Monday, July 28, 2008

Assessment Round Two: June 2008

On June 5, 2008 I was invited up to Summit for a second assessment for my new service dog. This time they had specific dogs in mind who might be a good match for me. When I got there I was introduced to Brenda, a smooth collie Labrador cross, from Summit's second litter of puppies. She is a big black dog with white markings weighing around 70lbs. I liked her immediately for her size which creates in my mind the potentially for a very versatile partner performing a wide range of tasks. Despite, Bastien being a medium-size boy at 55lbs and 19 inches tall I have always loved big dogs. The bigger the better in my book. I am the only client there with the dogs and three trainers. Brenda's trainer said that I should get acquainted with her by asking her to perform some basic obedience exercises including a recall, sit, down and some loose leash walking. I was allowed to give her treats and they we impressed by my Handi-treat treat dispenser that I had hooked to a lanyard around my neck. I told them I preferred it to other treat pouches because it was easy for me to quickly get treats and -- the best part-- it's thieving tongue proof! I had forgotten my i-click clicker, so I had to use a voice marker to mark correct responses. The common voice markers I have heard include simply clicking with the tongue and the word "yes". I was grateful to hear they used the word "yes" since that is what I am used to using in the absence of a clicker.

I did the same get acquainted routine with the second candidate, a decidedly medium sized shepherd mix who couldn't be more than 50lbs.
Even though both dogs had minimal experience working next to a wheelchair both dogs were quick to pick up my cues and lures to get in them in the proper proximity to my wheelchair. Having trained dogs to walk with me before this was a process I am familiar with where a dog needs to walk when working next to my wheelchair. I also got a chance to ask each dog not to touch food on the floor. Since neither of these dogs knew me, they both attempted to get the food on the first pass by. by the second pass by they both knew I was no sissy and left the food alone. The trainers were impressed with the speed I threw my arm up under the leash I had looped across my chest to prevent Shiloh from getting the food making it impossible for her to reach the food were where inches from. It was the quickest thing I could do that didn't require me to yell. (When working in public with service dogs you want and correction to be swift, quiet, and unmistakable for the dog. The quiet part is important because you never want to draw attention to yourself when you dog is doing something inappropriate.)

After I had worked with both dogs the trainers asked me what I liked about each dog, what I disliked about each one, and if I had any questions about either dog. Then we loaded up and went to work with the dogs some in public access situations, so I could get a feel for how each dog behaved and work in public. We went to a local sporting goods store and strolled the aisles. I also put each of them on a down, walked about 20 feet away then called them to me. Brenda had more specific task training at this point, because they had tried to place her before. Unfortunately, Brenda and that person did not click, so they kept her and continued looking for a person who would be a good match. Therefore, I also asked Brenda to retrieve a set of dropped keys. Brenda showed us two things when we did this:
1. she knew what I wanted her to do. She picked up everything she could find on floor. Except the keys!
2. She didn't like the taste of metal. The keys that had been dropped were the trainer's. Keys and a ring. I threw my personal keys that have a caribbiner and a small bit of fabric and she got them immediately!
Just goes to show dogs no matter how far they are in training can always show something that needs work or may make them unsuitable for service dog work. I was asked again what I liked about each dog, what I didn't, and if I had any questions. As we left they told me to give them a few weeks and follow up with them.

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