Thursday, June 30, 2011

An Easy Way to Teach "Sit" as a Desired Response to People Approaching

During lunch break today, a 30-year veteran and guide dog training professional here at The Seeing Eye gave Vinson and I some quick work on sitting when people approach; and it was way easier than you might think.

Obviously, many people will approach you when you're walking with a puppy. If the puppy gets excited (which is almost inevitable at first) and inches his way out of the sit, it makes no difference if he/she then sits when he reaches the person; he's already received the reward of contact with the person on his own terms.

Instead, my coworker approached us from about 15 feet away while Vinson was sitting. If the pup inched forward or moved out of the sitting position in any way before the person reached him, my coworker immediately backed up and increased the gap between himself and the puppy. We repeated this a few times in just a minute or so, and Vinson got it; the desired response was for him to sit and let the person approach him.

The proof that this worked? We went out to "park" after the session. When we re-entered the building, we saw the staff member again and Vinson immediately went into a sit without any command or resistance!

If you have strangers or people that aren't dog-educated approaching you and your puppy, you can ask them to stop, or you can physically increase the gap by backing up with your puppy while you explain to the person what you're trying to accomplish.

Attention Barking

This morning, Vinson really let me have it with a couple minutes of very loud barking in the office. The standard correction with Vinson was not working, as he was taking the attention as the reward he was looking for and continued the behavior.

Luckily, I happen to work at a place full of experts on dog behavior!

After speaking with my area coordinator and the director of puppy development, they recommended taking the correction up one notch and trying a simple spray bottle of water.

The next time Vinson barked in the office, I immediately gave him a quick spray followed by a "no", and he stopped right away; and hasn't repeated the barking in the three hours since!

Another lesson learned for both Vinson and myself - sometimes you have to change your tactics based on the situation, until you find what works.

If you're having a specific issue with your pup, be sure to contact your area coordinator for advice and nip the problem in the bud!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Seeing Double!

Can you tell which one is Vinson? This morning, Vinson had the pleasure of meeting a fellow Seeing Eye® puppy - one that looks incredibly similar to him. The other pup is just one week younger than Vinson, and they had a great time meeting and playing together under supervision. Cool!

(By the way, Vinson is the pup laying down.)

"Resting" at the Gazebo this Morning

Vinson at the Gazebo
On our morning walk on The Seeing Eye training path, we worked a bit on sitting and resting in one of the two gazebos. I attempted to snap a photo but as you can see, Vinson was just about to leave the "rest" position to investigate a butterfly behind me (he's used to seeing the white moths, but this monarch really drew his interest). Still, a nice morning and a good little training workout.

He's now snoring in his brand new crate and loving his "Mutt Mat".

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Shuffling O' the Crates

Today, Vinson took a day off from the office to spend some bonding time with Sarah at home. While he's doing that, I'm swapping crates.

With Vinson now weighing more than 26 pounds, the smallest crate that was in my car is now too small; it will be returned to it's owner here at The Seeing Eye where it will await the next puppy on campus. The medium crate that was in the office is now in my car, and I'm setting up a new larger crate in the office that will work for some time to come.

Whose Bed is it Anyway?

Zane surrounded by dog toys
Last night, Zane reminded Vinson that his favorite beds are actually cat beds; and the cat doesn't mind sleeping with the big bone and other dog toys!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

17 Weeks Old: Weigh-In

Vinson is 17 weeks old today. He weighed in at 26.2 pounds!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tri-Heart and Frontline

Today Vinson got his third Tri-Heart and Frontline treatments, as per the schedule supplied by The Seeing Eye.

Beautiful Day for a Walk

Vinson sitting with Sarah on the walk
Vinson enjoyed the nice weather on a good long walk near the lake today. Here he's showing how well he sits when asked to.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tour Meet and Greet Went Great

No surprise, Vinson was a big hit at this afternoon's special campus tour. He's all tuckered out now, sleeping soundly on the office floor.

Going to Meet a Tour Group at 3:15 p.m.

Vinson will be meeting and greeting a special tour group of grandparents and their grandchildren this afternoon. I think he's looking forward to showing off his "sit" and "rest"!

Officially Down to Two Meals Per Day

Now that Vinson has crossed the 16 week mark, he's down to just two meals per day - breakfast and dinner. The amount of food he eats per day has not changed: 2 cups total. It's just divided into two instead of three meals now. This is the feeding schedule he will remain on from now on.

