Thursday, December 1, 2011

SSD Hale's Adventures in Learning to Become a Service Dog

When she's not hard at work learning how to become a service dog, SSD Hale is a cuddlebug. She loves to lean against her puppy raisers, and she loves the cue "visit," where she puts her head in someone's lap.

Hale has been visiting a lot of different places lately. She went to the movies last week, which really tested her ability to "leave it." The floor was covered in popcorn! She did well, though, especially considering that popcorn is one of her favorite treats. While she and Donna were walking, she left the popcorn alone. However, sitting in the theater with the popcorn around her proved to be a bit too much temptation. Other than that, she stayed in a down for the whole movie.

While they were finding their seats, Donna took the opportunity to work on the cue "back" with Hale. "Back" is a little challenging for her. She sometimes just sits and scoots backwards instead of walking backwards. In the movie theater, Donna used the rows of seats to guide Hale in a straight line backwards. Someone had also suggested using the curb at the edge of the street. The curb works well because it keeps Hale moving backwards in a straight line without making her feel like she's confined in a narrow space.

During the movie, Donna took Hale outside to potty once, just to be certain she would be successful during the entire outing. All of our dogs are trained to go potty or "get busy" on cue and Hale has certainly figured that out. In fact, if she doesn't need to go, but she's given the cue, she will still pretend to go and then look up at Donna as if to say, "See, I went. Now can we go back to doing what we were doing?"

In October, Hale went to the King Frost Parade in Hamburg. Parades can be very challenging for dogs because of all the people, loud noises, strange objects, and of course, candy, but Hale did very well. She ignored the entire parade. She did get to practice lots of greetings. Donna has her sit when people pet her because she gets so excited that she wiggles and bumps into people, although she does stay focused on Donna. When Donna was first teaching Hale how to do proper greetings, she would click her for simply looking at her. However, Hale thought that they were in a shaping session and would then touch the person with her nose. (When we shape dogs for behaviors, we sometimes start by having the dog look at an object and then touch it with their nose.) Once Donna figured out what was happening, she started concentrating on her clicks and made sure she clicked when Hale sat.

If you live in Pennsylvania, we're sure you remember the snow we had at the end of October. That was Hale's first snow! She had a blast playing in it!

Hale also went with Lindsey and Donna to A.C. Moore for craft supplies. Lindsey was handling Hale that day, and at one point, she had to go back to a previous aisle. Instead of taking Hale with her, she put her in a down-stay and went to get the item she needed. Donna stayed behind Hale just in case. However, Hale didn't budge! She just watched the spot where she last saw Lindsey and didn't move until she came back and clicked and treated. Great job, Hale!

Two weeks ago, the dogs in the Northeast Puppy Raising Program went to the Wyoming Mall for an outing. Hale was very well behaved, even though all of her dog friends were along. Donna frequently takes Hale to the mall, especially at this time of year, because it's a great place to practice stairs, going under benches, greetings and getting on and off the elevator. Donna always makes sure they take the elevator at least once every time they go to the mall, which is wonderful. Service dogs need to be comfortable with both stairs and elevators. If the dog's partner uses a wheelchair or even if the elevator is simply the most convenient way to get from one place to the next, the dog must calmly enter and exit the elevator on cue.

As our puppy raisers quickly find out, having a puppy in training is an instant conversation starter! Donna took Hale to her 25-year class reunion and Hale did great! Donna set her up for success and they just sat at the table in the beginning so Hale wouldn't get overly excited. Once Hale seemed to settle in, Donna got up and mingled with her. Dinner was a buffet, and Donna went through the line with Hale. The dogs need to learn to ignore food whether it's on the floor on on a table right above their noses. To make sure the buffet was a success, Donna's husband carried Donna's plate so that Donna could focus on Hale as they went through the line. It was a good decision and it worked because Hale did quite well. She only tried to sniff the chicken, although she didn't get close to it.

Although service dogs in training are working, they do have their silly moments. Hale saw herself in a wall-to-wall mirror at the reunion and got so excited that there was another dog there! She didn't bark, but she kept bumping her image and trying to figure out how to get around the mirror so she could get to this other dog!

Recently, Donna took Hale with her to Wawa to get a cup of coffee. Donna dropped an empty cup by accident, but Hale was right there to pick it up! Several people saw Hale do this and Donna ended up having a great discussion about service dogs and how they can assist people. She used the empty cup several times to demonstrate how a dog can pick things up. While they were taking, Donna accidentally dropped her keys, but again, Hale picked them right up. The other people thought that was great! Donna does not use any cues for Hale to pick objects up because we will teach the dogs how to do that in a certain way once they're in advanced training. However, it's great that Hale doesn't seem bothered by having different types of objects in her mouth.

Later that same day, Donna and Hale went to the grocery store. Everything went smoothly until checkout. Donna put Hale in a down-stay and began checking out, when her treat pouch came undone and all of the treats scattered all over the floor! Hale jumped right up to help clean up the mess. She must have thought it was her lucky day! But when Donna cued her to "leave it" and then put her in a down-stay, Hale listened immediately. She stayed there and watched Donna pick up the food. She only got up once when the cashier came around to help, but when Donna re-cued her, she went right back into her down-stay.

Last week, the principal at the Votech school allowed Lindsey to bring Hale. Hale fit right in! She walked the hallways and didn't seem concerned about all of the students around her. In class, she tucked herself nicely under Lindsey's desk and settled down for a nap.

Hale's training is certainly coming along! With the holidays coming up, she will probably have quite a few new adventures as she continues to learn the skills of a service dog.


  1. she's amazing! great work everybody!

  2. I can tell you first hand about the fabulous job the Crawfords are doing with Hale. Can we clone this family and dog? Great work!!

  3. I can't tell you how much I appreciate the work that is being done by all the puppy raisers but in particular the Crawfords! I admire the work you do and how important it is for those who are blessed with such a companion.