Wag Walk & Run 2014

Scott, Seva, and I ran the 5k at the Wag, Walk, & Run this year. The weather was gorgeous. Seva was in the lead the entire 5k–I don’t mean leading the race. I mean she was out in front of me and Scott the whole way. She sets our pace when we run! She and I participated in the demo after the run and her Snuggle was awesome.

Wag Walk Run 2014

Me & Seva before the big run.


Wag Walk Run 2014

Scott & Seva


Runners gathering at the start line.

Runners gathering at the start line.


wag walk run 2014

Post run, happy puppy!




Training: Command Chain

Seva is 19 months old now. Her graduation is going to come up sooner than we think (between 2 and 2 1/2 years). At this point, she’s learned most of the skills she needs to be a service dog. The focus now is on consistency, duration, reducing food rewards, and linking commands into chains so that she can do more complex things. Oh, and minding her manners in public. That’s going to be tough!

We’ve been working on new skills, Rise–standing up on a wall–and Put–dropping an object into a bin, instead of Giving it to me. These are tough skills for a puppy. Recent additions to our homework have been to put together commands in a chain.

Now, Seva can do all sorts of command chains, like Get It, Bring, Give. Get Dressed, Rest Your Head. Rise, Snuggle. Those command chains are natural and intuitive. I didn’t think she was ready for a chain with Rise or Put in it, until Sunday.

I had her Rise (we practice with a board to save our walls), and thought, “What the heck.” I grabbed her light switch and gave the next command in the chain: Light. She did it! Camera time:




And if she could do Rise-Light, why not Rise-Put? I tried. She succeeded. I grabbed my phone again. It was propped up on the counter, so forgive the framing. You’ll see in the second go that Seva tries to quit halfway. She puts her chin on her crate like, “Come on, Mom. That’s good enough.” Typical teenager!


Get It-Rise-Put


Helping Paws Graduation

Friday night was the Helping Paws Graduation. There were five graduate teams (person + dog). Scott was the event photographer and I assisted him while Seva waited, not so patiently, off to the side. It was hard for the little bear to be leashed to a table while people and dogs milled about right in front of her. Still, the photographer and his assistant had work to do and she did actually survive not being the center of attention for a while.

Increased independence, companionship, and social visibility are major benefits of having a service dog. It was wonderful to see dogs that have been placed and to hear from the graduates how the dogs have already made their lives better. One of them is the first Helping Paws dog to be placed with a veteran as a PTSD dog. Maybe you’ve seen Carl and Jed in the news. Carl has said that Jed is helping him reconnect with his family.

Seva is about a year away from graduation. Yes, I will be sad to give her up. Of course, but if you see the dogs with their graduates and hear how a dog has changed someone’s life, you’ll understand why Seva is a Wonder Dog.


2013 Helping Paws Graduates

2013 Helping Paws Graduates

Training Video: Retrieve

We have been busy training, doing lots of public outings. Seva is maturing slowly but surely. We see less of the dingo and Bitey McBite Bite as the days roll by. Seva’s litter just moved from the Awesome Adolescents  curriculum to the Working Wonders. I want to show you a training video: Retrieve.

Service dogs need to pick up anything their person drops, so long as it’s safe to do so. Those objects are not always familiar or easy to grab, so it’s important Seva practice with lots of stuff.

I asked her to pick up a full plastic bottle. Watch what happens.



Persistance wins!

Would you work that hard for a rice cake? 

My Baby is a Bitch

Seva has gone into heat. Yep, our little girl is growing up. And now she has to wear a diaper, poor thing.

Helping Paws does not spay or neuter dogs early because the hormones that begin at puberty help increase bone density. And Seva, who had lots of urinary tract infections, has to go through a heat cycle before spaying.

This has a pretty big hassle factor attached to it. For one, Seva is basically quarantined for the next three weeks to insure she does not get impregnated by a roving male. I’m told they’ll be able to smell her from a distance of 2 miles and will leap fences in a single bound to have their way with her. As a friend of mine said, “That’s some pretty potent juice!”

Once the heat cycle is done, I’ll be able to spay her. That will be followed by 3 weeks of post-operative recovery. This is the most active dog–she loves to tumble and leap down the stairs, wrestle with anyone who’ll take her on, and jump like a kangaroo. So after 3 weeks of quarantine, she’ll get 3 weeks of recovery.

Wish us luck!

When Sit is Not Sit

Something you may not know about dogs is that they don’t generalize very well. Context really matters. Telling your dog to sit in the kitchen and to sit in the living room are two different commands.

