Friday, July 16, 2010

Sit, Stay, Roll Over, High Five! - SSD Summer Camp 2010

It's time to graduate from SSD Summer Camp! Each of our campers and their dogs walked up to receive their certificate for completing the camp. Except we wouldn't just hand it to them. No, each camper and dog had to perform a trick first.

At the beginning of camp, each camper chose a trick that they were going to teach their dog, and they have worked hard all week. Wow, did they do a great job! Check out some of the tricks they taught their dogs to perform:

(Of course, all the campers got their certificates regardless of whether their dog performed the trick!)

Congratulations to all our campers!

Our SSD Summer Camp is designed to teach kids about service dogs and dog training, as well as general dog care and etiquette. And, of course, have fun with the dogs!

On Monday, before the campers were given the dog they would work with all week, we introduced them to clicker training. We use clicker training to train all of our dogs. The clicker marks a behavior, which is then reinforced with some sort of reward. Rewards could be food, a belly rub, the opportunity to sniff a really interesting smell in the grass, etc. (Although we usually use food, especially for labs.)

After practicing clicking and treating, we moved on to shaping, which is a training method in which behaviors are broken down into tiny steps. The dog must master each step before the trainer can move on to the next one. We had the campers shape each other to do things, which is always entertaining for everyone!

Finally, campers were paired with their dogs. Rather than having the kids choose their own dog, we try to match each camper with the dog that we feel would be a good match for them. We want each team to work well together and have a fun week. Once each camper was paired with a dog, they practiced free shaping and loose leash walking.

On Tuesday, we set up stations and each camper-dog team practiced a different skill at each station, such as attention to handler, sit/stay, down/stay, leave it, get dressed and go on through. Afterward, each camper practiced grooming, including brushing, ear cleaning and tooth brushing. To make it fun, we had a competition to see who could get the biggest hairball from brushing and the dirtiest cotton ball from cleaning ears.

It's extremely important to clean up after your dog, and we turned it into a game. Using brightly colored Playdough, we created "dog poop" and scattered it outside. Then the campers had to scoop the poop. The camper who scooped the most Playdough poop won a prize.

Since it rained on Wednesday, we went to the Harrisburg Mall, where campers and the dogs practiced their skills in public. Thursday brought the sun, so we worked outside at the kennel again. We focused on proofing, which means asking the dogs in different ways to perform behaviors in different environments. Proofing helps ensure the dogs will be able to perform behaviors regardless of the situation and environment.

One of the most entertaining games we play with the dogs is "How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich." We divide the campers into two teams and have them write out the steps to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, using the principles of shaping. Then one of our volunteers would literally follow the steps. So if the instructions said "take out two pieces of bread," we would take two pieces of bread outside. The PB&J game shows just how important it is to break steps down into tiny, clear steps.

Today was the culmination of everything the campers learned. At the Colonial Park Mall, they took a modified version of the public skills test that our partners take when they get their new service dog. They did very well!

Congratulations to all of our campers! We hope you enjoyed your week as much as we did!

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