Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Dog News!

I called Summit last Monday to follow up on the results and decisions from my second assessment visit in June. I spoke with Sue, the head of Summit. Our conversation was very straight forward as it doesn't pay to beat around the bush when you are talking about a life partnership. She and I spoke at great length about the two potential candidates they had paired me with the during my last visit. While she understood my draw towards the bigger of the two for versatility, she and the other trainers really felt that the smaller of the two would be a better match. The smaller dog had had the opportunity in her training to travel extensively (including traveling on a cruise ship) and attended many conventions. She exhibits many more of the personality traits and characteristics , excluding size, that I had said time and time again I needed since beginning this process last November. I assured Sue that if this is the dog they felt was the best match for me and I the best match for her, I would not turn he down simply because of her size. They felt that because I was an experienced handler I would be able to adjust my working style to this extremely intelligent but soft dog.

Definition moment – when people in the animal world say that an animal is “soft” they do not mean the animal is weak or unintelligent. They mean the animal does not do well with repeated or heavy “corrections” and the animal to be at their best need a person who is calm, confident and uses minimal corrections. If you are to harsh, loud, or rely overly on correcting your dog as a means of communication a soft dog will quite simply “shut down” refusing to work further. If the handler continues this loud, heavy handling style a soft dog may begin to show signs of stress and fear. In the worst cases where the dog is repeated forced to work under such conditions the dog may begin to show behaviors such as scratching, shaking, cowering, growling and more to protect themselves from what they see as an unjustified attack on themselves.
Soft dogs matched with a communicative handler who uses minimal correcting, instead preferring to redirect the dog into a more desirable action can often be those dogs we all see who would go to the ends of the Earth for their person and back again.

I met this sweet girl for the first time while I was attending the Puget Sound Assistance Dog Club's Second Annual Conference. Sue was presenting a seminar of temperament testing and service dog candidate select and had chosen to bring along this little shepherd mix as an example of all the things they look for in a service dog candidate. From the minute I saw her I was impressed with this dog's calm, quiet, sweet, yet attentive nature. I even volunteered to be a part of the demonstration, just so I could have a chance to interact with her one on one. She never once showed me anything but what a lovely, soft girl she was. I took detailed not on their selection process and spent the rest of the day interacting with this as yet unmatched dog in little ways where ever I could.
Dogs will chose who they want to work for and I was determined to show this little girl I might the person for her. I am getting a program dog this time because I need a partner who is ready and willing to work from day one. I am in the prime of my life and much as I would love to owner train again, now is not the right time. Apparently, I made quite an impression on Summit's trainers and this little dog, because by last Friday, I had an email with the subject line “Team Training Dates”. The Summit staff have decided that the would like to offer me Shiloh, the small shepherd mix “barring and unforeseen behavior or health problems” as my next partner!!! The email went on to ask if I could attend team training from October 6th - October 19th, 2008. With these dates in hand and dog in mind I must send my fund raising into high gear and make some adjustments to the size and type of gear I will need.

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