Wednesday, February 29, 2012

There Are Lots Of Guide-dogs On Twitter!

I didn’t think to create a separate Twitter profile for Volt when he came to live with us, but I think it could have been very entertaining indeed!
If you are a Twitter user, perhaps you could pop around and check out the Twitter feeds belonging to these guide-dogs and guide-dog puppies!

@BrodieFuzzle Hi! I'm a fuzzy dog! I help Girl avoid bumping into things. I'm an excellent guide, and opinionated to boot! Hey, look, a squirrel!
@CocoTheGuideDog I'm a Guide Dog puppy. Step sister to LucyTheGuideDog. I am Chocolate in colour which is rare for a Guide Dog in fact I am the first Chocie in WA.
@FlameGD I'm a Guide Dog for @jeilaud & I walking! :oþ
@GuideDogBliss - I was a guide dog but took early retirement. I love pigs ears and squeaky toys. I hate big scary noises and the V E T. Still living with my mum and loving life.
@GuideDogJack Hi! I’m Jack, a chocolate Lab from @GuideDogsUSA. Join me as I tweet about my life as a guide dog & adventures with my girl.
LucyTheGuideDog I am a guide dog puppy, training to be a guide dog. I love to share my experiences and tell the world how great guide dogs are.
@QueenieGuideDog I'm Queenie a Guide Dogs for The Blind Puppy, I live with my Puppy Walker till I'm old enough to go and train to be a Guide Dog.

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Puppy Class Number Seven With #SAGApupVolt

Today my camera's batteries were flat, so I didn't have it with me, but I so wish I had! I did get a few cellphone pics...
Volt and Vegas were in class today, and Viking joined us again. We were also joined by someone who could well be Viking's new puppy raiser!
Viking is bigger than Volt and Vegas and he's absolutely beautiful! He's the brother with the slightly longer coat thanks to their lineage being one quarter Golden Retriever, and he's far more vocal than Volt and Vegas are.

Volt and Vegas get Viking on the ground 
Viking and Vegas get Volt on the ground 
We worked very hard in puppy class today. We did lots of walking exercises and climbed stairs, as well as "sit", "down" and "stay". And then using us and our puppies as obstacles we walked in a figure eight weaving pattern and the pups have to walk without looking at or trying to play with each other. Thats a challenge and a half of course, considering they're still so young, but they did very well indeed.
Then we walked to the other end of the grounds and walked the pups through a bit of an obstacle course. One at a time, they had to go over all sorts of things laid out on the grass- around and across car tyres, ladders, wire mesh, corrugated iron, and through oil drum "tunnels". Volt did so well! He wasn't at all phased by any of the obstacles!
Then we took a stroll around the kennel block before ending the day's session.

part of the training kennels
They are very happy with Volt's progress! He is doing so well!
They are not worried about the lump on Volt's shoulder, his siblings have it too so it seems their inoculations went a wee bit skew and into the muscle. The bump will probably take several weeks to disappear but we just need to watch it and make sure it doesn't get worse or become painful.
After puppy class, I quickly stopped at a baking supply store where Volt is always welcome and he got some attention whilst I got stocked up on icing sugar and such, and then we went across the road to an off-lead doggy park. Volt was very tired so he didn't take off, but he had some water and we strolled around a bit and then we headed home.
As usual when we work so hard he slept the whole afternoon after he had an early lunch.

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Monday, February 27, 2012

#SAGApupVolt Is Seventeen Weeks Old!

in my mom and dad's flowerbed!
On Sunday morning he weighed 16.5kg, so he's gained 1.3kg in the last week. He's growing right before our eyes! He's now eating 170g of food three times a day, and he sits and waits till he's told "okay" before he eats.

We had a good giggle earlier this week. Volt is awake early (he's now sleeping until almost 6am, *YAY*) but just before 7am he likes to go back to sleep for an hour or so, usually by the kitchen door or on Thelma and Louise's inside mattress. The spanner in Volt's works is that we leave just before 7am to get my husband to work! I usually call him, holding his leash, and we get into the car and head to the Gautrain station. On a couple of mornings this week I called him to me, and after looking at me and the leash for a few seconds- he turned around, went straight into his crate and curled up to sleep! On Tuesday and Wednesday morning we left him to sleep because it was just so damn cute, but unfortunately for Volt we can't allow him to dictate our routine and on Friday we were back to normal.

asleep on the lounge floor
After speaking to our PDS on Tuesday, it has been decided- much to my husband's relief- that we don't need to do any more "drown proofing" with Volt. I told SAGA how, when my husband and I were swimming, Volt was curious and came up to us in the pool- but as soon as I reach for him or touched his collar he backed off or lay down flat, so SAGA is happy that he has been put off swimming on a whim. The pool has been over full for the last few days thanks to some heavy thunder showers at home, and I discovered he still likes to stick his face in the water when he thinks no-one is watching, but more than that he doesn't like at all.

