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!

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