Look: A Training Video

One of Seva’s recent commands is Look. It tells her there is something nearby I want her to find and retrieve.

In this video, Scott hid a set of keys in a store. Seva and I walked into the aisle and I gave her the command Look.

She looks for the keys and when she spots them, I say Get It.

She picks up the keys, and I say Give.

She puts them in my hand.

What if she didn’t know what to pick up? I would use the cues That’s It, Leave It, and/or Try Again to direct her to the right object. It’s kind of like playing Hotter/Colder and the tone of my voice does most of the work.

 

 

Training Video: Take/Hold

Today Seva had a breakthrough!

We have been working on a two-part skill called Take It and Hold for some months now. This one is tricky for the dogs because they have to take a PVC dowel in their mouths right behind the canine teeth, where there is a gap before the molars start, and hold it without biting or gnawing it.

Seva is a nibbler and getting her to take and hold the dowel was a process! Mainly, she didn’t do it. She’d nibble the pipe or she’d let it slide out of her mouth if I moved my hands even a little.

Last week, when Cash was here, we didn’t do much training. I felt badly about that, until today. I got out the dowel and the bag thinking we had to make up for lost time, but maybe the break was what she needed, because she took the dowel and held it on her own until I ¬†clicked (the signal that she had accomplished the skill). After a few of these, I grabbed my camera.

 

 

Another of Seva’s newest skills is Snuggle. Here she is practicing it with Scott. Some of the recipients of these dogs don’t have feeling below the neck and Snuggle is an important way for them to connect with their dog.

 

Seva & Scott Snuggle

Seva & Scott Snuggle

 

That’s my girl!

Yesterday, Seva performed her very first service demo. We went to Minnetonka West Middle School and joined three other Helping Paws teams to show a group of 8th and 9th graders what we do. There were at least 60 kids in the large band room.

You know, Seva is the most sociable, excitable puppy, so I went into this expecting her to do well, but knowing that at any moment she could go berserk. We did have a little scene when she saw Chuda in the vestibule outside the front office. Seva stayed with Chuda a couple weeks ago when we went out of town, so they’re buddies. Seva was airborn with excitement. Fortunately, Chuda is older and set a more respectable tone (thanks to his trainer, Wendy!).

I recorded the demo, which took about an hour, and have edited out some short clips. The stars of the day (closest to the camera to farthest): Seva, 7 mos old, and Alida; Jed, 2 1/2 yrs old, and John; Chuda, 9 mos old, and Wendy; Aida, 1 1/2 yrs old, and Katy.

The dogs each do something amazing and we went in order of youngest to oldest, so you get a sense of the progression of skills.

Watch this if…

Intro: …you want to hear Katy talk a bit about Helping Paws and meet the trainer/dog teams.¬†

 

Seva: …you want to see what a 7 month old puppy can do. Something funny happens when they clap for Seva.

 

Chuda: …you want to see what a 9 month old puppy can do.

 

Aida: …you want to see what a 1 1/2 year old dog can do.

 

Jed: …you want to see what a 2 1/2 year old dog can do.

 

Kids + Puppy: …you want to see Seva receive the kids’ love. I’m giving her kibble for keeping her paws on the floor. You see by her tail that she was excited to meet so many kids, but once again kibble saves the day!

Training #1

For the next several posts, I’m going to show you Seva in training. I recorded one training session, but I’ve divided it into clips, each one focusing on a different cue or cues.

This training session took place at the end of August, before Seva ate a sock and had to don the cone of shame. She’s 5 months old here.

Get Dressed

 

Watch and Roll Over

Training Basics

Right now, Seva is working on two crucial skills, Watch and Sit. Service dogs need to pay constant attention to their handler so they are always ready to receive the next cue. The focus is amazing.

A Helping Paws dog at the Wag Walk & Run

You can see in the photo that while this person is watching the disc dog demo, the dog in the vest is facing and watching her with intense concentration. This readiness to work and the ability to watch a handler for cues is the foundation on which the other skills are built.

This always amazes me. This dog is surrounded by not only a crowd of people, but other dogs, and there’s activity all around him, and yet, he’s waiting for the next cue.

Seva is not there yet. In fact, a stick is far more interesting than I am. Sometimes I lose out to dirt. But she is on her way, which is beyond cool.

