Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Early Socialization Class

All of our puppies are now with their puppy raisers, which means it's time to start learning how to be service dogs! For the first 9 weeks with their puppy raisers, our puppies attend early socialization classes with the other dogs in their litter. During these classes, we introduce and practice new some basic skills that the dogs should know, such as "sit," "down," and loose leash walking. These classes lay a solid skill foundation for the puppies before they move into regular puppy classes with the rest of our dogs in training. And as the name suggests, they also give the dogs a chance to be socialized.

In Tuesday's early socialization class, the Water puppies practiced "sit," and then started working on "down." To teach "down," we start the dogs in a sit, then with a food lure, move our hand from the dog's nose to the floor. As soon as the dog is lying on the ground, we click and give the dog the treat. We'll use a lure up to three times, and then we'll just use our hand, still clicking and treating when the dog is lying down. At this stage, it's important not to use the word "down." The verbal cue will be added later, once the dog is reliably lying down. Soon, the Water pups were doing beautiful "downs!"

We also practiced loose leash walking, which is one of our most important service dog skills. It's one of the hardest skills for a dog to learn because it involves so much self control. It's also a skill that needs to be taught from day one so the dogs learn never to pull. The Water puppies are off to a great start!

Watch SSD Rain practice loose leash walking. Although the carpet has lots of distracting smells, Rain's puppy raiser gets her attention and then clicks and treats when the leash is nice and loose while Rain is walking next to her. When Rain pulls to the end of the leash, her puppy raiser backs up and gently pulls Rain back. See how Rain follows, and is soon trotting along again on a loose leash? (Also, check out how Rain's puppy raiser delivers treats right to Rain's mouth at the puppy's level. This keeps Rain from adding a little hop to get her treats.)

We also continued working on the cue "go to bed," where the dog goes to a mat or dog bed and lays down. This cue can be used as a great anchor for the dog, and it has many uses. It can be used to give the dog a place to be while their handler is preparing food in the kitchen, or it can be used as an anchor when guests visit, among other things.

To teach this cue, we put a towel or blanket on the floor and start by clicking and treating the dog just for looking at the blanket. Once the dog has that down, we wait to click until the dog takes a step toward the blanket, then two steps, then three, until the dog has all four paws on the blanket. We keep increasing the criteria until the dog goes to the blanket, lays down, and stays there. Once the dog has that behavior, then we'll add the verbal cue "go to bed."

Watch SSD Cove practice "go to bed." She walks right over to the towel and puts all four paws on it. Notice how her puppy raiser delivers treats so Cove has to step off of the towel. This sets it up nicely so that Cove has to keep moving and walk back to the towel for another click and treat.

We're looking forward to seeing what these puppies learn by next week!

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