learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Training: Days 3 and 4

I sit down to write this with Brooklyn laying not too far away giddily going to town on a nylabone given to her by grandma. She’s elated and relaxed, which is wonderful to watch. We just finished some distraction work downstairs and though she is struggling with a few little things, it’s me struggling alongside her. I am finding that it is me more so than her that needs training and guidance. Brooklyn knows her stuff, but I am unsure of her language and just have to practice, practice, practice.

Yesterday, day 3 of our 12 day training cruise, was a lot of obedience work plus an overview of scent work especially as it pertains to our classmates receiving seizure alert dogs. Another parent and the class and myself tonight had a brief conversation on Facebook that truly highlighted the different goals using the same means with our dogs. Their family is receiving on of Brooklyn’s siblings as a seizure alert and tracking dog while Brooklyn is an autism service dog who can do tracking. Both dogs use their noses to help us keep our kids safe at the root of it, just in different ways. I will write more on the similar skills later.

The commands we learned this day were as follows:

  • place: Brooklyn has a mutt mat, which is a quilted blanket about 3’x4′. This is her “place”, her spot that she can go do whatever she wants on when commanded there so long as she always has at least two paws on the mat. She can do paw stands or cartwheels if she so chose, so long as those two paws are on “place”. She is commanded there when someone comes to the door and you need to answer it, for example, or if she were working in a classroom and needed to stay out from underfoot but not in her crate. She is a pro at this and prefers to lay on her place even when she’s just monkeying around with a toy bone.
  • heel: This is very important to us when we work in public. “Heel” commands Brooklyn to walk with her ear or shoulder in line with my left leg. It keeps her close and secure when we are in say a store, a restaurant or any other public place. It is different from a “free” walk because she must at all times stay within that certain proximity of myself. We are working a lot on this, she and I, but I am pleased at the progress she is making. It is my skill, or lack thereof, at giving corrections that makes this harder on us both but I’m slowly gaining my stride I hope.
  • bark: Exactly what it seems like. Sweet Brooklyn can bark on command! I could not get her to do it easily yesterday but boy, when her trainer Shelby showed me the hand gesture she used today I can now get her to do it every time and giddily! Like I said, I’m learning her language as I am learning J’s.

We also did a lot of work with distractions. Jeremy, the head of training, brought his big bear of a German Shepherd, Brody, with him. Brody has to be one of the most laid back dogs on the planet. He’s 8.5 years old as opposed to our dogs just about 1 year of age and just sighs at the class of rookies around him. His presence was a great distraction challenge for the dogs. They had to be in the command they were placed in and ignore him, ignore us being loud and obnoxious or tempting them with treats and affection and so on. Our girl rocks this in class…. At the hotel? Work in progress. She’s so new to all of this environment too but as Jeremy had told us it gets better each day.

Today was the start of something amazing though. This morning, we got to see Brooklyn’s search and rescue skills in practice. The dogs learn this skill by tracking a staff member. Now, during class, we transfer that to J by having the staff member hide with him, then change out the person hiding with J, always making sure of course her target is in place. We work on this even when we’re at the hotel too by baiting J so to speak: He is the coolest thing EVER and we talk up finding “her boy” like we were finding the secret of life and when we walk her over to J, we rain down a treat she gets no other time.

A lot of people may be familiar with watching dogs do search and rescue on TV shows or in movies. It’s a little different in person. The way the dogs track is by catching the scent attached to skin cells that come off our bodies constantly. When Brooklyn starts on a track she moves in a sort of wide semi-circle on the end of a long, loose flexible leash. The moment she finds the scent she snaps to it and moves back and forth in an “S” shape, following the scent. It does not matter of J walked a straight line from “a” to “b”, she’s not going to follow that because the scent does not fall on the ground like rocks. It spreads like leaves on a breeze and she follows the width of the smell. Sometimes, she might lose the scent, circle and start anew. Other times, she might never lose it and go along that wide path to J without a waver but today, she stayed rather far to the right of where we who are visually oriented might have predicted.

Now, excuse my crude humor, but the track got rather…poopy. You see, Brooklyn is a highly skilled and highly trained dog but she’s still a dog… So post track she left me three presents to remember our track by. I elected to leave them at the park, in the rubbish, for something else to enjoy while I stick with just my memories of the day.

J was behind a building struggling with a meltdown when Brooklyn found them. The boy turned to her quickly though and helped Lindsey, the training assistant Brooklyn tracked, reward her heartily for her effort. You see, dogs do not attach severity to tracking, alerting or any task. They attach reward and the bigger the reward, the more loved the task. Search and rescue means we all but throw Brooklyn a ticker tape parade when she finds her boy. She gets Bil-Jac, which is pretty much the best treat ever to these dogs; she gets a ball and J to throw it for her and she gets tons and tons of excited praise. Our girl is a sensitive girl and she responds beautifully to praise, so getting all of this for a track makes her so excited to do it.

Now we’re back at the hotel and we’re learning that J is running out of gas fast during training. He gets so tired he skips most afternoons, and when we get Brooklyn back to the hotel post training he is excited to see her but so much so that he is quickly overstimulated. It is the novelty of her I think. He is obsessed with holding her leash right now which sadly is not good for her. J tugs, and he doesn’t realize those tugs mean something negative to his girl and make her sad. We now take off the leash when we are not immediately working until we get a training collar sorted out. That will mitigate the tugging issue… we hope. He’ll have his own leash that goes on her service harness shortly.

And that’s that. Rambling, likely riddled with typos but ta da! Here’s some pics:


dog and boy


“I sure did do a good job tracking, yes I did!”


Pretty much all the dogs had a long period of this during the afternoon session. We’ve spoiled her and use her plush pillow as her “place” in class.


  1. Janice

    Absolutely fascinating learning how you’re learning….. Are you still pinching yourself that you’re finally in Xenia?

    • Nicole

      YES. Yes I am. It’s flying by and I am losing track of days now though.

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