The Very First Day of the Rest of Their Lives!

Friday was an unimaginable day for me!  It is the day that I got to share in just a SMALL piece of the joy that someone encounters on the very first day that they bring their new life partner home with them! This is the culmination of a Sugar Babies journey!

Whelping homes don’t often get to see the results of the litter they raised up close; rather, they get to hear about it from a distance, watching the journey from afar and seeing the pups we’ve loved from the moment they were born growing into the dogs we dream of and changing the lives of others in ways we can’t POSSIBLY imagine as hard as we might try. We hear bits and pieces, we watch facebook posts to see how they are doing, and we catch glimpses of them as they grow if we are lucky.

For me, the L litter gave me more opportunities than I could have ever hoped for in following their journey!  I heard the stories while they were in the prison program and got to meet their inmate handlers; I got to see them with their puppy raisers and long-term fosters while they were in training, I got to say hi to them on occasion and give them some love from their whelping mom-and I watched their journeys unfold.

One was career changed and gets to live a wonderful life with a family that loves him; One is in the breeding program and hopefully one day very soon we will hear that she will be a mama herself; two are currently in final training locally; two are in other programs (Canada and California) and will hopefully be finishing up their formal training soon; and ONE of them is going home with his forever person TODAY! He’s made the long journey, he’s passed the tests along the way, and he’s ready to start the journey of his lifetime!

Today is the most special of days that rarely we get to experience-but when all of the stars align and if you are exceedingly fortunate you get a glimpse into what the once little ball of fur that couldn’t see or hear gets to do change the world! This is the day that makes the work, the time, the stress, the sleepless nights, the endless laundry, the weeks of no life, the brain exhaustion, the challenges, the illnesses, the vet appointments, surgeries, emergencies, and everything else just melt away as if it never existed for those who volunteer to help bring assistance puppies to their final life point! Breeding fosters, Whelping homes, Great Starts, Puppy Raisers, long-term Fosters, Prison Programs, and all of the volunteers in between!

Liam snuggling with his human under the table at lunch!

Down the road there’s a graduation-but that is months after the dog is placed.  TODAY is when everything culminates into that PERFECT combination and you can FEEL the earth shift on its axis almost.  You KNOW that this dog will change the course of their person’s life, of that there’s no doubt!  It’s NOW, it’s HERE, it’s TODAY, and it’s AMAZING.

Love comes in many shapes and sizes-but this kind of love, commitment, bond, and energy supersedes the love we talk about in general terms.  THIS dog, THIS person, THIS moment…..

The pages of the past have been written, but the pages of the future hold no bounds.  The journey isn’t always a straight one; but with time, energy, hope, and a little bit of faith it is a journey worth having!  Sometimes we don’t know how we arrived at this place, and sometimes we’ve had to endure a bit of sadness and disappointment.  But then we look at where we are and we can’t imagine not having this moment that is presenting itself right in front of us, waiting for us to seize it and run with it full of joy and laughter.


Turning the Page-Starting Again

On July 2nd Sugar was officially retired from the Breeder Program and by July 23rd I wrote a blog saying Sugar would be starting her new journey towards becoming a Certified Therapy Dog.  After only 21 days in retirement, it had become obvious to both Sugar and I that she was meant to make people happy and although she was doing that, she was capable of much more!

Sugar has always loved riding along in the car, visiting a variety of restaurants, schools, memory care centers, and nursing homes-spreading her joyful personality wherever she went!  So, it seemed only natural to pursue therapy work as her next step.

So, we went back into training mode; slowly but surely I tried to remind her of all of the skills we had been working on for the last 3 years!  She had spent more time raising puppies and less time learning skills so things were rusty to be sure!  Her sits were sloppy, her “leave its” were almost non-existent and not interacting with other dogs seemed offensive to her-she wants every dog she encounters to be her best friend 🙂

We continued to train and I have to admit I had my doubts; we signed up for a testing evaluation months ago and finally today arrived.  I wasn’t sure she had learned everything she needed to pass the test and I had heard that the evaluator we had was a tough one-things would not be overlooked and you would only get one shot to prove your worth. I decided we would go into the testing with the thought that it would be a great starting point, and if we didn’t pass then we would know what was left to keep working on.

The testing site was 1 1/2 hours away.  I knew the ride itself would take Sugar off of her game as she typically likes to run around and smell everything after a long car ride.  I decided my best bet was to stop part way there and get her out at Cabela’s for a walk through the store where we could work on her distractions, being around kids, and general smells that she needed to ignore.  She wanted to greet everyone-fish, the animals in the display like the polar bear and raccoon, the kids running through the store and the other dogs.  I shrunk a bit in disappointment because her behavior wasn’t boding well for the possibility of a successful testing day.  My nerves started to increase and I got her back in the car to finish the long drive.

Sugar was trying to make friends with the fish she met…..she made people smile with her interest in the fish!

During the final part of my drive, my frustration was increasing.  I had worked hard trying to give Sugar all of the skills she would need for this test and I was disappointed at the thought that she might not show the evaluator what a great fit she would be for therapy dog work.  I resigned myself to the fact that the 3-hour round-trip drive may not get us any closer to my hopes.  As we were just about 2 miles from the testing location, out of the blue came a large adult bald eagle. It came from the driver’s side and flew next to my car for a good 5 seconds!  I’m not sure why, but it just felt like the bird gave me an immediate sense of peace about the situation and my nerves eased.  It was exactly what I needed at exactly the right moment!

