Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wag, Walk, and Run

Dempsey went to the Wag, Walk, and Run fundraiser for Helping Paws yesterday. He gives a tip of the hat and wag of the tail to the event sponsors and all the nice people who helped raise money for Helping Paws.

Before we even got to the event, Dempsey spotted his siblings and joined the dogpile for some puppy wrestling.

Afterwards, Dempsey posed for some portraits with his brother Sawyer, who looks like his identical twin. (Dempsey is on the left; Sawyer is on the right.)

There were probably 400 people and dozens of dogs at the event. Whenever I go someplace with Dempsey, my focus is pretty much 100% on him (you never know what he might be chewing or chasing), so it was hard for me to tell exactly what was going on. I do know there was a band, the Blue Drifters, playing the kind of country music I like; the police department, demonstrating police dogs; and, apparently, a group of ninjas. Their stealth ninja training works remarkably well against people who are training puppies; I didn't even see them till I was looking at the pictures at home.

It was very impressive watching the "big dogs" -- so focused and well behaved! Dempsey is not quite there yet, but we did some practice. I think for a 4-month old puppy, he did very well!

It was a really fun day, but by Saturday night Doreen and Paul needed some grown-up time. Naturally, our choice for grown-up time was to go out and watch a cartoon starring a dog: Pixar's latest film, Up. Paul loves loves loves Pixar films, especially the ones by John Lasseter, who is a genius at imagining personalities for inanimate objects. Up is not a Lasseter movie, but we can still highly recommend it! We thought good dog Dug was a great portrayal of what Dempsey would talk like, if he had a high-tech talking collar.

As much as Paul likes watching the credits in Pixar films, the movie reminded us we had a real puppy at home, waiting to see us. We left before the credits were over. This might not sound like much, unless you know how much Paul likes watching the credits. Dogs really do change everything!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Helping Paws on TV!

Dempsey's sister Izzo and her mom Elaine were interviewed this morning on KARE-11 TV! 

It's hard to believe Izzo has only been in training for about 8 weeks now. We know how hard it is for a curious young pup like Izzo to stay calm and focused on the set, what with all the people, lights, and moving dollies to distract her.  Great work, guys! You deserve a big tasty treat!

You can watch the video clip here, and you can read the inside scoop on Izzo's blog here.

And if you haven't already made a donation to Helping Paws for the Wag, Walk, and Run fundraiser, it's not too late!

Christmas in May!

Way back in April, we introduced Dempsey to the mailman. Part of our socialization homework was to introduce Dempsey to people in uniforms, and the mailman was at the top of our list. No mailman-chasing dogs for Helping Paws!

Dempsey now knows the mailman as a nice man who occassionally gives him treats. And now, he has another reason to like the mailman: He brings toys! We mail-ordered some new toys for Dempsey, which arrived the other day.

His favorite is what we call "orange moon ball," for its cratered appearance. It's a little plastic ball that you fill with treats that fall out when your puppy plays with it. When he first got it, Dempsey played with it like any new toy: taking it to my lap and trying to power-chew through it:

It only took a few minutes for him to figure out that a much better way to get the treats is to drop the ball or roll it around. He now sometimes carries orange moon ball to the top of the steps and releases it -- dropping and rolling in one easy step! Smart puppy! Climbing the stairs is a lot of work, though, so Dempsey more often just rolls orange moon ball around with his nose: 

I'm happy: Dempsey is getting pretty big to fit comfortably in my lap. It's cute when your 3-year-old son wants to sit in your lap, not so cute when he's 18. I suppose pretty soon I'll have to tell Dempsey "no" when he wants to sit in my lap. Puppies do grow up so fast. :-(

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Going "Up North"

It's a requirement. Everyone who lives in the Twin Cities is required by law to go "up north" to "the cabin" at "the lake" at least once a year. Since it's officially summer, we thought we would take Dempsey on his mandatory trip up north, to the north shore of Lake Superior.

