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!