We got there a bit early so I worked with Sugar outside of the facility to try to get her brain engaged.  She was not having any of it though!  As people came out from the first testing time I checked in with them to see how it went.  Two people were dismissed-their dogs had given a low growl when they saw a dog across the room and they were not allowed to participate any further.  The owners were devastated.

Finally, it was our group’s turn to go into the facility and take a shot at passing the exam! There are two phases to the test and 13 separate testing requirements. Some of the testing portions were similar to what we had trained as a service dog in training, and others were not.  In one, Sugar had to watch me leave the room for one minute, and when I came back in again she couldn’t rush to me-she had to remain calm and not advance.  Another one was what I call the food and toy gauntlet; In service dog class we may have had one or two items that were very tempting on the floor that we had to pass by; in this test the floor was FULL of temptations!  Squeaky toys, elk antlers, bones, balls…..and then the evaluator put down jelly beans on the floor and then a handful of skittles.  In the end, to add insult to injury, she opened a fresh bag of YUMMY salmon dog treats, placing them on the floor directly in the path of the dog.  Sugar decided that she WANTED whatever was in that delicious bag! That was our do or die moment! I just didn’t think she would be able to resist the temptation.  I didn’t realize it at that moment, but that wasn’t even the worst of it.  In addition to having to go through the food and toy gauntlet twice, at the end was a person in a wheelchair who was holding the full bag of yummy treats and it was her job as part of the testing to lean the bag of treats forward right into the nose of the dog and ask if the dog would like some treats!  While I declined the offer, Sugar overruled me and wanted to let me know that “Yes, I do want some treats and you are not making good decisions for me!” in no uncertain terms! I thought that this was the moment that we would fail, and she would gently excuse us to leave the testing procedure.  To my surprise, Sugar regained her composure at the last available second and went into a sit and avoided the treat. I gave a sideways glance towards the evaluator to learn mine and Sugar’s fate-and it was enough to let us continue.

We went through the rest of the testing and finally, it was time for the evaluator to inform us of our fate-WE PASSED!  A flood of relief came over me and I resisted the urge to tear up.  It was going to happen. Sugar and I would be a Therapy Dog team!!!!

In the near future when we receive her Therapy Dog bandana and kit from the organization, we will be ready and waiting to determine who she will be able to visit and help!  There are so many places that can use the real gift of engaging with a dog that the possibilities are endless!

We had to have a couple of celebrations afterward!  A quick visit to one of her whelping homes to tell them in person of her accomplishment and then off to a human/dog party where she got to play with friends and meet one of her grandaughters (Quince)!

Visiting one of her whelping homes to deliver the good news in person on the way home!

5 dogs, 3 breeds! Happy pups!

Sugar and her grandpup!

She was meant to be a Therapy Dog, and I can’t wait to see the people she helps along the way!!

How fitting this quote is for her journey!

Return To The Basics

We don’t always need a profound new insight. Often, we just need to be reminded of the basics — the lessons we’ve already learned.

The dogs were obviously exhausted from their playdate! They impressed all of us with their ability to relax in an active environment!

Sugar’s New Journey!


I think everyone who knows Sugar and who knows me had no doubt that “being retired” just meant no more babies for her, but it definitely didn’t mean her work was done!

Krackle and Sugar enjoying a beautiful summer day together!

So, this fall, Sugar and I will be working and practicing to be able to pass the exam that will allow her to become a Certified Therapy dog and hopefully we will be a team for a different mission-helping kids, those who are ill, the elderly and others find joy in the simple things like petting, talking and reading to a dog!

Sugar didn’t feel like picking up her toys today-and it’s not a task she needs to learn now, so they just stayed on the floor…..

I have no doubt that once Sugar gets into this new career she will be fabulous at it!  She won’t have an opportunity to test until this fall but once we get further along in the journey I will definitely update her blog to let everyone know how it’s going!  We will bring you along on the adventure……

Holly with Sugar May 2018

We are ready for our next adventure together-learning to be a Certified Therapy Dog Team! 

The Big Long Wait…And Time for a Celebration-Part 2

So, Sugar finally arrived at our home on July 22, 2015, and we nervously prepared for the birth of her first litter.  And before I knew it I was embarking on a journey that would surpass anything I had imagined more than 3 years and counting!

Sugar delivered her very first litter, and they were ALL girls!  6 girls to be exact!  2 I had to resuscitate 2 due to being separated from their placentas but all were beautiful.  2 yellow labs and 4 black labs.  Soon they were given a “litter name”-and they were officially “The Spice Girls”.  They were going to be given names that loosely represented spices-so the organization named them Clover, Poppy, Saffron, Nutmeg, Sage, and Cayenne. (Any guesses as to which one was the rambunctious, spicy one????)

Sugar’s whelping adventures continued, some with more difficulty then others-with her 2nd litter (the C litter), 3rd litter (the L litter), 4th litter (the Z litter) and finally her 5th litter (the N litter). Along with the puppies listed above, she had Cosmo, Crush, Carmen, Lola, Lyric, Liam, Leonard, Lizzie, Linus, Logic, Zip, Zag, Zing, Zoom, Newton, Nana, Nino, Norton, Nesa, Natalie and Nelson.  You may think that puppies are all the same, but all of these puppies were unique and individual and whelping homes hold a special place in their heart for each and every puppy that they are able to be the foundation for~her puppies are spread across the globe, making a difference for countless people and her legacy will continue for many years to come!

I whelped 3 of Sugar’s litters and she had wonderful, loving whelping homes for the other two litters.  Yet one more example of how many hands touch the lives of these assistance dogs in training!  If I invited all the people who had a role in Sugar’s life or the life of her puppies I would easily fill a large room!

