Thursday, February 5, 2009

Challenge: The City Bus

Yesterday Shiloh experienced the city bus for the first time! Eugene has two styles of city buses: the first is the solid, platform lift that doubles as the bottom stair; and the second is the fold out ramp kneeling bus. The weather was in our favor yesterday as, so I lent my roommate my van and decided Shiloh and I would hop the bus home. Shiloh has been on trains, planes, and cruise ships. I reasoned that after being partnered for nearly four months now was as good a time as any to experience the bus. Armed with plenty of cookies, confidence, previous positive experience traveling together, and time we set out.

The first bus that came along was the platform lift style bus. Shiloh showed a little hesitation at the sound of the bus hydraulics, so I decided to send her onto the lift ahead of me instead of having her come on behind me as I had trained Bastien from a very early age to do. Shiloh hesitantly walked onto the lift as directed with a look on her face saying "I don't know about this, but if you say so okay Mom." I shortened her leash to remind her to stay and prevent her from jumping off the lift. I made sure to have her sit-stay before I gave the driver the go ahead to start the lift. As the lift started I praised and rewards her for maintaining her position in spite of her obvious worry. (I should note that though I did shorten the leash length at no time did I force her to do anything. If it had become apparent to me she wasn't going to do this safely, I was prepared to call my roommate to pick us up.) She stay focused on me and when we reach the bus level I released her to go ahead. Once we were on the bus her previous experiences with travel kicked in and she settled right into the space in front of me in the wheelchair bay. I rewarded her with verbal praise, touch and cookies throughout the ride for signs of confidence, and relaxing. When we exited the bus 20 minutes later she happily followed me onto the lift and stayed of her own accord! I was so proud of her I could have burst! The bus driver even commented at how well she had done for her first time (as well as how beautiful she was).

We, then, had to wait for the second bus to go home. This second bus was the kneeling style. These buses make an obnoxious, high pitched beeping noise in conjunction with the hydraulics and the ramp folding out towards us. Shiloh did took two very small steps back. As the ramp hit the ground I said in a confident, happy voice, "Shiloh, Let's go!" She again gave me a look that said "If you say it's okay, then okay."

This whole wonderful experience caused me to call Summit and share our success. It also reminded me how important it is to respect where your dog is at and provide them with the time, space and experience to continually expand their repertoire. I could have had her go on the bus earlier, but the trust wasn't there and the experience would most likely have been a very different one from that we experienced.

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