Monday, March 1, 2010

Bruce column about Chad

Chad comes to our house every Sunday for a visit. Chad is only about six months old but is full of energy. First thing in the morning we dress him up in his green training vest and take him to church with us. He has no idea what church is all about but is learning that he needs to endure the three hours and behave himself. When church is over we reward him for being good by taking him to Top Stop, he loves to eat ice out of a cup. Then we turn him loose in the back yard to work off some of his excess energy. After a half-hour or so of romping around in the back yard it’s nap time. Like me he loves to curl up in front of the fireplace and take a Sunday afternoon nap. Chad is a beautiful black Labrador puppy who is in the early training stages of learning how to be a guide dog for the blind.
Roger Prestwich, Karen’s brother, is a puppy raiser for an organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind. He volunteered to be a puppy raiser and acquired Chad last October. He decided to be a puppy raiser because of encouragement from his sister Karen who is also my wife. She had observed one of our neighbors, Diana DeWald walking a puppy home from school each afternoon. She suspected Diana’s dog was being trained to be a guide dog for the blind. One afternoon Karen and I saw Daryll, Diana’s father, walking if front of our house with the same puppy. He stopped to visit with us and told us that the dog was, as Karen suspected, being trained by his daughter to be a seeing eye dog. He told us that this was the fourth dog their family worked with. After our visit with Daryll, Karen decided that her brother would be a good puppy raiser and convinced him that he should give it a try. Roger applied, was accepted, and went to Salt Lake last October to get Chad off the guide dog puppy truck. On that day Roger was presented with an eight week old cute black ball of fur that was full of energy and totally undisciplined.
Roger and Karen soon discovered that raising a puppy was an enormous task. It was like having a newborn baby. Chad was not house trained, he wanted to chew on anything he could find, he would cry at night, and he was into everything. His only redeeming value was that he was a cute all black Labrador puppy. After a few weeks it became obvious that Roger was becoming frustrated and needed some help. Because Karen had encouraged Roger to become a puppy raiser she felt obligated to give Roger a break once in a while by taking him on Sundays. She did what she had to do to become an official puppy sitter for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Now she regularly helps Roger out by giving him a break from the intense attention Chad demands. She takes him every Sunday, and other days as needed.
Roger has done a good job training Chad and teaching him to behave himself. It’s been a lot of work. Chad has grown to almost a full sized Labrador. He is house broken and is learning that he should only relieve himself outside on command. He will sit on command, and will come when called. He doesn’t whine very much anymore, but he still likes to chew on things. He is slowly learning that when he is wearing his green vest he is expected to behave differently because he is working. He can’t allow himself to be distracted by people, cats, other dogs, or any other animals. He knows that he can’t jump on people and is not allowed on furniture. When Chad does something he shouldn’t do he gets a leash correction, sometimes the correction has to be real firm to get his attention. When he is behaving himself and does what you want him to do he is rewarded verbally by telling him what a good dog he is. Chad is never told “no.” There is always a temptation to tell him “no” but “no” is simply not a word that is used to discipline Chad or any of the dogs who are training to be guide dogs for the blind.
At six months old Chad can still be a handful and want to do puppy things. Last Sunday he was on his leash in the house, but somehow got away. The first thing he did was take after the cat, he wanted to play. The cat was smart enough to get someplace high where Chad couldn’t reach her. He then grabbed a pine cone out of a bowl on the coffee table and took off upstairs. He knew he had done something wrong, but he is still a puppy and wanted to see if he could get away with it. Karen took after him but Chad was smart enough to know that with evasive tactics he could avoid being caught. It was a game for him. He was having a great time as Karen chased him around the kitchen table then around the coffee table in the living room. She finally called for help. It took both of us to corner him in the living room and get him under control.
Roger will probably have Chad until next October. By then the plan is that he will be totally under control, learned basic obedience and good manners, lost all of his mischievous puppy tendencies and be ready for the next step in becoming a guide dog. He’ll get back on the puppy truck and head west where his training will continue at one of the two Guide Dogs for the Blind campuses either in Oregon or California. When Chad is finished with that training and graduates he will be given to a blind person as a permanent companion.
It will be a sad day when Chad is given back to Guide Dogs for the Blind. I’m sure there will be lots of tears. We’ll probably go to his graduation. The only thing that will soften the pain of giving him back is knowing that he has been trained well and will be a lifelong companion and guide dog to a blind person.

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