Monday, February 23, 2009

The Charlie's Choice Awards

After recently receiving a lovely new gift for Charlie, I decided it was time to do a story about some of the more useful and preferred toys in Charlie's toy box.  So without further adieu, I present the 2008-2009 Charlie's Choice Awards!

Most Effective Toy to Lure a Dog Into His Crate
The Charlie's Choice Award goes to the Kong!  
This toy is especially useful in crate training.  We've stuffed it with everything including dog treats, roasted chicken, kibble, cheese, and just about anything else that excites Charlie.  
Then for a really special treat, "cap" off the end with a big glob of peanut butter and he's one happy puppy.  (We like this toy so much we have two!)

Best Independent Play Toy
In this category the Charlie's Choice Award goes to the Dental Kong on a Rope.
Chuck loves this thing and will happily fling it around his head as though he's getting ready to lasso a steer.  (It's quite hilarious to watch and sends Tim into absolute hysterics.)  

Best Traditional Style Toy
Sometimes simple is best and there simply is no substitute for a ball when you have a retriever.  That being said, not all balls are created equal.  While we all enjoy tossing/chasing an old fashioned tennis ball, the Charlie's Choice Award goes to the orange and blue Chuckit ball thanks to its durability, visibility, and chewability.  
Not only is it Charlie's first choice for games of fetch, but he'll often just sit and chew on the chuckit ball like it's a big wad of gum.  Plus, we have not lost one Chuckit to a chewing fatality.  (Over the fence, in the brush, and over the ridge we've lost plenty but wherever the lost balls are, I'm certain they are in pristine condition.)

Most Engaging Interactive Toy
This is a new category which was inspired by a gift received from an admitted cat family.  The Charlie's Choice Award goes to the Bees in the Hive plush toy.  

This toy is great.  It actually reminds me of some of Tim's baby toys with several squeaky little bees and a big hive where the bees "live."  You stuff all the bees into the hive and set it down for the puppy.  He then sniffs and digs and paws until he gets the bees out of the hive.  Then he inevitably scampers away happily squeaking his captured bee.  Great fun to watch.

Most Reliable "Go-To" Toy
Sometimes you just need something to entertain your pooch on the fly.  Usually this happens when I need to devote my attention to something other than the 70 lbs of effervescent happiness that is Charlie.  For this purpose the Charlie's Choice Award goes to the Planet Dog Big Rubbery Bone.
This toy will always entertain Charlie.  As an added bonus it has a half inch hole drilled all the way through it which makes it an excellent substitute for the Kong.  I have on many occasions stuffed some cheese down this bone and Charlie will take it and disappear while I attend to whatever it is that commands my attention.  It's also surprisingly durable and has survived many hours of heavy duty chewing without any signs of distress.

Best Toy to Make Your Friends Chuckle
In this category the Charlie's Choice Award goes to the Humonga Tongue.

This one speaks for itself.

Best Natural Toy
This category has a stand out winner.  The Charlie's Choice Award goes to the Giant California Pine Cones that fall off the redwood trees.
Hands down this is Chuck's favorite natural toy.  He'll chase these pinecones into the lake, over the ridge, and all over the trail.  When he finally captures one he'll lay himself down and gnaw it to bits.  

Best Natural Toy - Lifetime Achievement Award
Finally, this category was designed to celebrate the best of Mother Nature's toys that are universally available (i.e. not just in CA.)  In this category, the Charlie's Choice Award goes to big sticks.  

He's a dog.  A retrieving dog.  Sticks and dogs go together like peanut butter and jelly.  The best part about sticks is that they're free and abundant.  

Of course, the judges are already considering candidates for next year so if you have any suggestions please post them here!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Charlie's Purpose?

So often when we're out with Charlie in his full dress regalia, we are asked the same question:  what does an autism service dog do?  Of course, by now my canned response flows comfortably from my lips as I dazzle the inquirer with all the wonderful services that Charlie provides for Tim: 

Language opportunities.  Tracking.  Socialization.  Companion.  Tantrum diffuser.  Safety.  Ottoman.  

Yes, ottoman.

Did I mention great grin maker too?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Small Miracle

We had a teeny tiny miracle in our house a few nights ago and I wasn't here to see it (or to photograph it!)  So, in true journalistic fashion, I'm going to retell the story from my in depth interview of my husband after the miracle occurred.

Ordinarily, Charlie tends to stick pretty close to me, presumably because I'm the one most often with him.  He's definitely bonded with all of us over the course of the last few months but generally speaking, he still tends to settle in the same room as me when we're all home.

Last Thursday I left my boys home alone while I attended a memorial service in town.  As a result, Andy the Superdad was tasked with all the nighttime rituals from dinner to bedtime (something he  always executes with great care.)  The very last phase of our nighttime routine is story time where everyone gathers in Tim's room - usually Tim under the covers, Andy on top of the covers, me in the rocking chair, and Charlie balled up at the foot of Tim's bed.  Andy reads a few stories to all of us, we all get our last hugs and kisses for the night, and then we file out of Tim's room (Charlie included) leaving him to nod off.  He always, ALWAYS asks us to open the door a bit as we leave the room.  

Well, the first hand reports of my husband indicate that last Thursday while I was out, the night time ritual concluded with Andy leaving Tim's room alone.  Charlie remained curled up at the foot of the bed!  Apparently Tim was thrilled with his bed-mate and called to Andy to close the door (presumably so that Charlie wouldn't leave him!)  Andy complied with Tim's request and even checked on them both a few hours later and found them both peacefully snoozing together.   It wasn't until I activated the garage door opener hours later that Charlie popped up and nosed his way out of Tim's room.  

