Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow for the holidays in Minnesota...

Mia's family has been very been very busy, so this post is long overdue. There has been much socializing and many field trips, now that she is in "Big Dog Class". We can see many ways in which she is growing up. She is calmer around guests, we have moved the wastebasket to the floor, and we can open up more of the house to her. We work on her skills in our daily living, including wait, stay, hold it, leave it, carry, look and many more. She still likes to find things on the floor, but now she usually just holds them proudly rather than eating what she finds. She also knows she has to bring whatever she finds to us when we say bring.

Mia had a nice Christmas Day, with a new bone, tennis balls and treats from one of her main sponsors. She says Woof Woof, which is dog for Thank You.

The snow has been fun. There are fewer sticks to eat and she is more willing to give them up for a piece of kibble. We think she was bit by a mouse she found under the snow, as we have never seen her move that fast. We go to our favorite nature center where she can
safely play with well behaved dogs and that both keeps her in shape and tires her out. We also practice her really reliable recall every time we are there.

On our field trips she continues to learn and she seems to be genuinely curious about the world outside our home. She went to a Timberwolves game and sat on the cool cement floor intently watching the game and the lights below us. People still ask if she is a puppy, since she is so small. We cheerfully tell them about Helping Paws.

So to all of you,

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for Twenty Ten !

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mia had a great Thanksgiving...

Of course holidays mean getting a manicure for some women, including Mia. We do this using the command "roll over". She doesn't love this, but will always cooperate for a few bits of dog food. She does love having her teeth brushed, and sits attentively while I put the paste on the brush.

Thanksgiving this year included many visitors to our home. She was pretty good with them, not jumping up or too much licking. It helped to run off steam at the park where we practiced really reliable recall.
Mia has never taken any people food, but still loves to find an unattended shoe or remote control. We are working on the finer details of "take it", "hold it", "carry" and "give".

Mia had a lot of field trips this month, the library, jewelry store, art store, Target, Caribou, Post Office, hardware store, Purgatory Park, Fresh Season's Market, and more. Some of these trips involve working with the wheel chair and some are on foot. She likes the stimulation, and to look out the car window en route. We can see she is settling down a bit and we are more confident of her good behavior with guests and while out in public. We praise her a lot and sometimes say to her, with pride, "You are special Mia. You are a service dog!"

Monday, November 2, 2009

So what does it mean to be in big dog class...

Mia and George are going to big dog class once a week. In this class her skills are being strengthened by lots of work on using her many skills in daily life. She is working more with the wheelchair and going on more outings with us. She has been to lots of new places, including Dairy Queen, the Liquor Store (because the Caribou Coffee we were going to was closed) twice to the vet for shots, and to the post office. We are learning there are many types and locations for the door switches.
Mia continues to explore nature. We take her to a park where there is an area for dogs. She loves this and gets all excited on the way in the car. We take a walk for about 45 minutes and play with other dogs. They are pretty well behaved, and many of them are becoming her friends. One day she found some crab apples under a tree and decided to eat them. That was the only time she would not come for the "really reliable recall" we use. Today's picture is her resting after a run in the park.
She is working a lot on stay. I have her stay on the mat outside the shower while I take a shower, and we time her stays with the kitchen timer. For a good long stay...about 7 or 8 minutes, she gets the last of her food from the training session, or a small dog treat.
She has started paying attention more to TV and wants to see what we are doing when it is on the counter or table. We can tell because she starts bouncing up and down and strains her head to see over the top of the counter!
Stay tuned for more Mia adventures...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mia's class has not met for a few weeks...

Mia and the family are seeing what it is like to train without having class the last few weeks. We have been "on break" and are using this time to review old classes and see what commands we need to focus on. Today we worked on really reliable recall. She recalled that command right away because she got a really good treat, some sandwich turkey meat, for coming.

