Growing Up Guide Dog Puppy: Puppy Meetings and New Vests!

Part of the requirement of raising a guide dog puppy, is attendance at the bi-monthly puppy raising meetings. This is so that you can practice skills and training, get help where needed from other experienced raisers, and allow the area coordinator for your county to monitor your puppy’s progress. Meetings can take place anywhere: parks, the mall, Costco, anywhere! A few times a year our meetings are joined by Southeastern’s roving guide dog trainer, who teaches new skills, works with problem dogs, and oversees all aspects of training the puppies.

At Dierdre’s first meeting, a calm hour spent at the park learning just that- how to be calm, the roving guide dog trainer announced two big changes for the puppies. No longer would training with a ‘choke’ chain/correction chain be part of puppy raising (yay!), instead, older puppies will wear a martingale collar and strong pullers will wear either an easy-walk or a freedom harness. As Dierdre was neither, she would still wear her flat collar.

The other announcement was the change in puppy coat. No longer would the puppies wear ‘cape’ style jackets. The new, improved, puppy fashion would be vests! Durable, with pockets.

Old Jackets

Old Jackets

New vests! (The opposite side says "Guide Dog Puppy in Training")

New vests! (The opposite side says “Guide Dog Puppy in Training”)

I had been raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind when they, also, made the switch from capes to vests, and I knew of one big problem I always had with vests. When someone is facing the dog head-on, or they are on your right side, the vest is not visible, either hidden by your leg, or because there’s only a single black strap across the chest to see from a head-on position. When going from a cape to a vest, I got a lot more “hey! you can’t take dogs in here!” than I ever had with a more visible cape. To combat the head-on problem, I employed an idea that had been wildly successful with the Guide Dogs for the Blind groups- a velcro sleeve over the front strap that proclaims Guide Dog Puppy. With some blue fabric, velcro, heat transfer material, and a sewing machine, I fastened a blue version of the green guide dog sleeves that raisers sold for Guide Dogs when the vest transition happened.

There, much better!

There, much better!

While I couldn’t do much about making the cape longer, at least now, when walking head-on into a store, it’s much easier to ascertain that Dierdre is coming into the store for a reason, and not that I’m just some crazy that tries to drag her puppy into public shopping spaces. It also makes I.D.’ing her a little easier for others, as the side of the vest that faces out has Southeastern’s logo on it, while the side that is typically against your left leg is the side that actually says “Guide Dog Puppy In Training.” Slight design flaw, but we overcame it. Dierdre’s vest sleeve was popular with our club, so I made a couple more to give to other raisers that asked for them.

One big change that would come along with the vests, were that no ‘extra small’ sizes were made. From now on, only puppies that are 4+ months that are reliably housebroken and can prove they have the beginnings of obedience are to be granted a vest. Younger puppies are now instructed to stay home and be puppies, no more early outings for the baby puppies. The school’s hope is that they will lessen the dogs that come back for training with fears of things such as traffic and people in funny hats from being exposed to them too early.

For meetings that are deemed ‘exposure’ outings, only puppies of the appropriate age come to the meetings. When our club had their bi-annual Tri-Rail train ride, Deirdre and one other puppy were excused from the meeting, as they were a bit on the young side to tackle something as Big and Scary as a train.

During any exposure, it’s important to pay attention to your pup’s body language, so you can avoid creating a fear of something early on. Nervous lip licking, half-moon eyes, and ears back, tail not wagging, are all signs to look out for when exposing puppies to new things. As you can see in this picture, Dierdre was a bit nervous of the hustle and bustle of a public area.

Dierdre was removed from the area for a break shortly after this was taken

Dierdre was removed from the area for a break shortly after this was taken.

After a short break in a quiet area for her to re-group we slowly returned to the area, giving lots of praise and treats for confidently going forward, and pairing the scary area with lots of treats.

Much more relaxed and focused after a break from Scary Area

Much more relaxed and focused after a break from Scary Area

Comfortable enough now to investigate some leaves on the ground for potential eating.

Comfortable enough now to investigate some leaves on the ground for potential eating. Investigation reveals leaves are excellent for eating and have a nice crunch.









Meeting topics can be anything from grooming, to obedience, to exposure to different things, how to teach calm behavior, or how to ignore distractions.

Time to brush some puppy teeth!

Time to brush some puppy teeth!

Dierdre at Gander Mountain

Dierdre at Gander Mountain


Leave-it is a most necessary command for a curious guide dog puppy to practice. Constantly.

Must... Not... Touch....

Must… Not… Touch….




Strange smells are always an adventure. You never know how your puppy will react. Dierdre was nervous of the meat section of the grocery store the first two times, but with enough pairing of the area with copious amount of treats, she was eventually no longer nervous, but intently interested in what was behind that glass!

