Monday, April 22, 2013

Irwin’s Travels, Part 1

Do you remember meeting SSD Irwin on the blog in March? You’re going to get to read a whole lot more about him! We’re going to be sharing his adventures with you as he learns how to become a service dog.

Over Spring Break, Irwin was a traveling dog. Since Partner’s Day, a special event for our service dog partners, is coming up and the theme is the Amazing Race and traveling, we thought it was only fitting that the first post is about Irwin's travels.

During their travels, Irwin and his puppy raisers, Donna and Jim, planned to visit family, tour Monticello, visit the Walton Mountain Museum, and stop at the Wright Brothers Memorial. They set off in a Roadtrek, a conversion van equipped with a bathroom, kitchen, and bed. Each day, they planned to travel 4-5 hours, with a break every two hours. Irwin spent most of the time snuggled up with the family dog between the driver and passenger seats.

At rest stops, Irwin got his share of experiences “getting busy” on many different surfaces. Sometimes he had a patch of grass to use, but other times he had to make do with the curb. It was an excellent training experience, since service dogs must be comfortable pottying on a variety of surfaces.

Donna and Jim also took turns taking him into the public restrooms with them. He did a nice “go on through” into the stall, meaning he walks through the open door, turns around, and looks at his handler. Donna then asked him to “back” until he was standing next to the toilet, and then she asked him for a “down.” Sometimes the flushing sound startled him, and he would stand up, but he would still focus on Donna, as if asking “What was that noise?” While Donna washed and dried her hands, Irwin sat next to her, not even breaking his sit when he heard the loud hand blowers, although he did look in the direction of the noise.

During these breaks, Donna and Jim also gave Irwin a chance to work out some of the kinks. They brought a 20-foot training leash and played ball with him. Donna also practiced recalls, letting him walk ahead and then calling him back to her.

Since they were visiting family in New Jersey, they decided to take the Cape May Ferry to Delaware, which is an 80-minute excursion. It was a nice day for crossing, but windy. While the cars were lined up to board the ferry, Irwin got the opportunity to “get busy” in some grass on the side. These “get busy” breaks are very important for multiple reasons. Obviously, it prevents accidents, but it’s also a requirement for the public access test. Service dogs must always be given the opportunity to potty before entering a building or other place. 

When it was their turn, Jim, Donna, and Irwin drove onto the ferry. The cars were parked so close together that there was barely enough room to squeeze between the front and back of the cars. The floor was made up of metal, rubber, and water grates—great experience for Irwin to walk on different surfaces. The boat was moving when they exited the van, and Irwin stuck close by Donna, walking on a loose leash and watching her. They had to walk up high metal steps to reach the passenger area. Donna clicked and treated Irwin one step at a time on the way up. When they later came back down, however, it was windy and the boat was rocking, and she had to hold on to the railing. But Irwin still stayed focused on her, even though he wasn’t getting any treats at the time. 

When they reached the seating area, they sat in the middle row, and seats filled up quickly. There were lots of distractions for Irwin, but he did great! There were 8-year-old twins girls next to him, a family with two kids in front who kept turning around to see Irwin and try to distract him with snacks, and women behind him who kept “sweet talking” him. However, the rocking of the boat put him to sleep! 

Irwin drew lots of attention, but even when he wasn’t sleeping, he behaved like a pro, as if he had been on a ferry surrounded by people many times before. He did some nice greetings when people asked to pet him. Since he’s only seven months old, he still has that puppy appeal!

Look for the next installment of Irwin’s travels tomorrow!

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