Sugar Sires

Sugar and the Sires in her life!

Spice Girls Family Page

The Spice Girls litter

C litter april 2016

2nd litter-the C’s

Z litter family tree

4th Litter-The Z’s

N litter family tree

5th litter-the N’s

L litter Family Tree

3rd litter-the L’s

So, how did Sugar start her life? Interestingly enough, I’ve been able to have email communications with some of the people who were involved in her life prior to her coming to Minnesota when she was with Guiding Eyes!  I have been able to learn a bit about her life before I knew her and it’s been so wonderful to be able to create the full picture of who she is as a dog and companion, as well as those she has had the privilege to live and play with!

I got to learn about some  of her personality traits, behaviors and what she spent her time doing as a puppy and young dog.  How she loves the heat-whether it’s laying in the sun or snuggling RIGHT up to the portable heat units people use under their desks; how she played the role of a sheep in a Christmas play; how her quiet and dedicated spirit captured the hearts of many along the way; and how her direction changed and she arrived in Minnesota to be a breeder dog for Can Do Canines, providing so many offspring to change the lives of people around the world.  She had people she loved and they loved her!  This is what has made me understand a bit better about the “letting go” part of volunteering for an organization of assistance dogs. (Full disclosure-that doesn’t make it easier for me to say goodbye, but I do understand it!) When I saw how Sugar adapted once she got to our home and how we adore her and she loves us, I realize that dogs are very capable of loving others after us, and that’s okay!

Sugar's litter picture

Although as first glance you may think this is Sugar with a litter of her puppies, but this is actually Sugar’s mom-and Sugar is the one in the front foreground with the pink collar(with her name Sugar on it)! This is where her assistance dog journey began at Guiding Eyes!

If you click on the various photos below you will see a caption:) These are some of the photos shared with me by those who have loved Sugar since she was a puppy!

This is one of the things I love about volunteering-I am not the only one who loves one particular dog!  All of us have connections and a piece of our heart with a variety of dogs, and the dogs get the opportunity to have many people who love them along the way! How lucky are they to have so many rooting them on and loving them????  Sugar wouldn’t be NEAR the wonderful dog she is if she hadn’t had outstanding people along the way that cared for her, taught her, loved her and wanted the best for her.  Each person who touches the life of a dog adds one more brick to the foundation of their success and personality, and without each of those bricks they just couldn’t be the dog that they are! I am forever grateful to those who had a part in Sugar’s life!

So, what’s in her future? She’s only 5 years old, so in Part 3 I will share some of my ideas for this wonderful, loving, and kind dog!!!!! 

The Big Long Wait…and Time for a Celebration-Part 1

retirement on a bench

While she has spent a few years learning to be under the benches and chairs as part of her training, as a retired girl she just may be spending some time ON the benches now! 

Monday, July 2nd, 2018 is a fabulous day for me!  Yesterday is the day that I received the final paperwork and approval for the adoption of Sugar to our family!!!  We are absolutely thrilled that Sugar is ours and we can’t wait to enjoy her retirement with her!!!!  What is next in her future?  How will she spend her retirement?  I decided before I thought about her future that I would first reflect on her past that brought her to us in the first place.

On June 9th, 2015, I received word from Can Do Canines that they had received an email from Guiding Eyes and there was a possible breeding dog from their program available to them.  They asked if I was interested and up for the task of having a breeding program dog in my home, and to let them know once I thought about it.  It had been a tumultuous year; my father passing away from Alzheimer’s, a family member having serious medical issues that required 2 months of intensive care and hospital visits around the clock, and having to deal with the loss of a program dog that I was unbelievably attached to from unexpected complications of Lyme’s disease.  Honestly, I just wasn’t sure I had “enough” of what it would take to have another program dog in our home. The questions swirled around in my head like a blur – “Could I keep my emotions intact to have another dog that wasn’t mine and not get too attached?”, “Was my heart ready for another investment of time, energy and love?”, “What would happen to the dog if it wasn’t able to be a successful breeder and could I deal with the disappointment?”, “Would the worry outweigh the joy?”

Sugar in her Guiding Eyes harness

This is the very first picture I got of Sugar when she was at her first organization.  Here she is in her harness out in New York.

After talking with my husband about it (who knew there really was no decision to be made, that I just had to realize the answer was yes all along:) we said yes to a dog named Sugar! We had a little apprehension but knew that this was another opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others by providing a breeding home for a program dog.  We had whelped two personal litters and were even toying with the idea of being a whelping home, but figured that a breeding home foster was a good compromise! A breeding foster keeps the dog in the home including during the breeding, vet appts., ultrasound and x-rays until one week or so prior to the due date when they move into their official whelping home. So, some volunteers are breeding foster homes, some are whelping homes, and some are both!  I think everyone was well aware that it was only a matter of time before I realized what they already knew – that there was no way I was going to be a breeding home without jumping in with both feet and becoming a whelping home too!  There was just too much about puppies that I loved!

And the good news was that she was already bred while she was in New York the week prior, so all we had to do was to wait and see what the ultrasound would reveal during the week of July 4th!

Unfortunately there were some cases of kennel cough in the program and one of our temporary foster’s contracted it and passed it along to our daughter’s family dog who began showing symptoms on July 3rd-so while we were planning to get Sugar after the holiday, take her to her ultrasound and move her into our home, things didn’t go as planned.  It seemed like unusual, unexpected events were the norm for me that year, and disappointment continued with a delay that could be weeks or months in the making.  There was no way we could move a possibly pregnant dog into a home that had been exposed to kennel cough or it could be detrimental to the puppies that she could possibly be carrying.

