Heaven in Rocket’s Eyes

Posted January 10, 2010 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

Yesterday Rocket took a trip to the groomer to get all gorgeous for the dog show today.  Thanks Teresa – he looks great!

Then early this morning we packed up and headed to St. Paul for the Land O’ Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show to help staff the Helping Paws table.  Rocket thought he was in heaven; for two hours he was fawned over by countless dog lovers, not to mention all the dogs.

I was so proud of him! – He exceeded my expectations and behaved very, very well for only a 10-month-old.  He did spend too much time rubbing his face on the floor off and on, an issue with the Gentle Leader we’re still dealing with, but he sat politely to be petted and shook hands whenever he was asked (and a lot of times when he wasn’t).  Everyone commented on how beautiful he was, and Rocket soaked it up.   It is pretty funny because he now seems to think that in addition to meeting people with a paw shake he is supposed to meet new dogs that way, too.  When he is given permission to come face to face with a new canine friend, he throws out his paw and puts it on their head as if to say, “Hi – nice to meet you – can we play?”  I’m not sure the other dogs know what to make of this.

Our purpose for being at the show was to encourage people to consider becoming a foster home for a Helping Paws dog, and it was  a lot of fun – I hope we’ll get a chance to do it again next year.  Our table was right at the entryway to the show by the escalators leading down to the show rings; that meant that the first thing people saw as they came to the show was Rocket and the other Helping Paws dogs, so we got to talk to a lot of people.    It was also fun to see some other Helping Paws dogs who are further along in their training.   Rocket was able to focus enough to practice some retrieves, drops, and loose leash walking.  We visited a few vendor booths after our shift was over, and Rocket “picked out” a new squeaky toy.  As I write this, he is lying on the floor next to me happily chewing on it – all in all, a very good day for the Rocket man.


Christmas Day Bath

Posted December 31, 2009 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

Wow – it has been a long time since we’ve posted!  As you can see from the above picture, Rocket is turning into a beautiful boy – the last time he was weighed he was up to 66 pounds, and I’m not sure when he’ll be done growing.

We’re working on some new skills.  One that is going to take a while to perfect is his door greeting behavior.  The final goal is that when he hears someone knocking or ringing the doorbell he will automatically go to a rug, lie down, and wait there until he is released.  You might guess that this is not a natural golden retriever behavior – ha – major understatement.    But we are breaking the behavior down into small pieces, and I can see how it will eventually work.  First he was trained to go lie down on the rug when given the command.   That wasn’t a problem;  he’ll do that pretty reliably.  Then I began by knocking on the front door from inside the house, giving him the “Go to bed” command, and clicking and treating him when he did that.  After a few days of knocking on the door, followed by the “go to bed” command, he began to anticipate what I was going to ask him to do and would go to the rug before being told to when he heard the knocking – so far so good.  Now to raise the criteria a bit.  I  sent my husband outside onto the porch for a few sessions of knocking on the door as if someone were really coming to visit.  This is  a bit harder for Rocket, but he is doing pretty well, and I can even open the door a little bit and he’ll wait on the rug.   However, the doorbell is proving somewhat more challenging – I bought a cheap wireless doorbell so that we can practice  anytime without having to have volunteers to stand outside.  The  problem is that Rocket can tell the difference between the wireless and the “real” doorbell; when I ring the wireless one, he stops, sniffs the air, and tries to figure out where the sound is coming from. For some reason he thinks it’s in the kitchen ceiling when it’s really up in the living room, and he is so interested in figuring out where it’s coming from that he forgets he has been told to “go to bed.”  It took us a few days of working on this for him to settle down enough to actually get him to go to the rug at all, much less doing it without being asked.  We are making some progress, but we’re definitely not there yet.  I have to remind myself  we probably have two more years to work on it.  In the meantime, I’m looking for volunteers to come over and ring the doorbell any time – the more practice, the better.