On Wednesday morning I went to a meeting and I took Volt with me- in his training jacket. He was as good as gold for the duration of the 90 minute session (except for a wee bit of whining) and I was very proud of his behaviour. He was greeted by several staff members after the meeting and that got him excited, but overall he was very good. He did get a wee bit nauseous in the car on the way home but because his tummy was empty there was no mess.

a favourite toy!
What he has started doing lately is snatching a taste of the cat's food when he thinks I'm not looking! Naughty bugger! I don't know if he's having a growth spurt and he's super hungry, or if he's pushing some different boundaries for a change... but I'll be watching him.

I block the lounge door with the couch and he waits for me there,
without jumping on the couch!
And you have got to see this! This is a video (off my phone) demonstrating how close Volt and Turk are! This is the first time I've actually seen them snuggle and I was quite surprised since I started filming them because they were playing!

Then on Friday morning, just to make sure I'm kept on my toes, I felt a hard bump just over Volt's right shoulder blade. He doesn't seem to be in pain at all and doesn't mind me rubbing or touching it, but I called our SAGA PDS anyway. She said that his inoculations (that he had last Tuesday) could form a lump that will disappear in a few weeks, or his microchip may actually move over time since its inserted just under the skin. As long as the bump doesn't get bigger or painful I must just keep an eye on it.

Volt bringing me his stuffed dog toy - if he growls or tugs I let go so he's doing it less and less, 
and if we say "leave it" he lets go immediately

On Saturday, we left the house at about 2pm to visit with friends, and because it was quite a drive and we felt like having a relaxing braai, we decided to leave Volt at home with Thelma and Louise. It was the longest he's been at home without supervision and he was just fine! I didn't have a completely wrecked garden when I got home and all the dogs were in one piece.

On Sunday we went to visit my parents for a bit and took Volt along. He has met my mom's two dogs but they haven't played together before. My mom's fox terrier cross was the most interested in Volt but it took a long time before any form of play happened, and Volt pulled out all the stops to try and encourage Topolino! Toppy's favourite play is grabbing a toy and having someone try to take it from him- in this case it was a Coke bottle and Volt!


click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Look How #SAGApupVolt Has Grown!

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Puppy Class With #SAGApupVolt

Today was puppy class #7 (we missed #6 because of Valentines Day) and we discussed ticks and fleas, grooming, puppy safety, and also had a general feedback session with Lerato (our PDS) about the pups' progress.
As usual, Volt and Vegas were allowed a play session to get rid of some excess energy, and then they were put back on-lead for our meeting.

Volt and Vegas had their 16 week inoculations today too, and were de-wormed. Lerato has learned a trick to get the pups to swallow the foul tasting de-worming tablets without a fight by holding the tablet in her hand with a few yummy yoghurt covered doggy treats! By the time the pups have licked up all the treats the tablets are gone too! Easy peasy! Especially since Vegas is a pro at spitting the tablets out!
Our SAGA PDS actually recommended de-worming the whole family when you have pets!
Lerato then had a look at Volt and Vegas' nails and they both had their back claws trimmed. This was a first for Volt so he was a little squirmy, but he was quite good about it.

Lerato cutting Vegas' back nails
Volt was not at all in a mood to co-operate on our training walk around the kennels today! After a while Lerato took him from me and walked him up and down and round and round, getting him to pay attention to her before she handed him back to me. He was better after that but still full of strawberries compared to his usual behaviour. I thought he'd be far more easy going considering we'd already had a walk this morning.

We went once around the kennel block and then we put Volt and Vegas into a kennel enclosure together- the same kind of kennel in which they will spend time when in training- and went to get stocked up on puppy food. We then went and put the food in our cars and went back to fetch the pups who hadn't even noticed we'd been gone!
A quick note- the pups being able to stay alone and not whine when their humans are out of sight is an important part of training. Volt is quite happy to be on his own so I am happy with that.

When it was time to leave we showed our PDS, Lerato, how the pups are with our cars and I am SO stoked that Volt is quite happy to get in and out without a fight! His legs are now long enough for him to climb into and out of the Navara on his own and I think he likes it too. We still spend a little time in the car every day even if we don't go anywhere, and we have at least one meal in the car every day as well and it has definitely made a difference. He is happy in the car and when its driving, but for a while getting in made him anxious so I am very glad its gotten better. This methodology can work for any dog BTW.
So far, SAGA is quite happy with Volt's progress.

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Guide-dogs, Service Dogs and Social Dogs

I was asked on Twitter this week if there is a difference between a seeing-eye dog and a guide-dog? The short answer is no, its just different terminology and the titles are interchangeable. But there are other kinds of dogs in service to people who are disabled.