When we first received Vinson, he was eating four meals per day. After he reached 8 weeks of age, we cut down to three. The reason for the adjustment is based simply on his size and how much he can handle at one sitting and "parking".

Another step to becoming a big boy!

New Video

Here's a quick compilation video - a brief shot of a morning walk on the training path, and then some video from my office this morning, showing how Vinson is doing great at sitting, but also how he loves to bring all the toys around the desk and back; plus, when he hears the office door open, he runs to the gate and sits, hoping the person who comes in will give him some petting.

Sitting and Resting: Showing Off Skills

Vinson just met a whole group of people in the reception area at The Seeing Eye, and proudly showed them all how he can now reliably "rest", sitting in place. What a great guy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gum Follow-Up: The Dangers of Xylitol

The other day I mentioned Vinson had discovered a patch of sticky gum in the parking lot. He didn't ingest any of it as I corrected and redirected him immediately, but a staff member from the Breeding Station asked that I share the dangers that a simple piece of gum can pose for dogs.

Xylitol is a sweetener used in many sugar-free gums (and other products).

According to, "The sweetener xylitol is toxic to dogs. It has been known to cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in dogs for years, but recently it has been discovered that it can cause acute liver disease and a coagulopathy (inability to clot the blood). A study found that 0.5g/kg or more of ingested xylitol can cause liver failure." Some sugar-free gums on the market contain as much as double that dangerous amount IN A SINGLE PIECE!

So, be very careful to ensure your dog doesn't get his mouth on gum or sugar-free candies. And perhaps more importantly, be a good citizen for all dogs by always disposing of gum and candy properly!

Tooth Loss for Vinson, Weight Loss for Ryan

During one of our routine checks of Vinson's gums and mouth we've discovered that he has indeed lost the first of many puppy teeth, confirming he's right on schedule and he'll continue losing his sharp puppy teeth over the coming weeks.

Interestingly, we also discovered that I have lost a little over 10 pounds in the three weeks since he's been out of the cast - due mostly to the increased amount of walking we've been doing together.

A win-win for sure!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Big Afternoon

Vinson had a big afternoon today. We participated in a photo shoot with older Seeing Eye dogs and Vinson got lots of practice resting in a sitting position with the bigger dogs sitting next to him. Eventually we were able to shoot photos with the leash off (with lots of staff assisting) and the little guy sitting very well. Photos to come soon.

After we got home from work, Vinson had his nails clipped and had a bath and dig great through it all.

The best part today was seeing that special moment when Vinson indeed understood what I was asking of him and truly made progress. Lots of puppy time to go, but still great to see the signs of development.

The Latest Chews

Here is a list of some items that have attracted Vinson's busy snout recently. All of these "situations" are corrected immediately:
  • Gum melted on blacktop (ick!)
  • Women's stockings
  • Designer lady's blouse
  • Lighting bugs (and all flying insects)
  • Paper, magazines, newspapers, tissues, toilet paper rolls, paper towels, envelopes
  • Women's Skirts and Dresses
  • Sandal straps
  • Towels
  • Hanging jackets (now tall enough to reach them)
  • Clumps of cut grass/lawn clippings
  • Leaves blowing in the wind

Monday, June 20, 2011

16 Weeks Old

Vinson officially turned 16 weeks old on Sunday.

Another trip to the vet brought him up to date on his latest DHLPP inoculation ("D" is for canine distemper; "H" is for infectious hepatitis; "L" is for leptospirosis; "P" is for parainfluenza virus; the second "P" is for parvovirus).

Official weight: 24.4 pounds!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Just Met the S.E.S.Y. Group

Vinson got to meet this month's S.E.S.Y. (Seeing Eye® Seminar for Youth) group a few minutes ago. As always, he was a big hit with the group and a nice start to their morning as they prepare to experience traveling with a guide dog for the first time a little later today.

The following description of the S.E.S.Y. program is provided by The Seeing Eye, Inc.

The Seeing Eye Seminar for Youth is designed to introduce teenagers, age 15 and older, to the mobility, companionship, and lifestyle of working with a Seeing Eye® dog.

