Friday, December 10, 2010

Even Puppies Take Tests

Even puppies have to take tests. Our service dogs-in-training had their evaluations on Wednesday to see how the puppies are doing in their training.

Each puppy and it puppy raisers met individually with one of our trainers, and they went over all of the things we've been doing in puppy class. In fact, evaluations are less like tests and more like one-on-one puppy classes.

SSD Taz's evaluation started as soon as the trainer called him back to the room. He and his puppy raiser had to demonstrate loose leash walking. Loose leash walking is one of the most important things a dog can learn. To help the dog be successful, puppy raisers need to be constantly aware of their environment. If there are any distractions, such as other dogs, food, etc., the puppy raiser needs to be prepared and take measures to help the dog continue to walk on a loose leash. For example, we put a tray full of dog food on the floor in Taz's evaluation area. Taz did great when he first walked in the room. He stayed focused on his puppy raiser and completely ignored the food. Later, when he did notice it, his puppy raiser, Kelly, asked the trainer to pick up the food because it would be too much of a distraction for Taz.

When puppy raisers or partners are working out in public, for example in a restaurant, it's perfectly fine to ask someone to sweep up the floor around your table so the dog isn't distracted. We want the dogs to be successful, and we try to make it as easy as possible for them. If a service dog-in-training or even a service dog is focusing on a french fry in the aisle, it's going to be very hard for them to focus on their handler, and they may even try to bolt for the fry, causing a disruption in the restaurant.

Once Taz and his puppy raisers got into the room, we started with body handling. Service dogs need to be comfortable being touched everywhere, without nipping at their handler's hands. Kelly checked Taz's teeth, ears and feet, all places where dogs might not necessarily enjoy being touched.

Next we did basic obedience, such as sit, down, stand and stay. Watch Taz sit, down and stand!

Recalls are right up there with loose leash walking, in terms of importance. A good recall can save a dog's life. In this video, Taz comes right to his puppy raiser when she calls him.

Puppy class is divided into semesters, and this semester, we had been working on the cues "get dressed" and "heel." Taz demonstrated his progress in putting his head through his harness. To teach "heel," we use a box to anchor the dog's front feet so he just swings his back feet around until he's in the heel position. We use the box because not only does it help create a nice, snappy "heel," but it also helps our puppy raisers learn about shaping. They need to break down the "heel" behavior into tiny steps in order to teach it. Here, Taz demonstrates how to use the heel box. Watch how his back feet move while his front feet remain stationary.

Finally, we looked at greetings. If the handler gives someone permission to pet their dog, the dog must stay calm and focused while they're being petted. However, the handler does not have to say yes when someone asks to pet the dog. Service dogs and service dogs-in-training are working dogs, and the handler has the right to ask people not to pet their dog.

Taz and the other dogs-in-training did well on their evaluations. We're looking forward to the next semester of puppy classes!

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