Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SSD Hale Takes on the Farm Show

The Pennsylvania Farm Show. These four words bring to mind images of milkshakes, fried cheese cubes and a giant butter sculpture.

These four words also strike terror in the hearts of puppy raisers.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is an extremely challenging place for service dogs in training of any age. Between the crowds, dropped food and animals, there are so many opportunities for dogs to lose their minds and completely forget all of their training.

Donna, SSD Hale's puppy raiser, knew that the Farm Show was a challenging experience, but instead of concentrating on all the ways Hale could fail, she saw opportunities for success. She came up with a training plan to ensure that she and Hale had a good experience at the Farm Show.

She knew from last year, when she took Nubble, that the Farm Show can be overwhelming. Donna recognized that her own stress level affects the dog at the end of the leash, and she was determined to stay calm and keep her own stress level from affecting Hale. Hale loves people, so Donna wasn't worried about the crowds. She decided that if she saw any signs of stress, she would retreat and give Hale a chance to relax. During that time, Donna planned to reevaluate whether they should call it a day or continue their outing.

Hale went into the Farm Show with her usual gusto! The first thing they did was visit the cows, and the floor was full of all sorts of things a dog finds interesting. Hale may not have even noticed the cows because she was so interested in the things on the floor! To help Hale refocus, Donna moved back into a quiet corner where Hale could sniff the air without actually eating anything. After that, they stuck to the perimeter of the bovine hall, and then headed for the goat hall.

Hale didn't even blink at being around the goats. Her puppy raisers have goats, so she just wanted to greet them. Donna made sure Hale kept her distance, though. While Hale was perfectly fine with the goats, the goats were not as happy to be around a dog. Donna didn't want to add to their stress. The sheep, on the other hand, didn't seem bothered by Hale, although Hale wasn't as comfortable around them. Donna used lots of treats, especially power treats like cheese whiz. At one point, Hale barked, so Donna moved her away. Once she settled, they approached the sheep again, and Hale did a little better. Donna decided to leave the sheep while Hale was still having a positive experience.

In the rabbit area, Hale sat down right next to a row of bunnies in their cages. She just rested and drank some water. Donna also took her to the chicken area, but they kept their distance because the birds could get agitated by a dog.

Although Hale did very well around the animals, she did manage to get into a bit of mischief. The children at the Farm Show loved Hale, and of course, she loved them! She even managed to give out a few kisses. However, considering the number of children who came up to her, she did very well. She even did well when one toddler tried to tickle her with a peacock feather! Many of the children asked if they could give her a treat, and Donna used it as a teaching experience as she explained that Hale is a service dog in training and only her handler can give her treats.

Of course, you can't go to the Farm Show without getting some fried cheese cubes and a milkshake! Hale was very patient while waiting in the long line, although she didn't tuck herself up close to Donna. She always seemed to lay down so that she was in the way. People just stepped over her, though, and Hale didn't seem to mind. She did manage to scarf down a cheese cube that ended up on the floor. She was so quick about it that Donna barely got out the first syllable of "leave it."

Since Hale was doing relatively well, Donna and Lindsey headed to the rodeo for a while. Even though they both wanted to see the rodeo, they decided they would leave if Hale was showing signs of stress.

They had to go up a very narrow, steep staircase to get to some empty seats, and when they got to the top, Hale shook herself, which Donna recognized as a sign of stress. However, Hale relaxed and settled easily under the seats. There were two empty seats next to Donna, so Hale had some extra room to stretch out. She even relaxed so much that she rested her head on her paws.

Once they settled into their seats, three teenagers, an 8-year-old boy and a 3-year-old boy sat in the seats in front of them. Their heads were at the perfect level for Hale to try to sneak in some doggy kisses, and she managed to lick the 8-year-old's ear. Luckily, he just laughed, said "hi" to Hale, and went back to watching the rodeo. Hale also tried to sniff the teenage girl's prayer cap. The 3-year-old occasionally watched Hale and reached back and scratched her back, but Hale was wonderful with him. Every time he interacted with her, she looked to Donna, even when he tugged gently on her tail. "I was quite proud of her then," said Donna. "She has definitely figured out that little kids are not her toys to play with."

Although Donna was watching carefully, the only time she saw any signs of stress that concerned her was during the rodeo. At the very beginning, all of the lights went out and the crowd got very quiet, then very loud. Hale seemed a little worried, licking her lips and yawning. She did the same thing halfway through the rodeo when the lights went down again and the music got very loud. But other than the lip-licking and yawning, she was fine.

As they were leaving, Hale tried one more time to scarf down some treats on the floor, but this time, she grabbed a bead! Donna had to reach in her mouth to get it. Hale knows the cue "leave it," but she doesn't follow it 100% of the time. Donna plans to work on it with her.

All in all, Hale did very well at the Farm Show, especially for an 8-month-old puppy. "I am so glad I took her," said Donna. "It was a great experience for her, and I think I had a good training plan in place so that I was able to enjoy our outing as much as possible."

For Donna at least, the words "Pennsylvania Farm Show" aren't quite as scary.


  1. I was looking at these pictures and wanted to explain the leash wrapped around my hand! I know it is a no-no but I couldn't keep her leash short enough with so many people around. It is defintely not my usual way of holding the leash!

    1. Hi SSD.. I really admire how she behave on pictures. How do you train her? I have a hyper dog - a shih tsu. it is hard for me to teach him how to behave.