A SAGA guide-dog (AKA seeing-eye dog) is specially trained to lead a blind or partially sighted person around obstacles. But its a lot more than that. These dogs are raised and trained in such a way that they are able to make decisions for their blind partner. If a traffic light turns green, this is a signal to a guide-dog to lead his blind partner across an intersection. But if the guide-dog sees a car coming that his partner doesn't hear he needs to decide to hold his blind partner back regardless of the traffic signal. This "decision making" skill is one of the main reasons the pups are trained with positive reinforcement instead of punishment. We don't want to "break" the dogs to make them obedient. #SAGApupVolt is most likely destined to be a guide-dog.
Here is a Wikipedia link for further reading on guide-dogs.

A SAGA service dog is trained to aid people who are disabled in other ways. People who are wheelchair bound can make use of these dogs to attract attention if their disabled partner can't speak or has fallen out of his wheelchair, retrieve dropped or fallen objects, switch lights on and off, open doors, and many more tasks. A big difference between a service dog and a guide-dog is temperament. A service dog is more gentle  than a guide-dog and often learn to respond to commands faster and without repetition.
Here is a Wikipedia link for further reading on service dogs.

SAGA also trains what they call "social" dogs (there's no link on their website yet). A social dog can work with therapists in the fields of counselling and rehabilitation, or they may be assigned to work with an autistic child one-on-one.
I will see if I can get more information from SAGA on exactly what a social dog's training entails.

Does that make the different roles of working dogs a little clearer? Do you have any questions?

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A 16 Week Old #SAGApupVolt

This morning Volt weighed in at 15.2kg, which means a gain of only 200g in the last week, his smallest gain to date. He is now eating 160g of food 3 times a day and he LOVES his food! He sits and waits until he is told he may eat, but he keeps an eye on his bowl while he waits. Ooh and I noticed this week that Volt's "big" teeth are coming in in the front of his upper and lower jaws!
One of these days he will be expected to spend time at the SAGA kennels with the other dogs in training. He will spend one week at kennels AT LEAST every two months. The reason they stay at kennels so often is so that they see the kennels as "home" when we hand them over at the end of the puppy-raising phase. If they spent no time there and suddenly have to live there for 6 months during training, they can get very stressed and depressed and are not able to move forward with their training until they've "settled in".

We have discovered- by accident- that one of Volt's favourite games is playing with an ice cube! He runs around with it in his mouth and chases it when it slides and bounces on the floor! Its so funny!

It has been so very hot this week...

We did some more "drown proofing" this week as the blistering heat in Gauteng was perfect for it! Volt is not mad about going into the pool at all which is great ('coz he's not allowed to swim in a pool) but he is still not quite sure where the steps are. If our pool was fenced it wouldn't be an issue, but because its open we can't risk him falling in and drowning because he can't get out. We will have a couple more sessions until he is comfortably swimming straight to the steps on his own and not trying to climb up the side of the pool.
I did giggle when I looked out the window and spotted him lounging in the sun on the towel I'd used to rub him dry!


We missed puppy class this week because I was so busy working on Valentines Day! I was sad to miss it, but we made up for it by attending a group walk with a couple of other guide-dogs-in-training at Northgate on Wednesday morning! Volt and I walked with Tuppence (a week older than Volt) and Emerson (who goes back to SAGA for formal training tomorrow) and their mommies. We climbed stairs, checked out escalators, went in the lifts, walked through the parking lot, and walked through the wide corridor behind the tills in the Pick 'n Pay. The pups were very well behaved and I got a few tips from the other two ladies who are raising their 8th and 10th puppies!

Tuppence, Emerson and Volt greeting each other very enthusiastically
Emerson and Tuppence walking through Pick 'n Pay
On Wednesday, my hubby worked on backwashing the pool to get the Kreepy working properly, and cleaned out the koi pond pump, all of which was very wet work and involved the use of the hosepipe! The hose has a couple of leaks, which make big puddles under the tap, and whilst they don't last long they lasted long enough for Volt to discover them when he was outside for his "solo" time in the evening. My hubby found him first- sitting on the step outside the back door waiting to be let back in- and started giggling. I could barely contain my laughter but I managed to get a couple of photographs before I hosed him off!

On Saturday morning, we headed for the Horse Of The Year show in Kyalami where a friend of mine was competing on a couple of Friesian stallions. I thought the crowds, dogs and horses would be an interesting experience for Volt. The first horse we came across- a big Friesian waiting his turn for the in-hand dressage- didn't phase Volt at all! He reacted as if the horse was a big dog and all he wanted to do was play! I was a little surprised, but given how there's very little that freaks Volt out I was pleased he wasn't cowering. There were several dogs at the show and he wanted to "talk" to all of them, but he stayed on-lead and we didn't socialised with many dogs. Unfortunately his training vest isn't the best quality and I discovered that one of the ties has all but come off the vest completely so he couldn't wear it, but he interacted with a lot of people and whilst he was excited I thought he was very well behaved for a 4 month old puppy.