We started early, packing up Dempsey, Bailey, and all their accoutrement and loading the Jeep. We left home around 11am, less than three hours after we had started rounding everything up. As much as Paul loves his B5.5 A4, he thinks it really might be time for a minivan! With two animals, the Jeep was really packed.

The first stop was Jay Cooke State Park, where we had a picnic lunch and Dempsey practiced his table manners. Bailey, who usually accompanies us on our road trips without Dempsey, was not too pleased that Dempsey was fed first.

The next stop was downtown Duluth, where Doreen and Paul took Dempsey out to Canal Park and the Duluth Lift Bridge. It was a great socialization exercise, as Dempsey learned to ignore all the noise from the traffic and drawbridge and to focus on his trainer. He also met a lot of really nice people, including two exchange students from South America!

Next, we....


We interrupt the regularly scheduled programming on this blog with a Blog-A-Thon!

This Saturday (too soon for Doreen and Paul!), Helping Paws will be hosting their Wag, Walk, and Run fundraiser. To tell you a little more about this important fundraiser are parents Doreen and Paul; their attorney, Norbert; Bailey the cat; and in his first media interview ever, Dempsey! 

Doreen: Hello everyone!

Paul: Welcome to the Dempsey Blog-A-Thon!

Dempsey: Hi! Hi! HI!!!!

Norbert: Good afternoon.

Bailey: Salutations.

Doreen: We're here to tell you about Wag, Walk and Run.

Paul: It's a fundraiser for Helping Paws, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the independence of individuals with physical disabilities through the use of service dogs.

Dempsey: Hi! That's me! They're talking about me!

Doreen: That's right! Helping Paws is a great organization. Paul and I did a lot of research before committing to volunteering, and we think Helping Paws is world-class.

Paul: But don't just take our word for it. Did you know Helping Paws is one of only about 30 organizations in the whole world that are fully accredited by Assistance Dogs International?

Norbert: That is statisically quite impressive.

Doreen: You bet! Helping Paws meets the toughest standards in the world ensuring that dogs are treated humanely, clients are treated with respect and dignity, and training is professional and of the highest standards.

Paul: And Helping Paws meets all standards of the Charities Review Council.

Norbert: I recommend you do your own due diligence at
Doreen: So that's why we're committed. We've already donated hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars to Helping Paws, and now we'd like to ask you to help as well.

Paul: Just to be clear, we are not seeking reimbursement for our own expenses. We're donating that. But there are lots of other expenses.

Norbert: The estimated value of each service dog, for tax purposes, is about $15,000. 
Doreen: In addition to the food, treats, toys, and veterinary care that we provide Dempsey, there are lots of other costs: the training facility, practice wheelchairs, eye and hip screenings, and spaying and neutering, to mention a few.

Dempsey: Hi! Spraying and what?

Bailey: You don't want to know.

Paul: Your donation goes directly to Helping Paws. And it's fully tax deductible!

Norbert: Tax deductions are subject to limitations from the alternative income tax and income phase-out provisions of the IRS code. Please contact your tax attorney for advice regarding your individual tax situation.

Paul: Uh, thanks, Norbert. As you may know, we're donating the proceeds from the advertising on this blog to Helping Paws.

Doreen: But despite having thousands of visitors, we've still only earned about $7.37.

Bailey: That's not even enough for a bag of catnip for me.
Paul: That's why we're asking loyal followers of this blog to make a small donation to Helping Paws.

Doreen: Whatever you can donate -- $100, $50, even $10 -- would be greatly appreciated!

Paul: You know, Doreen, the programming on this blog is special. All the stimulating conversation about puppy poop, puppy pee, and puppy puke -- you can't find that anywhere else on the Web!

Bailey:  Except for here, and here, and here....

Doreen: Uh, thanks Bailey. The point is, this blog is not for everyone. It takes a certain level of intelligence to appreciate it!

Bailey: That's for sure.

Doreen: So please, make a donation to the organization that makes this blog possible! Without Helping Paws, we would not have Dempsey and you would not be enjoying the quality programming on this blog.

Paul: That's right! And if we don't raise enough money, the dogs will have to rent a van, drive to Florida, and make a "Dogs Gone Wild" video to raise money.

