About The Foster Zoo

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We have decided to blog our adventures again. So much has changed since we last blogged. Bella and Shiloh both went to their forever homes and they are in wonderful families. June Bug got adopted. We quit fostering dogs after those adoptions because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. We quit doing therapy dog work because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. Tanker passed away June 9th, 2013. We adopted a senior border collie named Shania Tankerbelle in his memory. We still have our two cats, Sweet Pea and Little Bit. Wes has started rescuing pitiful bettas from Wal-Mart and we currently have seven. We have a camper. We camp. We have focused on giving our animals the best lives possible. We are The Foster Zoo Crew and we like to have fun.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Topher Training Note

Today, I had two therapy dog friends come over and work the neutral dog portion part of the therapy dog test with me and Topher.   Topher did much better than I expected!  He was not perfect, but he was perfect up until the end.  We first just stood in the driveway and let the dogs look at each other.  We then walked up and down the driveway and let the dogs smell each other in the air and on the driveway.  (Our driveway is fairly long, so we had plenty of room to walk around without getting too close.)  Then we worked on just passing each other.  Topher did great.  Last, we worked on stopping and shaking hands.  Topher did great the first three or four times.  He remained heeling on my left side.  He showed a little interest, but mostly stayed focused on me.  The last couple of times we did the hand shake though, Topher kind of growled, but didn't show his teeth.  It was a grumble.  I walked away with him and didn't treat him.  We started over at that point with just walking in the driveway and eventually went back to doing passes.  Same reaction with Topher when we walked in between the two dogs.  He grumbled at Amber.  I don't know if he was getting tired, if the wind was picking up, I just don't know.  The good part of it though was that he was completely under control the entire time.  He always heeled.  Sometimes he stretched out to sniff, but he remained focused on me.  I was really impressed with his focus.  I feel like we worked together really well.  He watched me, he listened to all of my commands, as soon as I said his name, he looked right at my face every time.  That, alone, made this a great training session.  He was never distracted off of me.

Topher did not seem nervous.  When we all stood and talked in the driveway, he layed down without me giving the command.  That is actually kind of his default position when he is relaxed.  He will plop down and lay anywhere: in the store, on the sidewalk, at the vet, in the middle of the street if I let him.  He did not pant.  He was not licking his lips.  He did seem alert at times, but still very relaxed.  He was definitely curious.  He sniffed the air to pick up their scent.  He looked at them.  Honestly, what I think it boiled down to, is that he was just unsure of this new situation of two strange dogs being in his driveway.  Like I said though, the great thing that came out of this is that he looked up to me when he was unsure.  That's what makes a great dog and handler team. 

Thank you Kelly, Amber, Muffin, and Muffin's mom (forgot her name already) for taking the time out of your day to come work with me and Topher.  We really appreciate it.  Amber and Muffin are beautiful dogs and I was very impressed at how well behaved and trained they were.  I look forward to many more days of working with both of you.

Poor Tanker just had to sit inside and watch through the window.  He is already perfect at all of this.  As they always say, the good kids never have any fun. 

Goal for the next two weeks:  Take Topher and Tanker out as much as possible and get them exposed to more and more things.  We test on the 13th.  I was told that once we get their therapy dog vests in, we can take them into the mall and into certain stores, like Lowes and Gander Mountain, to work with them as long as we ask first. (since they are therapy dogs in training)  Until then, we'll keep going to Petsmart.

This is me posing in front of the creek so Mom can plaster my picture all over Facebook. Do I look thrilled? I am not.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Canine Good Citizen Test: WE PASSED!!!

 Hard work pays off.  We have been training our dogs to be therapy dogs for quite some time.  Tanker and Topher were well trained and probably ready for their tests by January, but I felt that taking a class would benefit us so that we could work around other dogs.  Topher gets intimidated by bigger dogs.  Tanker is fine with all dogs.  We enrolled in a Canine Good Citizen class in order to get the experience of doing obedience work around other dogs in a controlled environment. 

The CGC class we enrolled in lasted six weeks.  We started with eight dogs in the class.  We ended with five.  Two were German Shepherds, a pit bull, and then there was us little guys.  Although we had a little trouble in a couple of classes, Wes and I both learned to read our dogs better and anticipate their needs in stressful situations.

