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February 19, 2022

Fred Has Issues (Don’t We All!)

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Written by: Bob Guere
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Fred Has Issues (Don’t We All!)

Fred and I enjoyed our afternoon with the ladies at Restoration Ranch. For those who don’t know, RR is a transitional home for women who have left life on the streets for life with a higher purpose.

We went for a lovely walk, then worked on Fred’s commands. Not only is focused practice on advanced commands, and refinement of the simpler ones, very important at this point (6-8 weeks away from Fred’s homecoming). But we are also dealing with some challenges that have arisen. Some of the undesirable behaviors Fred is exhibiting are, I think, in part to do with his age and the particular developmental stages he is going through. For example, he is marking EVERYTHING under the sun, and even a couple of things the sun doesn’t reach, like my friend’s living room chair!! I was mortified when he did this! I mean, it may be something to “let slide” with an average pup, but Fred is a working dog, and pottying in inappropriate places, for him, could mean grounds for termination!

Funny side note:
Luckily, the only times Fred ever pottied in public were when he was a little baby. One was pee, the other was poo, both happened in the appliance department at Sears! Oh, and one other time in Vegas. Again, when he was little enough for me to still carry in my arms, we were rushing through the casino to get outside when he dropped a little turd-ball. I almost died of embarrassment! Luckily there was a cleaning lady right behind us who hurried over and scooped the poop into her trash picker-upper without so much as a second thought. Poor little Fred…that was totally understandable, as we were staying on the 56th floor of the Palazzo Hotel and it took us forever to get down the elevator, all the way through the casino, and up the block to the (fake) grass!

But I digress.

Fred is getting neutered this Thursday, which I think will resolve some of the insatiable marking stuff. It may also calm him down a bit.

Fred has always had a perfect blend of excited puppy energy, and mature calmness. Lately though, he has been getting overly-excited whenever he sees other dogs while we are walking on leash, or hears them barking. While this might also have something to do with his raging teenage boy hormones, it is a behavior pattern that must be broken with desensitization to the stimuli. So Lisa has been working with us on this.

Finally — and perhaps most disconcerting — the groomer told me that Fred completely flipped out when she tried to pick up his feet to trim the hair between his paw pads! This is NOT GOOD. Service dogs go through extensive practice with being groomed. Simply having their ears cleaned, their teeth cleaned and their nails clipped on a regular basis is a very important part of their training. Well, I hate to admit it, but one of my shortcomings as a trainer is that I am nervous about clipping dogs’ toenails. I got decent at doing it with the Dremel in school last year, but I have been remiss in working with Fred’s nails.

Considering that Fred is so often around groups of children who grab and manipulate and play with his paws with no hint of any adverse reaction whatsoever, this surprised me. But I think I know why he has a negative association with people picking up his feet in a certain way. Months ago, he stepped on several thorns while pottying in a field, and I had to yank them out, which was painful for him. That and/or he isn’t fond of the sound the fur-cutting clippers make. Either way, we began working with him on this issue at the mission a couple of Fridays ago with Lisa. To be honest, it was very intense emotionally. Lisa would try and pick up any one of his paws, and he would struggle and bark. It was a context in which I have never seen Fred, and I actually thought - for the first time ever - that maybe he wouldn’t make it as a service dog.

That thought quickly diminished as Lisa showed me how to desensitize Fred to having his paws touched, starting with getting him in a calm-submissive state of mind. Within half an hour, he had already made remarkable strides. And since then, I have been manipulating his feet every which way, and he makes no bones about it! We still have progressive work to do in this vein, however. Using super high value treats, I must practice not only picking up his paws, but trimming his nails with an electric Dremel, so as to desensitize him to the sound along with the motion and the touching.

So…The picture you see here is of one of the ladies at Restoration Ranch, fiddling with Fred’s feet with Fred looking on, his proverbial feathers unruffled.

It is all about practice, practice, practice. I have all the faith in the world that Fred will be a phenomenal service dog, and that any issues that have arisen are perfectly manageable!

We will continue to keep you posted, of course, as Fred and I wrap up our time together, and both of us move into the next new, respective phases of our lives. — Liz


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