Having Irwin with them every minute of the day on their vacation was similar to having a working service dog, said Donna and Jim. Unlike at home where Irwin could just chill out or stay in his crate while they ran errands, they had to take him with them everywhere. “Training moments became a lifestyle,” said Donna, “and it opened our eyes to what it must be like to depend on your service dog, as opposed to the puppy in training depending on us to train him.” The whole experience also strengthened the bond between Irwin, Donna, and Jim.
It was a nice spring day in North Carolina when they visited the Wright Brothers Memorial, although it was misting on and off and it was very windy, blowing the sand around. (Interestingly enough, the Wright Brothers picked this spot because of the wind and sand.) Irwin didn’t seem to mind the elements, though. In the museum, as they were checking out the photos and models, a park ranger came up behind them to let them know the introductory film was about to start. The ranger must have startled Irwin, because he barked twice. Donna got Irwin to refocus on her and treated him for attention as she and Jim explained to the ranger about Irwin’s training and that he was still a puppy. By the end of the encounter, the ranger was able to pet Irwin on the back while Irwin remained in a “sit.” It was a great, positive learning experience for Irwin and the ranger! Later as they were touring the grounds, they passed several more rangers, and Irwin had no problems.
The introductory film was 45 minutes long, but Irwin lay on the floor for the entire time without needing any reinforcements. After that, they moved on to look at the displays of the planes, and Irwin quickly learned that whenever Donna sat down, he was supposed to lie down and stay.
The displays outside were crowded and there were lots of kids running around and the wind was blowing, but Irwin didn’t seem to mind. He even posed nicely to have his photo taken! There was a statue of a man with a camera, and Donna and Jim worked with Irwin to pose him so it looked like the statue was taking his photo. He was a little confused at first!
That night, they stayed at a campground, and there was a dock at the back of their site. Donna and Jim took advantage of it and worked on Irwin’s down-stays around water and fishing boats. There were dogs on some of the boats staring intently at Irwin, but he didn’t seem bothered by it.
Since Irwin is part of the Down Under litter, they naturally decided to eat at Outback Steak House. Irwin sat patiently while they waited for the hostess to seat them. The restaurant was busy, and as they walked to their table, they passed several tables of people enjoying their meals. Donna held her breath, hoping Irwin wouldn’t choose that moment to try counter-surfing and sniffing at the tables, but she didn’t need to worry. Irwin walked on a loose leash and acted as if the tables full of food weren’t even there. At their table, he went right under and stayed there the entire time, from appetizer through dessert, with no need for treats to reinforce him. He didn’t even budge when the waiter sat down at the table to take their orders. In fact, the waiter didn’t even know he was there! If you’ve ever raised a service dog or have a service dog, you know that this is one of the highest compliments a handler can receive.
Irwin’s travels continue at Monticello and the Walton Mountain Museum. We’ll have the next installment for you tomorrow.