Tonight was our final class and test.  I tested with Tanker and Wes tested with Topher.  Because the Canine Good Citizen test only tests the dog, not the dog and handler team, I felt more comfortable letting Wes test with Topher.  Topher did not completely overcome his fear of bigger dogs and because we had to test with a buckle collar, I felt more comfortable with Wes handling Topher.  I also have a fear of big dogs because I was bit when I was younger.  My lack of confidence around big dogs travels down the leash to Topher and makes him more nervous.  When using a harness, I do better with Topher, but harnesses are not allowed for CGC testing.  Anyhow, in order to give Topher the confidence he needed in the neutral dog portion of the test, Wes tested with him tonight.  I tested with Tanker.

We started out in a small room with two other dogs while waiting to be brought in for our test.  Believe it or not, Topher and Tanker did really well around the other dogs.  We then proceeded into the gym to take our test.  Tanker and Topher did excellent on all portions of the test.  Topher did not do perfect during the neutral dog portion, but he did well enough to pass CGC standards.  When Wes and Topher got close to the other dog, Topher yelped.  He did not cross Wes' center line or even try to though.  He remained heeling.  I could tell he was stressed because he licked his lips some.  Wes did not feel like Topher responded his best to him.  Topher (Creeper Bear) was focused on me.  I trained Topher and he is very partial to me.  Most Australian Cattle Dogs are partial to one handler.  Topher will work for anybody, but only while he keeps his eyes on me.  For that reason, it was good for Topher to test with Wes.  It's good to challenge a dog so that he doesn't stay so partial to one person that he won't listen to anyone else.  Tanker, of course, did great on all portions of the test.  Tanker is so good though that he could pass the CGC test with a child.

In the end, five of the seven dogs that tested tonight passed.  As we were leaving, the trainer told us how proud she was of Topher and Tanker.  She asked us to take a picture of them, write a short blurb about their training, and send it to her for her website.  We felt honored to be asked. 

We have one more test to take before Tanker and Topher can be called therapy dogs.  It is our Delta Society pet partner evaluation.  It is very similar to our CGC test.  I am confident that we can pass it.  I am allowed to use a harness on Topher, so I will test with him, of course.  He is my partner and I feel that we will make a great therapy dog team.  Tanker and Wes are, of course, an outstanding team as well.

I owe a lot of gratitude to many people for helping us get to where we are.

  First off, thank you Wes for always having confidence in me, for encouraging me, for coaching me, for being patient with me, and for believing in our dreams of helping others.  Thank you for never giving up and for always being a hard worker.  You are an inspiration to me and you keep me going everyday.  I love you with all my heart.

Thanks to my amazing parents for instilling a love for animals in me.  Thanks for fostering that love by allowing me to have more animals than we were probably legally allowed to have in one house.  Thank you for always encouraging me to train my own horses rather than buying them already trained.  The skills I learned from training horses while growing up with no doubt helped me to train Topher and Tanker.

Thank you to Michelle and Georgia Humane Society for having the heart to rescue Topher from the animal shelter and for giving him a second chance.  Without you, Topher wouldn't even be alive today.

Thank you Laura (with Georgia Humane Society) for fostering Topher.  You have got so much compassion for animals and you did not give up on Topher despite the difficulties you had in your beginning days with him.  Thank you Echo for being Topher's dog therapy dog.  Thanks to Laura's kids for loving Topher, playing with Topher, and letting him love you as much as he did.  It was the picture of you laying with Topher on the bed that caught my eye and made me believe that Topher was the right dog for us.

Lastly, thank you Kris for being our mentor.  Thank you for allowing us to shadow you.  Thank you for believing in me despite my difficulties.  Thank you for pointing us in the right direction.  Thank you for the training tips.  Thank you for all the volunteer opportunities you have opened up for us.  You are an inspiration to us and I know we are going to do great things in the future together.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Obedience Work

Today was absolutely beautiful here in Northern Virginia!  It was 75 degrees and sunny.  What a great day to go out to our favorite place work with the dogs!  There is an island that is connected to our neighborhood by a bridge.  It's called Government Island and it is a  natural park preserve and archaeological site.  It is also surrounded by protected wetlands on one side where you can see all kinds of wildlife including bald eagles and osprey.  The reason this island is so significant is because it is where all the stone came from to build the White House and Government buildings in D.C.  The county has done a great job at preserving all of this and making into a very nice park. There are very nice trails you can walk that go completely around the island with signs to read about the areas where the stone came from and where they loaded it up on boats to ship it down the river to D.C.  It is really cool and a place you have to see to appreciate.  We are really lucky that is right where we live and it is connected to our neighoborhood by a bridge.  It is a favorite summer time destination for us.