Norbert: That is not true.

Dempsey: Hi! Are we going someplace?

Paul: Imagine videos of the dogs taking off their vests and running wild!

Dempsey: Hi! I can do that! Wanna see? Wanna see?

Norbert: That is not true either. Please do not make me call in a backup attorney.

Doreen: Ok, that's enough. The point is, we need to raise some money, and we're asking you, the loyal blog follower, to help. Remember, our blog is not like TV stations that run advertising; we're more like member-supported radio or TV.

Paul: Everyone who makes a donation gets free, unlimited access to this blog!

Doreen: Download the blog to your iPhone or burn it to a DVD, and you have a gift suitable for a visiting head of state!

Bailey: And remember, the more money we raise, the faster Dempsey will graduate and move out.

Norbert: That is not true. Dogs graduate only after a detailed, careful evaluation of their skills in different environments. There is no correlation between fundraising and the speed of Dempsey's training.

Bailey: Oh. Well, it's time for my nap.

Dempsey: Hi! Is this a good place to pee?

Paul: Ok, that's it! Show's over! 

Doreen: But before we go, please click here and make a donation -- whatever you can -- to Helping Paws. Thank you!

Paul: Thanks!

Dempsey: Hi! Thank you! Gotta go!

Going up north (continued)

After seeing the lift bridge, we headed up to the hills and drove along Skyline Parkway. Doreen and Paul enjoyed the views of Lake Superior, Dempsey had fun exploring the parks, and Bailey took naps in the sunshine.

We were originally planning to go further up the North Shore, to Gooseberry Falls, but it was getting late for the puppy. We started heading back home, with a quick stop for a picnic dinner at -- of course -- Barker's Island.

It was a big day. Dempsey slept the whole way home, as, of course, did Bailey.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Happy (Belated) Mother's Day!

Because Dempsey is a sweet and thoughtful little puppy, he decided to go see his mother, Cheers, for a belated Mother's Day visit last Saturday.

The night before, he took a bath, brushed his teeth, cleaned his ears, got a pedicure, and bought a small bag of treats to bring as a Mother's Day present. Ok, actually we had to give him the bath, hold him down for the ear cleaning and pedicure, and trick him into parting with the bag of treats. He's still a little puppy, after all.

It was a fun day! Also visiting were Dempsey's brother Benny and sister Becca, who lives 3 doors down from Cheers. Everybody had a great afternoon playing!

Puppies piling on Mommy, just like old times:

Dempsey and Benny playing tug of war:

Here are Dempsey and Benny practicing for the synchronized fetch team:

Becca, meanwhile, was busy impersonating a Dachshund:

Becca playing with the Wham-O:

Benny's turn:

Dempsey taking a break:

Cheers watching the puppies:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dempsey's new digs

We knew Dempsey was growing up quickly, but we hadn't really noticed how quickly until we peeked in his kennel earlier this week. Poor Dempsey could no longer sit up, and he was sorely lacking in leg room.  So yesterday at lunch, I went to pick up a new, larger kennel.

Because "spatial reasoning" is the part of the IQ test that I failed, I was worried this might be a repeat of Christmas 1998, when I helped assemble a one-wheeled bicycle for some poor kid. ("Look, Timmy! You get two presents: a unicycle, and a conceptualist sculpture!") 

The box promised "easy assembly," but remembering the inscrutable Chinglish instructions that came with the bike, I was still nervous. Luckily, the new kennel is made by a company based here in Minnesota that also makes electric cattle prods. I figured any U.S.-based company that makes electric cattle prods must write good, clear English instructions.

They do. Unfortunately, the assembly instructions were packed inside the kennel, and the only way to get them was to assemble the kennel first. Chicken, meet egg.

I fiddled around with the kennel for about 20 minutes, until I finally managed to create an interesting pyramid-like structure that had two sides open but would collapse if you breathed on it too heavily. Frustrated, I went to check out out the kitchen counter for a treat and wait for Doreen, who is generally smarter and more competent than I am.