And my life and plans weren’t the only one that had to change-this meant that Sugar had to remain somewhere else for an undetermined amount of time; would my house be ready in time for puppies if she was pregnant? Where would she go if it wasn’t?  Who would be available to whelp a litter of puppies at the last minute and change their life for 8 weeks??

So, I swallowed my disappointment and it was determined that the Director of Training would bring her to her ultrasound while she was being fostered with her during this time.  Then I got the call from her after the ultrasound saying she had a belly full of pups and her due date was in August!  I was over the top excited and I think it was right then and there that my whelping journey and desire began! The due date was estimated as August 9th, but Guiding Eyes had put August 2nd as her due date so we had a range to work with! With the first hurdle being cleared, we had to just figure out how to tackle the second hurdle of the kennel cough clearing.

We had 3 dogs that had been exposed in our family, so we had to wait until the set time after all coughing had stopped and then verify that none of the other dogs were showing any signs of coming down with it for a set amount of time to make sure that all opportunities were gone for Sugar and the pups to be exposed unnecessarily. That also meant sanitizing both our cabin and home on every surface imaginable to prevent anything from being a concern. For those who know me, they are well aware that for these things I don’t leave ANYTHING to chance!  Dog beds, bedding, floors, dog toys, leashes, crates……everything my mind could POSSIBLY think would be contaminated got disinfected, and that was basically everything.  I think that I was in hyperdrive as well because of the unusual circumstances of the other dog in our home that we lost to Lyme’s disease.  For almost every dog that contracts the disease, there is a treatment protocol that typically takes care of the issues and most dogs can live a full life after diagnosis. But since the unusual and extremely rare events unfolded then, my mind was sure that this was yet another case ready to rear its ugly head and I was going to do everything possible to prevent any opportunity for an illness in my home.

And so it went. Waiting. Hoping. Wating some more.

FINALLY, the kennel cough had cleared and it was time to start making arrangements to bring Sugar to our home!  It was determined that Wednesday, July 23, 2015 would be her move in day. I had approximately 10 days to get to know this new girl, clear my schedule for the next 8 weeks, get our house ready for a litter of puppies, and begin a journey of whelping assistance puppies!

Below is a  look into some of the communication that we had figuring out all of the moving pieces of Sugar’s beginning with the organization-some snippets for humor’s sake:


Wait for it……YEP! I have questions!!!! 🙂

  1. Her weight when she arrived; her latest weight that’s been recorded
  2. Her Birthdate
  3. Any info on the number of siblings, etc.?
  4. I discussed with staff about any restrictions during pregnancy,  but if there is anything else you think I should know?
  5. Did you find anything while she was with you that she enjoyed playing with?  Balls, bones, ropes????

Okay, enough for now. 🙂


Training Director:
I would have been worried about you if you didn’t have any questions 😉


Also, I think I may have figured why she is whining/barking!  We have been watching her and trying to pinpoint when she is barking what it may mean-she is barking/whining when we are sitting down, but every time we bring her out she goes to the bathroom right away.  Is it possible that this is one of the trained behaviors of a seeing-eye dog-that since people may not be able to SEE her need to go outside that she has to alert them in another way?  After she comes in she’s fine, lays down and no more barking or whining. (Although she does try to sneak up on the couch in our laps!)  If you happen to talk to the organization, I would LOVE to find out if this is one of the trained methods!

Director of Training: 


I can tell you for sure that the whining/barking isn’t a trained thing. The staff person that had her prior to shipping her to us warned me about it. She thought it was tied to wanting attention as well.

Sidenote: (What I found out once I got to know her is that her whining and barking was because she is ALWAYS hungry!  And that with only a few weeks to go, whining and barking was her way of telling me that she did NOT approve of the amount of food she was getting…. :))

our very first day with Sugar

Our very first day (and first hour) with Sugar!





Day 81 – Continuing the Journey of a Lifetime, 11 Weeks in the Making!

It’s been an emotional 7 days in our household with a variety of different “Sugar news”.  Last Tuesday, it was time for Sugar to be spayed and begin her journey of smelling the roses!  In the very near future, she will be retired and we will be adopting her!  She is well known and liked at the Vet Hospital due to her litters, and the cutest thing I heard was when the news was spreading amongst staff that Sugar was in for a spay one of the staff came up to me and said: “What do you mean, no more Sugar Cubes????”  After a good chuckle, I told her no, it was time for Sugar to turn that over to the younger pups in the program!

The spay didn’t go as well as we had hoped.  Due to her C-sections and litters, she had a bit more of a complicated surgery.  It was a long night at our house with her.  As the night became early morning and we still weren’t seeing the progress we had hoped, it became evident early the next morning that continued medical care was needed. Unfortunately, there was some unexpected internal bleeding which required her to return back to the vet for an additional procedure the next morning, some extra medications, and observation. She came back to our home on Thursday after her extended stay and has been recuperating while we spoil her rotten and get her back on the road to long walks, fun playdates and some great exercise in the not so distant future.

So it was wonderful to have a fun and rewarding time to play with adorable Sugar Babies tonight and unwind from an otherwise stressful week!

Seriously, how do you resist such an adorable face??