Students have the opportunity to experience the everyday handling, feeding, and grooming that owning a dog entails, and even more importantly, experience the feel of how a dog actually guides them. The seminar serves as a realistic introduction to life with a dog guide, while the hands-on experience provides critical preparation for students considering the possibility of a future partnership with a Seeing Eye dog.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can't "Go" in Front of the Firefly

Vinson was stunned by his first sighting of fireflies a few minutes ago - enough so that he couldn't "park". Instead, he tried to hop from one bug to the next as they flashed one-by-one!

Paging Dr. Chew

Nylabones can help
In general, most puppies lose their puppy teeth between the ages of 4 and 6 months. Vinson will turn 4 months this Sunday, so it's no surprise that his forceful chewing has increased this week.

Nipping at people is an issue we want to correct every time and as soon as possible before it becomes an ingrained behavior. The process we use is fairly simple but can be challenging simply due to the number of times you may need to perform the correction in a given day.

As per The Seeing Eye's instructions, when the puppy nips something he is not supposed to, we firmly but carefully get a hold of his neck scruff with both hands, pull him back from what he is nipping, make direct eye contact (very important) and then reinforce the correct with a verbal "No". We then release the scruff and if he does not resume nipping we quietly praise him (loud praise might trigger more nipping). If he does resume nipping, we repeat the process. If he stops altogether and shifts his attention we will increase the praise as his reward. Eventually, the verbal "No" should cease the nipping before it begins, but for now, consistent correction is required.

As with humans, when a puppy is in the teeth mode, their gums may become sore and they may feel some relief chewing on certain textures or cold items. If not monitored, the process can lead to some destructive chewing as well. We are careful to keep an assortment of strong, safe chew toys on hand at all times; but puppies also have a way of making toys out of inappropriate items...

An inappropriate toy moment!
Vinson made his first real mark in my office this morning. I had left him out of the crate (which I won't do again!) for a quick refill of my coffee cup. Upon returning, there was a 4-inch spot on the office wall behind my door where he actually removed the paint down to the drywall! Luckily, it appears no paint was ingested as it the little chips littered the rug. I've been told that even one-year-old puppies can revert to destructive behaviors when unsupervised.

Lesson learned. From now on, if I'm leaving the office for even a minute, it's back in the crate for the little guy.

Come On! Let's Go for a Walk!

Heading around the training path
Here's Vinson on our walk this morning, looking back at the camera as if to say, "Come on, let's go!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Just weighed Vinson - 22.4 pounds!

The Ever-Popular Keys

So happy about the toy keys
Now that Vinson is a bit more trustworthy with what he decides to try and eat, I gave him back his set of keys today (supervised!). He was immediately thrilled and has gently played with them all afternoon.

The chewing damage to these keys was a "pre-existing condition" - there are tons of dog toys throughout the offices here and they tend to make their way around to the pups that need them most (or sometimes, to the pups that steal the toys from other offices!).

Stairway to Success

An example of an open staircase
Puppies and dogs often have trouble getting used to stairs. All Seeing Eye® puppies are intentionally exposed to a small set of open and closed steps during their first weeks at the breeding station, and the exposure really seems to help.

Vinson has never shown fear of stairs, but he didn't get much time to practice them since his leg was in a cast for his first month with us (if you missed the broken leg story, be sure to go all the way back to the April posts in this blog)!

Now that his leg muscle has recovered we've begun working on stairs. While he would eagerly take on entire flights, the best way to start is by gently placing the pup just a couple of steps from the top or bottom of a flight. Then you encourage them to advance under leash control and reward them with praise for success.

Downward stairs are typically more difficult, and if you think about it, this makes sense. An instructor here at The Seeing Eye put it like this: "Imagine you are crawling on all fours. Which would be more daunting, an upward staircase or a downward one?"

Traveling down steps can give a pup the feeling that they might fall end-over-end.

The great news here again is that Vinson shows no sign of a problem going up or down short jaunts, so I think he's well on his way to being a great stair climber. Soon, we'll introduce him to an open staircase and see how that goes (open stairs allow the dog to see through the back, which can be startling - like stairs in parking garages, train platforms and outdoor areas).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beautiful Morning Walk on the Training Path

Our morning walk around The Seeing Eye's training path this morning was beautiful - golden morning sunshine, beautiful grounds and blue skies. I couldn't resist the chance to snap a few photos as we rounded the path.