Another new skill Rocket is learning is to rest his head on my lap or on my feet.  Rocket  LOVES this one, to the point of shoving my arm and keyboard aside while I’m at the computer sometimes so he can plant his head.  Needless to say, he doesn’t get rewarded when he does this!  And it is very hard not to reward him because it is just so darn cute – he is still a very cuddly, lovable boy and it is hard to resist him sometimes.  I suspect that he knows this.

We’re also continuing to work on retrieving all kinds of objects, practicing his  loose leash walking, down-stays, sit-stays, taking off gloves and socks, and pushing the rocker light switch, and I feel overall things are still going pretty well.  We signed up to be at the Helping Paws booth at the Land O’ Lakes dog show on January 9th in St. Paul.  I’m looking forward to it; I haven’t been to a dog show in a while, and I’m also hoping it’s going to be a good training opportunity.  I am not expecting too much from him, since I think this will probably be the most distracting situation he has been in, with all of the noise, dogs, etc., so it’ll be interesting to see how he does.  If you’re coming to the show, feel free to come by and say hello to us, as I’d love to show him off; we’ll be there in the morning that day.

Now, the bath story.  I should have known better.  We let Rocket, Risa, and my daughter’s lab, Tess, outside in what we call the “Big Yard” on Christmas day.  The “I should have known better” part is that we can’t trust the dogs outside alone (yes, we have a fully fenced yard) for more than a few minutes, BUT we sat down to watch my 6-month-old grandson open some presents and forgot the dogs were out.  A while later I walked by the dining room door and saw Risa on the deck chewing on something that looked suspiciously like a piece of the house – it turned out to be some lattice that we had put around the deck in an effort to keep the dogs from getting under there and digging.  How Risa had gotten a hold of this I don’t know, but – uh-oh – this didn’t look good.  So I put on my jacket and boots and went out to the yard to investigate.  I called and called and didn’t see either Rocket or Tess anywhere and had a moment of panic, but I checked the gates and they were still closed.  So I called and called  and called and finally heard a whimper coming from the direction of the deck and discovered both Tess and Rocket under the deck – they had squeezed through a very narrow opening that Risa must have made when she ripped the lattice off – and they couldn’t figure out how to get back out.  I was able to grab each of them by the neck and pull them through and in the process discovered that, indeed, they had been digging in the slushy, muddy ground under the deck and Rocket was as filthy as I have ever seen any dog, ever.  There was no way he was going to avoid it, so Christmas Day evening he had his bath.  He actually doesn’t mind having a bath, but I definitely minded having to give it to him on Christmas Day!  He also stole my cell phone a couple of days after that right out from under me without my noticing it and chewed up the back.  Thankfully the phone still works and I can get a replacement part.  He is still most definitely in the adolescent stage!

Just for fun, I’m adding this little video from several months ago – I think I posted it on Facebook but never to this blog, so here he is at 2 months old after having been with us for only a couple of days.  He had just learned to go down the stairs, and for some reason he was convinced he needed to carry this big toy down the stairs and was SO frustrated, but SO cute!  It was fun for me to watch this again and remember how little he was.  That’s all for now – here it is 10:14 and we haven’t practiced all of our skills for the day, so we’d better get to it.

No Longer Perfect

Posted October 8, 2009 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

His "official" photo for the Tail Waggin' Dinner

His "official" photo for the Tail Waggin' Dinner

You might be thinking – perfect? A 7-month-old puppy? Of course, Rocket isn’t perfect. In fact, he has been showing a lot of adolescent naughtiness lately. Tonight he stole my toothbrush off the bathroom counter – I won’t be using that again. And he and his partner in crime, who will remain nameless, have a new game: when I forget to close the laundry room door, they sneak in and make a beeline for what they view as their basket of tug toys (a.k.a. clean clothes), choose an item that looks to be a good candidate, and initiate an intense game of keep away, tug, and shred.  Rocket has never been allowed on the furniture in our house- Helping Paws has good reason for this rule – but this morning I turned my back for a few seconds and noticed it was too quiet – I walked downstairs and found them wrestling on the bed.  All of this isn’t Rocket’s fault, of course. He is only doing what a puppy naturally does. I just need to be more vigilant.

