21 November

Video: Training Zinnia, Cont. Sit, Stay, Meet Sheep

by Jon Katz

It was a good week with Zinnia, training-wise. We got to know each other, and I am getting a feel for how she thinks and responds. She is sharp, smarter than other Labs I’ve had, observant. She is calm but independent.

We worked on sitting, coming and most recently, staying. I’m increasing the distances for her to come, the length of time I want her to stay (three minutes, eventually) and the quickness with which I want her to sit.

We work for three or four minutes, three or four times a day. I use soft puppy training treats. She knows her name, and I have her almost full attention.

She is beginning to blow off some of my requests, which is natural as she grows up. This period calls for patience, simplicity, and clarity. And short but brief and repetitive sessions.

She doesn’t yet have the attention span for more intensive training.

I took  a video today showing the work we are doing and the progress she is making.

It turned out to be a good idea to begin socialization training early, she’s up for it and even hungry for it, she responded beautifully to it. The most important thing about therapy dog training is to make sure the dog is used to being touched and around lots of different people and environments. So far, nothing has fazed her.

People come into the Mansion sometimes with their dogs, and I am surprised at the lunging, barking, and lack of control some people have over these dogs. I wouldn’t be comfortable bringing many of them around the elderly or the dying.

I see that the residents like seeing dogs in any capacity and seeing dogs is important to them.

But still, to be honest,  they would make me nervous if they were my dogs working around the extreme elderly. I just wouldn’t trust them to not jump on people, frighten them, bump into them or scratch them by mistake.

I’m not a snob, I see service dogs doing great work, but I guess I’m more obsessive about therapy dog behavior.

My idea is no mistakes of any kind, people who are dying or at the edge of life deserve absolute trust and security. If I can’t absolutely control my dog, we won’t do this kind of work.

The advantage of today’s training, as you can see in the video, is that I could use distraction to my advantage and also help acclimate Zinnia to seeing the sheep and donkeys close up.

She and Liam had a good stare-down but once again, Zinnia was not flustered, although she was cautious. That was just right.




21 November

Strong Women At Jean’s Place. Robin, Zinnia, Kelsie

by Jon Katz

I’m happy to continue my photographic exploration of strong women, there are many at Jean’s Place, a wonderous eatery in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. Two of my favorites are Robin and Kelsie, and I think Zinnia can now join this remarkable sorority.

I could reach out and touch the love passing back and forth between these three when I dropped by to introduce them to the new puppy. I have never been so popular in my life. Perhaps I should get a puppy every couple of years.

21 November

Zinnia Joins Meditation Class At The Mansion. News Of Good…

by Jon Katz

It was an impulsive decision. I was heading out to the Mansion to run my weekly Meditation Class there, when I thought, “why not bring Zinnia?,” she loves to work and meet new people.

So I tossed her in the car, brought a small marrow bone and headed off to the Mansion. As always, she drew a large crowd of adoring residents and staff, all of whom remarked on her calmness and ease and affection for people.

“Wow, she’s going to be an amazing therapy dog,” said Kassi, the Mansion director, who nearly melted into the ground when she saw Zinnia. I put the bone on the floor, held onto Zinnia’s leash but she munched on her bone and lay quietly during our 14 minute recorded and guided meditation tape on Thankfulness, an appropriate topic as Thanksgiving approaches.

Our meditation session was challenging today. I was distracted by Zinnia and some residents talking loudly at other tables. But Zinnia settled and I was able to talk about breathing as a means of settling down from fear and anger.

The residents loved Zinnia, some because she was cute and others because they sensed her calm and affectionate manner. We all thought she did beautifully, and I’m grateful our visits to Bishop Maginn yesterday and the Mansion today worked out so well.

It’s still early in the game, but I feel very good about this dog. I love the idea that she can sit through a meditation session at the Mansion, an alien experience for her, but one she adapted to easily and quickly. Soon, I’ll start working on one and one work with her.

“This is your new therapy dog,” I announced to the residents when I walked into the dining room, and they cheered and applauded. Zinnia made them very happy.

P.S. Kassi tells me there are now 18 aides at the Mansion, not 14, they’ve hired additional staff for the Memory Care Center. So I need $200 more dollars for my Christmas plan to get a $50 Wal-Mart certificate for each of the Mansion aides. They deserve it and more,  and could use it.