We've been progressing very well on proper leash walking and sitting on command.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Goodie. Two Shoes.

On his daily trip through the building to say hello to staff, Vinson and I stopped off in the Donor & Public Relations office again - the scene of last week's shoe theft. Vinson had a wonderful time playing with the team, but then he seemed to recall the shoe hiding place. Moments later he gave us all a laugh when he managed to pop out from under the desk with a complete pair of shoes in his mouth!

The shoes were quickly collected and returned to their proper place, while Vinson and I returned to my office, where he's currently sound asleep.

Morning Routines

Sitting on Sarah's lap
As time goes forward we've focused on establishing consistent daily routines - feeding times, "park" times and locations, walk time, nap time, etc. By sticking to the schedule we've reduced accidents and miscommunication between Vinson and ourselves.

One of Vinson's favorite routines is to spend some time playing with Sarah and sitting on her lap after his morning trip outside before heading off to The Seeing Eye with Ryan.

15 Weeks Old!

Vinson turned 15 weeks old on Sunday, June 11! Just one more week and we'll be down to two meals per day instead of three.

As he continues to grow, he consistently sleeps through the night now and accidents in the house are almost non-existent (he's better at letting us know when he needs to go, and we're better at reading his signals).

Happy 15, buddy!

The Intrigue of Cat Food

Vinson watching the cats eat through the gate
Vinson is still fascinated by the smell of the cat food. In this photo, he's watching intently from the other side of the gate as the cats enjoy their dinner in the opposite room.

Trip to the Garden Center

Sarah & Vinson checking out the plants
On Friday, Vinson enjoyed a trip to a local garden center. He was well behaved for the most part, managing to resist the urge to tug at the plants.

Vinson enjoyed meeting new people (who gladly took his business card) and smelling all the flowers before heading back home.

Vinson surveying the scene

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Have You Seen this Man?

The front and back of Vinson's business card
I recently made some business cards for Vinson, modeled after real Seeing Eye® staff business cards. Our daily travels mean we encounter lots of people that want to meet Vinson, so I thought it would be nice to have something informative to leave with them.

The front of the card features a photo of Vinson laying with his face between his front paws; and his job title is, appropriately, Seeing Eye® Puppy.

The card explains a bit about the puppy raising program and includes the URL of this blog. I also included some general information about The Seeing Eye in hopes of spurring some interest and additional support for the organization.

If you happen to come to The Seeing Eye, Vinson's cards are available at the reception desk.

Just another way that Vinson is working hard for The Seeing Eye!

Shoe Theft and Giant Plush Dogs

Vinson and I just came in from our morning walk around the training path. I've found the routine to be a good use of energy and time for us to work on leash training.

On the way back in, we stopped to visit some coworkers. Vinson really liked all the dog toys in their office, but he most preferred someone's shoe! Just a few seconds under the desk and the shoe went prancing by.

In an adjacent office there is a life-size plush German shepherd. Vinson was fascinated by the very silent, large dog. He brought a toy to it and then gave it a kiss. Funny little guy.

He's sleeping soundly now in my office, resting up for a special photo shoot this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Toy

Vinson with the big bone
Sarah arrived home tonight with a new chew toy for Vinson. We've found that having a toy that's new to Vinson can provide a positive energy outlet for the (now not-so) little guy. Tonight, it was the big bone - a very tough, large toy in the shape of a bone. Vinson immediately took to the toy and brought it to his bed (under our supervision).

Celebrity Vinson

Vinson and I ended up on an unplanned video interview this afternoon. Stay tuned... details to follow.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Puppies with Pull

Vinson in walking stride on my left

Vinson in relation to me
If you've watched any of the popular dog training television shows, one of the topics you are familiar with is leash training. Dog owners strive to get to a point where their canine will not pull ahead of them on the leash, will enter doors only after the person, etc.