Service dogs needs to perform consistently no matter when, where, or what their trainer is doing. This means part of Seva’s training is to follow commands in as many locations as I can get her. Also, she should do what I ask whether I’m standing over her, sitting, lying down, or even on the phone.

Here we are practicing some basic commands. Normally, if I get on the floor, it’s to join her on her level, not to give her commands, so it takes a minute for Seva to get in the game. It helps that she was in training mode with her pack on before I got on the floor.


The Adolescent Update

Seva is no longer a baby. She has entered adolescence. That’s right, we have four teenagers in the house. Heaven help us!

In a puppy, this means we now have 1 part toddler combined with 1 part teenager. She is as energetic as ever. She still bites and chews, even going Dingo on us from time to time–the molars haven’t set in yet. She is just as social and distracted as ever. And there’s no indication of her indiscriminate eating becoming more discriminate. As for the teenager, add to the above the inclination to challenge authority and an obstinate streak that rivals my own!

Being a puppy still, she needs a lot of exercise. With the snow, ice, and mud these days it’s challenging to get enough outdoor running time–we were doing great until she started digging muddy holes all over the yard. So how do we tire out an adolescent puppy?


And, another very short video to make you smile.

Like all dogs, Seva needs a bath. Unlike all dogs, Seva, the Wonder Dog, dries herself after each bath.

And no, she’s not trained to dry herself. She’s done this since she was a wee puppy!


Civic Duty & Animal Urges

Seva had an appointment at the veterinarian, so we popped into our polling place on the way. And this seems like a good time to explain what it’s like taking a service dog-in-training out in public.

Let me say, I figured she could handle it after she handled Minnetonka Middle School where she was swarmed by kids in the hallways, but I was ready to abort the mission at any moment–going out is all about the dog.

Seva did great. We worked on Sit and Watch before going inside, and again before getting in line. I did not want her in close proximity to any people unless I had her attention! This is typical for any public place. She has to be working with and for me, not following her animal urges. This animal’s urges tell her to greet everyone, jump, lick, and paw.

Speaking of animal urges: Dogs live through their noses, so anywhere with food or smelly stuff down low is out for Seva. We were in the hardware store last week with the Perfect Puppy class and she suddenly got a whiff of something on the floor. That was it. Nothing I said or did could pull her nose away from the linoleum. I couldn’t see or smell anything, so I have no idea what got her attention, but boy was it good! When a dog is working, we’re asking her to ignore her own urges. You ever get an itch on the bottom of your foot (or some other inconvenient part) during a meeting? All you want to do is pull off your shoe and rub your sole, but you can’t. You have to focus on what your boss wants you to focus on, and it sure isn’t your foot!

Seva gets itchy. She likes to “swim.” She rolls onto her back and wriggles around, her paws swimming in the air. This doesn’t go away just because she’s wearing the blue pack. She drops her shoulder to the ground and propels herself forward with her hind legs, digging her face and side into the ground. If I don’t get her on her feet fast enough, she’ll be doing the backstroke, decorum be damned.

When people see Seva sitting at attention, walking nicely, following my commands, they smile. They often want to talk to me or touch her. This can be nice. It can also kill a training session. SEVA LOVES EVERYONE. If she notices someone smiling at her, that can be enough to have her jumping at the end of her leash. She especially loves elderly ladies. I have no idea why, she just does.

Today, I caught a little boy sneaking up behind Seva, on tiptoes, hand out, big grin on his face. His mother was voting somewhere in the room. It was lucky I saw him before Seva did. To her, he would have been a playmate and it would have been pandemonium in the polling place.

I have a confession to make. I was training Seva with my right hand today, and the person who used that pen after me probably found a bit of salmon kibble residue on it. Sorry!


Seva votes.


Always know when to leave. Have you ever had to rush out of a place due to toddler meltdown? Everything is fine, then something snaps. Well, it’s the same deal with puppies. They can only take so much stimulation at a time and it wears them out. They lose all focus.

Seva’s preferred “I’ve had enough” tactic is to park her butt and not move. It used to be I could pick Seva up and carry her to the car. She is now 51.6 pounds of lead.

She was a good girl at the polling place. She was also good at the veterinarian’s office, though deteriorating. The nice lady there gave her a cookie, so that helps. But once we were out the door on a busy street, getting to the car was tough. I have spent long stretches of time cajoling her, holding kibble under her nose, begging her to get off her rump and walk! Today, once she moved I practically ran to the car–to hesitate would have been to lose her again.

And this is the face of a puppy who is done!


I voted.