I’ll need to keep the fund-raising going a bit, I need at least $200 more dollars. Thanks, if you wish to help and can, you can contribute via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com or by check, Jon Katz, Mansion Aides, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

In other news, the Mansion put out a call for hats and gloves, I found some on Amazon, some in consignment, some were missing but discovered. I think I’ve got this one. They need five pairs of gloves (I got that), and at least five winter cats (I think I’ve got that too.)

Also, the electricians have come to measure the new Mansion Break Room, they’re putting in a baseboard heating unit and extra outlets in the walls. The small refrigerator, and tea and coffee makers and chair and table are all set. I’m bringing some more wall hangings, but there isn’t much room for anything else.

Thanks for your support.

20 November

Sue Meets Zinnia At Bishop Maginn

by Jon Katz

Two big hearts met one another and fell in love yesterday at Bishop Maginn High School, Sue Silverstein, a dog lover and great champion of dog therapy work, has been waiting for months to finally meet Zinnia.

A moment that lifted my heart way up. Sue had a playpen ready, along with stuffed animals (a pink collar) and things for her to chew on. Sue is a good friend and a great supporter of the work the Army Of Good is doing at the school.

Two sweet souls meet. It doesn’t get too much sweeter than that.

Sue invited three students in her class to come up and meet Zinnia when we first arrived. Zinnia climbed into the lap of each one, did a lot of sniffing and licking. I was astonished at how at ease she was.

She never once flinched, balked or backed away. I think we did it the right way. She has a lot of admirers at Bishop Maginn. “Is she going to be the school dog?,” one sophmore asked me hopefully.

“Kind of,” I said, “kind of.”

20 November

Video: Zinnia Takes Bishop Maginn By Storm

by Jon Katz

I took Zinnia to Bishop Maginn High School today in Albany, and the visit was successful far beyond my expectations. It was a wonderful experience, for me, for Zinnia, for Maria, for the students.

I brought Zinnia to my Writing Workshop – we didn’t get much writing done- and I explained that I wanted the students to get down on the floor and let her come to them and move freely.

We also visited Sue Silverstein’s art class and walked the hallways a bit.

Zinnia was not the least bit timid or fearful or intimidated, she went from student to student, got her belly scratched, tried to gnaw on fingers (I gave instructions on using alternate behavior techniques).

Sue Silverstein had a bunch of stuffed animals and chew toys; Zinnia had great fun playing with them, playing tug of war, and passing them along.

She is ideally suited to therapy work; she is calm, affectionate, and responsive. Even the loud electric bells didn’t rattle her, neither did the crowds of students moving between classes.

She came to me every time I called her, even when she was in the middle of a crowd.

Maria came with us, and she kept an eye on Zinnia when I was teaching or distracted. We both thought she did beautifully; it could not have gone better. Zinnia has never been in a large building like that, she has never seen so many diverse and different people, compared to our farm and our small town.

She loved the kids, and they loved her back, and she fell asleep snoring on the back seat of the car. We didn’t even need to crate her.

I asked that no treats or good be given to her, and the students honored that. Zinnia had a blast; her tail was going for an hour; she seemed delighted to meet everybody. I asked that the students not pick her up or hug her, and they honored that as well (except for Sue, of course, that was entirely predictable.)

You could cut the love this dog got today with a knife at that school, how good for her to experience that in her first tentative foray as a therapy dog. I can’t imagine a better or more loving place to bring her.

I asked that the not be mobbed, and she wasn’t. She always had space to move in, and some choice in where to go. She loved being around those kids. They helped her to chew on appropriate toys rather than their fingers, she’s getting that.

When the crowd around her got too big, or things got too crowded, we moved to the music room, which was empty and brought in students two or three at a time. It was precisely the kind of positive experience I had been waiting for her. She’ll be a regular presence there.

She was great, and the kids were great. Because of the cement terrain outside, Zinnia didn’t know where to pee and she had one accident in the school. By the time we left, she figured out that you can pee on cement. Nobody cared.

I then met with six students who volunteered to work with me as Zinna Therapy Dog Coaches all during the school year. We’re going to work together to train Zinnia and monitor and share her progress. We’ll meet regularly, and I’ll teach dog training to them.

I was especially interested in the four or five students who told me they had always been afraid of dogs (some refugee children are terrified of them). I got each one to come up to Zinnia and pet her, and each one said they would love to see more of her. They will.

I love this idea of training directly with the students; I can teach therapy dog training as well as live it. I did a short video with two of the volunteer coaches (above). It was a great day, and I’m more excited than ever about the work I will be doing with this dog.

Bedlam Farm