Friday, September 30, 2011

SSD Hale's Secret for a Good Play-Retrieve

The trick to a good play retrieve is a squeaky ball. Or at least that's what worked for SSD Hale.

All of our puppies in training learn how to play-retrieve, a skill that comes in useful later in their service dog training when they learn how to retrieve items for their future partner. For a while, Hale wasn't quite sure what to do when Donna tossed a toy for her to retrieve. Sometimes she just sat on the toy. Meg, our volunteer trainer in the Northeast Puppy Raising Program, suggested the squeaky ball, and now Hale has been making tremendous progress with her play-retrieve! First she started actually picking it up, then she started bringing it back to Donna and dropping it right at her feet. Last week, Max (Donna's husband) and Donna took Hale out to the unfenced part of their yard to practice. Max threw the ball hard, and Hale bounded right after it, time and again! She even put the ball directly into Donna's hand. Persistence was the key. Donna didn't give up trying to teach the play-retrieve, and she tried many different methods before finding the one that worked for Hale.

Hale has also been making good progress with the stairs. She used to bunny-hop down them, but now that her legs are a little longer, she walks down them. Right now, Donna is working to teach her self control on the last few stairs. Whether they're going up or down, Hale wants to jump off the last few stairs and pull Donna with her. Now, Hale is able to pause when Donna pauses, as well as speed up or slow down with her. Donna is still paying close attention to make sure that she doesn't go back to jumping off the stairs.

She also worked on stairs at Cabela's, and she finally noticed the real stuffed animals there. She was curious but not afraid. She also went school shopping with Donna and Lindsey. Because Hale is a young puppy, and school shopping can be stressful all by itself, Donna was prepared to take Hale home if she was having a difficult time. But Hale did great!

On Wednesday, Hale went to Red Robin for her first actual meal in a restaurant. Technically, Hale didn't eat the meal. Donna and her family did, while Hale stayed tucked away under the table. Even when a gentleman stopped to pet her, she only popped her head up and then looked right at Donna. Hale definitely knew when the burgers arrived at the table, but she still behaved nicely. Good job!

Hale also attended a Puppy Raiser Council meeting with Donna. SSD has a group of experienced puppy raisers, sitters, volunteer trainers and partners who support our staff and help us make decisions. Puppy Raiser Council members also act as mentors to our new raisers. Like any of our meetings, there are always 6 or 7 dogs hanging out under the table. Hale did very nicely during the meeting, even with all of the dogs nearby. Donna took a minute to get her settled at the beginning of the meeting, but after that, Hale was able to stay at the table. Although she was a little distracted by SSD Fire and she sniffed SSD Sonora, she showed good self control and turned right back to Donna when cued.

Hale also went to a ballgame and the Strasburg Rail Road with other SSD dogs, and she is starting to learn that she can't jump on and play with other dogs.

Whenever Donna takes Hale out in public, she meets new people and hears many comments. When one child saw Hale, he asked his mom, "Why is a dog in the store?" His mother replied, "Don't pet him. He's a rescue." Although Hale is not a rescue dog and rescue dogs wouldn't necessarily be allowed public access (unless, of course, they have been trained as service or guide dogs), we appreciate when people recognize that the dogs should not be petted. Our puppy raisers do a very important job for us besides actually raising puppies. They help educate people about service dogs so that people know that they shouldn't interfere with a working dog.

At home, Hale has discovered that the couch is a wonderful piece of furniture, and she was always hopping up on it. Because all SSD dogs must be trained to ask permission before getting on the furniture, Donna has been removing her from the couch every time she jumps up without permission. One time during this learning process, Hale bounded up on the couch and then hopped right up over it! However, she quickly caught on that she needed to "ask" first by putting her chin on the couch or sitting. When Hale asks, Donna sometimes invites her up. A funny thing happened though. Hale lives with two other dogs - Nubble and Gizzy - and whenever Hale or Nubble are given permission to jump on the couch, they always look to the other dog to make sure that dog also gives the okay.

When Hale was a little puppy, she slept in a crate at night. However, she has now progress to being able to sleep outside her crate. She either sleeps curled up with Donna or she joins Nubble in his crate.

Hale will be in Gettysburg this weekend for a Ghosts of Gettysburg tour with many of our other dogs in training. We'll have lots of photos next week of the outing!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Puppy Raising Program at Vision Quest!

SSD Wish

SSD Stanley

Meet SSD Wish and SSD Stanley! These two golden retrievers are part of our new puppy raising program at the Madalyn Program for Young Women at Vision Quest!

The Madalyn Program for Young Women
provides a place for troubled young women to receive support and develop new skills and self-confidence. In addition to academics, young women participate in therapy sessions, outdoor programs, sports, and life skills training.

We are working with six young women who are very interested in raising puppies for us. SSD Wish and SSD Stanley are each placed with one girl who acts as the puppy raiser, while the other girls support her as puppy sitters. Gary, our staff representative for the Vision Quest puppy raising program, visits twice a week and holds puppy classes. We also have some wonderful volunteers who go with him and we try to take several dogs so that each young woman has a chance to work with the dogs. Just like our puppy classes here in Harrisburg, the puppy raisers and dogs practice different skills and behaviors and go on public outings to get the dogs used to working in public.

