Friday, July 17, 2009

I'll Take Sit for 400

"Lil, down," said the young girl.

When SSD Lil laid down, the girl told her to stay. Then, right in front of Lil, the girl spun five times. Lil cocked her head as if to say, "What are you doing?" but she never budged from her down. "Good job, Lil!" The girl clicked and treated the dodg before heading back to her seat.

SSD Lil and the girl weren't just fooling around. They were playing SSD Jeopardy at our SSD Dog Training Summer Camp. Each summer, kids ages 10-14 spend a week at the kennel learning about SSD and training a service dog that becomes "theirs" for the week. Last week, we had 10 kids in the camp, and this week, five girls participated. Each of them were paired with one of our advanced training dogs - SSD Coriander (Cori), Mite, Lil, Midge and Pearl. These dogs just entered advanced training on July 6, but they have been doing great with summer camp and the girls have been having a lot of fun with them! (Big thanks to our puppy raisers for doing such a great job raising the dogs!)

Each girl worked with the same dog all week. This year, campers chose their dogs themselves, which helps ensure that the camper-dog teams work well together. They might only work together for a week, but the girls and dogs form bonds with each other. As part of the camp, the girls learned clicker training, listened to presentations about SSD and the dogs, and played games to both test their knowledge and just have fun with the dogs.

We played Jeopardy halfway through the week, giving the girls a fun opportunity to test what they had learned. Instead of answering with a question like in traditional Jeopardy, campers had to ask their dogs to perform skills such as sit, come, down and stay while ignoring distractions, like a spinning camper. Our version of Jeopardy is based on the idea of proofing - asking in different ways for dogs to perform behaviors in different environments. So one camper had to put a spoonful of peanut buter in her mouth and then ask her dog, SSD Mite, to sit. (Mite gave a beautiful sit right away!) Another girl had to do jumping jacks while asking SSD Pearl to sit. (Pearl, and later SSD Midge, looked very confused. We learned that we're going to have to work on teaching the dogs to give behaviors while the handler is in motion. By the end of their advanced training, though, Pearl and the others should be able to sit beautifully, regardless of what their partner is doing when they give the command.)

Why is proofing important? Service dogs travel everywhere with their partners and they will need to be able to continue assisting their partners regardless of where they go and what distractions they encounter. A service dog that will down-stay beautifully at home will not be much help to their partner if the dog won't down-stay in a public place. Also, some partners may use communication devices or may ask for behaviors in alternative ways, and their dogs need to understand and assist them. Proofing helps ensure that the dogs will be able to assist their partners with their unique needs.

Today, the girls are going to the mall to take a modified version of the public access test our SSD teams take to become certified. We all had a wonderful week, and we're looking forward to next year's SSD Summer Camp!


  1. I'm late reading, catching up on your blog after several months of no internet. Just wanted to let you know that I loved this post. What a cool way to work on proofing! And sounds like a bunch of fun for the dogs and the kids.