Not only is this a place that is neat to go to for fun, it is also a GREAT place to do obedience work with the dogs.  There are several surfaces to walk on such as pavement, wood docks, and regular dirt trails.  There are birds, deer, water, fish, and all kinds of things to distract a dog.  Many people walk out there, so there are also many dogs as well.  The dogs are our biggest challenge.

I had mentioned in my previous training notes that I was having difficulty with Topher overcoming the meet and greet a neutral dog portion for our therapy dog test.  Actually, he was doing really well until one class when he got very intimidated by some aggressive dogs.  We had to start over at that point.  Wes took Topher for our next class and used only a buckle collar on him.  He did fine with Wes, but still was more protective when working with me.  I thought I would start using a Halti Gentle Leader on him to give me a little more control in those "big dog" situations.  Topher really got his feelings hurt by that.  He hung his head low and didn't have the happy, want to please personality about him.  What I realized is that Topher is an excellent dog.  He walks very nicely on a loose leash.  He is friendly and obeys commands well.  A Halti is too much for such a good dog.  Kris, our mentor, told me about a special front buckle harness she uses on her dogs.  It offers the dog a lot of freedom to work on their own, but because the straps go over the shoulders, it offers the handler a little extra control if needed.  We went and bought one yesterday and Topher does EXCELLENT with it!

While walking today, we encountered probably seven or eight dogs, including two German Shepherds.  I point out German Shepherds so much because we are around them a lot in class.  German Shepherds are unique because they are very loyal to their handlers, they don't particularily like another dog coming in their domain, and they are bred to be protective.  Given that aggressive instinct, Topher has been intimidated by many, many German Shepherds.  I by no mean think GSDs are bad dogs.  They are just a big hurdle to overcome for Topher.  Using my new harness today, Topher was able to walk past EVERY dog we encountered and not cross over in front or behind me.  He heeled the entire walk.  When we came up on another dog, I gave him the command "leave it", I tightened my leash to put pressure on his chest to let him know I meant business, and we walked past.  I can't say it was perfect, but it was worth a passing grade I believe.  He did get a little whiny with a couple of the dogs that were very hyper and pulling toward him.  He did much better with the small dogs than the big dogs.  He barked once when a dog was pulling towards us and barking.  I was not happy that he did that, but he did still remain on my right side, he did not cross my center line, he heeled the entire time, and he walked past with me.  I was so proud of him!

When we finished working on Government Island, I walked Topher up to the horse stables and let him meet two horses.  He was a little unsure of them at first, but he eventually laid down right in front of me.  He did not smell them.  If we were there a little longer, he would have probably sniffed their noses.  Wes had to go to work though, so we weren't there long.  I am excited to take him back to see the horses and walk on Government Island...maybe tomorrow.  I hope the weather is nice again.  We're supposed to get snow by Tuesday.  What a tease today was!!!!

I love my Topher and Tanker very much.  I was just talking to my good friend today about how I couldn't wait to start therapy work with them and use them as advocates for shelter/rescue dogs.  Rescue dogs sometimes get a bad rap for being in the shelter.  I see shelter dogs as diamonds in the rough.  They are usually loving and appreciative of the life you gave them.  Topher and Tanker are prime examples of that.

Wes and Tanker practicing obedience work. The water behind them is protected wetlands where you can commonly see bald eagles and osprey eat fish. This is one of our favorite places to take the dogs. There is a bridge to walk to it in our neighborhood.

Working hard on Government Island.

