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.”

Day 25-Pups and Personalities!

Today the puppies got another room expansion and we continue to adapt to their needs:). A new enrichment toy was added which will desensitize then to things bridging their back, noises as the items clank together, requiring them to work through obstacles; and the introduction of a grass/turf potty yard for them was added this morning as well!!

Every day brings something new for them to learn or explore, and hopefully all of those opportunities increase their resilience in unfamiliar circumstances as they navigate the journey of an assistance dog in training!

They have also been introduced to various sounds/noises which will make them more startle resistant-city sounds, storms, vehicles on sound Cd’s and the natural edition of trains, planes, automobiles, geese, city street sweepers, horns, etc. brought to them by the beautiful weather that has allowed me to open the windows for noises “a la Carte”!

I can see them building their problem-solving skills as I sit and watch them at a distance. Purple /Mindy has learned that if you want to play with your siblings and they are sleeping, just walk on top of them and bite their ear to get them going; Orange/Boomer has learned that nothing is really stationary if you pull and chew on it vigorously and that the ramp is his favorite place to sleep; Aqua/Jax knows that the only quiet place in their space is the far corner where his siblings can’t find him; Pink/Lady has figured out that if she finds me and gives me her adorable puppy dog eyes that life stops and it’s snuggle time!

Mr. Orange/Boomer is the official “bird dog” of the litter!

I told Ken if I got to convert the living room into the puppies play area then we wouldn’t have to add the office space as their play area……….but then it happened……. 🙂  Seriously, when you look at those faces, how could you NOT give them more space to explore???????

Each of the pups has very distinct personalities, and I have always loved this age because in previous litters I’ve had I see their personality traits continue to follow them into adulthood. Whether they are spunky, quiet, a chewer, playful or a snuggler-they continue with those perfect personalities to bring joy to others !!

From the looks of it, they like their new addition!

Miss Purple/Mindy getting to know her new potty yard space!


Day 21-3 Weeks Old; The Learning Curve Gets Steep!

Friday was a BIG day for all of the puppies-they had a lot of new activities to experience like their FIRST meal, first bath, officially beginning potty training, time for them to wear T-shirt’s/onesies to help desensitize them for wearing capes, and some enrichment games to continue to build their brains! It was a busy day as I was trying to give the puppies all of these “firsts” but also knew my day was filled with other “life” events that were more important than a puppy being potty trained.(It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true!)  Life continues on even when we have puppies in our home as much as we want to just sit and play with them all day!!

Yesterday’s event was that I had the pleasure of attending my daughters PH.D. graduation.  She received her doctorate in Animal Science with a focus on Nutrition(Equine).  She has spent her entire life exploring through science and has completed countless research projects, had her research published and is in a completely different place as she was before she began her college career in the science field.  What she was convinced of 8 years ago is completely different than what she knows now through her education and research.  I believe this is exactly what life is like! You think you have the answers to most everything, but when you look back you realize that what you know is not as important as what you chose to DISCOVER over the course of time, what you learned through listening to the experiences of others, and through what you’ve tried in your quest to make something better.  I’ve learned that through research, scientists have to keep an open mind because often the truth that is revealed is much different than their initial theory of the problem. And the opportunities to discover new and better ideas is HUGE with puppies!  Every litter that has been in my home has been completely different in one way or another, and I have learned incredible new things from each one that has actually taught me lessons that I apply in my everyday life. I have learned to interact with people in a different way, I seek to look for better ways, more efficient processes and to enjoy the moment.

Every litter is different, but the biggest challenge for me as a whelping home is to learn from past litters in order to make this litter more successful!  I don’t rest on the excuse that “every litter is different’, but instead my time with these puppies becomes one HUGE science experiment.  One of the biggest mistakes I believe people make in life is that they get comfortable in what they know so they never continue to ask the big question of “why”? They don’t choose to learn from what’s in front of them, from the insight of others, or from what others have discovered through the value of research.  Something may have worked in the past, but WHY did it work and WHAT could work better are important questions as well!

