The adventures of SD Juno and SDIT Kaline (and their human, Colt).

30 April 2012

Sacramento weekend

This past weekend Juno came with me and my boyfriend to visit his grandparents in Sacramento. They're big baseball fans (as are we) so we also got to take in a Rivercats game at Raley Field on Saturday. On Sunday, we did a lovely walk down to the American River (I think; it might have been the Sacramento) and then went to Old Sacramento to see the train museum.

The grandparents were so excited to meet Juno, because until recently we didn't think she'd be able to come along. This was probably the biggest outing she's done since going back to work, and she was just awesome. Danny and I were both really proud of her.

Juno waiting with us for a table at Dad's Kitchen.
I've recently been having more problems with my back and knees from fibromyalgia (normally, the Roaming Gnome of Pain targets my hands and other parts of my upper body). So Juno has been having to pull forward more (for momentum, not guiding), and I realized that the handle on her vest was not high enough to use comfortably for more than about 3 minutes at a time.

Before our trip, I ordered a new, nine-inch non-rigid handle from the same company that made her vest, Petjoy. Learning to pull in the first place was hard for Juno, because I'd spent so much time teaching her never to go ahead of me; learning to pull even further forward has been a bit of a challenge too.

But at the game especially, Juno did amazingly with her new handle. She pulled beautifully up the hill to the ballpark, even when she didn't have Danny in front of her to follow (sometimes, a sidewalk works just as well). Then inside, with the big crowds, she was awesome as well! We started off with her following Danny, and then later she did some pulling with only my voice commands to guide her (forward, right, left, easy, let's go, stop). It was absolutely fantastic, so much more comfortable for both of us. Plus my Big Black Dog parts crowds so nicely.

Juno at our seats in Raley Field.
Except for snarfing up a couple peanut shells, Juno was great during the game. I do not comprehend her fondness for peanut shells. I can take her to a fast food place, have her “hide” under the table, tell her “leave it,” and she'll never touch the fries down there. Peanut shells though, she just has to have a couple. My pup has some bizarre tastes.

Me and Juno with an awesome train!
Juno was also lovely at the train museum, although her pulling wasn't as good. We were only practicing there—I didn't need the momentum, but usually it's better to practice that stuff and get good when you don't really need it. Then when you do, it's solid. We got to go on a couple old trains, one of which rocked back and forth like it was actually traveling. Lots of narrow corridors to deal with, and steep steps to negotiate. After the museum we did an actual train ride along the river; Juno conked out under the seat, cause it was pretty hot.
Juno under the seat for the train ride, before she fell asleep.

Old Sacramento was very fun. We got to go in candy stores, an ice cream store, a place with mini-donuts, etc. Juno got a bit distracted, finally, cause her new friends (Granma and Grampa) were there and she'd been good for so long. (Granma and Grampa spoiled her rotten when she was off-duty at their house!)

But in general, it was a really fun, really awesome trip for both of us! I'm really proud of how quickly Juno's gotten back in the swing of things.

Little red girl

This is the littlest puppy in the litter, a red girl. How freaking cute is she?!

Picture taken when puppies were five days old.

27 April 2012

Why ... ?

Why a Doberman?

When most people think of service dogs, they think of Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Without a doubt, these breeds are well suited to the work. They are intelligent, a convenient size for serving most disabilities, friendly and calm.

But for me, a Doberman is the perfect dog.

I have both physical and psychiatric disabilities. No dog fills my needs like a Doberman. Dobermans are intelligent and trainable (yes, there is a difference!). A male who meets the breed standard—26-28 inches at the shoulder—is the perfect size for me, tall enough that I will be able to touch his back without leaning over (I'm pretty short). There are situations where I will need my dog to lead me, or just provide forward momentum, and the fact that his vest handle will naturally be at the right height is a huge plus.

Dobermans are “velcro” dogs. They want to be with you all the time (ask any Doberman owner when the last time was they went to the bathroom alone—most won't be able to remember), and are terrifically in tune with their person's emotions. They want to please you and keep you safe—and they're smart enough to know when they should employ “intelligent disobedience” for your own good. Again, perfect for me!

To some people, Dobermans can be intimidating. While I will be sure to turn my little guy into an ambassador for his breed, the intimidation factor is not necessarily a bad thing for me. A huge problem service dog handlers have is members of the general public touching, talking to, feeding, and otherwise distracting their service dogs. I'm hoping (probably in vain) that a Doberman will not be as likely to get molested as a cuddly looking Golden.