The Topher Diaries: I just finished doing obedience work on Government Island and now I'm visiting with the neighborhood horses. I tried offering them my dog food, but they didn't want any. As you can see, I just made two really big friends. I really like them, although I was unsure of them at first. I still don't trust them completely yet. I don't know them that well. They could be giant Neos.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shadowing Our Mentor

Today Wes and I were privileged enough to shadow an amazing woman and her therapy dog.  Kris and her dog, Titus, have been our mentors throughout our therapy dog training.  She is Delta certified and has three dogs she works with, Buddy, Titus, and Malachi.  Buddy is retired, Titus is her current therapy dog, and she is currently training Malachi.  I mention this to show how experienced she is at what she does.  She is also a retired teacher, so working with kids is her specialty.  She is a true Christian and a servant of Christ.  She loves others whole heartedly.  She serves others without judging them.  She helps the children/people who no other therapy dog team wants to put the work into.  She touches the lives of people who need it most.  It's pretty easy to see why we look up to Kris to so much.  We're lucky to call her our mentor.

I shadowed Kris and Titus two weeks ago at two different elementary schools.  Wes was not able to go because he was working.  For the last two weeks, all I have done is talk about the wonderful things I witnessed while watching them work with special ed children.  Wes has been eager to shadow her ever since.  He was fortunate enough to get the day off of work today to be able to.  He was as amazed at what he saw as I was.

Our day started out at 8:45.  The first elementary school we went to is the tougher of the two schools.  Kris and Titus work with a lot of severly autistic children.  The classes whe works in are ED classes, or emotionally disturbed.  Many of these children do not talk.  Some of these children have a difficult time petting nicely.  Some of these children don't even want to be touched.  When Titus comes in the room, their faces light up.  This isn't just another teacher there to evaluate them, teach them, rehabilitate them, or try to mold them into the kids they ought to be.  This is a dog that only sees a child.  The kids pet him, play games with him, perform activites that help them with sight words, coordination, and sequence of events.  The best part is that he makes it fun!  The kids open up to him.  They succeed in ways that they don't when he's not there.  Kris works with their teachers to accomplish tasks they are trying to achieve in their IEPs.  Their interactions with Titus are recorded in their daily activities for the day.  (Titus is charted...lol...I am not a teacher...I can only write this from a nurse's perspective.)

The second school we attended was a little easier.  We still worked with special ed children, but they weren't as severe as the children at the first school.  This school truly loves dogs.  There are several therapy dog teams that go to this school on a weekly basis.  Titus is clearly a favorite.  He is the only dog that works with the special ed kids.  When we went to our first class, the teacher greeted us and told us we'd be doing something a little different today.  Usually the kids pick out a book and read to Titus to the best of their ability.  Today though, they had all written short little papers about Titus, attatched their pictures to them, and hung them on the wall outside.  Each child went out into the hallway to read their story to Titus and Kris.  This, of course, brought tears to Kris' eyes.  To see how much a dog has helped a child is very moving.  Titus helps them WANT to read.  Titus helps them WANT to write.  Titus helps them WANT to succeed.  That is a magnificent thing to witness.

We worked for about six hours today.  That is a lot for a dog!  Wes and I are very inspired by Kris and Titus and we are working extra hard to pass our CGC certification this Tuesday and our Delta test on March 13th.  Wes adds, "With four paws and a giving heart, it is clear to me that any child can succeed."  We are excited to be able to contribute to this wonderful work for many years.  That is our desire.

Our volunteer badges from one elementary school today and Titus' Valentine sticker that he passed out to kids. Note to follow later. It was a great day!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Canine Good Citizen Class #5

This may be long, it may be short, I am not sure yet.  I will write what I know and talk about a lot of things I don't like to admit, but they are things I need to face if I want to be successful in my therapy dog work.

Here's how it needs to start.  I am Lindsay.  I have a Traumatic Brain Injury and have a disability from it.  I hate it.  I don't like to admit that I have a disability.  I have fought it hard since I was 15.  It affects all areas of my life and the nicest way I can explain having to live with it is that it sucks.  I am embarassed of it.  I don't like to be different and I will go to great measures to not let others know I have a brain injury.  I am slow.  I stutter my words sometimes...okay, a lot.  I trip on my feet.  I cannot multitask.  My fine motor skills are impared.  I can't concentrate.  My memory is not the best.  I get my feelings hurt easily.  I have a chronic pain disorder from it.  I have a movement disorder from it.  I am alive.  I function pretty well given my injury, and I have a strong desire to succeed.  I love life.   I love to help others.  I try to get past my disability and live to my full potential.  I try not to be different.  When I fall, I get back up and try again.  It took me five years to get an associate's degree, but I did not give up.  If the next person can do it, so can I.  I have a lot of set backs.  People judge me.  I am different.  I try to be normal.  I am Lindsay and I have a brain injury.

