), turn the volume up a bit and play it again, and again until he no longer reacts to it, praising him if he ignores it.

When we are out walking, we sometimes sit on the side of a road that is relatively busy and I praise him when he doesn’t react to the people going by. A look is fine, but pricked ears and a furrowed brow is discouraged with a “leave it”.

If something startles him when we’re out walking we go the other way for a short distance then do some obedience exercises before proceeding, repeating the procedure if necessary. Some days we don’t walk very far at all! 😀

The “trick” is not to leave a situation until he is calm. If he’s spooked by something and we leave immediately, I am telling him his fear is okay by taking him away from it. Trying to soothe him or cuddle him f he’s afraid will have the same result – he learns that if he’s scared he’ll get a cuddle, and that won’t get him past it.

High-value treats like biltong or yoghurt drops are reserved for new experiences or situations I know have spooked him before, and as he gets better the treats are lessened.

He’s been with us for almost 4 weeks and when we went for a group walk with 9 other guide dog puppies-in-training at a shopping mall on Wednesday, Patrick did so well! We saw people, other dogs, skateboarders, cars, open shop doors, walked through a market choked with incense – only a caw skin draped over a wire frame had him a little wary, but more the puppy curiosity he should display rather than fear, and I touched it and scratched it and shook it as he sniffed it until he was happy to walk away from it.

I was so proud of him! He responds so well to instruction and he is very eager to please, both excellent traits for Guide Dogs!

Three Weeks With Patrick

Patrick had lost another 800g when he got on the vet scale this morning, so I am now going to increase his food to the “normal” 3 cups a day to maintain his correct weight.
He’s a gawjiss boy with huge feet and soft eyes, and today he had no trouble getting on the scale and waiting till I took a picture!

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Last week we attended an event where several puppies-in-training were greeting guests as hey arrived at a blindfold dinner. Patrick was given a bow to wear which I tied to his collar, and for a few minutes he was trying to catch it! He was very good at the event. We went to the stage to check out the band set up and even when a waiter dropped a tray he jumped but he didn’t bark and he didn’t try to run.

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He’s had a good week. We had one morning of learning at home when our neighbour was mowing and edging his lawn – the noise got Patrick’s attention so we headed out to see what was going on and teach him how to react.

Patrick is a superstar with other dogs, playing and wrestling with the other puppies, not even having a go at the baby when she went to sniff his bowl!

And Patrick is brilliant in the car. He doesn’t hesitate when I say “jump in” and lies down on the back seat and has no qualms sharing it with other dogs, though sometimes he hogs it a bit… 😀 He’s also learning to wait when I open the car door until I say he may “jump out”.

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I think his suspicion issues are much better. He doesn’t even bat an eyelid at anyone if we go to put petrol in or go through a drive through. I’m hoping our Puppy Development Supervisor will agree, but we’ll continue to working on it regardless.

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Check out my Facebook page: Its a Pup’s Life

Two Weeks With Patrick

Patrick is 39 weeks old and he weighed 31.3kg on the vet’s scale on Monday morning. He’s 57.5cm tall at the shoulder so he’s a big boy and he was 9 months old last Saturday.

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This was his third visit to the vet for a weigh-in and a sniff around the vet’s office and he was very good, getting onto and then doing a beautiful SIT-STAY on the scale while I took a picture.
The vet’s receptionist takes 20 or so of her long-haired, show Dachsies to work with her – yes 20, she has 32 of them at home – and whilst they stay behind the reception desk and normally don’t make a sound (most people don’t even know they’re there), on Monday one of the younger ones was startled by a cleaner and Patrick got a fright when they barked. Instead of leaving when he was nervous though, I stayed and waited till he relaxed completely, lying down on the floor, and then we left. Leaving when he’s still upset would mean that next time we went back he’d associate his fearful reaction with the vet’s office and he wouldn’t want to go back in.

We are doing a lot of work on his suspicion issues.
Its one of the harder doggy quirks to “fix” so its a challenge, but I would really like to try in order to be sure he can work as a Guide Dog. And of course, all our dogs have qualified so far so it wouldn’t do for Patrick to be pulled from the programme!
😛
The more exposure he gets the better it can be, so I am taking him with me as much as I possibly can –

  • our regular walks
  • going to put petrol in the car so he’s not spooked by the attendants
  • dropping my husband off at the station so he sees people – pedestrians and vendors – around the car while we’re driving
  • visits to nursery schools
  • shopping trips
  • sitting on the side of the road watching people go by, praising him when he ignores them
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lots of kiddie cuddles

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lying quietly on the floor at #JoziMeetup

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not touching Cat’s coffee

This last week he’s experienced thunderstorms without batting an eyelid, and then when Guy Fawkes came around I was dreading the annoyance of the fireworks but looking forward to a conditioning opportunity – but nothing happened. I was grateful for the peace and quiet though.

