Tag Archives: Dog training

10 things we love about Sit Stay Read

About a year ago, I got the chance to sit down with a woman who was the director of a small dog therapy organization on the east coast. She had observed Maisie and I from afar, and when we met she confirmed that Maisie had the temperament for therapy work. She was especially impressed when she saw Maisie’s non-reaction to three small French Bulldogs that lunged at both of us while barking like maniacs. We were both startled, but Maisie stayed right by my side and kept walking as I guided the two of us around them.

She encouraged me to look into smaller groups in addition to the well known large groups. I was interested in working with children. When my kids were in grade school, I enjoyed volunteering in their classrooms. I also used to teach swimming lessons to 3 to 6 year olds at our local YMCA, and I missed being around kids that age. I found a list of therapy dog organizations on the AKC website and noticed Sit Stay Read located in Chicago. After reading about their goal to improve reading and literacy skills for Chicago Public School students, it appeared to be the perfect match for Maisie and me.

I attended two different training sessions to learn more about what we would be doing. When I felt like Maisie was ready, I scheduled her temperament test with their evaluator and was thrilled when she passed. I was required to do three different observations and then I brought Maisie to a school session for our final step. We entered the classroom as one of the dog teams and were observed by the dog team evaluator. She watched us both as we interacted with the students and advised us when we needed it. At the end of the hour, she happily welcomed us to the program!

We just finished our first six week session in one classroom and are in the middle of a session in another classroom. Each week, Maisie is more and more comfortable with the routine and she continues to impress me with her ability to bond with the kids. We will be in new classrooms after spring break and I’m so excited to get to know a new group of kids!

  1. A specific curriculum has been developed for each grade by a Program Advisory Committee that utilizes dog themed books and materials. You can read more about each grade level here.
  2. The first day of each session is dedicated to dog safety. The children learn about how to approach a dog, ask permission, let the dog sniff their hand and where the best place is to pet a dog. They also learn about the signals a dog may send to them. Student volunteers act out dog body language in different situations which is a lot more memorable than simply being told what to watch for.
  3. A program leader is always present to manage the classroom and introduce all of the volunteers. We have a pre-program meeting to go over the readings of the day and also the dog team question. We answer a new question each week that relates to the readings. For example, it might be describing a certain characteristic using rhyming, similes or alliteration. The program leader makes sure everything is running smoothly and jumps in wherever needed. They also read a few of the students’ stories or poems out loud and lead the Sit Stay Read keep reading cheer before we leave.
  4. At the end of each session, each student receives a bound collection of their stories or poems that they can keep as a souvenir.
  5. At the end of the school year, each participating school has a Keep Reading Celebration. The kids get to visit with a dog team one more time and they each receive a Summer Reading Fun Pack. The packs include pencils, erasers, crayons, a design-it-yourself notebook and an assortment of books. In 2017-2018 each student received SIX brand new books for all age groups for themselves and to read to their siblings!
  1. Belly rubs and treats!
  2. The smiles on all of the kids faces when Maisie and I walk in the room and spread out her blanket.
  3. When the kids settle in and relax next to her while they are reading the books and their poems.
  4. She loves wearing her bandana, it means she’s going to see the kids.
  5. She knows when to give a little extra loving to the kids that are completely at ease with her.

If you live in the Chicago area and would like to learn more about volunteering with Sit Stay Read as a dog team or a reading buddy click here.

Close but no cigar

I have this memory of one of my favorite teachers walking up and down the aisles in our classroom muttering “close but no cigar, close but no cigar, close but no cigar”.

As she passed out the pop quiz that she had given us the day before, I noticed more and more confused faces looking around the room. I knew something was off when she approached my desk, looked me in the eye and stated “close but no cigar”. I looked down at my quiz, took in a couple of correction marks and read the blaring red letters across the top of the page: close but no cigar.

That’s how she chose to grade that quiz. None of us had any idea how this would be translated in the grade book. There were more than a few stressful looks on the over-achievers that surrounded me in that room!

We were second semester seniors with six weeks left of school. This was her way of giving us all a kick in the butt and letting us know there would be no slacking off in her class. We were hers until the first week of May, and we still had Classic American Literature to focus on before we walked across a grand stage and got our diplomas.

Last weekend, I stood on one side of an obedience ring while Winn waited for me on the other. I put on a smile and gave her my very best, upbeat command to come to me.

She sat upright, eyes glued to me, waiting for my signal.

She stayed there, upright, eyes glued to me, not coming on my signal.

We watched each other for too long and then I had to give her one more command.

She proudly ran to me, stopped perfectly in front of me and gave me her prettiest sit. Then she waited for my next signal.

When she saw me wave my right hand, she ran behind me and sat in position on my left side. She looked up at me with her most loving expression.

I laughed under my breath and gave her a big hug when the judge said, “exercise finished”. That’s when I heard those words in my head. Close but no cigar.

