Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Irwin: Keep Calm and Carry On

SSD Irwin has conjunctivitis (a.k.a. pink eye). When people get pink eye, doctors usually prescribe drops for their eyes. For Irwin, it’s a little different. He needs to have an ointment applied along his lid twice daily.

Yikes, thought his puppy raiser Donna, until she realized that since Irwin does such a good “visit” that it should be a simple task to apply the ointment and make it a positive experience for Irwin. And it was! Donna cued him to “visit” (put his head in her lap) and voila! his meds were applied with no problem. Both Donna and Irwin stayed relaxed through the whole thing. Staying relaxed is key because dogs will pick up on their handlers' emotions. If the handler is anxious, the dog is more likely to feel anxiety. Staying calm and relaxed tells the dog that there's nothing to worry about and they're more likely to stay relaxed, too.

In his latest puppy class, Irwin worked on “heel” and greetings. Because he’s a service dog in training and often goes out in public where dogs aren’t typically allowed, he gets a lot of attention from people. However, service dogs need to stay focused on their handler, so they need to learn to stay calm and focused when people pet them. At puppy class, we practiced greetings where the greeter was calm and excited. 

Our trainers, Kendra and Amanda, went around to each puppy raiser and asked if they could pet their dog. Donna wasn’t sure how Irwin would do, since he loves Kendra and he remembers Amanda because he was born in her house. Well, he surprised her and did very nice greetings with both Kendra and Amanda. He also stayed calm and focused when they calmly asked “May I pet your puppy?” and when they were more aggressive and excited with an “Oh what a cute puppy! Can I pet your puppy? Puppy, puppy, puppy!”

We also practiced play retrieves with tennis balls and socks. Irwin did well retrieving the tennis ball, but he seemed more hesitant with the sock. He did end up getting the sock and bringing it back to Donna, but based on the way he was carrying it, Donna guesses that he didn’t like the feel of it in his mouth. 

While she was at puppy class, Donna took the opportunity to talk with trainer Kendra about tips to prevent Irwin from pulling toward things without using the comfort trainer. Our trainers are always happy to give advice, and Kendra had a great suggestion for Donna. She suggested playing the “attention game”—randomly click and treat the dog for looking at his handler. This game can be played anywhere—outside, while walking, while talking with someone, while waiting in line, etc. It teaches the dog to check in with their handler, and it keeps them focused, helping to prevent them from getting distracted and pulling toward that distraction. Donna still relies on the comfort trainer in situations where she knows it will be difficult to continually keep an eye on him, but with the attention game, Irwin should make great progress in staying focused on Donna.  

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