We’ve also had a puppy-in-training staying with us while her mommy is away on business – 11 week old Finley. She and Patrick bonded almost instantly and they are thick as thieves! If I’m looking for one I’ll find both of them.
He also took a shine to little Finley’s crate – sleeping in it at night before Finley went to sleep in it.

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He’s eating Bob Martin’s Puppy food twice a day and he eats beautifully without choking and without any concern when I touch him or his food. He waits till I say “okay” before starting to eat, and there is no tension between him and the other dogs while I am preparing and putting down their bowls.
He’s lost the little bit of extra weight he was carrying and he now has the perfect build for his size. He’s a truly beautiful boy and he has the “puppy dog eyes” look down to an art!

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You can find SA Guide-dogs for the Blind on Facebook and on Twitter
Check out my Facebook page: Its a Pup’s Life

I Had To Giggle…

On Saturday afternoon-evening we went to a friends’ house for a Halloween party, leaving the dogs at home. My husband went home again to feed them so Louise doesn’t miss her meds, and then brought Riddick and Patrick back with him.
Our friends’ dogs are well socialised and our puppies have been there before so there was no issue with them, and another friends’ two Frenchie pups were there too so the dogs were in their element!

At one point the kids were playing with balloons and there were balloons all over the lawn – and Riddick went bananas! He was finding each and every balloon and popping it! It was so funny!

Then later in the evening people were leaving in drips and drabs, and each time I made Riddick and Patrick do a SIT-STAY until I knew all the doors leading to the street were properly closed, and most of us being dog lovers we were chatting about training and conditioning and all sorts of things through the evening.
Whilst I had Patrick and Riddick in a SIT-STAY, the one guest asked me what we use as a “release word”. In other words, how do I tell them they no longer need to stay or wait or any such instruction, and without thinking I reply with “OKAY”, and immediately Riddick and Patrick head into the lounge to see where the people went!
This was when I started giggling!

The other guests who were sitting with us also burst out laughing!

It was a brilliant demonstration of their training but my timing was all wrong!

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the dogs waiting to be given the “OKAY” to come to the kitchen

Patrick’s First Week

Patrick’s first week went quite well.
He weighed 31.2kg on the vet’s scale this morning (he’s 38 weeks old) – getting onto the scale and doing a beautiful SIT-STAY, compared to the battle we had last week just to get him onto the scale. He’s lost one kilo since he arrived and I think he has one more to go so I’m keeping an eye on him.

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He shows no interest in chewing on our shoes or electric cables, he doesn’t dig holes, and he is fully house trained so he’s doing well. He does jump up a bit so we’re working on that, and he’s a little hesitant to “leave it” when he has something in his mouth.
He’s gets a little too spooked by things he doesn’t recognise – kids in Halloween costumes, glo-sticks in the dark, fireworks, dog sculptures… And he barked at our maid a few times too so we’re working on exposing him to as much as we possibly can to get rid of any signs of suspicion.

Here are a few pictures of beautiful, big Patrick. He’s started using the doggy beds in our room too, which he wasn’t terribly keen on at first – and he still prefers sleeping on the floor.
He follows me around the house like I have an extra shadow, preferring to lie where he can see me – just like our Riddick.

Here are some pictures of Patrick with our other dogs:

He’s still a little stressed about the change in his life, which you can see by his rapid breathing even when he’s asleep – but its already a lot better than it was.
As soon as he’s nicely settled our SA Guide-dogs Puppy Development Supervisor will come and visit and see how he’s doing at home and out on a walk.

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You can find SA Guide-dogs for the Blind on Facebook and on Twitter
Check out my Facebook page: Its a Pup’s Life

Meet Patrick!

Patrick is a black Labrador and one of several siblings who were accepted as a donation to GDA in March 2014.

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Sadly Patrick’s puppy raiser mommy couldn’t continue raising him, so after he was castrated and his stitches came out he came to live with us to complete his puppy year.
He is now 37 weeks old and heavier than our biggest puppy, Volt, was at the same age, so he’s a big boy!

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What is it with our black Lab pups and sleeping under the bed…?


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We have a little work to do to catch up on his training since he’s been in kennels for a while, and he’s in his teenager phase, but he is already picking up on our house “rules” – like waiting before being allowed to go through a door.
We have already visited the vet to start his weekly weigh-ins (I fetched him on Monday morning) and discovered he’s not too sure about getting into the back seat of the car, preferring the car’s front foot well.
He likes to make a grab for the leash when we’re walking, and we’re spending a lot of time on-lead at home so he can learn what is expected without me having to make a grab for him – like not chasing the cats! 😀
He is house trained and happily slept through on his first night, though he doesn’t seem to realise the dog beds on our bedroom floor are for him to use too.
He and Riddick are playing together really well, although he is trying to dominate Riddick a bit. Penny is playing a little but won’t let him push her around so he’s getting lots of submission practice too.