Today was the special opportunity that many whelping homes wait for patiently – the evening to see “their” puppies after they are away at the Duluth prison!  They left around 6 weeks and now this N litter of Sugar’s is over 11 weeks old-the 7 pups have been away for almost half of their life and I couldn’t get to the facility quick enough for my play date with them! It felt like when my girls returned from college!

Norton offering his best sit on command!

When I arrived they were just getting taken out of the vehicle.  Then they were corraled over to the training room where my husband and I would have the opportunity to play with them for about 45 minutes prior to their great start and puppy raiser families arriving to come to pick them up.  Tonight would be their first official time away from their littermates.  They spent time away from their siblings at night when they were all with different handlers, but they got multiple opportunities to play with them during the days while they were there.  The first two weeks they still had Sugar there with them and the last 3 weeks they had the comfort of their other 6 siblings.  They’ve been busy learning while they’ve been there, but that doesn’t mean that tonight won’t still be a tough adjustment for them!  I will be curious to hear how the evening, the overnight and tomorrow go for these wonderful puppies!

While I thoroughly enjoyed playing with them, about halfway through I had to step away and detach a bit.  This litter, in particular, I was a bit sad because I knew it was the last litter Sugar would have, so this goodbye seemed a bit more emotional and final than I had prepared myself for.  I wanted this to be a happy celebration for these puppies who are going to do amazing things during their lifetime and I didn’t want that to be lessened by me falling apart into a puddle of tears, so that meant I needed to step away from the “playing” and observe a bit more from distance.  Over the years I’ve learned a bit more about controlling those emotional stepping stones(but I’m still terrible at it!); I’m not sure if it’s because you get used to it, or you start learning how to protect your heart a bit more from the emotions of the experience.

You never get tired of seeing your whelping litters

Using a “settle” to keep this pup quiet during some of the filming from the news station

After the litter drank the WHOLE bowl of water, those eyes were expectantly looking for more!

The puppies were having a great time with the space and the toys

And as I was playing and watching the puppies, I started seeing the anticipatory faces of the volunteers who were coming to pick their new “adventure” up through the observation windows!  I thought back to the time when I was the one picking up a puppy to puppy raise and how excited I was for the new opportunity I was embarking on!  I can’t believe how many years have passed since that first experience, but my heart feels like it’s been way more than 6 1/2 years!  It is FULL of experiences that 7 years ago I couldn’t have even imagined in my wildest dreams!  Happy, sad, funny, exhausting, overflowing with joy, amazed, scared, determined……Offhand I can’t think of any emotions that I haven’t experienced through the puppies that I have been so fortunate to have in my house whether it was for a short foster, a long-term foster, a great start, being a puppy raiser,  having a litter of puppies, or hosting a breeder dog (or two).  Each of them has taught me something that is now part of me and that I can’t separate from even if I wanted to

Ken enjoyed the opportunity to say hello again as well

Norton wanted to sit and watch the other puppies roughhouse, but he wanted to catch a quick rest rather than joining in!

The mirror in the training room is always a big hit when the puppies arrive!

So, with time, things change.  I get to say another goodbye and think of how my life will change again in the near future, with new and different adventures.  Soon, Sugar will be OURS and we will get to write a new future together!  I’m not sure what that future holds, but I know with Sugar by my side it will be amazing!

Right when we got home, Sugar went crazy when she smelled the puppies on me, grabbed a toy and looked at me like “where are they”??!  Due to her surgery last week, we had to try and keep her calm and quiet, but she was waiting to play with her puppies! 

Even though Sugar won’t be having any more puppies, I hope people will still read this blog!  Since the blog is called “Life of Sugar” we still have a lot of things to say!!!!  I think Sugar has many new things she will be enjoying!  Hopefully, the next post you see will be about her official retirement from the program!

Day 37-Learning the Ropes, One Day at a Time

The puppies turned 5 weeks old on Friday, and that means that we spent the weekend transitioning to the next stage of their journey.  On Tuesday, they will be on their way to the Duluth Federal Prison Camp where they will get approximately 5 weeks of training in all of the important skills like crate training, continued potty training, walking on leash, getting weaned from their mom, learning independence and being without their littermates, and much more!

Once that time is finished they come back to typically be placed in one of two foster homes; a puppy raiser home or a great start home.

If they are placed in a puppy raiser home, they will be raised by volunteers until they are approximately 2 years of age and then they get “called in” for final training with staff.  As a previous puppy raiser, I can tell you that I personally dreaded the day when I received the letter in the mail saying that it was time for the dog in our home to graduate to final training!  As happy as I was that I had been a part of something bigger than myself, I never like saying goodbye, so it takes a bit of time to adjust to that reality.  You know the process when you get into volunteering, but somehow the time flies faster than you think and before you know it your heart is captured by the little furball from the beginning!

If they are selected to be in a “great start” home they are fostered for 8-12 weeks or more and they are placed in one of the prison programs affiliated with the organization.  I have been a great start volunteer as well, and this volunteer opportunity is shorter term so that sometimes works better for some. They may get the chance as well to be rotated out of prison between 6-8 months of age to go into homes so that they get additional socialization and time for training to go into public places. People often ask me about the prison program and there are usually very definitive opinions about whether people think dogs being raised in prison should be an option.  I have had the benefit of seeing the prison program firsthand and meeting some of the men in the puppy program, and I personally love that this option exists within the organization.  The inmate handlers dedicate large portions of their day to training the puppies in their care; and while they are training the pups for the next part of their journey they learn life lessons themselves along the way that change how they think, interact and they gain confidence and tolerance! When I think of the lives that 1 dog changes during its journey getting to its client, I’m sometimes overwhelmed.

