Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ridin' the Storm Out

As you likely know, Vinson has been absent from the blog for about a week.

We just returned from a big camping trip which was impacted by Hurricane Irene, but Vinson still had a wonderful time and experienced more incredible exposure moments - who would've thought we could top jackhammers and an earthquake?!

We traveled to Saranac Lake Islands Campground only to be told, while packing our boats for the journey to the island, that all NY DEC campgrounds were closing the following day at noon due to the approach of Irene.

Determined to make the best of the situation, we quickly pared down our extensively planned gear and meals for a one night stay and hit the water.

Vinson had an incredible time, and loved riding on the boat in his new life jacket. He sat calmly and sniffed the beautiful mountain air, full of pine scents. He heard the wild call of loons and nothing else - no roads, no people - nothing. He especially enjoyed the sound of the lapping waves.

Under blue skies, we wound our way through 6.5 miles of lake and channels, including a hand-operated lock from the late 1800's, located our island on Middle Saranac Lake and made camp.

Vinson took to camping immediately and was in absolute awe with all of the new sounds and smells - ground covered with soft pine needles, loons calling to one another in echoing wails, the crackle and glow of the campfire, headlamps and flashlights and the fresh air as we slept in the tent.

The following morning, under orders from park police, all campsites were vacated in anticipation of damage from Hurricane Irene. We made our way back to the boat launch, loaded the cars and returned to a great dog-friendly hotel, one mile from the base of Whiteface Mountain (with kayaks on our roof and our friends towing a 17 foot boat trailer, we couldn't risk driving into the storm that was already upon New Jersey).

At the hotel, we caught up on the news until Irene indeed struck with fury. The horizontal rains soon erased all views of the stunning mountains just outside our window. The sky darkened and the winds roared. Lawn chairs, tables and debris blew through the partially-flooded parking lot while we used our camp stoves to prepare our frozen camping meals on the hotel door stoop.

Eventually, leaves and branches began to fly. The roar of the once-calm Ausable River that Sarah and Vinson explored while I fly fished just the day before was a clear sign of eminent flooding. An electrical transformer just outside our room blew out, blowing sparks and loud pops into the black sky. We hunkered down for a windy, stormy night; and through it all, Vinson was quite calm!

The next morning we discovered that we could no longer get to the NY Thruway, as the Ausable River had washed out nearly every bridge on the normally breathtaking ride from Lake Placid back to the thruway.

With the guidance of a helpful local and a free map, we found one circuitous route out of town and stuck to back roads all day, finally stopping, exhausted, in Cooperstown, NY. All hotel rooms were booked by the thousands of other vacationers who couldn't leave town and the electric companies from out of state, so we proceeded to Oneanta, where we booked (literally) the last available hotel room in town.

The next day, we carefully wove our way through the Catskills, witnessing extensive damage - streets of homes in feet of water, massive trees balancing over the road, held only by bending power lines. But in the end, we made it home. Vinson had a great time with it all and added one more notch to his exposure belt -  a hurricane!

The following few photos show some of the parts of the trip. I'll post a video tomorrow, showing the rising river as well as the perfect weather we had on the boat, before Irene's arrival.
Vinson sleeping on the ride up to the Adirondacks

Vinson looking out for our island campsite on the boat
Vinson gets his first look at a great smallmouth bass, courtesy of his new pal, Rob
A view of the island we camped on

The river roaring the morning after Irene

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sleeping through an Earthquake

This afternoon, Vinson experienced a very unique type of exposure - rumblings from today's earthquake!

We had just returned from a walk outside and Vinson went to sleep on the floor in front of my desk. While working, I noticed my computer monitor began to shake ever so slightly, but clearly. My first thought was the construction machinery that had been working outside, but when I looked, they were not running any machinery. My second thought was that Vinson may somehow be bumping the desk. That too proved false.

Twenty minutes later, my coworker asked if I heard about the earthquake... and then it all made sense.

Vinson wasn't troubled in the least - I guess being used to so many other sounds, he never got up to give the earthquake a second thought!

Distraction Work

One of the many unique things about Vinson spending so much time at The Seeing Eye campus is that he often gets to interact with dogs in training as a distraction test.

Since Vinson is still quite young and full of puppy energy, he is a good distraction test for any dog. This morning we got to work with a black Lab and a golden retriever before they headed downtown for training.