Now that's out of the way, let me explain how this brain injury is getting in the way of my life once again.  I used to work in nursing.  I had to quit after sustaining a mild concussion a year and a half ago and it broke my heart to not be able to do my passion anymore.  (brain injuries are cumulative, so it made what I already had worse)  I have always wanted to work with dogs.  I love animals.  If you have known me longer than 30 minutes, you know that is one of my many passions.  After having to quit my job, after having to give up driving, I went into a depression over my lost ability to help others.  Then Blondie died.  Then we adopted Topher for a companion for Tanker.  Topher couldn't be a better dog for Tanker and Tanker couldn't be a better dog for Topher.  They literally were made for each other.  Topher is calm and won't hurt Tanker.  Tanker is laid back and won't intimidate Topher.  More than anything, they both LOVE people.  This isn't just a love as in they just want to be petted.  These two dogs have a passion for people.  They sense emotion.  Their love for people makes me believe they want to help others as much as Wes and I do.  Topher and Tanker are meant to be our dogs in every aspect you can think of. 

As you all know, last week was a horrible week for me and Topher in CGC class.  Every dog was off key last week.  They were hyper, agressive, and wild.  I was intimidated.  Topher was intimidated.  Last week was the best class ever.  It taught me what I need to be for Topher and what I can and can't be for him.  Once again, I have a movement disorder.  I am slow.  I do not react quickly.  Topher is intimidated by bigger dogs.  The combination of Topher's lack of confidence and my slowed reactions made for a really bad class last week.

Wes is the most remarkable man I know.  He is confident.  He is smart.  He has a good head on his shoulders.  He is compassionate in what he does.  He has a heart of gold.  He is a leader.  Dogs can sense that about a person.  Wes is a dog whisperer if I ever knew one.  Wes took Topher tonight to work with him in class.  Topher did awesome.  Topher did the meet and greet with the neutral dog just fine.  Wes had to give him some stronger commands and work the leash a little different than I know how to do, but Topher passed with flying colors.  I was so proud of him. 

What we discovered tonight was that Topher sometimes needs that extra boost of confidence in situations he is not sure of.  The only situation we have had him in like that is around bigger dogs.  Because I have a difficult time with movements, multitasking (giving commands and holding the leash like I need to), we decided that when I work Topher as a therapy dog, I need to use the Halti leader on him.  I don't know why, but Topher and I are both more confident when using the Halti.  Maybe because we both know that I have ultimate control with a Halti.  Topher is very sensitive to my needs.  I couldn't ask for a better dog.  He is trained in both hand signals and verbal commands.  He doesn't mind that I switch back and forth.  He is really in tune with me.  That being said, when I am not confident around other dogs (in which I am not due to being bit when I was younger), Topher feels the need to be the protector and he reacts badly.  When using the Halti, he feels my every movement and he trusts me better.  It's really hard to explain.  I can only try to explain it the best I can.

We did a mock test tonight.  Wes and Topher passed with flying colors.  Tanker and I passed with flying colors.  (Who wouldn't pass with Tanker??  A 3 year old could pass a CGC test with Tanker!)  Wes only used a buckle collar on Topher and passed the neutral dog part just fine.  Because we are only allowed to use a buckle collar on the CGC test, Wes will probably test with Topher and I will test with Tanker.  Canine Good Citizen Certification is through the American Kennel Club and it tests the dog, not the team; therefore, it doesn't matter who tests with each dog.  We are taking our Delta Therapy Dog test on March 13th.  I will test with Topher using the Halti because they are allowed in therapy dog work.  After a year or two of me gaining my confidence and of Topher becoming a little more experienced, I hope to retest in a regular buckle collar.

My name is Lindsay.  I have a disability from a Traumatic Brain Injury.  I have an AWESOME husband who helps me, loves me, does not judge me, lifts me up, and encourages me in every area of life.  I have two amazing dogs who read my body language and understand me.  I will not let a disability keep me from helping others through therapy dog work.  I may have to do things a little different, but I will succeed.