Interestingly, this is quite the opposite of how we are to train Seeing Eye® puppies. Because success as a guide dog ultimately requires pulling in the harness, and entering doors and areas slightly ahead of the human partner, puppy raisers work on specific techniques:

  1. The puppy always walks on our left, the side they will eventually walk on in harness.
  2. The ideal position for the puppy is slightly ahead of the person, as you would envision the distance if they were in a harness.
  3. We do not want to teach the dog to stop pulling completely. Training a dog to re-learn to pull after they've learned not to can be a very difficult challenge.
  4. We do not teach the dogs to enter doorways behind us.
Here are a couple of photos of Vinson taken on the training path at The Seeing Eye this morning. My intent was to show the proper puppy position in relation to the human, but since I was both the human and the cameraman, it may not come across perfectly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Happy 14 Weeks, Vinson!

Vinson is officially 14 weeks old today. I don't have an official weight right now, but will post one soon.

Vinson & Zane: Still Both a Little Unsure

Vinson and Zane are still not sure about each other, but they have been getting closer and closer.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Vinson enjoying the sunset
Vinson loves to be outside and watch the sunset. Here he is a few minutes ago. Notice how much bigger Vinson is! He's now slightly over 20 pounds and will be 14 weeks old on Sunday.

Sleeping with the Fishes

Vinson napping with his fish toy
One of Vinson's favorite chew toys is a red plastic fish. This afternoon he decided to take a nap with his fish buddy. Note that the crate door is open, showing how comfortable Vinson is with his crate (actually, one of three crates - office, car and home). I have a gate on my door at work (there are lots of them around The Seeing Eye campus!) so Vinson can move about the office when supervised, but he still prefers the crate when it's time for a nap.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vinson and Garcia - Colleagues and Pals

"Before & After" - Garcia & Vinson in the grass
Garcia is a four-year-old Seeing Eye® dog who belongs to my coworker, Pat, one of our Outreach Specialists. Pat's desk is right outside my office door, so Vinson and Garcia see each other all the time; and it just so happens that Garcia is also a Lab/golden cross like Vinson, so this photo gives you a bit of a before-and-after view - from puppy to working dog!

This morning we took Vinson and Garcia outside to pose for some photos on the pastoral property of The Seeing Eye campus. They both had a wonderful time playing, and Garcia is a great mentor (let's just say that Vinson isn't quite as good at staying-put as Garcia is).

First Walk on The Seeing Eye® Training Path

With this morning's beautiful weather, Vinson went for his first walk on The Seeing Eye® training path. After yesterday's "challenges", I thought a bit of extra exercise in the morning might settle him down a bit more for proper office behavior.

It seems to have worked for now. That's not to say there hasn't been any barking or nipping this morning, but he is more settled.

He'll have to rest up. A little later this morning, Vinson is having his photo taken alongside his big buddy, a four-year-old Seeing Eye® dog that happens to also be a Lab/golden cross!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Aspen, an orange tabby, and Zane, a white & orange mix
"Zane" and "Aspen" are not typically friends that will lounge together, but even they needed a break from the heat tonight. Through it all, Vinson is more intrigued with his new big-boy crate!

Barking for Attention

Barking is very normal for a puppy and is often used to let you know they need something - some exercise and play, a trip outside to eliminate, some water or a meal; but barking can also become an overly insistent demand for attention. This has to be corrected.

As difficult as it is (and it is very difficult and unnerving), one of the best ways to eliminate the attention-getting barks is to ignore them. With Vinson, he typically gives up after a couple of minutes. Some puppies will even see the corrections "no" and "quiet" as getting the attention reward they were looking for, which will only perpetuate the problem.'

Now you might be thinking, "Only a couple of minutes of barking? That's not too bad." Trust me when I say when you're in the room with your puppy barking at full screech and directing the barks at you, a couple of minutes will put most people's patience to a supreme test!

The best part is when the ignoring obviously works and the puppy moves off with a toy and quiets down.

Just another day in the life of a puppy!

Crocodile Phase Version 2.0

While it seemed that Vinson had entered the "crocodile phase" (a loose term for the time period when puppies chew and snap at an elevated level) a few weeks ago, its apparent that he is only now really getting deeply into this challenging period.

This morning he barked incessantly in my office (which is a definite no-no at The Seeing Eye), refusing to settle down even with repeated corrections and a trip to "park". He chewed my shoe and pants when I tried to correct him, and nipped my hand! This is crocodile phase!

We are correcting these unwanted behaviors every time they occur, but it is a real commitment, as the little man can be very persistent.

He's finally (temporarily) worn out and sleeping (snoring as I write this) in my office after nearly an hour of high-level excitement.