Friday, December 9, 2011

The Public Access Test - SSD Puppy Evaluation Style

SSD Julia is only 10 months old, but she already took the public access test. No, she's not quite ready to be placed with a partner. She simply took a version of the public access test as her puppy class semester evaluation.

At the end of every semester, we evaluate the puppies' progress. Since we have this wonderful new space in the Harrisburg Mall for our puppy classes, what better way to see the dogs' overall progress than to have them take a version of the public access test in the mall?

When service dogs and their partners take their public access test, it starts from the moment their partner opens the car door. The dog must wait patiently until cued to leave the car. After the required potty break, the dog and partner enter the building. At the beginning of her evaluation, SSD Julia and her puppy raiser Susan demonstrated loose leash walking. Not only did Julia need to walk on a loose leash in open spaces, but she had to stay right next to Susan when then went around corners. Watch the video of Julia and Susan turning the corner around a kiosk. Listen to how often Susan clicks Julia for staying on a loose leash. Lots of reinforcement in a challenging environment means the puppy has a greater chance of succeeding!

As part of loose leash walking, Susan had to drop the leash and Julia had to continue to remain focused and stay right by Susan's side. She did! She even picked up her leash afterwards. (For our puppy raisers, please note that picking items up is an advanced skill and you shouldn't attempt to put it on cue unless you have received instructions from one of our trainers. We have a very specific method for training it. Some of our experienced puppy raisers have learned this method and have trained their puppies in it, but it is not a cue the dogs need to learn before entering advanced training.)

Another part of the public access test looks at the dog's ability to settle nicely under a table. For this, we headed to the food court. Susan selected a table and had Julia do a "down" so she was out of the way. Although she didn't go under the table, she was in a down between two chairs, so she was out of the way of anyone walking around the table. While in the food court, Julia also demonstrated "sit" and "down," with and without the distraction of food on the floor.

Since we have been working on the cue "lap" and having the dog get dressed in a comfort trainer, we added those skills to our puppy class version of the public access test. Watch Julia rest her front legs on Susan's lap. Note how Susan patiently re-cues her until she gives the correct behavior.

When our dogs are placed with their partners as working service dogs, they sometimes wear a comfort trainer to make it easier for their partner to handle the dog. Since we already have our dogs "get dressed" in their service dog harness, we thought it would be great if they could also stick their noses right into the comfort trainer. We actually got the idea from SSD Dylan's puppy raisers. In one of their semester evaluations, they demonstrated how Dylan sticks his nose right through the comfort trainer to make it very easy for his puppy raisers to put it on him. In this video, Susan uses the loop of the leash instead of a comfort trainer to practice the behavior. See how Julia sticks her nose through the loop and stays there?

We also evaluate the dogs' focus around distractions. While Julia was walking on a loose leash, we dropped a clipboard a few feet behind her. We also pushed a shopping cart around her. We even enlisted the help of a young boy walking through the mall with his older siblings. He got to pet Julia while she demonstrated how she can stay focused on her puppy raiser!

Julia also had to demonstrate walking calmly up stairs and entering and exiting an elevator.

We hope that by using the public access test as the basis for this semester's puppy evaluation that our puppy raisers got a better idea of what the dogs will need to learn before they can become working service dogs. The semester evaluations are less of a test and more of a way to discover each dog's strengths and areas that need a little work. We're looking forward to the next semester and watching the dogs build on what they have already learned!


  1. Amazing stuff! the people and dogs are just great!

  2. Julia really seems to be coming along! I love that you used the mall, there are so many ways to evaluate the new skill sets at the mall, and there are definitely plenty of distractions! Getting her Service Dog Certification shouldn't be too far off from the looks of these videos!