SSD Stanley

When we're not there, the program is overseen by the Vision Quest puppy raising program representative, Deb. Knowledgeable about our training techniques, Deb provides support for the young women as they continue training Wish and Stanley.

We're very excited about the Vision Quest puppy raising program! Working with the dogs is a wonderful opportunity for the young women in the Madalyn Program. Not only are they learning responsibility, but they are also learning skills that can by applied to parenting. Additionally, the dogs will benefit from having many different handlers, which is an important part of their training as service dogs.

SSD Wish joins us from Birdwing Golden Retrievers in Massachussets, and SSD Stanley comes from Tarameg Goldens. Thank you to Birdwing Golden Retrievers and Tarameg Goldens for donating them to us! These dogs are well on their way to changing lives.

SSD Stanley

SSD Wish

SSD Wish

SSD Wish

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dogs Play Golf?

Our dogs may not be able to swing a golf club, but that doesn't mean they can't play golf! Our trainers and puppy coordinator created a new game to practice stays and recalls - puppy mini golf! We marked off two squares approximately 10 yards apart. Each puppy raiser had to put their dog in a down- or sit-stay in the first square. While the dog stayed, the puppy raiser walked to the other square and called their dog. At the cue, the dog needed to run directly towards their puppy raiser and sit inside the other square. If the dog successfully did that, they got a hole in one!

Every time the puppy raiser gave the cue "come," the dog got a point. And just like in mini golf, sometimes it takes more than one try to sink a putt, or in this case, get the dog to sit in the square. Some of our puppy raisers chose to take the extra points to make sure that their dog was successful - which was great! Instead of walking all the way to the other square while the dog stayed, some puppy raisers only walked a few feet away and then called their dog. It may have taken a little longer, but by breaking the distance into smaller increments, the dogs were successfully able to reach the second square and sit.

Whenever we play games in class or work on any cues and behaviors, we love to see our puppy raisers setting their dogs up for success!

Watch videos of some of our dogs playing puppy golf.

SSD Dylan demonstrates his speedy recall. Look at how quickly he gets to his puppy raiser!

SSD Rummy learned the hand signal for "come" and as soon as she sees it, she trots right over to her puppy raiser.

Watch how SSD Yahtzee's puppy raiser sets him up for success. Because down-stays are challenging for him right now, she doesn't go very far away before calling him. And watch what she does to reward him for successfully completing the behavior!

We also started shaping the dogs to perform a new behavior - sticking their nose through a comfort trainer! When our dogs are placed as working service dogs, they sometimes wear a comfort trainer. The comfort trainer gives their partner more control over the dog, which can be very helpful for the person, depending on their disability. And if the dogs learn to put their nose through the comfort trainer right from the start, it will be much easier for their future partners.

Watch SSD Topaz learn to stick his nose through a loop. Rather than give all the dogs a comfort trainer, we had their puppy raisers start shaping the behavior by having the dogs put their noses through a loop in the leash. For now, Topaz's puppy raiser is just clicking and treating him for touching the loop with his nose.

The dogs in training are also learning "lap." On cue, the dog rests his front paws in his handler's lap. This behavior is especially helpful for bringing the dog closer to his handler. While the dog in on the person's lap, his ears and teeth can be cleaned and he may even get dressed in his comfort trainer, if he wears one.

SSD Lily also practices "lap." Watch how her puppy raiser treats her while she's still in her lap.

This was an exciting puppy class for us, and not just because we played a new game. This was our first puppy class at our new location! We now hold puppy class in our new "store" in the Harrisburg Mall. We're very excited to have more space for the dogs to learn and practice new skills! If you're in the Harrisburg Mall on Wednesday evenings, you'll be able to see the dogs practicing.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stay Safe and Be Prepared in this Weather

Harrisburg is in a state of emergency, and many people in other areas of Pennsylvania are experiencing flooding. Roads are closed and people are being evacuated. Water levels are expected to continue to rise through Friday.

Because of the weather, we have put our evacuation plan in place. All of our dogs in training at the kennel have been returned to their puppy raisers or puppy sitters, and they will stay with them until Monday. As long as roads are open on Monday, the dogs will be able to return to the kennel.

When our puppy raisers first receive their puppies, they all fill out an evacuation form to let us know where they would be taking shelter in case they are evacuated. So far, this evacuation plan has been working smoothly, although we did have one puppy raiser let us know that they had to take shelter at an alternative location. If you have an SSD dog in training, please let us know if your evacuation location is different than the one you listed on your form. All of our dogs are safe and accounted for.

We hope that everyone continues to stay safe and dry. Even if you haven't been evacuated, you should be prepared, just in case. The water can rise very quickly. It's much better to get a few items together now rather than try to find them later.

Items you should pack for your dog
  • dog food for several days
  • dog bowl
  • leash
  • collar and licenses (if your dog isn't already wearing them)
  • SSD harness
  • emergency evacuation letter from SSD
Whether you're caring for an SSD dog or not, please stay safe and be prepared. The American Red Cross has opened several shelters throughout Central PA. Please visit their website for updated information about shelter locations.

Remember, if you have an SSD dog with proper documentation, you can go to any shelter. Please remember your evacuation letter. Several shelters are also working in conjunction with local SPCAs and other animal shelters for family pets.