On the practical side, Dobermans also require minimal grooming due to their short, sleek coats. When you have frequent problems getting your hands to work without pain, that's a big plus. What about the ear-posting, you might ask? That's a lot of work on your hands. Well, my Doberman's ears will NOT be cropped. They will be adorably floppy, and thus require no more out of my hands than constant gentle stroking!

Why Gatehouse?

I chose Gatehouse Dobermanns after a ton of research into Doberman breeders and breeding. One of my big limiting factors was that I was not willing to compromise about my puppy's ears. Some people think that cropped ears are what make Dobermans look like Dobermans; I respectfully disagree. I love the natural look!

However, a breeder in the U.S. who will sell you an uncropped puppy is likely (though not necessarily) one of two things: either he/she is an unethical breeder just looking to make a buck, or he/she breeds working-line Dobermans. Obviously, going with an unethical breeder was never an option for me. A good breeder will take care of the cropping for the puppies before they ever go to their new homes; and most good breeders will not allow puppies to go home uncropped because should the dog be returned for any reason, it is much harder to rehome an uncropped Doberman. I don't know why this is so, but it is.

Most working-line Dobermans are just too much dog for me and the job I envision for my service dog. The reason I originally planned to go with Von Luka, a working-line Doberman breeder, was 1) for the uncropped ears and 2) because the breeder was planning a European show line litter—lower drive than your average Doberman competing in Schutzhund. She knew exactly what I needed in a dog and knew that I would get what I was looking for from that litter.

But once I could no longer wait for the Von Luka litter, it meant I would need to look for a pup in Canada. In Canada, cropping is seen as optional. Gatehouse puppies are cropped before they go home, if their owners desire; but if you want your puppy's ears left natural, that's fine too. Gatehouse had a litter coming up in spring, from parents who have been titled in the show ring as well as extensively health and temperament tested. My pup's mom is quite the velcro dog, and his dad is a big, laid back guy. Mom is black and Dad is red; I am hoping for a black male as my service dog candidate.

Why a male?

Generally, for peace in the household, it's a better idea to have two dogs of the opposite sex, rather than two of the same sex. Juno's a girl, so I had always planned for her successor to be a boy.

Boys also get a bit bigger than girls, and I want a dog on the bigger side. (That is not to say that breeding dogs specifically for large size is acceptable—it is decidedly not.) I would just rather have a taller, heavier Doberman, and with a boy, that's what you get.

All dogs are different, obviously, but from what I have heard from other Doberman owners, males tend to be more eager to please, more goofy, more affectionate, etc. I have definitely experienced the bitch personality with Juno—sometimes you just get the look: "You want me to what? Um, no, not right now. Stop bothering me." I think the whole boy-girl personality thing applies, to an extent, with all dog breeds. I train a lot of different dogs, and I almost always have a better rapport with the boys. Except when it comes to Juno, naturally!

I realize it's a big generalization, and I'm not saying girls or boys are better. I'm just saying I think a boy is better for me, right now, and for what I want him to do.

Why Kaline?

My puppy will be named for Detroit Tigers great Al Kaline. His "call name" anyway—his official registered name is still up in the air. Al Kaline is in the Hall of Fame, hit 399 home runs over his career, won a batting title at the tender age of 20, and played on the 1968 World Champions. He is also a complete class act, known as Mr. Tiger. He is a constant presence around the current Tigers. In case it wasn't obvious, the Tigers are my favorite team!

26 April 2012

Milestone for Juno ... and more puppy pictures

Today at drop-off training, Juno scored another great milestone in her vision recovery. Freddie, the trainer I work with, had told me she was bringing a jump to practice with, and I was both nervous and excited. It's clear Juno has a lot of vision back, but I wasn't sure if she quite had enough to do a jump.

We started her out low, and I was super worried when she knocked the bar off at ten inches. But it turned out Juno just didn't quite get it that I wanted her to jump, rather than walk, over the bar. Once she got that, it was amazing! It was like she never had any issues with her vision at all!

I was crazy happy when Juno jumped 14 inches. We stopped there for a while (there were other dogs to work on the jump with). Then I decided to up the ante. Sixteen inches, then eighteen. Then twenty. No problem. My pup still has her mad hops. Then we did twenty-two. When she did twenty-four, I decided I needed a video, no matter how crappily it came out.

And then, just for shits and giggles, we did twenty-six inches. Juno is almost 26 inches at the shoulder, and she cleared the jump twice with no problems.

I am so proud of my girl, and so happy that her vision is back! I just have no words for how great it is to see Juno so happy and peppy and ready for anything again.

And now, here are a few more puppy pictures (3 days old). They just had their tails and dewclaws done.

