Saturday, July 30, 2005

Tasks of PSDs: Posted by Picasa

Serious about Service
-Sunshine Collection

"Rowena's Training Plan"

As we all know, Rowena is my service dog (in training). I am presently training her with a 3 phase system called Psychiatric Service Dog- Individual Training Plan. Like the PSD, this plan can be adjusted for the dog at any point in order to meet the training needs that are so varying from dog to dog, and from one stage of development to another. Though I plan to carry it out for three years with Rowena, (but that may change depending on her maturity level) if she continues to focus well and calm down a bit during this next year, maybe we can knock off some of these goals faster than that. Here is what this PSD-ITP includes:
1-Public & Canine Socialization
2-Basic/Beginners Obedience
3-Puppy Desensitization
4-Handler/Canine Bonding
5-Introduction to Skills
1-Advanced Desensitization
2-Autonomy Training
3-Canine Community Etiquette
4-Task Specific Training
5-Community Institute Visits
6-Earn Canine Good Citizen
1-Can Perform Identified Tasks
2-Advanced Obedience
3-Attention/Distraction Evaluation
4-Re-focus/Self-control Evaluation
This September, Rowena has earned a certificate for completion of Phase-1. She is a fast and eager learner and I am enjoying the process of training her and getting to know how she learns and works. Okay, so this flexi-leash phobia of hers is really getting ridiculous, but I guess phobias happen to the smartest individuals... in the meantime, she continues to serve me to the best of her ability.

Friday, July 22, 2005

"She's Got the Look"

I had seen other Border Collies give "the look" but had never really seen it in Rowena. I thought: maybe her eyes aren't the right color. They are brown and not amber or blue. I also never saw the attention span she would need to develop one of these "looks" either. She had always been easily distractingly from her tennis balls and frisbee. It was hard to get her to pay attention when we were throwing one of her toys. I also had a hard time visualizing Rowena in any sort of a herding position as she often charged forward towards other dogs and people. I thought I was really missing out on a Border Collie experience by not observing these things with my own dog, and finally concluded: "Oh well. She won't be a herder anyway."
As Rowena nears her first year, she has noticably settled down. Gradually she has picked up these common Border Collie traits over the past couple of months and her attention span has allowed her to have longer and more focused playtimes and has begun developing intense obsessions with certain objects and games. Not only have I reached my goal of teaching her to swim, I have indeed turned her into a retriever. Rowena is an obsessed retrieving beast! She loves her tennis balls, her water retrieving toy, and now a frisbee! The last couple of times playing at the field, she has actually gotten assertive with her playmates who have usually been able to take her toys and run off with them. She may be a normally submissive puppy, but now when it comes to her frisbee, Rowena is ALPHA! She now watches the toys we are about to throw with an intense, brown-eyed Border Collie stare. She runs or swims after her toy and returns with it over and over and over again! This is where the phrase "That'll do" would come in handy. She doesn't understand that phrase as of yet.
She does know what the phrase "Slow!" means now. When she spots another dog or some people when she is off leash during playtime, I yell "Slow!" and repeat that command until she has gotten to her destination. When I yell slow, she now crouches down as if she is looking to herd a bunch of unruly sheep. Then she'll get up and hurry along a bit further. I repeat my "slow" command and she crouches down again and continues her stop and go approach.
Rowena is also fixed on water, or anything that might have some water left in it. This is my fault for trying to get her to not be afraid of the water. On the down side, I cannot take her to play in the field before our Orono appointment because she will jump into a not-quite-dried-up stream or a little pond that will leave her smelling like a swamp thing. We can't go on the bus like that! When we recently spent several days with "Grandma" (My mother), she became obsessed with the river out back. When ever she was out and off leash, she would run down and into the river, stand there and wait for someone to throw something in for her to retrieve. Fortunately, she has not discovered that she can swim just to swim too. Right now, she would not imagine swimming unless there was an actual fun purpose for doing so.
Watching Rowena grow and develop over this (almost) year has been a fun experience for me. Since I spend all my waking hours with Rowena, I can even pick up on all the little things as well. I can sense her mood changes, facial/body language, and despise it when she stares at me... like I have done something wrong. She is indeed a blossoming Border Collie.

