Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SSD Hale's Progress

SSD Hale has been busy practicing lots of service dog behaviors. She has gone out in public to the grocery store, the mall, a tack shop, the bank and Pizza Hut, as well as a few nature walks and Fire Safety Day at Outdoor World in East Berlin, PA.

With all of this traveling, Hale has learned how to settle down nicely in the car. She no longer needs to be crated. Instead, she settles down nicely in the front or back seat.

Fire Safety Day included a BBQ fundraiser for SSD, and many of our demo dogs and dogs in training went. Hale met lots of older dogs, and she seemed to handler herself fairly well, although she did bark occasionally. There were lots of emergency vehicles on display, and Hale sat nicely by the Medivac. She wasn't even fazed when it started up and took off, although by that point, they were no longer right next to it.

Because Fire Safety Day was located close to the Dillsburg Canine Spa, Donna stopped to see whether Hale likes to swim. The answer - nope! She was content to just get her feet wet. She did retrieve a toy from the edge of the water and bring it to Donna. She also got to run around with a large golden retriever and another large dog. She had a great time running with them, taking a few breaks to run behind Donna's legs.

At the mall, Donna, Hale's puppy raiser, always takes time to work on stairs. Hale is very calm going up and down stairs, although she hops like a bunny on the way down. They also practiced entering the glass elevator. To safely enter the elevator, we train our dogs to wait while we block the door, then have the dog go on through on cue. By blocking the door, we ensure that the dog isn't going to get caught in the doors or that the doors don't close with the handler inside and the dog outside. Hale did well entering the elevator.

A family with three little children got on after her, and Hale still did great! She looked at the children, looked out the window, and then focused all her attention on Donna. This is great progress for Hale. Children are a big distraction for her - she just wants to jump around with them! But she's learning that she can't play with all of the little kids she sees. She tries very hard to stay focused. Donna helps her out by staying focused as well and making sure she can't get to the end of the leash and reach the children.

They also practiced "up" and "under" with the benches at the mall. Hale needs some more practice with "under," but she loves the cue "up."

Leave it and loose leash walking are two of the most important and challenging skills for dogs to learn, and Hale has been doing very well at both. Lindsey, one of her puppy raisers, can put a big pile of kibble in front of Hale while Hale sits about eight inches away. Even when Lindsey adds pieces of meat to the pile, Hale just looks at her. Hale also keeps her self control when Lindsey tosses a piece of kibble past her!

She also walks nicely on a loose leash. Donna and Lindsey take Hale, Nubble (formerly SSD Nubble, but now a member of the family), and Gizzy for walks in the evening. Of the three of them, Hale is the best loose leash walker! Donna uses the evening walks to practice "leave it" with other objects, such as pine cones, worms, falling leaves, even Nubble. Yes, Nubble is sometimes a distraction for Hale because she loves to walk next to him and jump on him. Gradually, she is learning that it's not always proper to play with other dogs.

Hale has been learning how to play-retrieve - fun things like retrieving tennis balls and other toys. However, she's not really interested in it. Sometimes she runs right after the toy. Other times, she just looks back and forth between the toy and Donna. Sometimes she just sits on the toy and stares. From working on shaping skills, Donna has learned that when Hale gets frustrated, she starts offering any behavior, but then she just goes and sits on the object, whether it's a tennis ball, a bed, a box or her leash.

When Hale is practicing her skills at home, Nubble and Gizzy will sometimes be in the same room, depending on how many distractions Donna thinks Hale can handle. During these training sessions when all the dogs are present, a curious thing happens. The dogs sometimes compete with each other! When Donna is working on "stay," Nubble and Gizzy compete to see who could stay the longest. "I would see them eyeballing each other to see who is winning," says Donna. This competitive streak has been very useful for training Hale. Hale learned by watching the other two. If she broke the "stay" but the other two stayed put, they got treats and she didn't. But if she stayed, she got treats.

Donna used this same teaching method to work on proofing Hale's "stay." Service dogs often need to remain in a down-stay amid lots of distractions. When we train "stay," we also practice walking away from the dog, jumping around, clapping, stepping over the dog, etc. - all while the dog remains in a nice down- or sit-stay. At first, Donna couldn't do anything other than walk away from Hale. But then she put Nubble in a down-stay nearby and started walking around him and over him and clapping near him. After watching Nubble remain in a nice down-stay during all this commotion, Hale learned what she was supposed to do. Soon she was able to stay while Donna walked around her and over her. It's not perfect yet, but now she's off to a great start.

Hale still doesn't seem fond of going into a down. She usually takes her time giving a nice down with a hip roll, or else she stays in a "sphinx" down (crouched with her back legs still underneath her). She also paws the ground sometimes, and when she does give a nice down, she plops herself down very dramatically.

So far, Hale has encountered two objects that caused her some concern. The first was a fire hydrant. When she saw the hydrant across the street, she did not know what to make of it. Donna walked her over to it slowly while giving her treats. Once Hale realized that it was just a piece of metal, she was fine. (You may remember that Nubble was also unsure of fire hydrants the first time he saw them.) The other object was a child's stick horse that made galloping noises. The first time time she heard the noise, she jumped back. However, Donna was patient and gave her time to just sniff it when the horse was silent. Then Donna moved the horse away from Hale and turned it on. Hale just watched it. Donna gave her treats again, and then Hale walked toward the stick horse while it was making noises. In a little while, Donna could turn the horse on while Hale was close by and Hale didn't even care. Great job!

This Saturday, SSD and our dogs in training are going to ride the Strasburg Railroad. Hale will be coming, too! We will let you know what she thinks of her train ride.

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