We’ve got more work to do, she and I.

After receiving two qualifying scores the day before, I was overly confident as we entered the ring.

Winn was excited, our warm-up went really well. I had her attention and she was eager. Her performance of her off leash heeling was near perfect and the best it’s ever been. I was feeling so good, we were going to get her novice obedience title, Companion Dog!

And then she failed the recall….

You only get one try, and to be fair, I don’t think she heard me. She was positioned close to the judges table and there was a lot of conversation and ring noise behind her.

She was trying to block all of that out and give me her full focus, unfortunately, she just didn’t get my first command.

Her recall has never been something I had to worry about. Those are the things that always get you, the things you don’t worry about.

She performed the next excercises perfectly and then we were excused with an “I’m sorry, not today”.

So….we will keep training, keep working and keep trying. We’ve still got things learn and hopefully next time we won’t be “close but no cigar”.

First two legs down, one more to go!

Our year in pictures

January: Annie, Winn’s first Rally title, fun times in the snow, training and Winn’s Canine Good Citizen title.

February: Snow!! Hearst Castle and indoor swimming.

March: St. Patrick’s Day, a VERY tiring grooming seminar and chasing chickens.

April: Kansas City with Maisie.

May: Newfoundland National Specialty, meeting new friends and attending a water training workshop with our Canadian buddies.

June: celebrating Maisie turning 5 and Winn turning 1 on our newly designated Annual Dog Birthday in honor of Annie, more ribbons for Winn and Therapy Dog training with Maisie.

July: 4th of July and water training with our friends.

August: Lots and lots of training fun and our very first Newfoundland Water Test (we didn’t do very well, but it was a great experience).

September: Studying hard for our final water test, which was our most successful and a great way to end the summer.

October: October baseball and Halloween, Maisie and I began our quest to find all of the murals in town.

November: Thanksgiving, playing in the leaves and frolicking in the first snowfall of the season.

December: The most wonderful time of the year!

so long, 2018!

How is it that the year is over? In some ways it seems like it flew by and in others it feels like it’s been a very long year.

It certainly didn’t start out the way that I had hoped. I had such big plans for Annie. For the first time since we brought her home, she didn’t bark at my son when he came home for Christmas break last year. She had finally accepted him as a safe member of the family and was able to tuck her fear of men away when she saw him. That was huge!

Unfortunately, she developed an illness that she just couldn’t overcome and we had to say goodbye on January 12. Even up until the day before, I was convinced that we could find a way for her to recover. She deserved more time with us but that disease is incurable and I promised her that she would never suffer in our house. It was the hardest decision I have ever made and to be honest, I’m still not over it. It was the right decision for her but I mourn her loss every day.

I think I overcompensated for Annie by working with Winn. We went to a Rally trial right before Christmas and she brought home her first ribbons! After that success, we continued to train in Rally and she earned her Novice title. In May, We traveled to the Newfoundland National where she earned her Rally Intermediate title and more ribbons. In June, I printed up the rules for the Beginner Novice title in competition obedience and entered a trial. She did beautifully in that and earned that title as well!

Once the weather warmed up, I decided to try and train us both for a Newfoundland Water Test and she was a natural. It was much harder than I imagined it would be, but on our final attempt in September, she came as close as she possibly could to earn that title and I was so proud. We didn’t pass the test, but she was able to execute each and every exercise, and we had so much fun working together. She really is an amazing example of a working dog and she loves to learn new things.

Maisie and I had very active year as well. We traveled together to Kansas City in April for a blogging conference and she was so well behaved. We’ve been working for quite a while at trying to become a Therapy Team. At the conference, I met a woman who was a director of a Therapy Dog program and she gave me some great advice on what to look for in a program. She was very impressed with Maisie, especially when she didn’t react and stayed right by my side after she was lunged at by a trio of very loud French Bull Dogs.

I’ve had to put our training on hold several times over the past couple of years, but this fall I was able to finally make some progress with her. I found an organization that seemed like a good match for us and in October she passed their temperament test. I need to do some observation visits on my own and with her before we can be officially certified. Once I get those done, hopefully we can get to work sometime in the next month or two.

The holidays always seem like a whirlwind and this year was no different. I love decorating our house for Christmas and this year I made a wreath to layer over the mirror that hangs above our fireplace. I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out! (I have admired a similar one for the last couple of years but I felt it was too expensive, so I gathered the supplies and made a bigger one at a fraction of the cost.) It was the perfect backdrop for the many silly holiday pictures that Maise and Winn patiently posed for.

As I reflect on the past year, I am pleased to say that we’ve accomplished a lot of the goals that I had for 2018. I admit, I’ve had a harder time writing this year, Annie was previously my inspiration so much of the time. I hope that as 2019 rolls around, I’ll be able to keep the blog going, but most of all, I’m looking forward to more fun times with Maisie and Winn!