Throughout all this, Dempsey was a perfect, patient little puppy, practicing his "long duration drop." In the time-lapse photos below, you can see his increasing boredom and dismay. He's so tolerant of human shortcomings. We're very lucky to have such a good dog!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not guilty!

We’ve received a few questions in the Dempsey mailbag about what “clicking and treating” means, so I thought I’d say a few words about our training method.

It’s actually quite simple. Dogs love food. When a dog gets food for something it does, the food is called a primary reinforcer. The problem is, it takes a while to get the food out to treat the dog, so you may not be reinforcing the right behavior when you give him food. To get around this, we add a “secondary reinforcer” that’s quick. In this case, it’s a clicker. When we click, we mark a behavior as treat-worthy and let the dog know that food is on its way. The dog will start doing things to earn a click.

While this is simple in theory, it’s a bit messier to apply in the real world. There’s the question of shaping, for example. When we click, we “capture” a behavior. But what behaviors need to be captured to turn a tail-chasing puppy into a door-opening dog? The intermediate steps aren’t always obvious.

Clicking can also be tricky if, like me, you’re slightly uncoordinated. Not that I’m a total klutz – I mean, it’s been over three months since I’ve poked my eye with a chopstick – but it requires some coordination to handle a leash, a treat, and a clicker, while watching the puppy and reacting quickly enough to click the right behavior. Here’s an example from a couple of weeks ago.

Dempsey and I had just come in from a potty break, and we were playing a nice game of Wubba fetch. Suddenly, without warning, Dempsey began to squat. What?!? Pee time again???

Blinded by (among other things) a desire to maintain my streak of one (1) accident-free days, I dove forward to scoop Dempsey up and take him outside. Now, I usually pick up Dempsey from behind when he starts to have an accident, but in my haste I picked him up from the front. As you parents of baby boys can probably guess, the inevitable happened: I redirected the stream from the floor into my eyes.

Still determined, I blindly lurched forward with Dempsey in my hands, knocking over the stool that had been holding Dempsey’s clicker and plate of treats, sending the treats skittering onto the floor. I thought I heard the treats fall on the right, so I stepped left – directly onto the clicker. Click!

By the time I reached the door, Dempsey was pretty much done, and his pee was dribbling weakly onto my wrists and down my arms. I was all wet, so I put Dempsey down to survey the damage. Instead of a neat little puddle, there was now a line of drips stretching to the door. The stool was overturned, treats scattered everywhere in the living room. Bailey was still sitting on the back of the sofa, smirking. “Hey,” she said, “It’s your puppy.”

Dempsey was sitting politely by the door, wagging his tail in expectation of the treat I had promised with the clicker. In his mind, he had done a very good thing. A deal’s a deal: I gave Dempsey a treat. Fortunately, with clicker training, it takes a number of repetitions before a behavior is learned, so Dempsey hasn’t tried this treat-worthy behavior since. Whew!

For reasons I think you can understand, I did not take a picture. Instead, I thought I’d share one of my favorite cartoons by Charles Barsotti, which I think about whenever Dempsey does something cute but exasperating. (Since I’m borrowing the image, I feel compelled to say you can purchase a copy of it here.)

Puppies may do these things, but not Helping Paws dogs! We still have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Face off

Every morning, Dempsey and Bailey put on their cutest faces in a competition to see who gets fed first. I don't think they've figured out -- and I haven't told them -- that they're taking turns. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thunder woe

Dempsey is a brave little puppy. As part of his training, we're exposing him to all sorts of new experiences, and he rarely shows any fear. Among the scary stimuli he's been exposed to are a tornado siren, a police siren, and the smoke and ensuing fire alarm from a mahi mahi terriyaki gone wrong. Tornado, fire, police -- we're convinced that Dempsey can now sleep through any disaster that might befall our house. (Um, that was the goal, right?)

The one exception to Dempsey's bravery is thunder. Last week, we were practicing "drop" when a thunderstorm rolled in. Dempsey cocked his head and whimpered a bit before continuing with his training. Thinking he'd habituated, I took him out to the porch to hear the thunder more loudly.  Dempsey promptly crawled into my lap. And puked. 