It's always been our goal to have Charlie share a room with Tim ... I'm going to have to chat with Wendy the Trainer a bit about how to facilitate this.  Until then, we'll just keep trying!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Agility Training

Ever since Charlie entered our lives, I am constantly looking for new ways for Tim to engage with Charlie and recently I've become a bit fixated on the idea of agility training.  For dog newbies, agility training is basically obstacle course training for dogs.   Wendy the Trainer is a decorated agility participant/judge/trainer so I bounced the idea off her and not only did she she fully embrace it but she invited us to her training ring where she set up a complete agility course.  She also brought two of her accomplished goldens to use as demonstration dogs for Tim.  

First, I've got to say Wendy was terrific with this.  She had obviously given much thought to this outing and even had the brilliant suggestion of comparing the agility course to a Super Mario game where the dogs played the part of Mario and Luigi.  And that was just to get Tim's attention.  Then she had Tim join her as she discretely gave commands to her dog Renegade (a seasoned agility competitor) and prompted Tim to give the appropriate commands.

This proved to be an excellent strategy as it gave Tim a feeling of success while at the same time giving him the natural reinforcement of the dog responding to a VERBAL command.  (It's all about language folks!)   Tim had Wendy's dogs doing the A-Frame, leaping over jumps, running through tunnels, ...

... and doing the weave poles.  This particular part of the course really seemed to pique Tim's interest ...

... so much so that he had to give those weave poles a try for himself!

After seeing Wendy's dogs flawlessly perform many of the obstacles on the course, Wendy crated her gang and brought Charlie out to the ring.   It was great fun to watch Tim giving commands to his beloved companion ... 

... and equally exciting seeing Charlie happily looking to Tim for his next command!

Tim was able to work with Charlie on the tire, the tunnel, the teeter totter and the A-frame ...

... and all of this on our first agility outing!  This felt like an extremely productive session.

After about 45 minutes of this fun, Wendy started working with Charlie directly on some of the more challenging obstacles.  It was entertaining to watch Chuck bend and twist his long torso through the weave poles ...

... and absolutely glorious to watch him effortlessly fly over the jumps.

As a charter member of the A Club, I'm always in search of activities that give Tim opportunities to participate, have fun, and practice some of his developmental goals.  Today's session provided all of this and left me thinking that maybe, with more exposure and hard work, agility training might be a great hobby for Tim.

Of course, I can't finish this post without making a reference to Wendy, the self-proclaimed non-kid person.  She's obviously a big fat liar as she definitely thinks about Tim and always makes an effort to connect with him whenever we're together.   Seeing all this, how can she really expect us to believe that she's not a "kid person?"!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Useful Games

Back when we first started working with Wendy the Trainer she asked lots of questions about what types of services we'd ultimately like for Charlie to provide.  Near the top of our list were things related to safety, and in particular, herding and tracking Tim.

One game that she suggested to get Charlie used to tracking Tim was hide-n-seek.  It's pretty basic and Tim gets quite a chuckle out of it.  It goes something like this:

1.  Put Charlie in a Sit-Stay;
2.  Give Tim a treat to hold making sure that Charlie sees it;
3.  Tell Tim to go hide (when we first met Charlie we never had Tim hide very far away but now he can even go upstairs and hide);

4.  Tell Charlie to "Find Tim" and then issue the release command ("OK").

It seems to be great fun for both of them and leaves them both feeling successful in the game.  Our plan is to keep honing this skill so that one day, should the need ever arise, we'll be able to rely on Charlie to keep Tim safe.  Just another of the countless reasons we're thankful for Chuck!

Monday, February 2, 2009

How Charlie Got his Name

I recently read a blog post written by a soon-to-be North Star family wondering what to name their daughter's canine companion and it reminded me of the days before our North Star dog arrived and how he came to be known as Charlie.

Believe it or not, in the many months before Charlie's arrival we worried that Tim wouldn't ever welcome a dog in our home.  In fact, shortly after we connected with Patty Dobbs Gross at North Star, Tim started to demonstrate an outright fear of dogs.  (Of course, it didn't help that out here in CA it seems that just about everyone has some variety of Pit Bull!  Apologies to all you Pit Bull fans but I must admit a healthy dose of my own fear.)   

We spent months trying to get him excited about dogs, reading books about them, role playing with a toy dog, and scouring the internet for pictures of golden retrievers.   For quite some time it really seemed like we might have made a terrible mistake.

Then sometime about 4 months before we learned of Charlie's birth, Tim took an interest in a series of children's books about two young British siblings.  Over the months we amassed an impressive library of these stories and often came back to one that tells the story of a friend of the family who owned a dog named ... wait for it ... Sizzles.    

We started to use that story as the launching pad for conversations about what it would be like for Tim to have a dog.   Then sometime in January of 2008 Patty called to inform us that our North Star dog would be coming to live with us that Spring and that we'd need to select a name so that the puppy raiser could begin name training the dog.

From that point we started prodding Tim for name ideas.  These conversations usually went something like this.

"Tim, what are you going to name your dog?"


"Well, that's your name.  Let's give your dog a different name, okay?"

Then there'd be a pause just long enough for us to wonder if he'd completely strayed off topic and was thinking about something else.  Finally he'd say something like,

"hmm, how 'bout Sizzles."

Here's where the bad mommy comes out.  I shuddered at the thought of burdening an animal with a moniker that evokes images of that old Ponderosa-esque restaurant chain (remember The Sizzler folks?) so in a moment of what would later be recognized as genius, I drew from the same well that produced the "Sizzles" suggestion:  his favorite book.

"Tim, why don't we name him after the little boy in the book?  What's his name?"

And alas, through my not so sly maneuvering, I put Tim in the position of being the one to select the name with nothing more than a slight nudge from me.  (Mommy dearest?)  Of course Tim agreed and it was settled.

The name of the book?  

Charlie & Lola.