Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Dogs Visit the Zoo

It was pouring rain yesterday, but that didn't stop us from visiting the zoo! Our service dogs-in-training went to Zoo America in Hershey for a puppy outing. What great experience for the dogs!

Watch a video of our zoo outing

Although it was a challenging outing, the dogs and puppy raisers did a great job. Practice started even before we walked through the doors of the zoo. The dogs practiced loose leash walking on the path leading to the doors. Here's a video of SSD Hawk and his puppy raiser working their way along the path. In loose leash walking, the dog must walk next to his handler so that the leash is nice and loose. In this video, notice how as soon as Hawk starts to pull, his handler stops, backs up and turns around to get Hawk refocused and walking on a loose leash.

In this video, SSD Misty walks nicely along the wooden walkway near some of the animal cages. To keep her walking on a loose leash, her handler is clicking and treating every few steps. A high rate of clicks and reinforcement makes sure that Misty's attention stays on her puppy raiser and that she continues loose-leash walking without getting distracted by the interesting smells and animals.

The zoo animals were often as aware of the dogs as the dogs were aware of them. We wanted this to be a fun and safe trip for everyone - dogs, puppy raises and zoo animals - so not only did we watch the dogs' reactions to the animals, but we also watched the animals' reactions to the dogs. If the dogs got too agitated and started barking, we removed them from that area immediately. Likewise, if the zoo animals were getting too agitated, we removed the dogs, even if the dogs seemed calm.

In this video, you can see that the elk is very aware and interested in SSD Journey. The elk stands very still and stares at her. Journey is also aware of the elk, but notice how she is still focused on her puppy raiser. She keeps making eye contact with her puppy raiser, and when she's given the cue up, she reacts right away to put her feet on the fence. The presence of the elk does not distract her to the point where she does not pay attention to her puppy raiser.

The wolves were the biggest challenge for the dogs. As soon as the wolves noticed the dogs, they began pacing along the fence, and many of the dogs wanted to go right up to that fence. This was a great opportunity for puppy raisers to use power treats (treat the dogs love, which are only used for challenging situations) and keep the dogs' attention on them. We kept visits to the wolves very short for the well being of both the dogs and wolves. In the video, notice how SSD Tundra stands right by the fence to watch the wolves, but when her puppy raiser asks for her attention, she gives it to them.

Overall, our trip to Zoo America was a success! Great job, everyone!

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