Vinson played the perfect part of the "distractor", and both dogs did very well tolerating his high energy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ultimate Exposure: Industrial Jackhammer

The Seeing Eye campus is bustling with activity during some minor construction projects. Today' a backhoe with a jackhammer attachment is busily chopping away through old stone directly beneath my office window.

The floors and walls are literally shaking and the sound is, well, like a jackhammer right outside your window.

Vinson was initially surprised by the sound and vibration (as were we), but soon layed down in his crate and relaxed as usual. Vinson one, jackhammer zero!


This weekend, for the first time since Vinson came home back in April, the wicker cat basket and bed has returned to it's spot on the floor, no longer perched atop a table out of the pup's reach. Why? Vinson is no longer interested in chewing the basket.

Our end tables now have magazines and books on them again, too! Sometimes these little changes are big reminders of how far you've come.

Construction Equipment

All smiles in front of the backhoe
Vinson did some exposure work again this morning - this time with a backhoe. As you can see by his proud smile, he has no problem sitting and resting in different situations.

Monday Morning Meeting

Saying "hello", puppy-style
Vinson and Garcia just enjoyed their Monday morning "meeting". They are always so excited to see each other after the weekend, and you can tell by the photo (courtesy of a coworker) that Garcia can keep up with the young pup's energy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Meeting Volunteers

Vinson had a great time greeting a group of volunteers from Alcatel-Lucent a few minutes ago at The Seeing Eye. The group is on site to pitch in and help with the finishing setup touches for Family Day tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Enter the FURminator

The Furminator that we have
Vinson's coat didn't shed much at all until this week. Suddenly, dark pants, car seats and dog beds went from black to salt-and-pepper, coated with Vinson's very light-colored fur.

As lifelong pet owners, Sarah and I have used lots of different types of brushes. But after speaking to some longtime puppy raisers and professional staff, we decided to get a Furminator.

We had had our reservations based on price, but I must say we are pleasantly surprised.

At first, Vinson wouldn't let us brush him with it - not because he didn't want to be brushed, but because he wanted to chew on the brush.

Last night, after Vinson was relaxed and resting, I slowly brushed him. As he realized that he enjoyed the brushing (with some "rest" and "no" encouragement), he learned to leave the brush alone and relax.

This afternoon, he repeated this new respect for the Furminator and Vinson's reward was a shiny coat.

The brush removes the undercoat and dander (from dogs and cats alike - and you will be shocked at the amount), and really left Vinson with a shiny, new coat.

Another great moment of realization - Vinson has accepted the Furminator.

Mack Truck

Vinson and "Mack"
Vinson and I took advantage of some parked construction equipment at The Seeing Eye to get this photo - Vinson "sitting" and "resting" calmly for me to snap his photo in front of a red and chrome Mack dump truck.

What you can't see in this photo is the very loud jackhammer in use off to our right and a tent (for Family Day) being assembled behind me. A great exposure exercise.

Under the Big Top

"I'd like to get a little closer"

The Seeing Eye campus is buzzing with activity as staff prepares for Family Day, our annual event just for puppy raisers.
Watching the landscapers from under the big top

Vinson and I just took a walk around the property to check out the tents; he wanted a chance to perform under the bid top.

Just Completed Vinson's Six-Month Survey

As part of the puppy raising program here at The Seeing Eye, I just completed the online six-month survey about his behavior. The purpose is to keep my area coordinator and the puppy development department up to date on how Vinson is progressing, and if needed, identify areas where he needs more focused work.

Areas addressed in the survey include fear and anxiety, separation, training and obedience, excitability, attention-seeking, aggression and general behavioral topics.

If you've been following along with Vinson, Sarah and I on this ride, you probably know that the one issue that underlies most of Vinson's challenges is excitability for sure! We did go through a period of attention-seeking barking but have made it through that.

Vinson has displayed very little anxiety, no separation issues and absolutely no aggression to human or animal. He doesn't complain about crate time, doesn't try to eat "leavings" of other critters and he doesn't chew or destroy furniture.

He's just an excitable, somewhat stubborn pup with a huge heart!

Exposure Opportunities

You never know when a great exposure opportunity might arise. In this case, Vinson was out for a quick "break" at The Seeing Eye when a "Bobcat"-type tracked construction vehicle approached.

I quickly grabbed the camera from my pocket, told Vinson to "sit" and "rest", and we worked on that as the machine crawled by.

Vinson was slightly distracted but did very well!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Perfect Storm

Like a growing child, Vinson continues to move through phases of his puppy-hood. Last week he was suddenly more whiny and vocal than he'd been.

