Monday, July 12, 2010

Movies, Playgrounds and a Maturing Puppy

Do you remember the first time you ever went to the movies? The smell of popcorn and the thrill of seeing the action on the big screen?

SSD Nubble went to the movies for the first time! While he didn't have that same sense of wonder that you probably did (he's a dog, after all), he still had a blast being in a new place. When Nubble arrived at the movie theater with his puppy raisers, Donna and Lindsey, there were a lot of distractions competing for his attention. He was very interested in the lights and noises. Almost immediately, a group of children swarmed him, asking lots of questions. Nubble did extremely well until two small children started running around. Then he decided it was play time. However, Donna and Lindsey were able to get him focused again.

Once they were in the theater, Nubble faced another challenge. He had to climb up the steps to get to their seats. Nubble usually has trouble with stairs, but this time, he walked very nicely up them. It may have helped that the steps were very wide - more like landings - so all of his feet could be on one step at a time. Donna and Lindsey chose aisle seats so Nubble had plenty of room. Even though the movie was two and a half hours long, he did great! He spent most of the time trying to get Donna's attention. First he would sit. Then he would give a down. Then he would visit (put his head in Donna's lap), and visit, and visit, and visit. Visit seems to be his new favorite cue. All in all, Nubble did a very nice job on his first trip to the movies.

It was a week of firsts for Nubble. He and Donna also participated in their first SSD demonstration. Nubble was joined by SSD Caspian, Graham and Slate, and they did a demo for 65 children with autism. Since it was their first time, Donna focused on making sure Nubble was on his best behavior. She asked him to sit and down while the other dogs did more involved demos. But Nubble didn't just sit the whole time. He showed the children how nicely he heels. He also got to practice doing stairs because the demonstration was on the lower level of a church, and stairs were the only way to get down there.

Afterward, Nubble visited Slate, and they had a great time playing in the yard! Nubble was able to run off leash with Slate and the other dogs. They all played very nicely together. He drank a lot of water, though. So much that Donna had to make a few pit stops for him on the way home...

On Saturday, the Northeast Division went to Community Day, where they listened to a great band and the dogs got to meet tons of kids. Nubble is finally starting to realize that kids are not playmates and that just because the kids want to play with him does not mean that he gets to play with them. Great progress! He also played on the playground, which is a great experience for the dogs-in-training, especially with all of the new surfaces and objects. He dashed down a small slide without a problem, but he didn't seem interested in the spiral slide. Lindsey sat at the top with Nubble and Donna shaped him to go down the slide. The shaping session ended when Lindsey started sliding and couldn't stop, and Nubble had no choice but to follow. (Slides are called "slides" for a reason!) However, Nubble did make some progress.

Donna has been working on back and leave it with Nubble. The cue back means that he should back up wherever he is. He will back up nicely as long as he is standing in front of Donna. However, they're still working on getting him to back when he's beside her. So far, he's making nice progress, although sometimes he backs up while he's sitting! But he seems to understand the concept.

Leave it is a bit more challenging for him. He tends to leave objects alone, but food is another thing entirely. He will leave it, but then he'll dash right back and scarf it up. Donna plans to keep working at it.

Nubble has made some great progress in shaping. Donna shaped him to bring her Gizzy's dog dish. (Gizzy is the family dog.) Nubble can also remove a hat from someone's head! At the demo, Caspian's puppy raiser had shaped Caspian to remove a hat from someone's head, and Donna decided to try to train Nubble to do the same thing. At home, she used shaping to teach him this behavior. At the beginning of the session, Donna expected that Nubble would simply maul the hat rather than bring it to her, but he surprised her! Using very tiny steps, Donna successfully shaped him to bring her the hat! They started by clicking and treating just for looking at the hat, then gradually increased the criteria until he was bringing the hat right to her!

Nubble is definitely maturing. He still acts like a puppy, but Donna can see him making good choices. He chooses not to chase butterflies, Baby the cat and children. And when people greet him, he turns right to Donna! A service dog needs to stay focused on his partner, even when the partner gives other people permission to pet their dog. Wonderful progress!'

Look for more progress from Nubble in the coming weeks.

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