However, that kind of perfect really isn’t what I was referring to. What I mean by no longer perfect is the fact that we received word today that next week Rocket and his litter mates will graduate from Perfect Puppies class and become Awesome Adolescents! Whoo-hoo! I’m excited for us to move on.  One of the differences in this class will be that I can bring Rocket into more public places; for instance, hardware stores, office hallways and the like; and, no, we’re definitely not ready for grocery stores yet; that will come much, much later. We had a little preview on a field trip to a hardware store with our class last week. All the puppies did amazingly well, and I was immensely proud of Rocket.  He did a lot of loose leash walking, sit-stays, down-stays, and walked with me up and down some very crowded aisles. Interestingly, he didn’t pay a lot of attention to the items on the shelves, but scraps of paper or tape on the floor- now that got his attention!

Left to right:  Stella and Rocket

Left to right: Stella and Rocket

Last weekend we had the privilege of watching one of his litter mates overnight – his sister Stella.  It was really fun to observe the different personalities they have.  Stella seems to be more energetic than Rocket –  he really is pretty laid back. Stella was pretty cute – I put Rocket’s rug on the floor to practice his “Go To Bed” command, and she plopped herself right down next to him. I wonder what they remember about their time together in their first weeks of life?

We have a couple of new skills we’ve been working on. You may remember when Rocket learned to push doors and drawers closed a few weeks ago. Now we have a rocker light switch that he is learning to press with his nose. He took to that right away.  And another skill is learning to tug. The first step was to get him to pull on something (an oven glove on my hand) instead of pushing it.  The first time I tried this at home Rocket grasped the concept in about two minutes – I was astonished at how quickly he caught on.  I had been expecting that since we had spent so much time working on “Push” that doing something completely opposite would be confusing to him.  But apparently not.  He continues to surprise me.   He will eventually use the tug  skill to take gloves or socks off, pull open doors, and other things I am sure.  But for now he gets very excited when he sees the oven mitt come out. Before we became a foster family, we visited a Helping Paws class.  After the class was over, one of the foster “moms” came up to introduce herself, and she told me to hold out my gloved hand to her dog. He ever so gently put his teeth over the very tips of my fingers and then carefully tugged off the glove; it was at that moment that I decided, “We’re going to do this,”  because I was so impressed. So now it is really fun to be beginning this skill with Rocket.

Well, that’s about it for our update. This Friday we are going to a Helping Paws graduation – our first. I am planning to bring a box of Kleenex. I am looking forward to it, as I believe it will help put things into perspective.  Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of why I’m doing this, and seeing the end result with other dogs will be good.

Travels and Transitions

Posted September 15, 2009 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

The long ride up North - road construction

The long ride up North - road construction

The past few weeks have been busy ones for Rocket. He traveled up north with us over Labor Day weekend and took a short hike in Split Rock State Park.  We followed a steep trail for only a few blocks to the top of a hill that gave us a spectacular view of the lighthouse and shoreline. Loose leash walking was pretty challenging, as he was overwhelmed with all the scents and sounds in the woods, but we took our time and finally made it to the top. If you’re ever on the North Shore I’d recommend the Day Hill Trail – it’s not at all crowded and quite worth the short climb. On the way home, we stopped at Gooseberry Falls State Park.  Being a holiday weekend, the park was overrun with visitors, and Rocket had plenty of chances to practice his seated greetings.  It has been fun to watch his progress with this.  Now when he sees someone new coming, he will often sit without being told, and as the visitor comes closer, he sometimes automatically throws his paw out as far as he can reach – he is beginning to figure out that shaking the paw is followed by lots of love and attention. Everyone thinks he is pretty adorable – of course, from my completely unbiased,  wholly objective perspective, I’d have to agree.