And that is my story.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Canine Good Citizen Class #4

Canine Good Citizen Class did not go so well last night.  It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't perfect.  There are several factors that played a role in last night's not so great performance.  First, I was getting sick.  I had an endocrinology appointment at Walter Reed in the morning.  I was there a long time.  Then I got an urgent appointment with my PCM at Ft. Belvoir in the afternoon.  Because of all the driving we had to do, plus the time at the appointments, Topher and Tanker were home alone all day and bored.  When we got home, they were full of energy and extremely happy to see us.  I felt horrible and Wes was starting to not feel good.  I took the meds that the doctor gave me and we both took a nap.  I woke up feeling much better and we decided to go to CGC class.  (I stayed away from everybody and we practice in a HUGE gym, so I didn't pass germs to anyone.)  Topher and Tanker were happy and full of energy.  We did not feel well enough to help them burn any of that energy before class.

One of the dogs in our class is being trained for bite work.  He has to pass the CGC certification for whatever line of work he is going into.  His handler likes to practice his bite work with the dog in class quite a bit.  Topher has never seemed to be bothered by it.  Last night, at the beginning of class, the guy was practicing with his dog.  He was not that far away from us.  It upset Topher and he whimpered a lot.  He remained in a down and stay, but was clearly upset.  I rubbed his ears and comforted him. 

That incident pretty much set the mood for the night.  Topher never shook it off.  He did perform well most of the time though.  We did a lot of individual work while being evaluated by the instructor.  A lot of walking, left turns, right turns, sits, downs, waits, stays, etc.  Topher did really well on that.  Tanker did excellent too.  While sitting along the wall waiting for our turns with things, we sat next to the GSD being trained for bite work.  Topher did fine and layed there, but was aware of him next to us.  I was feeling horrible at that point and the instructor even asked me if I was still there or if I had completely zoned out. 

The last task we did before the end of the night was walking up to someone with a neutral dog and shaking their hand.  The trainer's dog's name is Kera and she is a well trained lab.  Topher has always done fine with this task in the past with Kera.  Topher was the last to go with this.  While other dogs were walking past, the pit bull had gotten aggressive with Kera, the other GSD was on high alert and competing with the bite work dog.  The instructor had to warn the handler that her dog was not giving off good body language.  The bite work dog was actually pretty neutral.  Tanker was Tanker.  He didn't care about anybody else.  While meeting and greeting with the instructor and Kera, the other dogs were getting rowdy again, and Tanker barked.  That set Topher off.  Like I've said, Topher really looks out for his brother.  I think that because he has been with Tanker through his seizures, he's been trained to bark and help Tanker through his seizures, etc, he feels protective of him.  We were right next to Kera and the instructor when Tanker barked.  Topher turned quick, ignored me, snarled at Kera who was in the way between him and his brother, and then Kera went after Topher.  The trainer quickly reprimanded her dog.  It was a horrible situation and a complete fail on the CGC and Delta test if we had been testing.  I felt devestated.  I should have never put Topher in that situation when the tension was so high in the room already.  I feel like we went two steps backward last night.  I up and left the ring at that point.  Topher was really shaken up, but he walked nicely past the two GSDs and back next to Tanker.  The pit bull was already out of the area at that time because of the aggression he was showing. 

This week we are going to work with the vacuum.  There are two things that Topher is acared of:  over rambunctious/aggressive dogs and vacuums.  (three things if you want to add Neo to the list.  ;)  He is not scared of trolleys, loud noises, Marines bombing at Quantico, cars, trains, strangers, snow plows, etc.  I am going to work on him walking past the vacuum on the leash with me and trusting in me.  I will keep the vacuum off to not scare him.  I think it would be a good confidence booster for him to be able to overcome that fear.  I just hope that last night's class didn't make him regress much.  He is such a sweet boy.  No wonder he's scared of mean dogs.  Topher doesn't have an ounce of mean in him.

A happy end to my note:  Tanker and Wes did EXCELLENT last night.  I love watching the two of them work.  Wes and Tanker both have such a heart of gold.  Their energies mesh well together.  We did a rally course last night, in which Tanker and Topher both did excellent on.  I loved watching Tanker and Wes.  Tanker gets all prancy when he walks and constantly looks up at Wes for commands.  They have so much confidence in each other.  They are a great team.  Wes is a magnificent person.  Dogs can sense that.  They can sense his calm demeanor, his confidence, his intelligence, and his love.  Actually, I may have Wes work with Topher in our next class if the same situation presents itself.