Last Friday we all went to graduation which was great fun. There were eight teams graduating and the dogs and people were on their best behavior. On Thursday Bonnie went to Southdale with Team Training and helped with the training. The dog owners are expected to show how they can safely work with their dogs in public, and actually get tested on this after a few months. It seemed that everyone was well on their way to a successful team experience.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mia goes to the Helping Paws gala...

Mia, George and Bonnie had a busy weekend with the Helping Paws Gala on Saturday night. Mia helped George give a short talk about what it is like for a foster/training family. He talked about love, generosity and legacy. We also heard a wonderful talk from a recipient of one of the service dogs. She reminded us of the many ways her dog helps her, as well as brightens her life. We are happy to report that Mia is fully sponsored, which means $5,000 has been donated toward her preparation for serving. We thank all her sponsors!

We are working on longer stays, in the stand, sit and drop position. Mia will stay longer when she knows some food is waiting. Look at this picture of self control! We continue to chain together commands and also to try things out in new locations. Last week she went to the post office, Kinkos and to Petco. Petco was pretty exciting, so it was good to work on staying calm and the command leave it.

Mia barked Happy Birthday (on command) to Michael over the phone tonight. She misses him, I think.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mia goes to KMart...

The KMart in our neighborhood closed this week. Since Mia had never been there it was our last chance to try it out. It has the automatic doors that open when you stand on a mat, which made me realize that that method has been replaced by the motion sensors above most doors. The doors were narrow, and I used the commands go ahead, around and back to pass through them. We walked down various aisles, looked at some shoes and heard some loud noises. At first Mia was startled, but we walked to the noise and saw it was just men taking down some shelves. She was just fine after that. I used leave it and practiced M&Ms (positions side, front and heel, which make an M shape if you do them in sequence). Checking out while sitting in the wheelchair was a new experience for me. The cashier was curious about Mia. We are very careful to leave the windows down a little while shopping so the car is not so hot. It is very important not to leave pets in the car when it is warm out. Since I was too busy to take a picture in the store, I took this one getting ready to go home...and the store sign lined up just right for a fun shot!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mia is learning to work with the wheelchair...

Mia is allowed to go to more places now and this includes practice with George or Bonnie using a wheelchair. There are many more logistics involved and we are learning how to maneuver the chair through doorways and around shopping areas. She has been to Ridgedale, Knollwood Mall, Target and also to fast food type restaurants. When we use the chair she attracts more attention, but it seems like fewer people approach us as we are obviously working. When the door switch at Ridgedale did not work and elderly lady worked very hard to open the door for us...not realizing I could stand up myself.

This photo is just before a roll around the neighborhood. We are building up some arm strength working on this. Even so we sometimes have to get up and walk on the uphill sections.
Today Mia got hot and just plopped down in some cool shady grass and refused to go on! I had to realize how hot it must be wearing that nice brown fur coat.

Mia goes to Van VAC 2009...

It seems as though Mia remembered going up north with us from last year. This year she had a completely great time. No crying in the night and lots and lots of swimming and retrieving tennisballs from the Lake Burntside, near Ely. The weather was cold and windy, but that did not slow her down. After all that exercise she was happy to lie by the fire and take it easy.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer days with Mia...

Mia is growing up and learning new things very fast. She still has a bit of mischief in her as you can see by these photos. They will make you smile. Really they are the exception, and most of the time she is just great. We are practicing more while sitting in a wheelchair, and both George and Bonnie are getting better at wheeling around the cul de sac. More than one neighbor has asked what happened to one of us when they see us in the wheelchair.

Mia is learning to hold and pull on a strap that attaches to the doorknob or handle. She has learned that very quickly. She is retrieving objects by name, when given two to choose from. We add one object per week and so far she has learned: remote, phone, glasses, keys an
d cellphone. This week she went to Target for the first time and did a great job both with and without a cart. She waited at the checkout and when I was looking at items. Afterward we walked to Wendy's and just practiced "under" the table, and "leave it" when she wanted to lick the floor.

