Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hi, Would You Like to Pet My Dog?

Finn did well at the nursing home this week. He didn't growl or jump on anyone and he didn't seem fearful or nervous. Some of the residents we met had just finished dinner so Finn was very interested in making sure he cleaned all food remnants off hands. He was exhausted by the time we left but the instructor seemed to think that we did well.

I've come to realize that perhaps these visits are going to be harder for me than for him. Those of you who know me won't be surprised to hear that I'm not the most outgoing person around. Don't get me wrong, as an adult I've definitely gotten better about speaking in public and talking to strangers, but it was a challenge for me to walk through a nursing home, pop my head into rooms and ask complete strangers if they want to pet my dog. Add in the fact that many of these folks can't hear, can't understand what I'm saying and/or just don't know what's going on and I was pretty far outside my comfort zone. At one point the instructor said to me, "I think this is good training for you, too". That's an understatement!

I got more comfortable towards the end of the visit as I started to know what to expect and began to see how much joy the dogs brought to some of the residents. But I am truly envious of some of my fellow trainees who seemed to know exactly what to say and appeared to be so comfortable in talking to the residents. I'm definitely not a natural but hopefully I'll improve with time and practice!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Therapy Dog Take One

Last Wednesday was our first session of therapy dog class. It consisted of a 45-minute slide show presentation that detailed what to expect on test day, what to expect at the nursing home, all the benefits that therapy dogs provide, and all the different volunteer opportunities that are available to therapy dogs. The next two Wednesdays we will be visiting a local nursing home with our dogs. Then we will have a final certification test consisting of nine of the items that were part of the Canine Good Citizen test plus a few more items that are specific to therapy dogs. Things like a restraining hug, rough petting, many people crowding around you and your dog, and the command to "leave it".

I'm a little conflicted about this whole process. Partly because I'm not sure how much I would enjoy visiting a nursing home or hospital on a regular basis. I think it would make me feel sad. But partly because I'm not sure Finn is the right dog for this type of activity. He can be nervous around certain people. He occasionally growls at strangers. And he seems to be frightened pretty easily. I'm worried that we're trying to force Finn into being a dog that he's not. And I regret not going through this process with our last lab, Kayla, who would have been a natural therapy dog. She loved everyone and I trusted her to be friendly and tolerant in every situation and with every type of person.

The test itself sounds like a pretty serious undertaking. We will be tested at a neutral location that we've never been to before and the handler is not allowed to wear jeans! The handler will be evaluated as well as the dog and I must role play as though I am in an actual therapy setting. We will be tested the moment we walk in the door of the test facility and no pulling on the leash is allowed. Yikes!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Just another day in paradise

We just returned from a long weekend in Michigan where we visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It's a beautiful park right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Surprisingly for mid-September, we got one of the last campsites in the park when we arrived on Friday afternoon. After we got settled we took a quick hike down to the beach where Finn was beside himself watching those little sand piper birds zip by him on the sand. The park was very dog friendly and we were allowed to have Finn on all trails and even on certain parts of the beach.

It was gray and cloudy during much of our drive across the upper peninsula of Michigan and down the eastern shore of the lake to the park on Friday. Unfortunately, the weather only got worse from there. Saturday we were able to do some hiking in the morning but a light drizzle turned to a pretty heavy downpour for much of the afternoon. We tried to do the scenic drive up to the dunes but it was foggy, overcast and we couldn't see much from the overlooks.

Despite the weather, my hubby and I always return from these trips more determined than ever to figure out a way to retire early, buy a roomy RV, and travel around the country. When we're on the road we meet many couples in campgrounds who are full-time road warriors and I always find them fascinating. It's addictive to look out your camper window and see a mountain, a lake, a forest or a moose in your backyard. My husband and I love the idea of waking up every morning and saying, "Where should we go today?"

My sister bought us a doormat for our camper with a picture of a trailer on it and the words, "Just another day in paradise." That's how I feel every time we hit the road, no matter where we end up and no matter the weather.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Meet Mr. Canine Good Citizen

We passed! Last night Finn and I took the Canine Good Citizen test and we passed all ten items on the test. After 8 weeks of practice I was so relieved to see that it paid off. The Canine Good Citizen is a certification program developed by the American Kennel Club to help dog owners improve their dog's manners at home and in the community. Any dog can take the test - they don't have to be registered with the AKC.
The trainers and the evaluator talked me into continuing on for another four weeks to complete the additional steps for therapy dog certification. Next week we have a class without our dogs and then the following two classes are held at a local nursing home. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Marco Polo

Did you know that they play polo right here in southeastern Wisconsin? The Milwaukee Polo Club plays every weekend during the summer right down the road from us in Hartland. We went and watched a match this past Sunday and it was terrific. You can pull your car right up close to the field and tailgate or picnic. Some of the spectators even brought their dogs along. We need to remember that when we go back next summer.

Polo consists of six chukkers, or periods. At half time all the spectators go out onto the field for the "stomping of the divets." Yes, just like in the movie "Pretty Woman" except I didn't see any movie stars. You are also allowed to walk over and talk with the players and pet the horses at half time.

Polo is a pretty exciting sport to watch. There is a lot of action and it's very fast-paced as the players move back and forth across the field. Of course, the horses are beautiful and so much fun to watch. It was a blast!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Visit from the hoot owl

I was awoken in the middle of the night by a very loud owl. It was chatting with another owl that I could hear off in the distance. I think the owl may have been perched either on our house or on the garage. I got up and cracked the window to figure out where it was but I must have spooked it because I saw something fly across the yard toward the woods. It continued to hoot its little heart out but I eventually fell back asleep.

We hear owls pretty regularly in the fall and winter but not so much in the summer. I don't know how large their territory is but they don't seem to be around as much in the warmer months of the year. I think the owls we hear at our house are mostly great horned owls.

I'm pretty sure we have also heard screech owls in the past - their call can be sort of spooky.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nature calls

This afternoon Finn and I visited Richfield Nature Park for the first time. It's a brand new park in Washington County, very close to our house. I was pleasantly surprised and will definitely go back. It's a very nice park with a system of walking trails, a pond, a stream and a nice mix of woods and prairie. When I first arrived there were only two other cars in the parking lot but I ended up having the whole place to myself for most of the time I was there.

I am working on improving Finn's off-leash recall so I'm trying to remember to carry a bag of treats wherever we go. Today I remembered the treats and a tennis ball which proved valuable. Finn is pretty good at coming back when I whistle or call him but there are just certain things that are much more desirable than obedience. One of those things is wild animal poop! We came down a little slope and Finn got distracted by something off the trail. I could see he was eating something so I stopped, whistled, called him, and even rattled the treat bag. No response. I remembered the tennis ball in my pocket so I took it out and threw it at him. That got his attention! Now I just need to identify a treat that is more desirable than wild turds. Yuck!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Doggie hangover

This all started when I was searching for an article about the Labor Day dog dip at Cool Waters and came across a blog about a dog who had attended. I thought we should have a blog to amuse our readers with stories about our home and its inhabitants, including our labrador, Finn. So, just as I was one of the last people in my age group to learn to download music, I will be one of the last to start a blog.

I think we have sufficiently recovered from the long Labor Day weekend which would not have been complete without Finn eating something he shouldn't. This time he really went all out and got into some leftover cooking oil that was used to fry asparagus and eggplant. Of course all that oil came back out in the middle of the night in the form of dog vomit complete with tiny pieces of asparagus mixed in. The next day we compared it to one of Jeremy's infamous Jack Daniels hangovers when he spends much time in the bathroom and the alcohol literally comes out of his pores. Finn even smelled like cooking oil!