Translation from pup-speak: "You overincreased the stimulus intensity. You idiot."

Based on Dempsey's helpful feedback and guidance from our instructor, I have a new lesson plan. I can see the storm clouds rolling in, but I've got quite a stockpile of yummy treats. We're going to have our own little storm of clicking and treating to distract Dempsey from the thunder and persuade him it's no big deal. 

There's no rain yet, but I think the end of thunder woe is in sight!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pomp and circumstance

Dempsey went to a graduation ceremony last night! This was not for him, of course -- he still has a lot to learn -- but for two other dogs, Maeve and Charlie, and their new parents. It was a lovely evening that reminded us why we love our work with Dempsey, and how he will touch so many lives. 

The event was covered by WCCO news, which ran a series on Tyler, a bright young high school student recovering from a paralyzing football injury. His courage and determination are truly inspiring; we encourage you to watch the videos showing his progress.

One of the questions we get frequently in the Dempsey mailbag is "How can you give up your dog?" I think last night is a perfect answer to that question. 

Angel and Dempsey, trying to watch the ceremony. (It's hard to get a good view when you're only 18 inches tall!)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"Copy cat"

Although we've never told Dempsey to "copy cat," he has nonetheless started to pick up some of Bailey's bad habits: sitting in baskets and eating newspapers, and being bored by everything.

As long as I've known her, Bailey has not liked toys. In fact, all of the toys that we had bought for her, she donated to Dempsey, including his all-time favorite, Sock-On-A-Stick (which, contrary to popular belief, we did not get at the Minnesota State Fair). Here's Dempsey being bored by his Knobbly Wobbly. As you can tell, Paul is having much more fun tossing the ball and trying to shoot the video one-handed.

We surprised Dempsey one night when he thought he was quietly tearing to shreds a newspaper:

And here's a file photo of Bailey taking a nap after (literally) digesting the Sunday paper:

Crazy animals! The only animal we could ever get to read a newspaper instead of eat a newspaper is Ralph, shown below studying a review of the Wallace & Gromit movie. 

If you can't tell, we've wanted a dog for a long time.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sister visit!

Today was an exciting day for Dempsey. His sister Angel came for a visit!

It was also an exciting day for Paul and Doreen. One puppy is fun; two puppies are way more fun!

It helped that Angel, true to her name, was a perfect angel. She shared her toys, listened to Doreen and Paul, and despite being in a totally unfamiliar house, did not have a single "accident." We couldn't ask for a better puppy guest!

It was interesting seeing how different Angel and Dempsey are. Angel is petite and girly, prancing instead of walking, wearing a cute pink collar and an ID tag with a heart; Dempsey is all boy, taller and heavier, always clomping and crashing into things. 

The other thing we noticed is what a big difference distractions make for a puppy. From class, we know that Angel and Dempsey are at the same level in training, but  in a familiar environment (his house), with his own "parents" giving the cues, Dempsey was much more attentive. It really makes you appreciate how much time and effort it takes to train a service dog to perform well in any environment.

Mostly, though, we played and had fun! Below are some pics and videos from the happy day.


It's a good thing our teacher showed us in class one night what puppy play looks like. It looks a little scary, but for the most part it's harmless fun.

Sometimes, the play really is too rough, and parents need to break it up. Here's Paul making a loud frog noise to startle the puppies into stopping.

Hide and seek

We thought the puppies were getting a little rough, so we played what we thought might be calming music. Here are Angel and Dempsey play fighting, somewhat incongruously, to Cole Porter's "Do I Love You." 

That's Angel under the sofa. Dempsey's been too big to fit for a couple of weeks now.

Sleeping together

Here are Angel and Dempsey sleeping together, in separate crates.

Waking up

Here's Angel, waking up from her nap.

Sibling rivalry

I don't think Dempsey likes it when Angel sticks her tongue out at him.

Sharing a drink

Here are Angel and Dempsey, sharing a drink after a long hard day of playing.