Back to training for round 2

Once we returned home from our first water test, I was antsy to get back in the water and train with Winn but we would need to wait for at least another week.

Reflecting on what we did well and what we needed to work on, I was most concerned that Winn would have a newly developed fear of water because of the run-in she had with the horsefly.  A couple of days before our next practice, I snuck up to the lake with Winn on a weekday when I knew there wouldn’t be anyone else around, brought her favorite toys and planned to just have play time in the water.IMG_7958When we arrived, she went right down to our regular spot, waded right in and was ready to go after her toys. What a relief!

IMG_5662We played with different toys for a while and I mixed in her bumper and life jacket just for fun. She wasn’t reluctant at all to go after anything I threw out for her so I was pretty confident the horsefly fear had been tucked away and as long as another one didn’t show up while we were testing, we should be fine.

The exercise that I knew we still would have trouble with was Tow A Boat.  After her reluctance to go to the steward at the last test, I knew I wanted to have different people give her treats from the boat to reinforce her approach.  The biggest issue for her has been dropping the bumper before she gets the boat up on the beach. I understand why she does this, if she’s able to walk, the people in the boat can walk too and are no longer needing to be saved. Now I had to figure out how to get her to take it further so I pulled out my training book and re-read all of the different suggestions on how to get her to pull the boat until I say stop.IMG_8390If I couldn’t get her to pull the boat all the way in before dropping the bumper, we would still have a chance if she picked the bumper back up and pulled some more. It’s not a very efficient way of doing it, but I would be allowed to keep directing her to pick it up and pull as many times as necessary until the boat was beached.  The telling sign is that the boat comes to a stop and the line is still taught.  If the boat drifts in and the line is slack, she needs to keep pulling until there is tension in the line, then the exercise is finished. I decided to focus on that. My first choice was to have her keep coming toward me in one smooth motion, but I wanted to have a back up plan so that we would still have a chance of passing.

Every night before dinner I placed her bumper on the ground and told her to “get it” and “come”. We would do this three times and then she got her food.  When she was doing this well, I tied her jug filled with water to the end of her bumper line. I would tell her “get it” and “come” and she would pull the line tight and then keep walking until I told her to “halt” and “give”.  Winn will do most anything for food so after doing this for several days successfully before dinner I started randomly calling out “get it” at different times of the day until I was sure that she really knew what to do and that she was willing to do it.img_8178Finally we were ready to get back to practice with our training group and we met up on Labor Day. Technically Winn still wouldn’t be cleared to mix with other dogs for another three days but I would keep her away while the boys practiced and then bring her down after they had done everything they wanted to do.  We always set up crates and keep the dogs separated when we practice since we act as each others’ stewards but I didn’t want her to be a distraction.  This was an important practice for all of us and we all wanted to do our best. Our next test was scheduled for that Saturday and this was our first practice with the boat in over a month (she was completely confused during the test in Indiana which was the last time she had tried the exercise).

The weather that day was terrible. Winn and I had gotten there early so that we could practice on our own before everyone got there. I had brought Winn’s jug and attached it to a blow up donut ring so that we could practice beaching on our own before it was our turn with the boat.  After all of the work in the house she did it perfectly! She kept pulling until I said stop and she even was willing to pick up her bumper from the ground and pull again.  Thank goodness our work at home was paying off!  Soon after that a storm came rolling through.  We all stayed in our cars watching the weather maps, hoping it would blow past so that we could get on with a practice. Normally we probably would have gone home but we all had things we wanted to work on before the test and the boat was there so we waited and eventually the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful day.IMG_8431After the other dogs had all practiced I brought her back down for her turn with the boat. Our normally calm lake was pretty churned up with the wind and the storm and she wasn’t as confident as usual.  She swam out short distances and did everything really well but when we moved out further to the test distance she didn’t want to swim out. I decided that we wouldn’t go to the test in Michigan on Saturday, our friends hadn’t signed up for that one and would be practicing that day instead. Our club’s test was the following weekend (at the same location where we have been practicing) and I really wanted us to be our best for that one since it was our last chance.  It would be better for us to have a fun practice with our friends than try and do everything perfectly in a new location with the added nerves of being in a test.IMG_7618I was glad I made that decision because when we went back on Saturday she did have a couple of issues that we worked through and by the end of practice she was doing Take A Line and Tow A Boat perfectly. I wasn’t concerned about the other exercises so we didn’t practice them, I just mixed in her favorite retrievals to break up “the work”, which for Winn isn’t work at all.  She really loves being in the water and her energy level was great. She was swimming without her life jacket and was still really strong at the end of practice.  We were as ready as we were going to be.  She had mastered all six exercises in our first summer of training and I was so happy with all that she had learned.  If we could pull it off in the test, that would be the cherry on top.IMG_8460next post: test time once again!