I also love the fact that there are many foster volunteer opportunities for people who want to foster dogs on the weekend to take prison dogs out into their homes and provide additional training while getting them out into the community.  I think that this  is sometimes the biggest misunderstandings regarding the prison program, that the dogs are in prison for 2 years straight without any additional training or foster opportunities, but that isn’t how this program works-at least at this organization.

Once they complete their puppy raising journey, then they go into final training with organization staff to learn the specifics of the job that they have shown an aptitude for.  This could be mobility assist, hearing assist, seizure assist, diabetes assist or autism assist.  How do they get their specific job?  It has been explained to volunteers that during their final training they are introduced to a variety of opportunities and that they are chosen for their “career” based on what they are happiest doing and what they can do best.  So, in essence, they choose their own career!

So, while these puppies are only 5 weeks old, I can’t help but ask myself what I think they might be good at in the future!  Part of sending them off to the next step in their journey is that we get to write up “bios”/biographies on the puppies so that the inmates in Duluth  can get an opportunity to know the particular attributes of the puppies that they will have for the next 5 or so weeks. These early descriptions can also be used once they get placed with their long term fosters/puppy raiser homes.  I find it amazing how many of the traits that they have as such small puppies follow them into adulthood!  I’ve had volunteers who have fostered pups I’ve whelped ask me about their puppy personalities and when I describe some of their characteristics they get excited and say “they STILL do that!!”  Some of the personality traits that I have noticed with these litter pups are wonderfully individual and should provide the inmate handlers with much entertainment in the near future!

The next step for me?  I get to wait with anticipation for Sugar to return to our home!  She will go up with the puppies for the first two weeks as they are too young to be without her at this time.  The inmate handlers will work on the weaning process and give her lots of snuggles and special time away from her growing (and biting) puppies.  After two weeks she will return and start her own journey of getting back to life without the puppies, and we will get back to LBP-life before puppies. When kids grow up and leave they call it Empty Nest Syndrome…when puppies leave it feels a bit the same, but I call it “Empty Box Syndrome”!  You get to readjust your schedule (that you forgot you ever had!) back to regular hours, getting to eat dinner with family, no taking weights, temperatures, giving medicines, cleaning whelping boxes, washing laundry…..

Then, the final step will be approximately 3 weeks after Sugar returns,  when we get to go to the program building where the puppies return from Duluth! Breeder fosters and whelping homes get some time in the training room to get reacquainted with the puppies and love them up just a bit more before we say our final goodbyes. Then the time comes when they get placed that evening with their new volunteer families.  During this process there are a lot of goodbyes, but there are also a lot of great hellos with anticipation and excitement for THEIR journey to start-and as much as we wish we didn’t have to let these bundles of joy go and we tell ourselves we could keep them all, we know that they need individualized attention and that we don’t have enough time in the day to give them what they need, what they deserve, and what they have waited for all of this time…..a foster family to call their own while they work their way through this life adventure.

Will there be tears? No doubt about it!! (I tear up just thinking about next Tuesday as I write this!) But with each litter I whelp, the process becomes more “predictable” and I am able to see the joy that I have received with this opportunity to raise a litter of puppies.  Sugar has had 27 puppies that have started and continue to train in assistance/service dog organizations around the world, and yet she has no idea the contribution she has made towards giving others peace of mind and freedom that they dream of to make their lives just a bit easier!  I think about the future graduation days of Sugar’s puppies, and when the first puppy from my first litter I whelped graduated this past February, I was able to see our efforts come full circle! I know that giving these puppies the best foundation that I possibly can while they are in my care indeed makes a difference for someone who doesn’t yet know that in 2-3 years their life will forever be changed by one special pup!

Day 36-The Names are Official for the N’s!

The puppies have received their permanent names now and will now be known as something other than the “N” litter or by their nicknames!

The organization chooses names within the “theme” of the litter-usually an alphabet letter in order so it is easier to track which litter came first, etc.

Once the names are chosen, we usually get input on which name should go with which puppy based on their personalities, behaviors, and antics!

Sometimes in a litter, someone generously donates money in order to be able to “name-a-puppy”!  In this litter, there is one of the name-a-puppies and his name is Norton!  Thank you to whoever donated to the program to name him!

It took me one full day to evaluate the puppies at play and socializing with each other and humans to determine which name I felt fit each one the best and I’m thrilled with the matches!

Here are the official names!

Nelson Orange

Orange is named Nelson-I chose this name because he is the biggest in the litter and he is the one always wrestling his littermates to the ground and crawling over the top of them and laying on them!  I felt a wrestling name (full nelson, half nelson) fit him to a T!

Nesa Pink

Pink is Nesa (pronounced Nessa); She is a one-of-a-kind puppy with spunk and sass and she needed an equally unique name! 

Nino Red

I had suggested the name Nino for Red because of Nino Niederreiter as a Minnesota Wild Hockey Player in honor of breeding coordinator Dora who just recently retired! Of course there was only two colors of Red or Green since those are the Wild colors!She is an avid hockey fan and it only seemed fitting to have one of these final litter pups be named in her honor!

Natalie Purple

I gave my husband the opportunity to choose some of the girls names and he really thought purple was perfect for the name Natalie!

Newton Blue

Mr. Blue just had to have the name Newton!  He’s so snuggly and loves to chew on my fingers, so  I would have given him the name Nibbles if it was one of the selections!

Norton Aqua

Mr. Aqua is the lucky littermate that was chosen to be a Name-A-Puppy!  I’m guessing he has big shoes to fill! 