At the same time, Vinson began to really test me on the leash, refusing to move in the direction I wanted to go or using his newly-discovered strength to act like a ship's anchor and refuse to go anywhere.

As you can imagine, these two developments combined made for quite a change (and probably some smirking staff during our daily trips outside!).

It is quite common for puppy development to include what may seem like backward steps - but they are really points on the path of growing up. How many graph's have you seen that don't show both ups and down's on the line to success?

Working at a place full of puppy experts, I spoke to many who confirmed what I expected - Vinson's six-month age is right on schedule for acting out and testing the limits. When the training situation changes and what you were doing stops working, it's time to reevaluate and try a new approach. This is what led to the introduction of the martingale collar, which Vinson is doing very well with.

I suspected the whining might be related to the process of losing puppy teeth. Further examination showed that Vinson had broken off his last remaining puppy canine, but the root is still intact. A staff member here has been checking his tooth daily and expects the remainder to be pushed out shortly by the adult canine.

Finally, we weighed Vinson and his weight-gain compared to previous weeks had increased, cluing me in that he is likely also in a growth spurt and probably hungry.

Lessons learned? Growth spurt + sore teeth & gums + 6-months-old = changes!

After a challenging week, Vinson's behavior has noticeably improved... until the next change!

Best Buds

Pals at the watering hole
If you've followed this blog, you already know that Vinson and Garcia are good pals here at The Seeing Eye. In this photo, the two of them take a drink from the same bowl after a little time playing with the Kong.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Six Months, Vinson!

With a little help from my friends

Vinson turned six months old on August 14. To celebrate, he gathered some of his favorite toys for this photo.

Weigh-in: 36.5 pounds

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Run Rabbit Run

Vinson impersonating a rabbit
Vinson has had a great morning, starting with his first chance to explore The Seeing Eye's 5-acre fenced field across the street from the office!

As Vinson's energy has increased it's become apparent that long walks simply aren't enough to tire him out. He needs to run.

Please turn your attention to the Dumbo-tron
I walked Vinson around the field on leash first, checking to ensure all gates were secure. After Vinson became more comfortable with the new space and calmed, I had him sit, removed his leash, took his favorite ball out of my pocket and gave it a throw.

Vinson sprinted off in search of the ball, dew from the morning grass creating a mist around him as he ran. Time after time, Vinson retrieved the ball and proudly sprinted back to me with it, never straying to investigate things on his own.

Here's a video of this morning's fun (keep in mind that I was throwing the ball and trying to video with the opposite hand). You can watch Vinson's videos in high definition on YouTube by clicking on the video once it has begun playing in the window below. High Def - that's how Vinson rolls.

Note: The Seeing Eye asks its puppy raisers not to bring their puppies to public dog parks, for a variety of reasons. This private field is owned by The Seeing Eye and is used by Seeing Eye staff with approved dogs only.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Martingale Collar

This martingale collar features nylon to protect the pup's neck
As Vinson grows and (ahemm) matures, he is naturally testing situations much like a child would - seeing if he can control when we stop and start on our walks, switching directions without input and jumping to play with the leash.

As his size and strength increase it becomes more challenging to correct these issues; so today, Vinson graduated to a martingale collar.

The idea behind the collar is that a quick tug of the leash synches the collar and then immediately loosens it (you must put the collar on correctly for it to properly loosen - if you don't know how to put the collar on, have someone experienced show you), getting fast attention and solidifying the training you're trying to accomplish.

We've only tried the collar a couple of times today, but so far there is a noticeable difference in Vinson's response to quick correction; and that's great for both of us.

At first, he was more interested in trying to lick and chew this new, shiny metal object, but Vinson's getting the hang of it; and it should lead to a clearer understanding of expectations and ultimately, a reduced need for correction.

As with any training tool - and especially with collars - lots of care must be taken to ensure you're using the collar properly and safely; and never leave a training collar on your dog if not under your direct supervision.

Sewing Needles Be-Gone

Vinson has now lost most of his puppy teeth, including three of the four sewing-needle-like puppy canines! We've managed to save a couple as mementos along the way, but most are digested during meal time or play. One more puppy canine to go and another milestone will be behind him.

Vinson will be six months old this Sunday!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Elephant

Vinson met his latest toy, the elephant, this weekend. This toy is super tough and big! Vinson seems to treat him more as a peer than a toy at this point...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

23 Weeks Old

Vinson is 23 weeks old today - he'll be 6 months next Sunday. Weigh-in: 34 pounds.