Cooling off in the Gooseberry River

As you can see from the picture at right, Rocket is growing pretty rapidly – he doesn’t have that far to go to catch up to Risa, and I’m confident his adult height will surpass hers.  He has made a couple of transitions lately that were milestones of a sort.  First of all, he rarely sleeps in his crate at night any more – Risa has a dog bed, and since I haven’t bought one for Rocket yet, he has appropriated hers.  I usually find him right there by my side in the morning, and when he knows I’m awake, he rolls over and offers his belly for his good morning scratch.  His territory is also expanding while I’m at work in my office; he no longer spends time in an ex-pen, but has the run of the room while I work.  Although I do have to redirect him every now and then, for the most part he simply lies down close by and lets me work; that is, unless Risa is also in the room – in that case, they still spend a LOT of time wrestling.

Then last Saturday was our first Tall Waggin’ Dinner, the major fundraising event for  Helping Paws of the year, held at the Southwest Marriott in Minnetonka. It was a very fun evening, and I was astonished at how well Rocket handled himself.  He didn’t jump on anyone, remained calm, was able to practice a few sit-stays in the midst of the very crowded hallways, and gave me some wonderful attention when we walked up on stage with the group of other new foster puppies.  We learned that at that time he still needed $2700 to be fully sponsored for the year, and I hope that with the money raised that evening he will be fully sponsored soon – I’ll be anxious to hear.  And a big THANK YOU to those of you have already pledged your support for Rocket – whether you’re in the Rocket Fan Club (hi G and K!) or are donors, I appreciate it so much!  It helps to know I have people cheering us on.

One cute story from this evening.  The newest skill Rocket is learning is to go to a rug and lie down.  I was in a hurry this evening, as I had a meeting to go to, so I decided to multitask and work on this while I was eating my dinner (okay – confession here – it was a bowl of cereal).  I set myself up with the clicker, a bowl of his kibble, and put his rug across the kitchen.   Rocket likes this exercise and offered a few good, solid behaviors, planting himself squarely in the middle of the rug.  Normally we are supposed to give the reinforcement in the position we are working on, but since I was in a hurry I was making him come to me to get his piece of food after the click.  After a few of these instances, Rocket decided he had had enough of this back and forth, and he picked up the rug, moved it over next to the table, and laid down on it, waiting for his click and treat! He may not have known exactly what he was doing or why, but I do like to see that he isn’t afraid to try something new – this is why I like training him – it’s so fun to watch him think!

Wouldn't you like to know what is really going on in my head?

Wouldn't you like to know what is really going on in my head?

Learning the Push Command

Posted August 22, 2009 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m going to let the video do most of the work in this post (remember, I promised not to write so much?).  A couple of weeks ago Rocket started to learn how to push things with his nose, and I thought it might be fun to track his progress as he went through the  process from the very beginning.  In all, I think we probably spent a total of about 20 to 25 minutes over the course of a few sessions for Rocket to get the hang of it.  My goal was that this would  give an example of how a behavior can be shaped with the clicker.  I started out by  clicking and treating him for merely showing interest in the piece of blue tape on the door and then gradually raised the criteria until he needed to push it hard enough to close it.  Since I filmed this, he has learned to close refrigerator doors, closet doors, drawers, and also can push the laundry basket  and his dish across the floor with his nose.   We were told in class that the “push” command will also be used in teaching him to turn on light switches in the future.   I hope you find the following interesting:

Two Steps Forward . . .

Posted July 28, 2009 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

Rocket meets Noah!

Rocket meets Noah!

It’s hard to believe Rocket is now 4 months old, and he has learned a lot in two months.    We have had a busy July, starting out by traveling up north for the 4th, where he attended a parade and enjoyed meeting several people.  I was a bit concerned about how he’d react to the loud air horns on the trucks in the parade, but he wasn’t phased by it at all and did a fantastic job of keeping focused on me.  He also met our new grandson and decided that he most definitely loves babies!