Last week we had an woman with a physical disability tell us what it is like for her to have a service dog. We were able to ask a lot of questions, and since it is our first time doing this it was really helpful to get a picture of the goal for Mia. All this great summer weather is perfect for dog walks, so we enjoy every day and hope you do, too!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Graduation and wedding season for Mia's family...

Mia had a great time at Michael's graduation party.  She stayed upstairs in her crate, but had several small groups of visitors who were given a small demo.  Last weekend Mia stayed with her sister Rosie and Rosie's family while we were at an out of town wedding.  The sisters went to a jazz festival with Rosie's family and had a good time.  She apparently was well behaved and came home tired from playing in the fenced in yard.  We sent her crate with her.

Here you can see a practice board that Mia uses to work on pushing the button that opens doors.  Today we went to Hopkins and tried the doors at the art center and the library.  Michael is learning how to work with Mia and will be working more with her now that school is out.

We now have a wheelchair at home and are beginning to work on her position by the chair and moving beside or behind the chair.  It is giving us an idea how hard it can be to get around in a wheel chair.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial day trip to Wisconsin...

Mia went with George and Bonnie to a graduation party in Shell Lake Wisconsin.  There were nice dogs everywhere we went.  Mia was a little afraid because we were somewhere new, but willing to sleep in her crate.  She also met a lot of nice people.  Mia practiced ignoring people eating and worked on going to a new rug when we knocked on the door of the yurt we stayed in.  It was a cozy place and Mia only barked a little when we went to take a sauna and left her in her crate.

It was a great weekend, but Mia was glad to come home.  How could she know she was ever coming home at all?  If you are interested in staying in the yurt, it is a great place for a retreat for two, or a small family.  We can give you more details if you wish.  There was one giant round room near the Namekagon River, with quiet spaces, a labyrinth, a homemade 9 hole golf course, sauna and massages are available.  Too bad we were there only one night.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It is graduation time...

Mia's family is busy getting ready for Michael's graduation from high school.  There was another important graduation last week, with two more amazing teams heading out into their future.  Mia liked the ceremony and seeing old friends and relatives.  George and Bonnie love seeing the end result of the training process and the good that Helping Paws does.

Mia has been busy going to different places.  With the good weather she gets more walks and trips to the park.  There continue to be lots of distracting smells and her favorite, eating sticks, is something we try to limit with varying success.  We are looking forward to the Wag, Run and Walk event on May 30th.  If you want to sponsor George and Mia email us at  

We are trying to work commands into daily life, like when I empty the drier, or drop something.  Mia knows if we don't have treats handy, and that makes it a bit more challenging.  She is responding to praise more all the time!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday with Laura on the Walk for Animals 2009...

Here is Mia with Laura after going on the Animal Humane Society Walk for Animals.  It was a fundraiser and raised lots of money.  There were many well behaved animals.  Mia did not wear her pack so as not to attract attention that might be too stressful for her.  Laura reports she was very well behaved and there were no problems at all.  Mia loves every dog she meets!

Here is Mia practicing a new command, step.  This is the beginning of learning to go up and down steps very slowly and carefully.  She has learned a lot since our last entry in March.  She is working on snuggle, light, brace, back, behind, hold, take it, and of course, shimmy.

She went on a long field trip to Knollwood shopping center and worked on some of these commands, but worked really hard on under.  She often does things at home, but it takes extra work to make these behaviors occur in public.  She is sitting really still when we meet and talk to people and they are always friendly and impressed.  

And finally Mia is just as happy as we are for spring!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

In which Mia tells about her Birthday...

Today is my first Birthday and it was a wonderful day indeed!  I went for a long walk and then to Home Depot.  Lots of friendly people there thought I was well behaved.  There were some loud noises when the forklifts were backing up, but I got used to that right away.  I was patient while Bonnie looked at things.  We didn't buy anything, but I got plenty of kibble.
After that we went to the clinic during lunch break.  I did my training for the nurses and doctors who were working today.  They were a very good audience, and once I started working I did a pretty good job.  The picture above is of me rolling over, which I do with just the verbal command!  
I am learning new things every week, including look, behind, light, and under using a small space.  They gave me the evening off today since I worked so much during the day.  Can't wait for green grass and warm breezes!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More work on get your pack and get dressed...