Who’s the Prettiest of them All?

Act 1: The Discovery
Act 2: The Admiration

Vinson just discovered his reflection in the fireplace door. He is fascinated! He made some grunts at his mirror image and then settled in to admire himself.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Concert in the Park

Doggie bliss!
Vinson politely checking out the crowd

Eyes on the stage

Settling in for the show

Vinson had a great time at the concert in the park in Sparta last night. It was a great exposure opportunity - hundreds of people, running children, people playing catch, concession stands, the live music of Patrick Fitzsimmons and lots of dogs.

As usual, Vinson attracted plenty of doting attention and many people left with one of his business cards.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Latest Chews

Vinson's latest interests?
  • beechnuts from the 300 year-old beech tree at The Seeing Eye
  • bird feathers
  • sand
  • hair tumbleweeds from other cats and dogs
  • spots created on the floor by sun reflecting off of a vase

The Latest Chews is a recurring post based on any new items Vinson has tried to pick up or investigate with his mouth. Likely without exception, every item or incident listed is behavior that we stop through correction and training.

Making New Friends

Vinson had a great time meeting people participating in today's Seeing Eye® tour. He really enjoyed his time with a family from Long Valley, a school group from Andover and a large group of school children.

At one point, we needed to enter the building and walk through the ongoing tour. Vinson happily pranced to the center of the group of children and then rolled onto his back on the floor, awaiting petting. He had a big time for sure!

Seeing Eye® Dogs Play Just Like All Dogs!

Vinson and Garcia have become great friends, sharing office space together and having some morning play time.

Sometimes here at The Seeing Eye, we hear statements like, "It doesn't seem fair that Seeing Eye dogs don't get to run and play". The answer is, that's not the case!

Spend a little time watching any of the TV shows about dog training and you'll find an almost universal statement - a dog needs a job to do. The dogs love to work because their enjoyment comes from pleasing us and receiving praise.

Seeing Eye dogs are trained that, when in harness they are on the job and are to act as trained. But when that harness is off, they quickly settle into being off-duty, "regular" dogs, playing and doing typical dog things.

In this video, you'll see the calmer moments of Vinson and Garcia playing together after Garcia's owner removed his harness and released him to play.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crate Expectations: Why Crate Training Works

Here's Vinson, voluntarily sleeping in his crate as I write this
You'll hear all sorts of opinions on crate training, ranging from, "I'll never put my dog in a cage", to "Crating is the best thing for you and your dog". There is enough information on the topic of crate training online that I'll skip the detailed arguments on either side; but for us, and for Vinson, the crate works.

Why? Especially with an “active” pup (Is describing Vinson as “active” akin to a realtor describing a cramped apartment as “cozy”?) like Vinson, the crate is the only 100% peace of mind you can have when leaving him unsupervised for a bit – the only guarantee (although there are stories of mischievous dogs who’ve mastered the art of crate escapes) that he will be contained and only have access to the toys we’ve given.

Vinson sleeps in his crate every night, rides in one in the car and has one in the office. He often naps in the crates with the door open, simply because he likes the contained, cozy feeling.

As I've mentioned before, if you decide to crate train your puppy, here are some simple tips:

  1. Never use the crate as punishment. Always make the crate experience positive. Try using small treats, ice chips, a special toy and praise to show your pup that entering and being in the crate is a good thing.
  2. Always remove the dog collar before crating to prevent any tangling or choking mishaps.
  3. Only leave safe toys in the crate – one’s that you’re positive can’t be ripped open or swallowed.
  4. Start small. Try crating your pup for just a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time as training progresses. Be at home the first many times in the crate so you have an idea of how the dog is behaving. Then, try a few short trips and build from there.
  5. Start young if possible. Most dogs can be crate trained, but it’s generally considered to be easiest if you start in the first puppy months.
  6. Never leave your dog crated and unattended for more than three hours. If your pal gets to the point where he really needs to go out and he is forced to sit in the crate, he may form a negative association and resist crating in the future.


Vinson has crossed a few more milestones:
  1. First, he turned 22 weeks old on Sunday, and weighed in at 33 pounds.

  2. Second, he lost another tooth and left it for us to find instead of gobbling it up.

  3. Third, Vinson is now officially too tall to fit through the cat doors in our gates - which makes things a lot easier around the house.

  4. Last, but certainly not least, Vinson was so excited to see Pat and Garcia this morning that he leaped over the gate in my office door to go and say hello!
I'll be working on number 4 should another gate-jumping attempt be made!