I am hearing a lot of comments from people about how well behaved he is for being only four months old.   I usually tell them that it is a good illustration of what consistency will do.  With our own dog,  Risa, I did  take her to some obedience classes, but to be honest, I was kind of lackadaisical about practicing the skills with her, and it shows.  With Rocket, however, because I have homework sheets to fill out and am held accountable, we’ve missed very few days of training.   The most compelling reason, however, to keep up a consistent schedule of training is the realization that someone else is going to depend on my doing a good job.  And when things aren’t going super well, I get a little worried that I’m going to do something wrong and “ruin” him.  So it was good to be reminded in class a couple of weeks ago that the training process doesn’t always go forward in a nice linear fashion, that it’s perfectly okay to back up a step if he’s having trouble with something, and that he doesn’t have to be at the same level on everything as every other puppy in class because  they often learn different things at different rates.

Here’s a list of the skills we’re working on this week and how he’s progressing:


Watch/Eye Contact: When we’re out in public, once he settles down he will often sit and just stare at me and people say, “Look at how he watches you!”  Since I work at home and he is in the office with me for part of every day, he will often plant himself by my side and just stare, as if to say, “See how I can watch?  Where’s my treat?”

Long Down: We practice this at night, usually when I’m watching the news.  He is put on his side and is expected to stay there until told to “Release.”  I can take my hands away from him and sometimes sit up on the sofa next to him for a couple of minutes, but sometimes I need to put my hands back on to remind him to stay there.  I can feel him relax right away when I put him in this position, so he seems to understand what this is about.  We’re up to doing this for 10 minutes at a time now.

Shaping/Wearing Gentle Leader: He loves to put the Gentle Leader on.  He still likes to rub his nose on the ground and sometimes on my legs, but he is doing less of this as time goes on (most of the time).

Sit With Variables (Increasing Time and Adding Motion): We are gradually increasing the time he will stay in a sit.  He will pretty reliably do it for 20 seconds at a time, and the goal is to get up to 60 seconds this week.  We introduced motion last week while in the sit  position, and he did well with that, too.

Recalls: He loves to come to me.  If he is out in our fenced back yard and wanders away, sometimes all of a sudden he stops and looks for me, and when he sees where I am, he pauses for a second,and then all of a sudden takes off  in a gallop at full speed toward me, and, of course, I take that opportunity to give him the cue, “Come!” (The $100 rule from class:  Don’t give the cue unless you’d be willing to bet $100 that the dog will do what you are asking him to do).

Loose Leash Walking: In low distraction environments he is doing awesome on this.  When out in public, after he settles down from his initial excitement at being in a new place, he walks happily by either side without pulling for several steps at a time.

Target Stick: A couple of weeks ago we were given collapsible metal rods and have been teaching the puppies  (with the clicker, of course) to touch the end of the sticks with their noses.   Rocket picked this up very quickly and will follow it now while I walk with it.  We’re apparently going to use the target sticks to help teach some future skills – I’ll let you know when we start to do that what they will be.

Roll Over: This command isn’t what you might think.; it means for Rocket to roll onto his back and not all the way over.  We added this skill last week, and Rocket learned it quickly.  It’s pretty cute – he bends his front paws and waits for his tummy rub as part of his reward.

Get It/Retrieve: We have been told we can add the cue “Get It” for the retrieve games we have been playing.  However, I didn’t add it yet because I felt Rocket has been kind of confused about this for the past few weeks, so instead I went back to the very beginning this week and just practiced throwing things into a corner and putting my hand under his chin when he picks the object up and having him give it to me.  I think the light bulb of understanding has been switched on again.  Tonight I had a bowl of popcorn in the living room – Rocket picked a clicker off of the end table and brought it over to me, so I put my hand under his chin and he gave me the clicker – I gave him a piece of popcorn, as I definitely wanted to encourage that  behavior!- I’ll have to check with Nancy if it was okay for him to have popcorn (usually I just use his regular food for training).


Shaping/Wearing Pack: Last week, I noticed that Rocket wasn’t moving forward all the way into the pack.  A couple of days ago, all of a sudden he even started turning his head away from the pack – yikes!   He was so happy about it before, I thought that would never be a problem (never say never, right?).  I’m guessing that this didn’t “just happen.”  I’m probably unconsciously communicating something to him with my body language about the pack, so for the last two days I’ve been  clicking him just for walking over to the pack.  He’ doesn’t have any problem if I put the pack on him myself, but so far he won’t walk into it any further than his head.  Maybe I’ll try working on this right before his meals to create a happier, more excited association with it.  This was probably the issue I was thinking of when I mentioned my occasional worry about “ruining” him.

