SSD Jagger sits, stands, slides into a down, picks up his leash and heels. He has performed these behaviors hundreds of times before. This time, however, is different. This time, he’s doing these behaviors for his new partner.
Yesterday was the start of team training, when people receive their service dog and the two of them learn how to work together as a team. There are four dogs and their partners going through team training: SSD Dylan, SSD Falcon, SSD Jagger and SSD Zappa.
Since this was the second day of team training, we began by practicing clicker training without the dogs. All of our dogs are trained using the clicker, a precise, positive reinforcement training method. First, everyone paired up and practiced treat delivery. For 30 seconds, each person clicked, then put a treat in a cup, the goal being to get as many treats in the cup as possible. Next we had each person do the same thing, only they had to keep their hand on their leg while they clicked. We have them keep their hand on their leg because it’s important for the click to happen before their hand moves to the treat pouch. That way, the dog will listen for the click and not get their cues from a hand moving toward the treats.
Timing is also very important in clicker training. If you think of the clicker as a camera, the click takes a precise picture of a behavior. You need to be able to click at the exact moment so you mark the specific behavior. We practiced timing with a tennis ball. Amanda, one of our trainers, bounced a tennis ball and everyone had to click wen the ball hit the ground. Then she threw the ball in the air and everyone had to click when the ball reached its zenith. Amanda also had people click when she opened her hand all the way. During these exercises, we focused on not only on timing, but also on really watching the full movement. A few times, Amanda pretended to toss the ball in the air or only opened her hand partway, just to make sure that people were truly watching.
Then it was time for the dogs to come in. Although it was only the second day of team training, when Jagger saw his partner, he covered her in doggie kisses. All of the dogs’ tails were wagging.
We started out having each person click and treat the dogs for attention, and then we practiced basic obedience, such as sit, down, stand, stay and come. Watch the video of SSD Jagger coming when called. He also picks up his leash on cue.
The dogs also practiced heel or side, depending on which side the dog primarily works on. (With heel, the dog moves to the person’s left, side to the right.) Watch SSD Zappa swing himself into position at his partner’s side.
Finally, we worked on loose leash walking. Each dog walked calmly by their partner’s side, with the leash in a nice “J” shape. Watch Falcon’s attention to his partner as they walk.
Dylan also stays focused on his partner as they move around the room.
Today has been a successful second day of team training. We’re so proud of all of these new teams!