One example of this is in the picture below.  I did some research and studies show that if you put out more bowls than the number of puppies you can reduce the future incidence rate of resource guarding that dogs display.  Since resource guarding is one of the things that can career change a pup in training, I figured I would try this method.  Does it mean that none of these puppies will resource guard in their futures? No. They have many other life experiences along the way that can develop or inhibit this behavior.  I’m just one tiny piece of the puzzle, and every piece and experience along the way continues to develop their personality. Does it mean that this is the ONLY thing that will help them with this? No. But…..and here is the important part of this; there is NO evidence that I could find showing that having more bowls of food than puppies EVER will harm the puppy or detrimentally inhibit the puppy in any growth areas, so with only positive opportunity and no negative ramifications why WOULDN”T  I do this? Research is so extensive, and for most studies you can find opposing viewpoints.  But there are some studies where there is only an upside to the research and it seems obvious to add it to my daily routine.  Rather than bore you with the actual research studies, I have provided a link that discusses much of the same thinking about providing extra food bowls.

Link: Preventing food aggression in puppies begins when they are young

Here is also an excerpt and a link on how to work with food/resource guarding with a series of training exercises to use with the dog if they already show some of the signs:

An Ounce of Prevention

Young puppies are prone to guarding behavior because they often have to compete with their littermates for limited amounts of food. Breeders often feed puppies from one large communal pan, and the puppy who manages to eat the most will grow the quickest and become the strongest. If a breeder is not observant, this situation can deteriorate into one or two puppies monopolizing most of the food. A history of being rewarded for aggressive behavior can become firmly established in these puppies.

ASPCA training a dog with food guarding issues

Watching the daily interactions of the puppies can teach you so much!!!  You learn all about the intricate behaviors of each puppy and you start to feel like you have an insight into their future and what problems and successes they might experience along the way!  I’ve always said one of my dream jobs is to track a litter of puppies from birth throughout life and to track all of the things they’ve experienced along the way, looking at insights from the whelping home and beyond and seeing how accurate those thoughts are in the adult life of the dog.

And this is a brief look into my life as a whelping home!  I love research, and I love to improve upon processes so that I can feel like this litter has even more benefits than the previous one in my home. I never think I have THE answer and there’s no other way.  I take each experience and determine if I can positively build upon it to improve the outcome.   It’s a bit of a personality flaw, but I actually enjoy the intense nature of my mind, so it’s all good!

This is what I love about science and research.  There is an unbelievable amount of research that is at our fingertips!  We get to choose if that interests us to look it up and discover something new that might possibly improve some problem that we want to avoid.

It’s not all fun and games! Sometimes the puppies walk through “areas” that make them very dirty and stinky, and they need to get cleaned up!!! Bathtime for the litter happened before 7am!!!! I was a bit surprised at how much they loved it!!!

As I was listening to the keynote speaker at the graduation (he was the one who studied and invented Baked Lays and is an incredible entrepreneur), I’m sure the majority of people were thinking of how the speech applied to some aspect of their personal lives.  I was also doing this, but what I realized is that frequently my thoughts drifted back to the 7 little puppies in my care and I was surprised at how much of the speech applied to my time with them as well!

So, I figured I would share the key points of the keynote speaker that he gathered from some of his students which I feel are a fabulous way to start a new day! Although these aren’t puppy related, they are wonderful to consider!

