The reason I am bringing a new Labrador Retriever puppy home is because I lost Hannah in September. She was 12 years old and had done 11 years of therapy dog work with me. She accumulated well over 1200 hours of therapy visits and earned the AKC honor of Therapy Dog Distinguished. Some dogs touch your heart deeply, and Hannah was one of these. Their presence in your life is a gift. When I lose a beloved animal companion, I always want to open my heart to a new one. To me, that is the highest honor we can pay to the one we’ve just lost.

So that being said, I want to share my tribute to Ridgeway Moonshadow Hannah, often referred to as “Waggles” or Hannah Banana.

She was five weeks old the first time I saw her in June of 2007. She was the smallest puppy in the litter wearing an olive green rick-rack ribbon around her neck.  When I picked her up, she was very calm and not squirmy like the other puppies.  She turned her head and made eye contact.  My heart melted.  I continued to interact with all the puppies in the litter, but when I picked up Hannah a second time, again she turned and made eye contact with me.  She seemed to be a wise old soul right from the beginning.  I whispered to her, “Would you like to come home with me?” Luci, the breeder overheard me, and she kindly honored my request.

Hannah was smart, but she had a mind of her own. She was the first puppy I socialized and trained, and she was challenging, often exasperating. I used to tell people that she’d take a message and get back to me. We started at Old York Road Dog Training Club in the weekly intermediate class in 2008. She was a friend to all, including canines.  And she also had what we humans would call a quirky sense of humor.

She passed her AKC Canine Good Citizen and therapy dog tests after she turned one year of age and started to work as a therapy dog in the Nor’wester Therapy Dog program.  She was very intuitive and easy to position for maximum effect when working with students.  She loved her kids and her work.

One September, when we arrived at our 5th grade class for our first visit of the year, Hannah walked into the classroom and was adamant that I allow her to approach a boy in the class. I followed her lead, and she sat down beside him and stayed there at least 5 minutes. She leaned against him and allowed him to stroke her. She did the same thing the following week, and again in the ensuing weeks for about 4 months. He was always the FIRST student she approached. The teacher quietly told me that the boy had lost his father very suddenly over the summer and was still grieving. 

Another year Hannah worked with a 3rd grade intensive learning support class. There was a boy who had a brain disorder which caused him to have uncontrollable spasms. These spasms also affected his eyes and his ability to read fluently which made it difficult for him to acquire information.  One day I asked the teacher if I could try something, and she gave her permission. I had the student sit on a cushion on the floor, and I positioned Hannah tightly against his body and suggested that he stroke her while he was reading.  He did, and he was able to read more fluently with a huge decrease in his spasms. The teacher’s jaw literally dropped, and this became part of our routine each week. It makes you wonder how the contact and energy from a calm therapy dog affects the energy of a person. 

Hannah’s first passion was water. Puddle, lake, stream, pool – she was in! She would take flying leaps from the side of a pool to retrieve – she would have been great at dock diving. 

But most of all, she was a wonderful companion. The name Hannah means “chosen one.” Not only did I choose her, she also chose me.


I recently became aware of the Rule of Seven, created by Dr. Carmen Battaglia, to assist dog breeders and owners in the puppy socialization process. Much like ENS (early Neurological Stimulation), the Rule of Seven introduces puppies to small stressors that will help boost confidence, social behavior, and their trainability. Conscientious breeders will have set this well into motion by the time the puppy goes to its new home, but then it becomes the owner’s responsibility to continue and reinforce during the critical socialization period which generally runs up to 12-16 weeks of age.

It is not necessary to follow the Rule of Seven to a T, but it is suggested to use it as a guide.  It is important to remember that the puppy must be current on all vaccinations before exposing it to other dogs or strange areas.  

It is recommended that by the time a puppy is 3 months old, to make sure it has:

  1. Been on 7 different types of surfaces:  i.e. carpet, tile, linoleum, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, and wood chips.
  2. Played with 7 different types of objects:  i.e. rope toys, plush toys, big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, squeaky toys, paper or cardboard items, metal items, and sticks.
  3. Been in 7 different locations:  i.e. front & back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom, kids’ room, living room, hallway, Vet’s office, groomers.
  4. Met and played with 7 new people:  include children and older adults, someone walking with a cane or in a wheelchair or with a walker, someone tall, someone in a hat, etc.
  5. Been exposed to 7 challenges: i.e. climb on a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go in and out of a doorway with a step up or down, run around a fence.
  6. Eaten from 7 different containers: i.e. metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, human hands, pie plate, tin pan, frying pan, Frisbee, elevated bowl.
  7. Eaten in 7 different locations: i.e. crate, yard, exercise pen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom, back yard.

Each new, positive experience will help your puppy flourish as a confident and happy companion.  Allow your puppy to learn passively by allowing them to explore on their own, but to be certain it is under 100% supervision and in a controlled environment.  Harsh training methods should never be used with a puppy, because it is easy to break the bond of trust. Training should be fair, positive, and fun. 

Stay tuned . . .

Heidi at 5 months

puppy proofing and other preparations

“Uh-oh,” I said when I saw that my first puppy had chewed a treasured photo album.

“Oh NO!” I yelled, when I saw that she’d chewed a corner of my Bokhara rug!

Anyone who has raised puppies quickly learns how to puppy proof.  Electrical cords, furniture, rugs, books, TV remotes, and more. Anything that’s eye level for a curious puppy exploring its new world needs to be put away or situated out of reach.  It only takes a split second of non-attention for an item to be grabbed.

On January 10th I will be bringing my 8 week old puppy home, so it’s time to think about puppy proofing my family room where she will be living these first few weeks.  I will survey the room and remove all loose and accessible items that may temp the puppy to steal.  I will have a wide variety of toys and chew items available since puppies get bored so easily and love to move from one item to the next.  Because of my therapy dog work, my dogs have been gifted with many toys, so I will not need to purchase anything. 

Fortunately, I have a tile floor in the family room and no area rugs to remove. Certainly, it’s very easy to clean up accidents should the puppy have them.

I have 2 puppy collars which belonged to Hannah and Heidi, and I also have several leashes, including a 15 foot long leash should I feel the need to use that. 

A life-stages crate will be set up with a movable divider which will increase the amount of available space as the puppy grows.  Crates are critical and such a useful tool for training puppies.  Not only are they wonderful for housebreaking, crates keep puppies safe when they cannot be supervised.  I also use the crate as part of my calming training and to nurture a happy and relaxed puppy that will not grow up to have separation anxiety issues. Crates are far from abusive. Dogs LOVE enclosed spaces and come to seek out their secure, quiet, den-like environment. 

I have several gates and barriers to confine the puppy to the family room. The puppy will only be allowed a wider range of freedom as she matures and can be under visual observation.  

Along with all the physical preparations comes the mental preparation.  Having a puppy is labor intensive and exhausting.  With my first puppy I learned that keeping a log the first few weeks really helped me to quickly see a routine.  While it’s important to be aware of the puppy’s routine, it is also imperative that the puppy settle in and adapt to MY routine. 

5 more days of waiting.

Stay tuned . . .