Today’s agenda was obedience, harness fitting, tracking and finally public access!
Here’s Brooklyn’s most serious and important job in action. Remember, right now she’s still tracking Lindsey, one of the training staff. She is slowly identifying J as her boy and we’re reinforcing it with lots of praise and special treats but it’s a process. Here’s a look at what we work at. Please forgive the shaky quality of the video, I was wearing the camera on my head. Notice at the end that even though the targets are within line of sight her nose never lifts – she relies on scent over sight to reach them.
After we did the morning session of reviewing obedience and fitting the dogs with their harnesses we hit the mall. This was both awesome and nerve wracking. Awesome in that all the distractions were fabulous practice for us as handlers but nerve wracking due to the same. People stop you constantly and unlike seeing eye dogs, we are allowed to let people pat her. The choice will ultimately be J’s when he is with us but for now, we let anyone and everyone pet her especially kids and babies to work on distraction with her. She did wonderfully! We also know we need to work on stairs and work on being near other dogs, stuff that is more about us learning each other than her having any weakness in her training.
A little insight imparted to us by the training director Jeremy: The belief that one should never pet a service dog comes from the rule with seeing eye dogs. Their work requires them to always be focused on task. The slightest distraction could imperil their handler as their handler relies on the dog moving in a straight line with no deviation but for obstacles. When you have a dog working the way Brooklyn is, petting is actually encouraged when the child is comfortable. This enables them to exercise their social skills using the valuable asset of the dog. If we’re too busy clearly we won’t stop for anyone but whenever we can, we’ll let J practice his skills by putting her in a “down” command and allowing for people to love on her a little.
Going back to the search and rescue training each night at the hotel now we’re playing a practice game to help Brooklyn equate “find your boy!” with finding J. We get a handful of treats she favors and gets no other time (Beggin’ Strips) and get her really excited, talking in a happy and exuberant manner then bring her to J and shower her with the treats like she just found him. It’s a slow process but ultimately worth it obviously. In time, the scent tracking will not just be shifted to him by what we do when we do practice tracks but also by this game.
Training is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. My PTSD is a little rough this week, not going to lie. New environments, new people, new everything is something I can manage reasonably but add in a massive trigger (fear of reprimand/failure) and it’s been a strong exercise in how to manage my own issues. I find myself going to shy away from Jeremy when he talks to us but correcting myself, trying to mentally talk up how nice he is and how he’s not harsh, etc. It’s a bizarre thing to cope with, I’ll tell you that, but the fostering atmosphere of training is helping a great deal. We have great families with us and truly friendly and fun people. It’s a blessing to be here.
Now let’s see if I beat the wonderful Pastor Shane to today’s training update! You can read the chronicles of training from their perspective here: http://pastorshane2013.wordpress.com/ – His daughters are beautiful children and he and his wife amazing, especially with the focus they keep on their girls and their well-being.