Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Becoming a Service Dog Team

Today, SSD Bridge, SSD Hank, and SSD Nitro are taking their public access tests with their new partners. The other five dogs who were in team training—SSD Beaker, SSD Brickle, SSD Cove, SSD Dexter, and SSD Nola—took their public access tests last week and are now busy working.

The public access test is the evaluation that all of our service dog teams must pass in order to become official working service dog teams. We use the public access test as a way to ensure the dogs are well-behaved in public and that each person has control of their dog—both important aspects of the ADA. We have no doubt that our remaining teams—Bridge, Hank, and Nitro—will do great on their public access test!

These teams have spent the last two and a half weeks learning how to work together. They’ve practiced the basic cues that all of our service dogs know, such as “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “heel,” and “come.” The teams also worked on the individual tasks each dog was trained to perform.

Under the ADA, a service dog must perform tasks related to their partner’s disability. For example, the dog could act as a counterbalance to support someone as they walk, retrieve dropped items, pull a manual wheelchair, or apply pressure to calm their partner’s anxiety. Each of our service dogs learned several tasks based on their partner’s needs and preferences.

After our teams spent a week learning how to work together, we hit to road to practice in some real life situations.

Every team training includes a fun field trip, and this time, we went to ZooAmerica. We planned the trip for the morning, so we could be there before the pavement got too hot for the dogs. It was still a hot day, so we made sure to stop for lots of water breaks.

The zoo is a fun, but challenging trip, since there are lots of distractions for the dogs and the people. We walked through the exhibits, and Bridge, Hank, and Nitro worked on nice loose leash walking. As you can see from some of the photos, the dogs were allowed to notice the animals. After all, it’s difficult not to notice the animals, especially when most of the animals came right over to the edges of their enclosures to investigate the dogs. However, the dogs needed to still stay focused on their partners. Each person did a nice job making themselves more interesting than anything else in the environment!

It was a good, fun real world experience!

After today, Bridge, Hank, and Nitro will be working service dogs. We have already seen what a difference these three dogs, and Beaker, Brickle, Cove, Dexter, and Nola have made in their partners’ lives, and we know those bonds will only continue to grow.

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