Mia has so many commands now we really have to start making sure we are getting her to master all of them, and not just do the ones that are the most fun.  She loves training more all the time.  

Here she is getting her pack out of the stool.

We still haven't got her to shimmy on command and now when we ignore her bark she shimmies to get attention!  It is just like when our kids used to misbehave and we had to try not to laugh.
We are learning to get Mia dressed on our lap.  This will be something she needs to do if her owner is in a wheelchair or has limited ability to reach or bend over.  When she is on George's lap she also can also give him a kiss or a snuggle.  My friends ask whether these commands work on humans. 

This week Mia graduates from Awesome Adolescent class. Next she starts big dog class.  Mia is small for a lab, only about 45 pounds, but will still grow a bit more.  Good things come in small packages sometimes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Learning pace quickens...

Mia is learning faster all the time.  We have taught her to bring her gentle leader and pack from a small stool with a compartment in the bottom at the beginning of each training session.  She has more new commands: under, my lap, rest your head, heel.  We continue to work on the old commands.  

For field trips the favorite so far is the local barber shop.  The whole class went to Mennards to practice and get more tips from the teachers.  

Helping Paws has many new puppies on the way and is recruiting more families, so if you are thinking about it please let them know.  It is lots of work, but pretty amazing!
Another fun thing we want to tell you about is what Mia does when George goes to work.  She asks for attention from me, like she wants to go out.  But what she wants is to find George after he has already left.  I take her to the garage door and show her his car is gone.  That's all it takes and she is satisfied and knows he is gone.  She sure likes that guy.

Saturday we went to the Mall of America for a volunteer event.  Mia was on Channel 9 Fox morning TV for just a few minutes along with Maeve...and Brenda Hawley.  It was great to see all the people who give to our community.

Can't wait for spring!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sisters swap families...

Mia just returned from a week with Keona's family and Keona has had a great week with us.  As part of the program the training families exchange dogs to help with their preparation to be a service dog, and of course the trainers learn a lot at the same time.  So Keona came to our house for a week and Mia went to Shannon's.  Sort of like sending your kid on a foreign exchange program...

Keona is the smallest dog in the litter, and she is totally sweet.  She was only nervous for a few minutes when she arrived.  She brought her toys to us when she wanted to play, and not once did she counter surf (Mia did you hear that?)  We worked on "over" 'til she was having fun with it, and she really liked Mia's two new bones pictured above.  Of course we called her Mia a few times.  Still, it was nice to have Mia back.
This week we are working on "under" and "take it" silently first, and later we will add the cues (the words that automatically trigger the response.)  And we'll have some fun field trips to Glen Lake strip mall small places like the dry cleaner and flower shop.  Happy Valentine's Day! 

Monday, January 12, 2009's me, Mia, posting this time...

OK folks, finally you get to hear from me, Mia, about how things are going.  This family thinks they are training me.  Boy have I got them fooled.  I am really training them.  For example, every time I shimmy they say "Shimmy" just like I want them to.  Later when I want to eat frozen crabapples from the snow under the tree, I bark just like I have to go outside to take a potty break.  When I want to see them laugh I fling my bowl some more, or chase my tail.  

I played hard to get over the holidays so I would get extra love like you see in these pictures.  My first Christmas was a nice family time.  Santa brought me some new bones.  Even though they were very tough plastic one of them was easily destroyed by my strong healthy teeth.  Did I mention how much I like to get my teeth brushed?  My family seems to like it when I smell good, like mint toothpaste!

Today I ran in the snow.  I can still smell little mice and stuff under the snow and like to poke around in it.  I ran so much that tonight I am very tired, so good night for now.