Better go Now on Leash: For some reason, Rocket isn’t always responding quickly to the cue for this now – I’m going to go back to not giving the command until he is actually “going” and make sure to click and treat for it every time to see if it improves over the next few days.

Drop: He seems confused about this right now and will often just go into a sit instead.  I’m going to stop giving the cue for now and go back to getting a more reliable behavior.  I’ll post our progress to this and the other issues when I have anything to report.

Now I feel better – it helped for me to write these things down and get a good perspective on how well we’re really doing!  Yes, we have a few challenges, and I’m sure we’ll work through them.  And once that happens,  new ones will probably crop up.  In some  ways I enjoy  these little problems because  it is very satisfying to solve one!

Just for fun, here’s a little video of Rocket practicing “wait” for his food:

Challenges of a Well-Dressed Young Man

Posted June 30, 2009 by Carol
Categories: Uncategorized

Boy am I growing!  Now up to 26 pounds!

Boy am I growing! Now up to 26 pounds!

It has been a while since I’ve posted; we have been out of town visiting our new grandson (Of course, I’m very excited about this, but since this is Rocket’s blog, I’ll control myself and stick to the subject at hand ).  While we were away, Rocket was able to spend some time at another foster home with his littermate, Zuma, and from all accounts had a great time.  Thanks, Darleen and family for taking such good care of him!

Since last writing we had been given the go ahead to have the puppies wear their Gentle Leaders and packs (their blue coats) to class and on outings.  I was looking forward to this.  Besides the fact that he looks so adorable all dressed up, I was hoping it might make it easier to explain to people who wanted to pet him that he needed to mind his manners and remain sitting whenever he greets someone.   Last week I took him over to the neighborhood park while a ball game was going on, hoping to practice some greetings with children, and to my surprise people didn’t come up to me and ask to pet him at all – I heard one mother tell her children – “No, you can’t pet him, he’s working.”  While I appreciate that people understand this, it is going to force me to be a bit more assertive and ask people outright if they want to meet  him.

Oh, and remember the last time when I bragged about how well Rocket was doing with the Gentle Leader?  He still loves to put it on, but he doesn’t necessarily love to wear it right now.  In fact, he has been rubbing his nose on the ground whenever he gets onto a patch of grass, and to my embarrassment, on a trip to Petco he scooted around much of the store on his nose.   Nancy, our teacher, suggested that I make my trips to the pet store very short for now, merely walking in, practicing a few “watches”, and leaving quickly.   In class on Thursday I was also surprised that Rocket wasn’t picking his retrieve items up like he does at home; it dawned on me that I had been only practicing this without the Gentle Leader on.  Therefore, I am now practicing play retrieves while he’s “dressed”  at home, and I can see it might take a while for him to make the connection that it’s okay to pick things up with the Gentle Leader on.

In my best outfit.

In my best outfit.

Overall, though, I’m sure these are minor things that will be worked through, and I believe Rocket is still doing very well.  He is walking on a loose leash very, very well, with great attention, knows the “sit” command, can shake his right paw on command, is learning “drop,”  and can even have a bowl of food set in front of him and wait to eat it until he is told “release.”   One of his favorite things right now is a recall game, a dog version of Hide and Seek.  I throw out a piece of food to distract him, then run and hide somewhere in another room and call out “You can’t find me!”  He gets SO excited when he discovers where I am.  My understanding is that the goal of this game is to reinforce the idea that coming is always an exciting, fun event.  I have to admit it’s my favorite game to play with him, too.

Well, that’s our training update for now.  I took some pictures of him all “dressed up” this evening, but since I was home alone I had to tie his leash around the tree – he wouldn’t wander far enough away from me to get a decent picture of him –  a good thing!