Living with a service dog isn’t always about work. But living in harmony and meeting a service dog’s needs to keep her in good physical and emotional health for her success on the job needs to include recreation. In other words, sometimes you just gotta play. But successful play requires work! In all the public access outings I have gone on since placing Bubbles with Sam and his family — to an indoor pool, a medical doctor visit followed by a friend’s backyard to play with his dogs, a young girl’s birthday party as a special guest, a mall DURING Halloween celebrations and group classes — this week the outing was a wholly fun one. Just Jessica (Sam’s mom), Bubbles, Bean and I.
The basic manners of dog training include reliable recall. There are trainers who specialize in just this very valuable and important cue. The cue that means when you call or signal the dog, she comes back NO MATTER WHAT FROM WHEREVER. This is the cue that can literally save your dog’s life. I can’t emphasize enough how often it should be practiced. Indoors, outdoors, upstairs, downstairs….constantly. And the dog should always be rewarded for coming (for Bean the reward is simply a smile 90% of the time). Never punish your dog for coming even if you’re still frustrated at what the dog did BEFORE coming back. I have been practicing calling Bubbles since the day she arrived in my care back in snowy January. I trained her that the word “touch” means to come from where ever — an inch away up to out of eyesight — and touch my hand. Indoors she is to touch and then sit, awaiting the next direction or given freedom to just be. Her reliability with me is pretty consistent. Pairing her with Bean, whose recall is highly reliable, helps model what I mean. When she observes his desire not only to come when I call him but to keep me in sight when we do off leash hiking, she follows suit.
[I showed this to Jessica by having us hide from the pair when they were just past eye sight. We positioned ourselves behind a tree so we could see the dogs and they couldn’t see us. Within moments, Bean came back, looking around, left and right, for a sign of me. He went into a minor “panic” mode and started making sweeps of the woods until he found me. Tail stub wagging, he came springing over fallen logs to reconnect, smile his goofy smile and romp off. Bubbles was right next to him during it all]
The challenge was to help give Jessica the confidence to establish her leadership over Bubbles. Not in a “you do it or else sort of way,” but in a “I’ll listen to you because you make things groovy” sort of way. But if Bubbles can make everything groovy and NOT listen, well, as a teenager, let me assure you she likes that. So I ride her, giving her constant feedback, not giving her an inch. And she’s pretty great with me. In this little movie you can see the progression and pure joy these canines are having an an outing — special one on one time with their moms!
Introducing Bubbles to this little patch of woods redolent with fall smells — simply intoxicating for the nearly year old blonde. Bean has been savoring this season since he was a wee pup back in 2003. In the clip below, when instructed to call her dog, Jessica did the right stuff, but note how Bubbles totally blew her off. In this still taken from the video, any adult familiar with adolescents will recognize her smirk!
But with coaching and practice and seeing results by “upping her cred” with Bubbles, it is my hope that future off leash hikes are in their future. That the sheer joy of a carefree walk in nature with a well mannered dog can be a cocktail hour for Jessica, a great way to shake off the stress of a full time job and parenting an active and mischievous boy who lacks the sensibility to stay safe but craves adventure. And that those tonics can help cement the partnership in continuing to help Sam develop independent living skills and many safe adventures.
I think having the delicious baked goods of On the Rise as a hike ending treat doesn’t hurt either!