Thursday, March 4, 2010

SSD Team Training at the Whitaker Center

Team Training ended yesterday, and we have great news! All of the teams who have gone through training these past two and a half weeks have passed their public access test! They are now officially service dog teams.

On Tuesday, SSD Gnat, Lil, Natalie and their partners went to the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg, PA. With all of the interactive science exhibits and children running around, it was a fun but challenging outing.

When the partners and their dogs first entered the exhibit, many of the children wanted to pet the dogs. What a great opportunity to practice greetings! By giving lots of treats, each partner kept their dog focused on them while the kids crowded around.

SSD Natalie practiced search.

Natalie is specially trained to find her young partner if he wanders off. She follows the cone of scent, zig-zagging until she finds the strongest trail, and then she follows it. 'It's like fishing," says her partner's father. "You can feel it through the leash when she has the trail." Right now, she's following the scent of vanilla, which we use in training, but that scent will gradually be tapered off and replaced by her partner's scent.

Natalie wears a special harness with a handle that her young partner holds on to. If he starts to wander while he's still holding the handle, Natalie will brace and pull him back.

SSD Lil practiced under.

At the cue from her partner, she goes under the bench, where she lays down out of everyone's way.

As each person went through the exhibits, the dogs gained many new experiences. In the Carnival of Health exhibit, Lil and Gnat got a surprise when their partners played the Icky the Clown game (similar to Whac-A-Mole). The dogs were laying nicely beneath the clown's nose while their partners played. At the end of the game, the clown sneezed and sprayed the dogs with goo! Lil didn't seem to have a problem with it, but Gnat didn't like it too much. He recovered quickly, though, after his partner wiped him off.

Later, Gnat practiced pulling his partner, who uses a wheelchair, and they glided across the floor effortlessly.

It was a wonderful outing, and we had a lot of fun!

We're so glad that all of the partners and their service dogs are now official working service dog teams! "I'm so happy," says SSD Gnat's partner. "Having a service dog is the best thing that ever happened to me. It's like having my life back."

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