Puppy Steps is back from an unexpected three-week hiatus due to tonsil and sinus surgery that came up on short notice. (My surgery, that is; the pup is fine.) Betsy and I were able to walk the dogs most evenings, but I stayed close to home and we didn't do any outings with Sparkle.
Here is Sparkle in action at the Gloucester County 4-H Fair back on July 31. The day before, she attended the puppy club's obedience demo at the fair. I was unable to attend because of work, but another club member graciously stepped in and put her through her paces. I'm told she did very well!
On Sunday, Betsy and I took her back to the fair and walked her all over the grounds, acquainting her with goats, sheep, horses, chickens, cows, pigs and surely some other farm animals I can't even remember. She wasn't rattled by any of the commotion, and we even met a Seeing Eye pup from Pennsylvania. As always, we enjoyed talking to passersby wanting to know about the Seeing Eye and its puppy-raising program.
Today is Sparkle's six-month birthday, and I thought I'd celebrate it by showing a video I've been holding onto for just the right occasion.
This was filmed when Sparkle was a very young pup and had only been at our house for a week or two. It is gratifying to see how much she's grown and how much she's learned since early spring. She's out and about nowadays on sidewalks, crossing streets, getting familiar with new situations, and forging ahead with confidence.
Be sure to watch it through to the end. That's where most of the action is!
The last week has been pretty low-key for Sparkle. We took her to church Sunday, but then stayed home in the AC in the afternoon and watched the Phils win another one. The heat has pretty much limited our neighborhood walks to dusk or even later.
Sparkle marks a big anniversary tomorrow: She'll be six months old. She's come a long way in that short time, learning her basics and navigating streets and public places with increasing confidence.
So due to popular demand (from my wife, to be exact), I'm posting some additional pictures from our trip to Penn State, including another encounter with the big cat.
Penn State's campus turned out to be an ideal day trip for Sparkle. She rode quietly on the nearly four-hour drive there, with one potty break at a rest area on the turnpike.
After we got daughter Betsy settled in at her camp, we found wonderful hospitality at the Whiskers restaurant, inside the on-campus hotel, which gave Sparkle plenty of ice water while we all cooled off in the air conditioning and ate a very late lunch. (It was hard to find a place to eat on campus on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of the summer.)
Then we headed off on a wide-ranging tour of campus, where we encountered the Nittany Lion statue and politely waited our turn behind some children for a picture. Sparkle got some great exposure, with pedestrians, crosswalks, and a few busy streets. We headed down to the sprawling arts festival, where Sparkle greeted several well-mannered dogs on leashes, and we cruised past the bandstand. Sparkle was the picture of grace and self-assurance.
A dog-friendly graduation party is the perfect impromptu outing for Sparkle. She meets and greets plenty of new people and some dogs, and has her first encounter with a full-size swimming pool. She's on her good behavior as she refrains from jumping into the pool on a hot day and doesn't steal any food (that we know of).
As she grows older and larger, it's increasingly important to keep her from jumping up on people. She'll be six months old in two weeks and is getting some great exposure. We have some big travel plans for the next month. Stay tuned!
I've borrowed another picture of Keith (the golden retriever who's seen squeezing through the puppy gate in an earlier post). This time he's in action at the Cumberland County Farm Fair, meeting a cow.
County fairs are great places to take the Seeing Eye pups, for all the exposure they get to people and the other animals they may not be familiar with. We also get a lot of great questions about puppy-raising from other fair-goers. Never be reluctant to ask us a question. That's part of our mission, to raise awareness of the future guide dog's training and mission. Our puppy-raiser club puts on a demo every year at the Gloucester County 4-H Fair and staffs an information booth with pups on hand.
Keith's encounter with the cow reminds me of when we took Porter, our Lab pup, to the Cook College agricultural expo back in 2005. Daughter Betsy and I walked him all over the place, introducing him to every farm animal we could find. When we walked up to a pen full of piglets, Porter peered in, just as a curious piglet came up to the wall and gazed back at him. Struck by the obvious similarity between pup and piglet, Betsy announced that she was becoming a vegetarian. She did -- and still is. We may be training these pups, but they are also shaping us!
Sparkle is always wildly excited when we arrive with her at church. After we get settled in, she quiets down and lies under the pew at our feet. Any kind of commotion, though, can rouse her. Last Sunday, the congregation started off with "Rock of Ages," and Sparkle responded with a resounding "WOOF!" after the song ended. Luckily, our friendly congregation took it in stride and burst out in laughter. She also makes loud gnawing noises from time to time when we give her a Nylabone to distract her.
We've taken all three of our Seeing Eye pups to church, and I think it's great exposure. It's a regular outing, one that doesn't require any special planning, and it's the exact sort of trip a blind person would take with a guide dog.
We try to keep her away from the refreshment area after the service. Begging for treats is not something we want her to get really good at!
Proper socialization is the linchpin of Sparkle's education, so what better place to visit than our son's pre-kindergarten class on the last day of school. We got advance approval from the principal and brought Sparkle in through a side door so as not to provoke a general uproar by walking her down a main hallway.
Sparkle was polite and well-behaved, and the children were thrilled to see a pup in their midst. Daughter Betsy and I fielded some questions about raising Seeing Eye pups, wished everyone a great summer, then slipped back out and walked around the outside of the building to the principal's office to say thanks.
While Seeing Eye dogs in harness are allowed by the federal Disabilities Act to go anywhere that's open to the public, we depend on courtesy to afford us access. We've rarely been turned away from entering a store or other public place. Thank you to everyone who makes us feel welcome!
I took Sparkle to her monthly puppy-circle training meeting the other evening. She's eager to learn. She knows the sit, then rest command. (We teach them "rest," rather than "stay.") Of course, she doesn't "rest" too long because a dozen or more other pups are a huge distraction. Like all pups, she eats up the praise when she does something right. We do not reward the pups with treats, but effusive praise.
Since I went by myself, I was not able to handle lively pup and camera at the same time. She can pull very hard and very suddenly if she wants to go to another dog or person. Sparkle is good, however, at the "recall" command where you walk her out on a slack leash in a little circle, then call her back and have her sit at your left side.
With the summer heat, I've been careful about not stressing her. Lately on the morning walks, she's been plunking herself under shady trees and acting a bit resistant to keep walking. She will also catch the mist off lawn sprinklers as we go past. When we get home, I make sure she has plenty of water and offer her a few ice cubes from the freezer, which she gladly crunches. I can also take a water bottle along and spritz her or offer her a drink from it.
It will be seven years this summer since we got Porter, our first Seeing Eye puppy, to raise. Although he was a bright and enthusiastic pup, Porter did not complete formal training at the Seeing Eye. His situation is not unusual; about 60 percent of the pups actually complete their harness training at Morristown and go on to become Seeing Eye dogs.
When the dog is turned down, the puppy raiser has the first option to adopt him or her. There is also a long waiting list at the Seeing Eye for other people to adopt the dogs for a fee. Still others are destined for security duty, perhaps as detection dogs at an airport or train station.
A dog that is not chosen to lead the blind is by no means regarded as a failure by the Seeing Eye, he just has a different calling in life. Porter did very well, according to the reports we received, but he had a problem with "emotional urination" that could not be overcome. Luckily, we have not suffered this "meltdown" at home!