Friday, May 31, 2013

Irwin's Latest Experiences

Over the weekend, Irwin celebrated Memorial Day by going to the Memorial Day Parade in Gettysburg. However, he slept right through almost the entire thing! Donna and Jim took their daughter and grandson with them to the parade, as well as Irwin and SSD Judge. First, they stopped at the park to let their grandson Timmy play, and they had a picnic before walking to Gettysburg Square for the parade.

As they walked to the Square, Irwin had to be especially focused on loose leash walking because of the crowds and store displays. He did fine with the noise from motorcycles and all the people, including the people dining outside. He did get a little excited when other dogs passed by. The other dogs barked, but Irwin didn’t, although he did pull their way. However, with the help of apple slices as power treats, he kept returning to focus on Donna again.

With all the people, Donna took the opportunity to practice Irwin’s greetings. He did some very nice ones. He even ignored the ice cream cone the one child was holding as she greeted him.

When they arrived at their blanket for the parade, Irwin settled in next to Donna and fell fast asleep. If you’ve ever been to a parade, you know they’re noisy. This one had fire trucks, marching bands, cars driving in circles, horses, flags snapping in the wind, bag pipers from Canada, and more. Irwin slept right through it all. He only opened his eyes when reenactors marched by playing the fife and drum. He must have been one sleepy dog!

Back on Mother’s Day, Irwin went with Donna and Jim to the hospital to visit Jim’s father. Because Jim’s father was accidentally lying on the call button, Irwin experienced the red and blue lights and the alarm sounds that alert the nurses. Later, Jim’s father had to go for some tests, so Donna and Jim got a wheelchair for him. Once he was seated, he wanted to see Irwin up close. Donna had Irwin do “lap” (put his front legs in Jim’s father’s lap) so he would be able to pet his head. Irwin gave him puppy kisses! 

Irwin accompanied Donna and Jim back to the hospital the next day for Donna’s mammogram appointment. Irwin practiced several of his skills: waiting at doors to “go on through” and using the elevator. Several people were already on the elevator when Donna and Jim got on. Donna had Irwin sit and wait while she blocked the elevator door from closing. Then she asked him to “go on through” and had him walk backwards to the back of the elevator. Then she asked him to sit again. They reversed the process to exit the elevator. It’s very important to enter and exit elevators this way with your dog because it will prevent the door from closing with the dog on one side and the handler on the other. 

In the waiting room, Irwin settled into a down-stay and later accompanied Donna into the dressing room. However, he stayed with Jim in the hallway during the actual mammogram. Being in a hospital is great experience for Irwin. One day, he may need to accompany his partner there, and these experiences now will help make sure he can continue to do his job despite all the new distractions.

All of our dogs have their hips tested to make sure they’re healthy enough to become service dogs. Irwin recently had his done, which meant that he wasn’t allowed to eat breakfast that morning. It also meant that he couldn’t get any training treats. Donna wasn’t sure how she was going to keep his attention on her without treats, so she took his small tennis ball with her to the vet. It worked like a charm! 

In their waiting room, the Palmyra Animal Clinic often has a crate with a cat looking for a good home. The cat is near the scale, and when Irwin got on the scale to be weighed, he sat on the scale and zeroed in on the cat. When the vet tech said his name, however, he turned and looked at her. She then brought a leash out and he did “get dressed”—he stuck his head right through the loop and pranced back with her. 

When Donna and Jim picked him up later, the vet staff said that Irwin and his brother Outback kept licking each other through the kennel wires! He walked out calmly for the vet tech until he saw Donna and Jim, and then he got so excited to see them. But he kept all four paws on the floor. As soon as they got outside, Donna was happy to see that Irwin got busy (pottied) right away, which means he probably didn’t have any accidents in his crate at the vet!

Because Irwin did so well, Donna and Jim stopped and bought him a new Chuck It Ball. It’s now one of his favorite toys!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Irwin at Sesame Place and the YMCA

“Irwin really seems to thrive being out and about,” says Donna. “The more challenging the better—for him, not for me!”