I'll take 15 pounds of steak. Raw, please!

I’ll take 15 pounds of steak. Raw, please!


You never know where a guide dog will encounter something unusual!


Mom! Mom, there’s a turtle in the store! Mom!!!!**

So it’s good to always be prepared to reward or to remove from the situation, depending on the puppy’s needs, and tailor the appropriateness of the outing to the age and ability level of your puppy. Puppies will grow and learn at different rates, and while one puppy in a club might be ready for a new exposure, you can’t be afraid to take a step out of the group, even at puppy meetings, and give your pup the space they need to be successful.



** No turtles were harmed in the making of this post. (Yes, that’s a real turtle crawling through Gander Mountain. Hazards of living in south Florida! He was quickly relocated back outside, where he belonged.)

Team Unruly’s Favorite Canine Artists

Team Unruly really loves our dogs. And I do mean really loves our dogs. Many of us have, at one time or another, had someone draw or paint or make some sort of other artwork based on our dogs. We thought today we’d share some of our favorite artists with you. If you see anything you like, please do contact the artist to commission one of your own! If you have any recommendations for other artists to check out, stop by the comments section and let us all know!

Artist: Animal & Vegetable Custom Pet Portraits
About: You may have noticed the amazingly gorgeous header on the TU page. This awesome work was done by Mélissa Keays of Animal & Vegetable Custom Pet Portraits. Based on submitted photos, she can create custom artwork of your pets.
Cost: $75-85+
Officer Murphy Paraphernalia:
Samples: (Click on thumbnails for larger versions)

bella      Cherry and Smooch   Murphycerb      Nellie and Lucy   owen and frankie   tayla   dahliasteve

Artist: Pariah Dog Art
About: Callie specializes in custom digital cartoon portraits of dogs, cats, and other pets. She’s done more than one drawing of Dahlia and each one is fantastic. Based on high-res photos submitted of the pets, she can create a customer portrait of individual pets or groups.
Cost: $30-65+
Samples: (Click on thumbnails for larger versions)

dahliaportrait      steveportrait   Tayla small

Artist: AlliePets
About: AlliePets is owned, operated and ran entirely by Allison MacAlister. Our primary business lies in our wide variety of pet portrait options and styles, but we also do custom illustration work and design/branding work for pet-related businesses and others.
Cost: $80-300+ (and I can say she is well worth the money!), but she often has deals going on so make sure you check out her facebook page!
Special note from Michelle: Last winter AlliePets was offering a good deal on Christmas card drawings, which was how I discovered the artist. I came to her with an absolutely off the wall suggestion (Dahlia chasing a UPS truck full of butter) and her response was “Well, it’s certainly one of the more unique requests I’ve had, but who am I to resist such a quirky, fun request.” She did an absolutely brilliant job
Samples: (Click on thumbnail for larger version)


Artist: Linda Zielinski
About: Linda is a very talented realistic artist that works mostly with pencil. She shows dogs herself and owns/breeds English Springer Spaniels. She also sells cards, t-shirts, and other items on Zazzle and Cafe Press.
Cost: $125 for an 8×10 (includes the matting and postage).
Samples: (Click on thumbnails for larger versions)

FieldSpaniel  Beagle

Labrador Puppy

Not all disabilities are visible: Life with a Service Dog in the real world.

13042453925_38b7ff5eb3I never dreamed I’d ever have a Service Dog. I never dreamed I’d need a Service Dog. But sometimes life happens, and sometimes you fall off the edge of a really big cliff into an ocean of rough, dark, deep water and you have to learn how to swim again.

In December of 2012 I fell. I had three psych hospitalizations, more medications thrown at me than I can even remember now, countless therapist visits. I hit the point where I couldn’t live alone anymore, so my four dogs and I moved into my agility trainer’s home with her and her family and their six dogs. It was a challenge. It was stressful. But they kept me safe.

But that couldn’t last forever. I needed to figure out how to become self-sufficient again. I needed to figure out how to do all the normal “every day” tasks that people have to complete, even the ones that require going out in public. Out in public is hard. I get panicky. I get lost. I get overwhelmed by the noise and the motion and the colors and my brain gets stuck, which is such a scary and vulnerable place to be.

When I had lost a significant part of my hearing in my left ear the year before, I had started to teach my Border Collie Steve to respond to my alarm clock by insistently poking and licking and pawing me. As the meds piled on and piled on, I needed him not because I couldn’t hear my alarm, but because I couldn’t find the energy to respond to it.

