Saturday, August 16, 2008

Taking Sawyer for granted...

Mom is my guest poster today~SDS

I think it's a misconception that you just teach a dog something and you're done. I'm always trying to explain this to my puppy raisers. As raisers of Assistance Dogs, they have to go above and beyond training "pet" dog stuff. So when the dog can sit on cue (for example), you then have to take the show on the road and make sure the dog can sit on cue on a busy sidewalk, outside of a shopping center, in the park, next to a ball field, around other animals, on a slippery floor, up on a table, etc. It's not good enough for a puppy raiser to tell me..."he does it at home!" When I get that puppy at a year old, as a trainer, I have to work on getting that dog to sit for on cue in different places and situations in addition to the things they've done a store, in a restaurant, in a mall, etc.

I know many trainers that use a correction to get the dog to do these things...because they're "stubborn"...when I see it all as new experiences...and the dog might not have experienced such things before. So instead of assuming that the dog is ignoring me or blowing me off, I stop and take a breath and work the dog through it. We ask a lot of our dogs at times, and we owe it to them to help them out in distracting circumstances.

Sawyer was not brought up to be a Service Dog, but he was introduced to many novel stimuli and environments as a matter of course living in my house. I like my dogs to all be comfortable in many situations. I let them experience different surfaces, challenges, and they can be the best dogs they can be. When Sawyer was to become a Service Dog for John, the public access stuff was easy for him, because of his history with me as a pet. But still, as he's been working for over a year...we tend to take him for granted at times.

For instance, we went to Wolf Trap a few weeks ago for a concert. We went in and got ourselves settled, and got Sawyer settled. He laid quietly on the concrete floor throughout the entire concert, sleeping happily. At the end of the concert, unbeknownst to us, they shot off fireworks. (It was a Tchaikovsky concert...good ol' 1812 Overture) Sawyer sat straight up, put his paws up on John's lap and stared at the fireworks. He remained quiet and calm, just very, very interested. John did remember to give him a few treats to reward such calm behavior. After the fireworks ended, we got ready to leave, and Sawyer went back into position next to John and walked politely through the crowd.

That was a lot for a dog to take in...lots of noise (the concert itself, plus the fireworks), lots of people (drunk and sober), tight fit in the seats, next to another wheelchair. But he handled it all with grace, and we didn't think much of it, until I thought about it later. He really took it all in stride...and it amazes me that a dog would "put up with" all this nonsense for a Sawyer's case, all for John.

We learned our lesson about taking him for granted.
-Mom of SDS

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