This past month, SSD Irwin went to Sesame Place with Donna, Jim, and their grandsons. What an experience for him!

It was a beautiful day, sunny in the mid-70s, but it felt much warmer. Donna kept checking the pavement to make sure it wasn’t getting too hot for Irwin’s paws, but it stayed cool enough. They also cooled him off in the water misters, which he loved! 

All of the rides at Sesame Place are set up so that everyone, regardless of disabilities, can ride them. Irwin went everywhere but the water park! As long as Donna and Jim thought he would be okay on a ride and he actually got on the ride, he rode it! He went on the carousel, tea cups, flying fish, the balloon ride, and more. The rides went up and down, around, and back and forth. Donna and Jim’s grandchildren joined them in the tea cups, but they didn’t spin the tea cup while Irwin was in it. The attendants were very impressed with his behavior every time he got on and off the rides. 

They watched the parade, and Irwin did great being in a tight space. The music was loud and there were lots of characters dancing. For some dogs, the characters can be very scary, so it’s important to take it slow and give them lots of treats to make it a positive experience. Irwin seemed to take it all in stride, though. Streamers popped out of a float with a bang and floated down on the spectators, but he ignored it all and stayed in his “down.”

The lines at the restaurant where they stopped for lunch were crowded. Donna figured out that she could navigate the buffet successfully by keeping Irwin to the side of the buffet line and having him back through the line.

Throughout the day, Donna and Jim had plenty of opportunities to share information about service dogs and Susquehanna Service Dogs. They talked to people from all over. One person even hailed from Canada. (Fun fact: Irwin’s mom, SSD Scotia, originally came from PADS in Canada.)

The learning opportunities weren’t just for other people in the park. Donna and Jim’s grandsons used a public restroom with Irwin. They were amazed that he didn’t touch anything.

Throughout the day, Donna and Jim made sure that Irwin had plenty of water and time to rest, since it was a busy day. On the way home, they stopped at the Macaroni Grill. It was nice and cool inside, and Irwin fell asleep. He snored! People kept looking their way, and Donna and Jim’s grandsons giggled every time he snored.

Irwin also went to the YMCA’s kid’s day. It was hot and humid in the pool area, and very crowded and noisy. Puddles of water were everywhere, and Donna was a little concerned that Irwin would try to drink from them, but he walked right by them. He calmly walked by the swimmers and didn’t mind getting splashed. In fact, he seemed content to watch the activity around him. Eventually, he fell asleep. 

He had to maneuver through tight crowds, and he did it, staying in a heel position right by Donna’s side. They had to navigate the registration tables, popcorn, drinks, and popping balloons. Irwin did great!

As they left, there was a band singing Johnny Cash songs outside. The loud drums and kids dancing entertained everyone, including Irwin!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Playful Pups: Puppy Development Week 3

The third week of the puppies’ lives is play time! This is the week when the puppies start to play with each other. Watch the Ice Cream Scoops and some of their first attempts at play. Be sure to turn your sound on so you can hear them!

This is also the week when the puppies start standing and walking. Or rather, they start wobbling around. They’re still not completely stable, and they fall down occasionally!

What other milestones do the puppies reach?

  • The puppies cut their primary teeth, which means that in about a week, they get their first real meal of puppy gruel.
  • Early Neurological Stimulation exercises end on day 18. 
All three of our litter are getting more active, so be sure to watch the puppy cams

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Meet SSD Rizzo!

Meet SSD Rizzo, one of the Jim Henson puppies! She has an exuberant personality, to say the least. “I call her my little energizer bunny,” says Kelly, Rizzo’s puppy raiser. “She’s so full of energy that she wiggles!” During puppy class one day, another one of our volunteers, Peter, worked with Rizzo for a little while. When he gave her back to Kelly, she showed him just how wiggling she can be. Kelly got Rizzo focused on her, and then asked Peter to pet Rizzo’s back. As soon as Peter touched her, Rizzo’s entire hind end started wiggling! And as soon as he stopped petting her, she stopped wiggling. Pet her again, and the wiggling begins again!