When we train, I have a clicker and treat bag on me. For Sit, every time her butt hits the floor, I click and give her a piece of kibble. Over and over. Between each click and treat, I move a little and she follows me. This resets the behavior. Pretty simple stuff.

For Watch, she has to make eye contact to get the click and treat. This is harder. Seva tracks the hand that feeds her–who wouldn’t? So I put my hands behind my back. She looks at the feed bag, she looks at my knees, my hips, finally my face and I click. She does catch on fast, and the eye contact comes more readily after a few minutes of practice.

A dog quirk, however, is that she likes to circle me between repetitions. She gets a treat, I step away, she follows, walks around me, then sits down. Sometimes she decides to sit behind me and watch my hands. Not so good for eye contact. I ignore this behavior and wait for her to reposition.

Today, Seva was sitting behind me, waiting a few seconds, then standing up and putting her paws on me: “Hey, I did it. Click me already!” This kind of behavior is neither rewarded nor punished. I help her get her paws back on the floor and we try again.

It’s important that the dog be able to perform anywhere, so we train in the kitchen, the hallway, and outside. As she can handle more distractions, I’ll increase the number of places we train. As I said, there are times when I still lose out to dirt.

She is a smart girl. Tonight when she was ready for dinner, she did not look for her bowl or whine. She parked her butt and stared at me.

What? Why? and How?

When I tell people I am going to be training a service dog, and that my family will be the dog’s foster family, that this will take two-and-a-half years of our lives, and then we’ll give the dog up, they have two questions.

Why do you want to do this?

I love animals. I mean, I adore animals. I always have and always will. I had a dog briefly as a kid. I’ve had several cats, rats, and a rabbit. I hand feed the squirrels and a pair of mallard ducks that come to our yard. For a long time when I was younger, my life ambition was to be an ethologist, a scientist who studies animal behavior in the wild.

Right after college, I worked in the Dean of Students office at The University of Texas. Services for Students with Disabilities was right across from my desk. I saw all the students come and go from that office. I saw the students in wheelchairs and some of the challenges they faced getting around. I saw the guide dogs working for the blind students.

I’ve been aware of Helping Paws for over a decade, and that whole time have been thinking this is an organization I’d like to get involved with some day.

Now, my partner, Scott, and I live near Helping Paws. We have a big fenced yard. We don’t have another pet at the moment. He loves retrievers. Most importantly, we share the same value system. Scott and I believe in the importance of doing good for society. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how this endeavor will probably change us and our children for the better.

We’ve volunteered before, some projects short term–an evening at a food shelf–some long term–mentoring a teen-mother. This is going to be two-and-a-half years with a puppy in our home, a member of our family. We, all five of us, are going to love this dog like crazy. This is also going to be following the rules and participating in an ongoing training program, so that at the end of our time together, this dog will be able to help a person with a physical disability lead a more independent life. The thousands of hours we put into this puppy will literally change one person’s life.

Wow.

This is like nothing we’ve ever done before and we’re excited to be a part of the program.

How are you going to give up the dog?

Most people shake their heads and say, “I could never give up the dog.” I know I can. Scott can. The kids don’t have a choice. They weren’t too crazy about the idea of a temporary pet at first, but as we’ve been talking about the program and preparing for the day we bring the puppy home, they’ve come around.

We’re going into this knowing that the puppy is not ours. Not really. The dog will always belong to Helping Paws. That’s why we’re called a “foster family.” We also won’t ever forget the goal, because we’ll be following Helping Paws rules round the clock to make certain this dog is ready to work with and for another person.

Helping Paws publishes stories from their graduates in every newsletter. Read some of these stories. You’ll be moved and awed. You might still doubt that you could give up the dog, but you’ll understand what an amazing, life-changing event occurs when a graduate receives a service dog.

When the time comes, I’ll write about giving up the dog. I’m sure it will be hard. I’m sure I’ll cry. I’m sure I’ll be proud of our dog and happy for the graduate who gets to take her home.

Our puppy comes home on May 11th, just in time for Mother’s Day! We are receiving a girl. After I meet her, I’ll give her a name–it’s a privilege of the trainer’s, to name the puppy. And of course, there will be photos!