He naturally started to alert to my panic attacks and to my episodes of dissociation at home, and so I reinforced and reinforced them to make them dependable.1794690_10202521920382148_975814216_n

I told my therapist how great he is, and she asked about using him as a Service Dog. I thought… my crazy dog could never function in public as a Service Dog! He’ll be over-the-top and embarrass me! But she asked me if I’d start bringing him to sessions to see if it helped, so I did and it did. I bought him a vest and we ventured out into the real world, cautiously, one small step at a time.

My dog did not falter.

My crazy, screaming flyball dog walks calmly next to the cart in the grocery store, ignoring the food on the shelves, ignoring the people who invade his space, who try to pet him, who babytalk him. He lies down while I unload all my groceries at the cash register. He goes under the table in a restaurant and hangs out there while I eat dinner. And he continues to alert me, interrupt me, help me ground myself when I need him to. And having him with me makes me need him less, because I am more confident knowing that I can trust him to have my back, to keep me safe if I need to be interrupted from going out of my mind.

But being out in public with my clearly vested dog has opened my eyes to how utterly ignorant people are around and about service dogs.

A service dog can be large or small. He can be walking by his owner’s side, leading him, or held in his arms. It all depends on what the dog is being used for. There are dogs who help people with a wide variety of disabilities from balance to hearing to seizures to diabetes to PTSD. Just because a person doesn’t look a certain way, doesn’t mean that their dog is not doing important work. Just because we do not meet your stereotypes does not mean we are fakers. Not all disabilities are visible.1662092_10202375352278037_772026057_n

Please do not try to disrupt these dogs while they are working. Do not bark at them, so not try to pet them, do not throw food or toys at them, do not babytalk or make kissy noises at them. Just leave. them. alone. These dogs are very well trained, but they are still just dogs, and their attention wavering at just the wrong time because some dumb person at the mall was barking at him again (why people think this is funny, I will never understand) could end up in disaster for the person depending on him.

Please don’t treat the owner as if she’s not there. There are two members in every service dog team. It’s ok to ask polite questions, but don’t be offended if the handler is not interested in talking or in revealing her personal information or history. General questions are usually ok, but “what do you need a service dog for, you don’t look disabled?” is not an ok question.

Employees may ask two specific questions to verify if the service dog is a “real” one. He may ask whether the dog is a service dog, and he may ask what tasks the dog has been trained to perform. That’s it. He may not ask why the handler needs a service dog, what disability afflicts them.

Employees may ask any dog who is disruptive to leave. This is one that I think employees don’t necessarily know and that they are afraid to use. If the dog truly is a service dog and the dog is being disruptive and is not under the control of the handler, the ADA still gives permission to businesses to ask them to leave. While all service dogs are guaranteed access to any public place under federal law, that federal law does not allow them to abuse the privilege and cause problems.Serviceable Steve

It’s just a service dog, not a unicorn. Service dog teams may be uncommon in your area, but surely you’re aware that they exist, right? Don’t stare, don’t cause a scene, don’t whip out your cell phone to snap a picture. Just let us go about our business. Just let us fit seamlessly into the flow of people on the street or in the aisle. Respect our privacy and our space the way you would that of any other stranger.

And please, stop trying to pet my dog when I’m not looking. He doesn’t like it.

AKC Community Canine Testing for Perri!

I have written about AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test in this blog before, and how I feel it is an excellent training step for any dog – be it for a pet dog, a dog moving towards service/therapy work, or a dog headed for a life in competition sports.  So last August when AKC announced a new CGC “level” called the “Community Canine” available for dogs to be able to test at, I was interested.

One of the differences between the CGC and CGCA test is that the CGCA test is, by definition, a test that needs to take place in a natural setting – in the “community”.  It is a test that evaluates a dog’s skills in public.  When my dogs took their CGC tests, it was in quiet training centers and it was a low stress evaluation of their skills.  The CGCA test, on the other hand, is definitely going to take place in a public setting.  A dog show or event, a pet store, a busy park.  CGC tests can be done at these places, but they are not required to be.


Ein “in the community” at Pennsylvania Amusement Park Knoebels, where well behaved dogs are welcomed (even on some rides!)

So, what’s the point of doing this test?

I have been asked this a lot!  I actually took Perri to an entire training class to prepare her for this test, which was a personal decision.  I knew that I could train Perri independently for the test items (they are very similar to a therapy dog certification test, which we have already passed through Therapy Dogs Incorporated.)  But I love classes, and I firmly believe that every bit of training improves a dog’s confidence.  And Perri and I are definitely in the market for more confidence.

So, the short answer would be: Because I enjoy it and because I can.  Because I think that the 10 Steps in the Community Canine test are good skills to train for – and why not honor your training by taking a test and earning a title certificate.


The long answer is that I would like to explain how the 10 Test Items apply to my every day life.

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