Rizzo is a fun-loving dog. She’s happy playing with other dogs, playing tug, and training. She’s even happy getting dressed up for goofy pictures! 

She loves to play with toys. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stuffed animal she can rip apart in 20 seconds, a tennis ball she can hit around with her elk antler, or a plastic bottle. She loves to play with anything!

Rizzo is the second dog that Kelly and her daughter Nikki have raised, and training Rizzo is different than training their first dog, Taz. (Taz was released from our program and is now a happy family pet.) Taz loved food, so finding treats and power treats for him was easy. Rizzo, however, is a very different dog when it comes to food.

“What I would have called a power treat when we raised Taz is what I call a normal, everyday treat for Rizzo,” says Kelly. When she did find a power treat that worked, it would soon become boring for Rizzo, and they’d stop keeping her attention in challenging situations. How did Kelly solve this issue? She found two power treats that worked and used them for one month whenever Rizzo was going to a challenging environment. After that month, she switched to two completely new power treats. Every few months, she could recycle the types of power treats, and they would be brand new and exciting to Rizzo again. Some of the power treats she has used are bananas, carrots, apples, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, dehydrated chicken, dehydrated liver, easy cheese, and lickity sticks.

In puppy class, Rizzo recently learned the cue “lap,” where she rests her front legs in her handler’s lap. She also learned how to stick her head into a comfort trainer, which will be a useful skill once she entered advanced training in June. Many of our advanced training dogs wear comfort trainers because we are never sure what tools the dogs’ future partners will need in order to successfully work with their service dog.

Currently, Rizzo is learning “heel” and “get dressed,” which is the cue for the dog to stick her head through her service dog harness. Kelly is hoping to have both behaviors on cue by the time Rizzo entered advanced training in June. Kelly is also giving Rizzo a refresher course in the “go to bed” cue, where Rizzo goes to a designated blanket or bed and lays down. 

Rizzo goes out and about daily, but recently she attended her puppy raiser Nikki’s field hockey tournament at Shippensburg University. The tournament was a great training session on many levels. Rizzo had to walk past the concession stand at the gates where food was all over the ground. She got lots of “leave it” practice! Next, she had to stay focused on Kelly while walking on a loose leash past a bleacher full of people whistling and calling to the adorable puppy. Rizzo loves people, so Kelly took it slow and steady so she would be successful. At every step, she said Rizzo’s name to make sure she stayed focused. They had to take a few penalty yards when Riz tried to surge ahead, but they made it past the bleachers to an area where they planned to watch the tournament. (Penalty yards is a method used to train loose leash walking. If the dog pulls on the leash, the handler backs up in the opposite direction until the dog returns and the leash is loose again. Once they start walking forward on a loose leash, the handler clicks and treats.) 

The next skill Rizzo practiced at the field hockey tournament is how to relax during the entire 5-hour tournament. She is a very energetic dog, and Kelly wanted her to learn how to be as relaxed as possible. Between Nikki’s games, they did mini training sessions where they worked on “visit,” “lap,” “paw,” “sit,” “stand,’ and “down.”

Rizzo quickly learned that the little ball being hit around the field is not a toy! She had to remain calm throughout the tournament, no matter what the distractions. “When you have an absolutely adorable dog, you are the center of attention,” said Kelly. “That day, a little two-year-old boy feel in love with Rizzo! She’s high energy, so having a two-year-old wanting the play with her was a challenge. She likes to wiggle and lick, but being calm is important around a toddler. The little boy was so excited to see Riz that he kept running away from his parents to visit her! His mom kept saying ‘Thank goodness I know where he’s running to!’ Rizzo did great. She stayed focused on me and received treats for each visit the little boy made.”

Rizzo often accompanies Kelly to the doctor’s office for her allergy shots, and Kelly uses the time after she gets her shots to train Rizzo. Many of Rizzo’s “Ah ha!” training moments have come in the doctor’s waiting room. “In those 30 minutes, Rizzo and I get to work, and it’s great because it’s just the two of us focusing on each other with no distractions,” said Kelly. “It’s our bonding time!”

Rizzo will be entering advanced training at the end of June. Wish her luck!