Nana Green

Miss Green is named Nana-she is quiet, unassuming and loves to snuggle, just like any good Nana is!!!!

Day 28-Today’s Life Lesson; “Learning the art of the small dog bed-love it or leave it”.



Miss Pink with Sugar learning the ropes about a small dog bed…..


The puppies are getting more adorable by the minute, so it’s a good thing that they are heading for their next part of their journey in a little over a week or I don’t think I could stand it!

Their eyes and facial expressions have become so animated; they are recognizing and responding to our voices and calls from a distance, and even just sleeping they melt my heart!  (Okay, so in all honesty they don’t melt my heart when I have to get up at 2 or 3 am to do a middle of the night poop clean-up to make sure they aren’t wearing it by morning, but they more than make up for it during the rest of the day!)  They are seeking out companionship and playtime with humans and they are awake for much longer periods during the day.

They are also progressing wonderfully on regular food.  They still nurse, but now twice a day they get “supplemented” with puppy food to take some of the stress off of Sugar so the demand on her isn’t too high and because they simply need more food for those growing bodies and brains!  Slowly over the next few weeks their puppy food intake will increase and they will be weaned from Sugar to allow her to return back to “pre-puppy” status.

Sugar and the N litter

Sugar wondering “When are these puppies getting weaned???”

The litter doing a great job a learning to eat politely


Patiently waiting for me to climb into their space and play with them!


Miss Krackle (right) has been an incredible aunt for the puppies, and Sugar seems to adore her companionship during this litter!  Sometimes Sugar will even get up from her place to search out Krackle and lay by her 🙂

I’ve always chuckled trying to figure out why these big labs love small beds but I love them for it!!! Some people say that it offers a sense of security being in a tight space like a small dog bed which makes sense-I just wish I would have known that before I spent hundreds of dollars purchasing large dog beds for them when they first came to our house! (At the end is an article about the small bed/big dog phenomenon:)

Miss Green has decided that laying her ear in the water bowls feels oh so good….

This is the cuteness that overwhelms

Even though they are four weeks old, they still get to train on skills that they are going to need in their future. We work every day on calm, fun skills and the boring “learning to do nothing and trusting me while I hold you on your back” skills!

And then we add a few “look adorable and let me snuggle you” skills just for good measure!!

Loving snuggle time~

Ask A Vet: Why Does My Big Dog Love To Sleep On A Little Bed?

by Dr. Kathryn Primm

We laugh when we see photos of very large dogs trying to curl up in tiny dog beds. We wonder why in the world that big dog would choose to lie on that little bed when there is a bigger one visible in the photo.
To try to explain this phenomenon we have to look at who the dog is.
In such a situation, there are clearly at least two dogs in the environment and one is large and one is small. It is not the case in all situations, but most veterinarians would agree that small dogs tend to have the attitude of much bigger and tougher dogs. And bigger dogs are often gentle giants who accept their lot with serenity.
We can’t always explain why an individual dog prefers one thing over another, but all dogs want to feel safe and secure in the place that they sleep. Having a bed in a size that is small enough to touch the dog’s body on all sides may make him feel swaddled and safe. Some dogs certainly take the swaddling concept to an extreme, like when a Great Dane tries to sleep in a Chihuahua’s bed. But the swaddling and safety concepts may still apply.
We can surmise that the smaller bed belongs to the smaller dog and so it is a prized resource. Because the small dog likely has a very plucky nature, the large dog may look to the smaller dog for guidance. So he might feel protected in the bed that has been pre-approved by the smaller dog.
Our human tendencies make us want to believe that the smaller dog ousted the big dog from his more desirable big bed, but this may not be the case. Only someone who carefully watches their dogs interact could say for sure.
One thing is for sure- we have fun captioning photos of big dogs spilling out of tiny beds and they seem none the worse for the wear and may even prefer the tiny bed every time!

Day 26-Finally- A Trip Into the Great Outdoors!

Today was the first day that the puppies ventured outside!  And with that opportunity, I got to go outside and enjoy the beautiful day as well!

Going outside is not as easy as it may sound for a litter of 7 puppies.  First, there is the prep time of getting the area ready for them.  While they have gotten the all clear from staff to go outside, I wasn’t quite ready to let them “explore” everything that a new spring lawn has to offer-so my overprotective compromise with the puppies was that they could go outside if their area was covered with surgical drapes to prevent any unnecessary ingestion of foreign materials! (Yes, I have a number of conversations with these litter pups on a daily basis….when you spend 24/7 with these beautiful pups you naturally fall into a conversational bond with them:)

So, I proceeded to spend 20 minutes gathering the materials, toys, and x-pen and set them up a nice mini play yard for their first experience.  Then there was the chore of making 4 trips in and out of the house to gather 2 puppies at a time to move them.  Once all were safely outside, I reveled in their cuteness for just a moment, took some photos of their first exploration and then climbed into the pen for some snuggling to reassure them of this new space!

The first time the puppies go outside it is a brief journey; just long enough to get them acclimated to the space but short enough to make sure that they don’t become too stressed in their new situation.  For this first trip, the outing was between 3-5 minutes.  Then the trips back into the house ensued! It ends up being about 30 minutes of set-up and take-down for that brief visit, but it is a wonderful time to watch them getting their first taste of the outdoors!

While outside I play with them, but also watch their body language, their facial expressions, whether they whine, how they move about their space, etc. to make sure this is a positive experience.  This is one more activity to help them build their skills and it’s my opinion that it’s critical to make sure that all of these firsts don’t become overwhelming but instead are fun and give them a desire to do more as the days continue.


