At Monticello, SSD Irwin was a great ambassador for SSD and all service dogs. When they arrived at the home of Thomas Jefferson, Donna and Jim expected it to be a little crowded, but they found out that they were visiting during the busiest time of the year. The staff member at admissions had some reservations about Irwin touring the house and grounds. She said that Monticello was not accessible, since it was a restoration of a historical building, and since Irwin was a puppy, there was concern that he would ruin the carpets or other furniture and wouldn’t be quiet during the tour guide’s presentations. She also wasn’t sure if they would be allowed to take the shuttle bus.
However, she didn’t outright tell them no, so they bought tickets and began their tour, with some apprehensions. Irwin stayed calm and focused, as if to say “I’m a pro. What’s the big deal?”
Their first stop was a 30-minute introductory film. Thinking ahead, Donna and Jim took seats by the exit, in case they needed to leave quickly. The room filled with people. With the shades drawn and lights out, it was almost like being in an actual movie theater, although the seats were simply interlocking folding chairs, which didn’t have space for Irwin to go under. But no matter, he simply settled into a “down” at their feet and slept for the entire film.
Although Donna and Jim thought they were sitting near the exit, the group was actually ushered out of the room through a door at the opposite side. Because the rows of seats were close together, Irwin had to walk backwards past 24 chairs before exiting the row. He did great, backing up with a little Irwin hop in his step.
They caught the first shuttle bus, and although they were questioned about the puppy in training, they were allowed to board and took the first seat behind the driver. By using the “go on through” and “back” cues, Donna maneuvered Irwin into the tight space. “I can’t thank Kendra [one of our trainers] enough for giving me advice on using the “go on through” and “back” cues to get the dog into a seat in a tight situation,” said Donna. “We use it all the time!”
Once Donna and Jim were seated, Irwin put his head in Donna’s lap and stayed that way for the entire 15 minute trip. They were part of a group of about 60 adults, teens, and young children. Irwin seemed most comfortable either in the “heel” position or standing right in front of Donna. Despite the admissions person’s trepidations, Irwin was still and quiet while the tour guide spoke, even when children were eating and drinking around them. He didn’t get distracted—just stayed focused on Donna and seemed content.
Inside house, the guides pulled Donna and Jim aside just to make sure that Irwin wasn’t going to disturb anything. Irwin quickly surprised everyone with his good behavior, especially because absolutely no food, including dog food, was allowed in the building. Irwin was working “for free.” The larger group was divided into smaller groups of 12, and Irwin walked nicely on a loose leash through the tour. It didn’t matter if he was at the front, middle, or back of the group. He did the same thing—loose leash walking until they got to a room, then sat and settled into a “down” while the guide was talking. The whole time, Donna only used hand cues. After a while, Irwin figured out the routine and automatically did it. He even started dozing a few times!
By the end of the tour, the people who had been with them from the beginning were full of questions about Irwin, his training, and how Donna and Jim were going to give him up some day. It was quite a successful day! Irwin even got the chance for some relaxing sniffing time, and he climbed a giant tree!
In Virginia, they stayed at a campsite that had a beaver dam on a pond, and the trees around the site were all chewed by the beavers. When Irwin saw one of the beavers, he stood alert, but he didn’t bark or try to chase it. The beaver slapped its tail on the water in warning and dove into its house.
During their trip, they also visited the Walton Mountain Museum, where they watched the film and viewed the displays—and by now, Irwin knew exactly what he was supposed to do. Later, Donna, Jim, and Irwin spent two hours hiking.
All in all, it was a great trip and Irwin had many successful, positive experiences.
Look for more about Irwin as he continues his journey to becoming a service dog.