Also starring Mr. Brando!

Also starring Mr. Brando!

As I mentioned in a recent post, our good friends Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider have taken on the challenge of creating a documentary about the process of raising a service dog. They’ve been recording Dionne attending puppy class, working with the CCI drill team, and doing things in other settings. This past weekend, they had an opportunity to meet Steve’s and my one great puppy success, Brando.

Brando graduated in August of 2011 (I also wrote about that momentous event in this blog.) Since then he has lived in a southwestern suburb of Chicago with Yuriy and Aimee Zmysly. As Bob and Albie were travelling to Chicago to interview someone for another documentary they’re working on, they decided to ask the Zmyslys if they would talk about their experience of living with a skilled canine companion. Ever generous, Aimee welcomed them.

I talked to Albie today, and he sounded delighted by the way things went. He and Bob spent several hours talking to Aimee and Yuriy about their story. Then they returned two days later to meet Aimee’s mother Debbie (who also came to California to be trained in handling Brando) and to watch Brando in action out in public.

Albie echoed what Steve and I had heard from Aimee before, namely that Brando helps the most when Yuriy is overcome with anxiety. Brando appears to sense this, cuddling up to Yuriy and making him feel better. Because of the level of Yuriy’s disability, Yuriy can’t handle Brando by himself. But Brando still remembers the amazing skills he acquired in advanced training up in Oceanside, things like turning on light switches, picking up objects, and so on. And he still responded to chasing balls the way I remembered him doing — obsessively.  “He would go after them all day long!” Albie marveled.

Bob passed along some of the photos from their sessions:

Albie, capturing some still shots

Brando out grocery shopping

I love this one — Mr. B keeping an eye on his buddy.

Dionne and we have such a long road ahead of us. She won’t even begin her advanced training for more than eight months, and then, if she’s successful, she’ll spend another six months in Oceanside. I’m blown away by Albie and Bob’s patience.

But then again, that’s the stuff of great documentarists.

Copycat or creative mind?

Copycat or creative mind?

Up to now, Tucker is the only dog we’ve had who likes to sit on one step and put his feet on the next one down. We refer to this as the Tuckersit, and Steve thinks Tucker finds it restful.

The Tuckersit, in practice

But now Dionne has come up with her own version. She maintains this pose in my office for minutes at a time. 
Is she copying Tucker?  Is this a creative innovation? I have no idea, but it is eye-catching!

Sleep training

Sleep training

While Steve and I wound up being happy we had signed up for the four-day Libertopia festival this past weekend, three days was enough for us. I’m sure it was enough for Dionne too. But I’m thrilled to report that she accompanied us everywhere at the festival, and her conduct throughout was impeccable. This included a full seven hours of having to lie quietly in lecture halls.

To behave well under such circumstances, a dog needs to be able to settle down and sleep. Sleeping is almost never Dionne’s default mode when she could be doing anything else. But clearly, she’s learning to do it when she has to.

As Dionne’s capacity to zonk out has grown, Steve also has grown increasingly confident about her ability to go 9-10 hours at night without needing to toilet. I can’t remember the last time she had an accident in her kennel (once we got through the first week or two). But for many months, we were ever so careful to take her out for one last toileting opportunity at the last moment possible — typically when Steve leaves his office around 10-10:30 to go to bed. But he says now if he takes the dogs out at 9, as he did last night, and tries to take them out again at 10 or 10:30, they have to be dragged out and then they just stand and stare at him sleepily.

Small reminders that we are all continuing to progress.

This was last night, when then canine crew was down for the count.