Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dempsey goes parading

People often tell us how much fun it must be to be able to take Dempsey anywhere. It is fun, but it's also work. According to Minnesota law, we can take Dempsey anywhere "for the purpose of training." That means that our first priority is training Dempsey, not shopping or enjoying a meal or movie. If Dempsey is having a tough day, we stop what we're doing and focus on Dempsey, and sometimes (not often, thankfully), we pack up and go home.

The other upshot is that we take Dempsey to places that we don't normally go. An example is parades. We're not really into sitting on a curb and waving at passing politicians and pageant queens, but last week, we took Dempsey to not one, but two, parades.

To keep things interesting, we picked two very different parades. The first was the Celebrate Northeast parade. "Nordeast" Minneapolis is a proudly blue-collar part of town, whose most famous resident is the fictional Sven Ivan O'Myron Wisnewski, the beer-drinking Joe who won the girl by arm-wrestling the girly man from fancy Edina.

The second parade wasn't blue-collar so much as pink-collar, with feather boas: The Ashley Rukes GLBT Pride Parade. Surprisingly, this parade is the biggest in Minneapolis, with over 125,000 spectators. I think this number counts the usual protesters, the most interesting being a guy from Wisconsin who apparently runs the only state-licensed school in the country that teaches chainsaw carving.

Arm wrestlers, chainsaw carving instructors, women on stilts, men in 8-inch heels, back-slapping politicians, clowns: Dempsey took it all in stride, ignoring all the noise, the food on the ground, and the "drive-by" petting, but sitting politely to greet anyone who asked to meet him.

I think we can now cross "parades" off Dempsey's socialization to-do list.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just say no!

Now that Dempsey is an adolescent dog, we're teaching him to say no to drugs.

The impetus came last night, when I was cutting some carrots in the kitchen, with Dempsey lying quietly at my feet. Being the big oaf that I am, it wasn't long before I knocked a bunch of baby carrots off the counter onto the floor.

Like his brother Sawyer, Dempsey is awesome at leaving spilled food. But when I asked Dempsey to "move" so I could clean them up, he did move -- straight for the carrots. By the time I'd finished gasping, Dempsey had eaten them all.

Luckily for the little punk, it was only carrots, which made it kinda funny. But what if I had spilled something more dangerous?

So this morning, we've been practicing spills of fake pills (TicTacs, mints, LifeSavers), and I'm happy to say that Dempsey seems to have mastered saying no to drugs. Not only does he not lunge for them, he'll safely move away from the area so I can clean it up.

Of course, the real trick will be to teach Dempsey to say no to steak or chicken. We're working on that, but it might be a while before we have any videos to share.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Please hold

One of the "Big Dog" skills we've been focusing on lately is "hold." Before Big Dogs class, Dempsey used to let go of whatever object he'd retrieved as soon as your hand was near his mouth.

It hadn't really occurred to us that this could be problematic for someone with limited hand mobility, but in retrospect it's obvious -- we have a large can of tomato sauce with a toe-sized identation, caused when somebody let go of the can too soon. Ouch!

The goal now is to have Dempsey firmly hold an object, without chomping on it, until we tell him to "give." Dempsey has really taken this to heart, and now he sometimes snatches back the object if he thinks you're jostling it too much: "Uh uh! Say it! Say the word! I won't give it up till you say uncle!"

I think the snatch-back is pretty cute, but I imagine we'll have to un-train that, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hide and speak

One of the new skills Dempsey has learned is "go find," where he'll run off to find the person you named. This can be a very useful skill for a service dog.

We use it to play hide and seek:

You may have noticed that I pointedly did not say that this skill is useful for getting help. That's because it isn't.

We tried using "go find" help the other night in another attempt to get Dempsey to speak. Dempsey and I were sitting quietly at the desk upstairs, when I suddenly "collapsed" onto the floor, doubled over and moaning.

"Blech! Oh, my stomach! The pain!"

Dempsey started running in circles around me, his tail wagging.

"Dempsey, help me!"

Dempsey promptly started kissing my face.

"Oh the humanity! Blech! The horror, the horror! Barf!" My voice was getting hoarse from the screaming, but Dempsey just kept kissing me.

"Dempsey," I finally gasped, "go...find....mommy!"

As agitated as Dempsey was, he got up and ran out the door and down the stairs to Doreen.

Doreen rewarded Dempsey with a strawberry, which is one of the treats he gets when he comes or finds us. Now it was Doreen's turn to try to get Dempsey to bark.

"What is it, Dempsey? You say daddy fell and isn't well? Is that it, Dempsey? Is it? Tell me what's wrong! Tell me!"

I continued moaning and screaming for a few minutes, and when I finally couldn't do it any longer, I went downstairs. Doreen was still waving her hands and talking excitedly to Dempsey, who was just sitting and wagging his tail. Although I had apparently been dying in agony, all Dempsey could think about was collecting strawberries.

Fake illness: Doesn't work. Also in the "doesn't work" category: blowing a dog whistle; climbing a ladder and calling Dempsey from the top; tying Dempsey's leash to the door and calling him from across the room. I even tried just staring intently at Dempsey to make him umcomfortable. Dempsey stared back for a few minutes, and then started kissing me, because he thinks kissing or snuggling solves everything.

The last thing we've tried is borrowing a CD of animal sounds from the library. As you might expect, this didn't work, either. But it was interesting to see how our boys reacted. Buddy was convinced the sounds were coming from the amp, and he stubbornly kept looking there. Dempsey, on the other hand, tended to look at his reflection in the TV screen, and he was more apt to wander around to investigate.

Stubborn and vain: That's our boys!