Wednesday, January 22, 2014


An african american man wearing a white tshirt and blue pants is walking toward the camera with a young black lab puppy on his left side. He is holding a brown leather leash in both hands in front of his torso. The puppy is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red works that say Future Leader Dog. There is a door with a window in the background.
FLD Sammy and his raiser.
Guitar music hung lightly in the lunchroom of Pike Unit on the afternoon of November 21. First to perform - FLDs Sammy and August and their inmate raisers. Entering on loose leashes, the teams faced off for a dueling demo - sit, down, stay, kennel, under, ring the bell.

Suddenly, both handlers said "leg." Both puppies swung their rear ends into alignment with the handlers' left legs. Perfect heel position!

I was flabbergasted. Not only because of how well each pup responded to the cue, but that the cue was used at all.

During our very first visit to the Chippewa Correctional Facility, when Deb and Tammy and I handed our puppies over to the inmates, FLD Dutch's handler tried to get him into a heel position. Dutch wasn't having any of it. I whispered, "Tell him 'leg.'" The handler said, "Leg." Dutch launched himself to the man's left side, slamming his hips against his leg.


A woman with short brown hair dressed in a rose colored fleece jacket and blue jeans is standing and facing the camera. She is holding a brown leather lease attached to a goldern retriever, who is sitting on the ground on her left side, looking up at her.
FLD Dutch anticipates my cue of "leg."

In March of 2013, I attended the Clicker Expo in Connecticut with FLD Dutch. Returning home, I practiced a training technique I had learned at the Expo to address Dutch's tendency of migrating out of heel position. His enthusiasm with the process of "mark the behavior and then reward it" showed me the power of the "click." In was, in fact, thrilling.

I won't go into the many steps I took in working with Dutch, but before long he figured out what I wanted him to do. At that point I needed to attach a cue to his animated leap back into heel position. Just in case I muddled things up, I chose a word that surely, no one would ever think of using.


I glanced over to Deb Donnelly, Puppy Development Supervisor at Leader Dogs for the Blind. She was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Oh boy, was I in trouble!

At the end of the performance by the teams, six puppies in all, Deb spoke to the group and then took questions. The thoughtful questions made it evident that the raisers were busy educating themselves on dog training and were thoroughly engaged with their puppies.

One last question stood out.

"Deb," one of the men asked. "Does Leader Dogs prefer the word 'leg' or 'heel?'"

I choked. Deb grinned again. Here it comes, I thought. "Well," she said. "Heel is the traditional word, but you can use leg. It's a pretty ingenious cue that Patti made up." She grinned even wider and tears sprung to my eyes.

Every puppy in the Chippewa Correctional Facility has learned "leg."

The next day during our visit to the Baraga Correctional Facililty, Deb used FLD August to demonstrate the skills that the Chippewa puppies had learned from their raisers. She even said, "Leg." August swung into a tight heel position on her left side!

A floor-level shot of a small yellow lab sitting next to a pair of legs dressed in blue pants and white tennis shoes. The puppy is looking up at the handler and is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with red words that say Future Leader Dog. The puppy's name "August" is embroidered on the blue part of the patch.
FLD August looks up at his Chippewa handler.

LEG - my "leg-acy" in Leader Dogs' Michigan U.P. puppy-raising program!


  1. Awesome! I love your blog posts. Didn't know you were going to Clicker Expo. Sounds like it was an awesome experience.

    1. Thanks so much Suzanne! Clicker Expo was a neat experience...not going this year, however!

  2. Hi Patti, I am so glad I found your blog. FLD Sammy is from our first litter and it is such a joy to watch him grow and see how he and his puppy raiser are working together. Thanks for all you do !-Leesa

    1. Hi Leesa! Thank you for raising puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind. FLD Sammy is a real gem. I'm glad that you found my blog - stay tuned because there will be lots more to come. :)

  3. I can relate-I taught Nala "around" and "find the escalator" and thought I was in trouble when my trainer found out. Turns out he was impressed with "around." It seems to be a cue that most other schools don't use and I love it. Still got in trouble for the escalator though. LOL Love reading your blog.

    1. Nala is a smart cookie, and you are too! Thanks for reading and for the comment. Glad you like the blog!