Sad news

I just learned on Facebook that one of the red boys died last night. Apparently Dolce was stressed for a little while, but settled down after about half an hour. Maura thinks she knew that he just wasn't going to live. This is one of the many reasons why I could never be a breeder. Wouldn't be able to handle it when one of the little guys doesn't make it. Here's hoping the rest of the pups are doing well.

Puppy photos!

Here are some photos of the babies! The first three are from the day the puppies were born (April 23) and the second three are from Wednesday, April 25. The pups and mama are doing well!

This is the firstborn puppy, a black male, who was born in the daffodils.

The first three puppies, all black males!
These are nearly all the pups (one red pup isn't visible) on the day they were born. The amount of cuteness threatens to make my brain explode!

The pups at two days old.
Mama Dolce and two of the puppies.

Possibly the most adorable picture ever ... until the next installment of photos, that is!

25 April 2012

Meet Juno

This is Juno, my service dog.

She's five years old, as near as anyone can tell, and my best guess is that she's a mix of Doberman, Labrador, Greyhound and German Shepherd. (I refuse to do those DNA tests because they're expensive and seem unreliable.) This February, she developed sudden acquired retinal degenerative syndrome, known as SARDS. Over a period of a few weeks, this genetic condition causes dogs to go blind. 

There are two experimental treatments: steroids and injections of human immunoglobin. We first tried steroids, and when that didn't work, we tried the injections. Those didn't appear to have worked either—two weeks after the procedure, Juno was pretty much blind.

But then something remarkable happened: her vision slowly started returning! And in mid-April, she was able to resume her duties as my service dog. It's hard to put into words how much better she makes my life. Without her, even small things seemed insurmountable; with her, so many things seem possible again.

I got Juno originally as a family pet, adopting her from Peninsula Humane Society when she was 18 months old. She was quite the wild child, full of pent-up energy and super reactive to other dogs on leash. With a lot of exercise, training and affection, Juno settled down with remarkable speed, and after several months became the kind of dog you can count on to behave properly in public, no matter what the situation.

She went everywhere we could take her—stores, outdoor restaurants, movie theatre lobbies, parks, you name it. When she was almost four, there were some new developments in my life that made me think about training her as a service dog. Thanks to her unofficial but extensive public access training as a pet, Juno quickly took to the service dog lifestyle. She's tremendously food motivated, and does well with clicker training, so teaching her all her new tasks was fun and mostly easy. We spent months polishing her manners in places like grocery stores, movie theatres, and indoor restaurants, as well as teaching her more formally to ignore all other dogs and humans while vested. Sometimes that was pretty hard for her, especially when people would just let their over-exuberant dogs run up to Juno.

Juno graduated to full service dog status in September of 2011, just in time for her first plane trip—to Michigan! Juno took the bustle of the airport and the strangeness of flying in stride, just like everything else. She also went on a trip to Las Vegas just before her temporary retirement, where she got to put all her training to use—leading me to the outside through crowded casinos, riding politely in taxis, lying at my feet during the Cirque du Soleil show "O," blocking people out of my space in various situations.

I distinctly remember thinking, as Juno calmly led me through yet another casino—a cacophony of noise, crazy lights, smoke, and strangers—"How will I ever teach another dog to do this?" Filling Juno's pawprints seemed like a monumental task.

Well, now I'm going to find out. Because until recently I thought Juno's retirement was permanent, I moved up my successor-dog timeline by about a year. It takes 18-24 months to fully train a service dog, so it's very important to plan far in advance. 

After extensive research, I had decided to purchase a purebred Doberman puppy from Von Luka Dobermans in the summer of 2013—with SARDS, I couldn't wait that long. I went through the list of reputable breeders I had compiled months earlier, and finally found the perfect match in Gatehouse Dobermanns of Canada. In July, when I plan to bring my puppy home, the next part of our journey will begin!

24 April 2012

The puppies are here!

I have been waiting to start this blog until my puppy existed. Well, now he does!

Yesterday, Dolce gave birth to seven beautiful puppies: three black dogs, two red dogs, one black bitch and one red bitch. The girls were last, keeping everyone in suspense. The first black boy, on the other hand, was born in the daffodils as Dolce got out of the van coming back from the vet. 

I'm hoping for a black boy, so the fact that there are three makes me pretty wild with glee. And the fact that there are five boys total is even better. My whole family are hoping I get matched with a black boy (the breeder will choose my puppy); my boyfriend is hoping for a red. Either way, I know Maura will pick the one with the best chance of succeeding Juno as my service dog!

I have the urge to go on a puppy shopping spree, either at my favorite local independent or online. I will, of course, end up buying things in both places. It feels like I've been waiting forever for this little boy to exist, and I feel so great now that he does!