Monday, July 04, 2005


Border Collie Buddies is a kind of play group for Border Collies. I have noticed that Border Collies have their own way of playing with one another. Other breeds don't always catch onto this style. However, get 2 or more Border Collies together and you will see each dog doing the same thing with the other. For a person who owns a Border Collie, it is fun to watch a dog who has never played with a Border Collie before play with another. Finally, one might find out that his/her Border Collie is indeed "normal" for his/her breed. So far all the Border Collies Rowena has met that are social with her play the same herding and tag games together. They also never run off or run too far ahead of their "herd". They tend to run wide circles around their people when they are playing. They can be mouthy with each other as well. For the not-so-well socialized Border Collie, (let us call it a HE to make things simple for me) he may become annoyed by the often insistent advances of the other dog. Thus, it is not unusual or abnormal for him (or any other breed of dog) to snap, even appear to grab the neck of and bring the other dog down. This usually occurs with a growl and ends with the take down. It is quick and should not escalate very far beyond that. This is the way dogs assert themselves. This is the way he tells the other more social dog "Hey, bug off kid! You're obnoxious!" This is also a way dogs let other dogs know who is boss, who is the alpha dog in the group. I know Rowena is slow on reading body language from other dogs and she often gets the "alpha take-down" from the less tolerant dogs. Sometimes she gets it more than once! It is when this growl-take down goes further in to an all out brawl or that a dog continues to go after the other even when the other has backed off that human interaction is needed. Some dogs get overwhelmed by situations and groups of dogs. Learn your dog. Learn his body language, his tolerance, and try to gradually introduce him to other dogs. I have seen less social Border Collies atleast exist in the same setting with other more social ones who are actively interacting... While staying away and not harassing the less social one. Border Collies need to be socialized as young as possible. They need to interact with people and other dogs whenever possible so that they learn the proper social skills. Border Collie Buddies is a group I am trying to build up... a list of other Border Collies in the area that can go on play dates with fellow group members and their humans. The Border Collies are beautiful to watch play, and the humans enjoy trading Border Collie quirks and experiences (unique to the breed) with one another... an assurance of sorts that their dog is not bonkers. A romp around a local field or the City Forest is perfect, and if the person has a trained dog (not aggressive, good recall, etc.) then off leash is an option. I like to walk in these places with my dog and this has been how I have met all of Rowena's playmates. (Photograph is Rowena playing with Cinco at the forest this past winter.)
If this group is of interest to you and your Border Collie, please
e-mail me. Please note: I cannot respond if you do not leave your email address.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

After seeing how obsessed Rowena was with frisbee last weekend during and outing, I thought about this comic: "How to Train Your Border Collie to Herd Sheep"... where the poor sheep are running around with tennis balls hanging from their ears and frisbees from their tails (or rumps).

- c. Sunshine Collection
Border Collie Play Buddies: A Group in the Making

* from the Sunshine Collection

"An Alert Dog?"

Time and time again, Rowena has let me know that she does not like people who are active alcoholics. She sometimes walks wide circles around certain individuals when we pass them in the hall of the apartment building. The whole time, she watches them like she is scared to make sure they do not move towards her. If they try to pet her, she backs away as if she were like a timid wolf. This is totally not like her regular personality. She is normally very outgoing and loves people. I call her my little social butterfly.

One time, a friend from the Venture Crew came by to let me load his first bunch of photos from his camera onto my computer in order to make prints for him. Rowena wanted nothing to do with him and I couldn't figure out why, until later. At a Venture meeting, we were informed that he had gone into a half-way house type thing. Apparently he had been drinking again and had suffered a full blown relapse. Rowena sensed this in him. I felt bad for him because he is a nice guy and reacted to Rowena's shunning by saying "Story of my life." I wondered why she had acted that way, and now I know!

Last Sunday, I was out on the front lawn with Rowena and we saw a man walking down the street. Well, he had a bandage wrapped around right below his knee and appeared to be having a hard time walking. I thought either his leg hurts or he has a physically disabled. Rowena saw the man and began "woof"ing at him. Actually it sounds more like: "WWfff." I doubt the man could hear it. I was hushing her, but she kept up her woofing. As the man passed on the sidewalk in front of us, He looks up and says "Hi pup!" at which Rowena woofs. I watched as he uneasily made his way past our driveway and as he stopped at a bunch of trees just beyond. He kind of looked like he might be trying to rest, grabbed a branch. However, he was really staggering a bit and eventually fell backwards while holding on to the flimsy branch. He landed in the center of this tiny stand of trees, sitting rather awkwardly, but seemed as if he was trying to look like he meant to sit there in that stand of trees. That is where I left him... sitting in the stand of trees. Nervous, I ran inside and called the police department. Maybe he was ill, or had passed out or something. When I went back out, he was gone from the stand of trees. I walked out to the sidewalk to see him staggering on a block away. The police showed up like 20 minutes later.

One of the drunks in the building was sitting on a chair on the first landing of the back steps that lead into the building. He was speaking to a woman and drinking what appeared to be a liter of beer from its brown bottle. I had to get in so Rowena followed me up the stairs. Sure enough, this guy reaches out and tries to pet her. She immediately backs away and hides behind me. She walks in dashing over to the opposite side of where she is supposed to go in. The woman responds to Rowena by saying "Shy one, huh." I just kind of smiled and continued indoors. How do I tell someone that the reason Rowena is avoiding them or is afraid of them is because they are active alcoholic? Is this a bad characteristic for a service dog to have?

I trust animals and their reactions to people. If Rowena walks a wide circle around someone on the sidewalk, I trust that she knows something that I don't. I stay away as well. I do not personally believe anyone should squelch that reaction that animals have. I also think that Rowena has my best interest in mind as she leads me around these individuals.