Off to get some sleep.  I have bronchitis.  I think Wes is getting it too and he is headed to the doctor this afternoon.  Let's hope it clears up for him by Friday because he has his PT test.  He has been working really hard on it despite his back injury and he would be devestated if he did bad on it because he was sick.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

PAWS for Reading Practice

 One of the programs that Tanker and Wes, and Topher and I will be volunteering in as Therapy Dog teams is the PAWS for Reading Program in the schools.  This is a really neat program and unique.  Therapy dogs go into the schools to help children who struggle with reading.  Who better to read to than a dog?  Dogs will not judge you for missing a word.  Dogs will not judge you for talking funny.  Dogs will not judge you if you cannot master reading at all.

This sounds like a simple training task, right?  Well, really it is not.  It takes a dog who is patient and is obedient enough to follow out commands throughout the entire book without distracting the child.  Not all dogs are suitable for this program.  Some dogs just want to work and are not patient enough just to be there for the child.  I am lucky enough to have an AWESOME mentor!  She has the most amazing therapy dogs.  As you have read in my previous posts, her dogs work with special needs kids, specifically the difficult ones in the mentally disturbed classes with autism, aspergers, etc.  Her dog not only does a lot of therapy work with these kids, he is also a great read dog.  When I shadowed her, I was able to learn a lot of new tricks to teach my dogs to help them engage with the child who is reading.  Yesterday was my first day of trying  our dogs out on a little boy with special needs.

My very good friend has a son who has a speech impediment from seizures as a young child.  He is one of the boys we worked with in the school the other day when I shadowed my mentor.  He is not crazy about dogs, but he loves Titus, Tanker, and Topher.  Wes and I took our dogs down to his house yesterday to work on reading.

I brought lots of treats with me.  I thought that starting off with new commands that I would be needing to treat Topher quite a bit until he really got used to it.  I assumed the same was true with Wes and Tanker as well.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  The first book that J (I will name the boy J for privacy purposes.) read to Topher and Tanker was not as successful as I hoped.  Topher would down, stay, put his head on J's leg, get up, turn around, wait for a command, etc.  This is what I figured out.  Because Topher is very smart he is very obedient and eager to learn.  Because I had treats in my pocket, he would do all he could to offer me new behaviors for a treat.  He figured out that if he got up, I made him down and stay, he got a treat, so he did it again and again and again.  I figured this out and the treats went bye bye.  Once the treats were gone, Topher was the best reading therapy dog a boy could ask for.  He downed next to the boy.  He cuddled his head in his lap.  He engaged and looked at pictures that the boy showed him.  He even got so interested in the book he once layed his head right down in the middle of the pages and looked up at J like "this is really neat.  Thanks for reading to me."  Everybody got a laugh out of that.  Tanker layed on the other side of J, so that J had two reading dogs on either side.  Tanker did not engage as much as Topher did.  Wes has not had as much time to work with Tanker and he did not have the opportunity to shadow like I did to learn the ropes.  Tanker was really good though.  J read one book, petted the dogs, got excited and went to get another book, read, petted the dogs, got excited and got another book....this went on until we read 5 BOOKS!!!  It was a really neat experience

This activity last night filled our hearts with joy.  Looking across at Wes watching J read and helping him with Tanker while he had a smile on his face filled my heart with joy.  It was the neatest experience that our dogs made a little boy EXCITED to read!  We are excited to get in the schools very soon to help other children read.

For privacy purposes, I do not have a picture to add this time.  I wish I did though.  You all would have loved to see Tanker and Topher laying with J, Topher's head on J's lap, contently listening to books about volcanos, action figures, legos, and little boy stuff.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The SUPER HERO Topher Diaries

The SUPERHERO Topher Diaries: I am learning the command "wait". EASY!!! It just means to wait for a new command. Today, Neo is out of his room on a day pass. While I was in a "down" and on a "wait", I saw Neo come close to my hedgehog right before I was told to "come." I ran over, saved Santa Hedgehog, then "came" to mom with hedgehog in my mouth. I still obeyed all commands AND saved my hedgehog.  Mom laughed, but then wanted to try it again to see if I could do it without being concerned with Hedgehog. This time she put me in a sit and told me to "wait". When she told me to come, I heard Terrorist Cat upstairs picking on Little Bit. I diverted once again. I ran upstairs, saved Little Bit, then ran back downstairs, picked up my hedgehog along the way, "came" to mom and sat in front of her like I'm supposed to. I love this new wait command. It allows me to still look around and be Superhero Topher when I need to be. I must save the world from Hell Cat.