  • The best four-letter word is FACTS;
  • Make sure your curiosity and interests change as a function of time;
  • Look for an opportunity you can grab; that can be anything from how to think, live or act smarter, or to help someone else;
  • Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, but don’t just accept it without exploring your options. It’s not a destination, but rather a point in time;
  • Learn to listen to ideas you disagree with-in the end you are the one who gets to decide how you want to live, but hear what others have to say about topics that affect you and keep an open mind;
  • Use logic and facts to do the analysis, but use the situation in front of you to draw the insights
  • Look to solve any problem by looking at nature;
  • Never settle; always problem-solve and innovate. This is what has developed our world and allowed us to realize things that were never thought possible;
  • Dare to be different;
  • Change is always predictable;
  • Not taking a big risk is still a big risk;
  • Focus on the problem you want to solve, not the job you have in front of you;
  • Facts are the key in decision making;
  • Quit thinking outside of the box, just create a new box;
  • Always value the lessons and messages of others, even if you don’t share the same views;
  • Keep re-learning how to be curious;
  • Develop a clear set of guiding values and remember those values you pick are a skill that needs to be mastered

What a busy day!!!!

Day 19-The Name Game~

Sugar’s litter is officially the “N” litter; all this means is that her puppies will have names beginning with N, but they don’t get their official names yet.  The organization will determine their names when they get closer to the time of going into official training.  So, in the meantime, whelping homes are allowed the opportunity to give the puppies nicknames so that we don’t go around calling them simply by their collar colors!

We get to give these temporary names around the 3-week mark, and since this litter will be three weeks tomorrow it’s time to start calling them by (temporary) names!!!  So here they are! They are officially Lady, Mindy, Roo, Tanner, Jax, Chase and Boomer!

Mr. Orange-Boomer, as he was the biggest pup born and continues to lead the charge in the weight category.  He needed a BIG nickname to go with his size! He’s 2169 grams, approx. 4.75 pounds

Mr. Aqua-Jax, he’s the smallest of the boys at 1937 grams, approx. 4 1/4 pounds

Miss Green-Roo, named after the nickname of our youngest daughter; she is 1956 grams, which is approx. 4.3 pounds

Miss Purple-Mindy, after the nickname of our oldest daughter; she is 1900 grams and the smallest in the litter currently at 1900 grams, approximately a little over 4 pounds

Mr. Blue-Chase: weighing in at 2113 grams, approx.  4.65 pounds

Mr. Red-Tanner; 2123 grams, approx.  4.65 pounds, just like Blue.


Day 18-Freedom Like Never Before!

Yesterday and today the puppies will be able to see, do and experience a variety of things that they have never done before!  And once they find out how big their world is, there will be no stopping them-the whelping box will no longer be seen as a place of security but instead a place they want to leave; 4 white walls will be replaced with sights, sounds, toys and lots of different interaction with “things”!!!

They’ve graduated from bio-sensor training and now they need to do things to build their tolerance, adaptability, and overall resilience so that when they grow into their role as assistance puppies in training they are ready for the task at hand as much as possible!

As whelping homes we do as much as we can to ensure their success, and so it’s difficult in my opinion if one of our puppies doesn’t make it to graduation; there are so many things out of our control that can derail the trajectory of the puppies-personality, allergies, medical issues and simply not having the desire to work.  None of these issues mean the dog isn’t wonderful, it just means this career isn’t the right path for them.

So we pour our hearts and energy into these mini-miracles in the hopes that one day they will pour THEIR hearts and energy into someone else. And for me, that’s the only reason I can happily go without sleep for many hours or days, be content for weeks mostly in the confines of my home, wash laundry like it’s a fine art, and be okay with pooper scooper duty of 7 pups for 5+ weeks:). The hope fir them is what fuels the passion for me!

Here are some pics of their last 24 hours of firsts!

First field trip to the dining room


Special mom time on their first field trip

First protest about weigh-ins-Miss Green decided to take matters into her own hands and block the scale, then promptly go to sleep!

First group escape and coming when I called them!

Blue got the honors of the first cape wearing opportunity!

Miss Green loved the bright colors of the first “big puppy” toys!

First long field trip to the living room “headquarters #2” complete with train sounds, honking geese, birds tweeting, trucks and cars, and of course some new musical artists with some crazy beats on Alexa!!!  Our house has officially become an obstacle course around x-pen living spaces for the pups, and it will continue to expand over the next 3 weeks to essentially consume our entire home 🙂