SAGApupDonate

You can find SA Guide-dogs for the Blind on Facebook and on Twitter
Check out my Facebook page: Its a Pup’s Life

What Does It Mean To Be A Guide Dog Puppy Walker?

For a year or so you have a 5:30am wake-up call; digging; chewing; that divine puppy smell; puppy cuddles; tail wagging; 2am toilet runs- even in the rain; and a bundle of lovable fluff that is deceptively smart.

Many years ago, there was a woman with a guide dog living in the block of flats my son and I lived in. Chatting to her briefly one day when she was out with her dog, she mentioned how the pups are raised by volunteer families, and it piqued my interest- but I was working full time and puppy raising wasn’t an option.

When I started working from home in 2010, I asked my husband if he would be open to raising a puppy for SAGA, and he said yes.
The following year we applied to SAGA, and a couple of months later they sent a Puppy Development Supervisor to visit us at home and meet us and our dogs and check out the house.
Once we were approved we went onto the waiting list for our puppy, and on December 22nd 2011 I went to fetch Volt, our first guide dog puppy.
I signed our contract at SAGA’s Puppy Block- after we battled for weeks to come up with a name that started with a U or a V (the letter allocated to his litter)- and after an instructional briefing I left with an adorable puppy, an ID tag, two bags of food, and a 67 page manual.

We had NO idea what we were getting ourselves into!

It’s a lot like having a new baby in the house, except that your puppy comes with a text book!
If you have any idea how cool it is to have an obedient dog, you’ll know how much work goes into training your dog to ‘sit’ or ‘shake’. Now triple that workload and add to it that you will be supervised to make sure your dog is trained properly, with positive reinforcement! And puppies are a handful, no matter the breed.
When your puppy is awake, it is learning. Not only is there a set of verbal commands (sit, stay, down, off, leave it, come, wait, forward and stand), there’s all kinds of behavioural conditioning they need to learn as well, and this doesn’t always have a command.
As a guide-dog-in-training, your puppy is not allowed to chase balls, bark or whine. He has to wait till he’s told he may eat. He has to be comfortable travelling in a car and must be able to go ‘potty’ on command. He has to be comfortable in any setting – from shopping malls to nursery schools. He has to learn to walk calmly and quietly on a lead, on your left hand side. He has to be taught to WALK (not run) up and down all kinds of staircases. He has to learn not to jump up on people, he may not beg, and he must be taught that noises like thunder and fireworks are nothing to fear. They are with you all the time, they go everywhere with you as much as possible.
And the SAGA PDSs are always on hand to ensure the pups are progressing and you have help if you need it.

And its not just about puppies, you have to be able to deal with people too.
You have to remember that you are unofficially representing SAGA when you are out with your puppy. You have to get permission for your puppy to accompany you to places that dogs may not be allowed. Security guards can be a nightmare, and while some people will call out to your puppy when you’re out together, others scream and jump out of your way as if your puppy is foaming at the mouth!
And people will ask you questions. The same questions over and over again. The most common one being “…isn’t it hard to give them up?”

Yes, it is hard – but you’re not giving them up, you’re giving them back.
There’s no pomp or ceremony, its kept low key and quiet.
You get given your dog’s intake date, you bring your puppy in and you say goodbye.
Hopefully you’ve done all you were supposed to do and your puppy can start its training as a guide dog with the proper basics already learned.
Your dog’s trainer will keep you up to date with your dog’s progress during its guide dog training, but except to meet your puppy’s new owner when they are ready to graduate and start working together, there is a likelihood you won’t see your puppy again.

Its a year or so of very mixed feelings… you want your puppy to do well and take on its life’s purpose with confidence- but at the same time you love your puppy and you devote a lot of time and attention to it, and you miss your puppy terribly when its gone.

Witnessing your “baby”, fully trained and walking in his harness with his new owner is a moment filled with so much pride and excitement you are almost fit to burst.
You have to hide behind trees and cars on the other side of the street so that your puppy- and he is still a puppy at that stage- doesn’t see you and get distracted from his new job!

But seeing your puppy doing what he was bred and trained to do makes everything worthwhile.

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Our second guide dog puppy, Lennox, is almost 11 months old so our time with him is almost up. Our first guide dog puppy, Volt, is working as a guide dog in the Cape, and the two weekend “boarders” we worked with have also qualified – Kenzo as a guide dog in the Cape and Rhody as a service dog in KZN.

We are immensely proud of our puppies, and we plan to raise guide dog puppies for many years to come.