I looked up the definition of the wait command to validate that I am still doing it right.  Here it is:

The "wait" dog command is very useful, especially if you'd like your dog to be reliable even when he's not on the leash. 

I finished reading there.  I was very reliable today at saving Santa Hedgehog and Little Bit.  I think I've mastered wait.  I deserve an A for the day.

Resting quietly now, satisfied knowing that I was Superhero Topher by saving Hedgehog and Little Bit from the terrorist cat.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 1 of shadowing my mentor and her therapy dog

Today I got to shadow my mentor and her therapy dog at two elementary schools. I feel so blessed to have witnessed what I did. We worked with numerous autistic children, children with speech impediments, children who are emotionally unstable, etc. I saw children, who had not spoken in a week, open up to a therapy dog by choosing and naming the color of a tennis ball out of five colors, throwing it to the dog, and counting to 3 before letting him fetch it. I saw special ed children eagerly line up to read outloud to a dog.  I saw children who cannot focus and hardly walk or talk become excited to walk and play fetch with a dog.  I saw a little special ed girl who was sick and too scared to go to the school nurse climb into a wagon with Titus (therapy dog), get wheeled to the clinic, and open up enough to get her temperature taken while the dog "watched the thermometer" to see if she was okay.  She only allowed us to take her temperature after we took the dog's temperature under his ear.  :)  I saw learning disabled/mentally disturbed students walk Titus around the room and sort through colored rings to put over cones, but only after making Titus sit at every station.  I watched children do all these things with smiles on their faces because they had a dog by their side.  These are things many of the students would not do if they did not have a therapy dog by their side.

Today I watched God work through a very special dog and a very special lady who volunteers their time every week to help special needs children.  I feel blessed to have witnessed the work they do. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Canine Good Citizen Class #3: February 1, 2011

 Class went excellent last night.  Topher paid more attention to Tanker across the room than I would have liked, but he paid attention to me too and listened to all of my commands.  I am sure glad he is able to multitask because I certainly can't.  His eyes stayed on Tanker, but his ears stayed on me.  That's what matters most, I suppose.  He really loves his brother and looks after him.  Most of the dogs last night were wild crazy and had short attention spans, except my two, so that contributed to it, I'm sure.  We worked a lot last night on the dogs walking by your side, as opposed to in front, and stopping, sitting, or down on command.  Topher and Tanker are 100% proficient at that.  Topher sometimes has the habit of turning to me to sit when we stop.  After a few corrections, he quickly caught on that he has to sit in place and not turn.  We worked on waits and stays.  Tanker and Topher are 100% proficient at that.  I am not a big fan of teaching the difference between wait and stay.  I never have been.  I didn't teach it with Blondie and I haven't taught it with Tanker or Topher.  My philosophy is that if I tell the dog to stay, they better stay until I give them a new command, regardless if I come back to them or tell them to come from a distance.  With that, I don't mind if they change position in a stay, just as long as they don't go anywhere.  The instructor was not really impressed with my method.  She said they need to know a distinct difference between wait and stay.  She said they need to know that for therapy dog work.  I'm not convinced.  Our definition of stay works for us.  I will work on teaching wait this week for kicks and giggles though.  What's one new command?  I suppose it won't hurt.  I just hope it doesn't confuse my dogs as my version of stay is really a combination of the two.  It's not like I ever plan on showing them in obedience classes.

Topher and Tanker both did well with being left with a stranger.  Wes and I even took the instructor's dog and left the room.  Topher was a little concerned with that, but didn't make a fuss about it.  Tanker, of course, did not care and wondered if he was being given a new owner.  Tanker is so trusting of everyone he meets.

This Canine Good Citizen class is easy peasy. Canine Good Citizen? I'm a Canine FANTASTIC Citizen. Where's the gifted class???

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