This week's "did you know" Twitter post:
Did You Know: Guide-dog pups are are trained to walk slowly up and down all kinds of different staircases! 

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Greebo Napping...

Do you think he's really as comfortable as he's pretending to be...?

Magic In The Sand

Magic has always loved being outside, and every now and then the knucklehead takes him into the garden on his harness.
Then last weekend, my son was sitting on the kitchen steps and Magic was talking to him through the gate, so I said that if he was prepared to chase him if he took off he could let him out into the garden (remember, our cats are exclusively indoor cats).
Magic loved it! He didn't go far and he had a ball rolling in the sand next to the kitchen steps!

Mistress Diva

Just look how she's perched herself on the staircase!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Guide-Dog Graduation With #SAGApupVolt In Tow

On Sunday we attended a graduation ceremony for 8 guide-dogs and their blind or visually impaired partners. We were invited to attend because several sponsors- and potential sponsors- were also in attendance, and SAGA likes them to see the dogs at all stages of their development and training.

Volt was very well behaved considering we were in a hall full of people, there were LOTS of other dogs around and LOADS of children as well as clapping and noise and things he has never experienced. I was very proud of him. Especially when a pup on the other side of the hall burst into song in accompaniment to a pan-flautist who performed for us!

We were given a little bit of the history of SAGA, and of Gladys Evans, who started SAGA when she returned from England with her seeing-eye dog Sheena in 1953.

The first speaker was Mandla, a trainer at SAGA, and he spoke about how very carefully the dogs are matched with their blind or visually impaired partners and how everything from the person's home and environment to the dog's temperament are taken into account when matching them up. The graduates spend 3 weeks at SAGA with their dogs and then a trainer goes home with them for at least a week so that they can familiarise the dogs with their new home, routes, vets office, and so on. And as you can imagine, there's a looong waiting list for trained guide-dogs.
Maxine then told us about the service and social dog training and how it varies from the seeing-eye dogs' training. These dogs also have a very different temperament to seeing-eye dogs. And please feel free to donate old bunches of keys, cellphones, books and remote controls for the service dogs' "retrieval" training!
And we heard about SAGA's College of Orientation and Mobility, where blind or visually impaired people can go to learn daily living skills and how to use a cane, particularly when the use of a dog is impractical or undesired. Do you have any idea how much goes into the use of the white cane!? Its not just a long white stick! There are even different kinds of tips for different terrain, and there's an electronic one that buzzes and vibrates when it nears an obstacle.

Next up was thanking the sponsors in attendance, and a part of that acknowledgement is a framed picture of the dog they sponsor and a certificate. In a wonderful turnaround to the shambles of late last year, McDonalds is now a sponsor and they are creating an awareness program to train their staff about guide-dogs and service dogs. And there is a Lions Club (I am sorry, I forget which one) who is sponsoring a dog for the twenty fifth year in a row now!
And Volt's sponsors were there too and as we had arranged they got to meet Volt after the ceremony! They took some pictures with him and we chatted about him a little and they were very pleased to meet him. I thanked them for sponsoring him because its thanks to sponsorships like theirs that we are able to be puppy-raisers at all! Just a note on the meeting, very few sponsors get to meet the dog they sponsor as SAGA treats information from sponsors, puppy-raisers and the visually impaired as highly confidential.

Then it was time for the graduation. I tell you, I got such a lump in my throat when each of the eight graduates was handed the harness their dog would be wearing for the duration of their working relationship. The graduating dogs were as good as gold, lying beneath their partner's chairs throughout the proceedings! The graduating dogs' puppy families may have been there as its a very proud moment, but its also a very emotional goodbye and it actually happens a while before graduation. Whilst the puppy raisers do get to meet the visually impaired person who will be partnered with the dog they raised, after the dogs are matched with their blind partners they spend time bonding very closely so that the dog doesn't feel so tightly bonded to his trainer or puppy family. This is vitally important as you can imagine.

After the ceremony we went on a kennel tour! My Glugster had never been there before and I had never seen all the kennels, so off we went.
Let me tell you, we were struck by the lack of noise! There are around 50 dogs in training at the kennels, and with so many people and other dogs walking around the kennels there was hardly a whine! In comparison with a visit to the SPCA or Wet Nose it was quite odd!

And here are some photos from the day.

Volt and I
emcee Pieter (O'Riley's leash is over his arm) and Rosette
Volt was very well behaved, I took his jacket off because it was very hot in the hall

Asta, Sophie and Saber - they are in training
the kennels from the inside - very snazzy
the kennels from the inside - very snazzy

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!