Blue is saying “Let her think you like her best-but I know what you’re thinking……”


I started seeing the pups begin to yawn-one by one, and it traveled through the litter.  They were playful but sticking close to me for reassurance and it was interesting to watch and observe. Of course, that got me to thinking; I’ve heard a few different opinions about what a dog yawn actually indicates, so when I got back inside I decided to do a little research on it! Often I hear people focusing on “a dog yawning indicates it is stressed”.  While that MAY be true, it’s certainly not the only reason a dog yawns and it is only ONE piece of a very complex puzzle that you can use to paint the bigger picture. Interestingly enough, dogs that yawn aren’t strictly yawning out of stress; there are other reasons they yawn, including communication between them and other dogs and in communication with humans! They can yawn for a calming signal to soothe others around them, when they are unclear of what is going on around them, out of stress, in anticipation, confusion or conflict, or due to medical issues, when they are bored, and most obviously because they are simply tired.  And finally, possibly the most surprising reason, dogs it seems can yawn as a reaction to a human yawn!!! (See research study below)

So, the next time you yawn around your dog(s), watch and see if they follow your lead!

What I came to see in these puppies is that they were simply yawning most likely due to a change in their environment-they had never been outside and were wondering just what was going on; maybe a tad of elevated anticipation/stress but that they were just fine with the new space and they enjoyed their new but brief experience in the beautiful weather!  If tomorrow is nice again, they will get another opportunity to learn about the big world around them!

So, what does a dog yawn REALLY mean???? Well, I’ve been yawning the entire time I’ve been writing this blog, so while I would love to provide more links for you to read about the subject, I have to stop 🙂  The real question is, have you been yawning while reading this???

Here is an article excerpt taken from a study, indicating some of the reasons of yawning and whether it is contagious between humans and dogs:


Taken from the following link: Yawning may promote bonding even between dogs and humans

“Until the last few years, the feeling was that contagious yawning was unique to humans,” Provine says.

But recently, two more species have been added to the list of contagious yawners: dogs and chimpanzees. When two groups of chimpanzees were shown videos of familiar and unfamiliar chimps yawning, the group watching the chimps they knew engaged in more contagious yawning. This study, by Matthew Campbell and Frans de Waal, supports the theory that yawning plays a role in the evolution of social bonding and empathy.

And dogs not only catch each others’ yawns, they are susceptible to human yawning as well. In one study, 29 dogs watched a human yawning and 21 of them yawned as well — suggesting that interspecies yawning could help in dog-human communication.


Here is some interesting information about dog yawns and whether they are contagious!

Is Yawning Contagious Between Dogs and Your Dog and You?

(excerpt taken from Why dogs yawn-the research behind it )

Contagious yawning between humans is well documented, but can dogs “catch” the yawns from other dogs or from their humans?

A 2014 study published in Animal Cognition did conclude that shelter dogs that had a rise in salivary cortisol levels, which is a sign of stress, caught contagious yawns more often than those dogs that didn’t have a rise in salivary cortisol levels. This suggests that stress yawns among dogs might be contagious. [i]

Several studies have concluded that yawns are contagious between humans and dogs. One of the most famous studies, which was conducted by researchers at Tokyo and Kyoto universities and published in U.S. science journal PLOS One in 2013, concluded that “contagious yawning” was a sign of empathy dogs were showing their humans and not a sign of stress.

The researchers studied two-dozen dogs and involved humans both familiar and unfamiliar to the dogs. The people involved in the study also made different facial expressions and mouth gestures to determine if dogs could tell the difference.

Researchers also monitored the dog’s heart rate to rule out yawning as a stress response. The results revealed that dogs yawned contagious yawns more often with familiar humans. “Our study suggests that contagious yawning in dogs is emotionally connected in a way similar to humans,” says Teresa Romero of the University of Tokyo who led the study.[ii]

Georgina Lees-Smith, a certified canine behavior consultant near London in the U.K., who has studied and written about the varying theories about dog yawning for her post graduate degree in psychology and neuroscience, says that her own anecdotal research seems to support that theory.

“I’ve conducted a study with my own dogs and have found that if you yawn and your dog yawns, it shows a definite social connection with your dog,” she says. “It really is quite lovely.”

The Dog Yawning Conclusion

While we cannot be absolutely sure why dogs yawn when they are not tired, modern studies have suggested that dogs yawn for several reasons, based on the circumstances:

– Dogs may yawn as a response to stress

– As a communication signal toward other dogs

– In empathy (or at least in response to) their humans

Some other links: Dogs and Yawning


If by chance you want to do more research on the subject, here is a study, the first of its kind, that discusses the testing of contagious yawning between dogs and humans that was done in 2008 and here is a brief excerpt from the study:

Link:  First study of its kind to indicate human yawns are contagious to dogs

“The current study demonstrates that human yawns are possibly contagious to dogs. The presentation of human yawning elicited yawns in 72 per cent of the dogs tested, which is higher than the rate reported in humans (45–60%) and chimpanzees (33%). This effect cannot be attributed to a general effect of the mere presence of unfamiliar humans, or to the observation of human mouth movements in general, because no dogs yawned in the control condition. This study is the first to demonstrate that the observation of yawning elicits yawning in a non-primate species, as well as the first demonstration of possible contagious yawning between different species. Since yawning is known to modulate the level of arousal (Daquin et al. 2001), such temporally synchronized occurrences of yawning may help coordinate interactions as well as communication between humans and dogs.”