Yesterday I taught my service dogs on the town class. I am so so happy to be teaching again! I have always loved teaching, no matter what the subject. That was one of my favorite parts of grad school– especially teaching the Genetics and Society class for non-majors. Now I am teaching people how to train their own service dogs. I have done this informally for years, and attempted to do it formally a few times, but this class is the first time I have been well enough to stick with it, and had students who want to put the effort in.
I didn’t realize I needed to remind Phyllis with Avalanche about class, so at first it was just us (Brad, Hestia, and me) and Barbara with Tripper (and her friend Mick). For some reason, Hestia REALLY likes Tripper and finds it very hard to ignore him. Luckily Barbara was really patient with me as I trained through the temporary loss of Hestia’s brain. We think it might have something to do with the fact that Tripper is an intact male, and Hestia really isn’t around many intact males.
We went into TJ Maxx and we focused on two things: regaining attention lost to distracting people and store displays, and on walking nicely in the store. Barbara and Tripper have been working a lot on the watch command, and I could tell! Tripper did a great job watching when something distracting was nearby, and Barbara and Mick were learning to negotiate backing the wheelchair up when Tripper didn’t respond. Then when Tripper looked at Barbara, even for just a second, she would reward a lot.
Nerd alert! For those of you who are training buffs, we were using both positive reinforcement and negative punishment training. Positive reinforcement training uses the application of something good (treats) to increase the performance of a behavior (looking at Barbara). Negative punishments involves taking away something good (the person/display) to reduce the unwanted behavior (pulling or not paying attention). These are the two out of the four quadrants of learning that I use in dog training. These are casually considered “positive training”. Older training methods involve “positive punishment”, where a punishment (a yank on the collar) is applied to decrease a behavior. The last quadrant is negative reinforcement, where a negative stimulus (a shock) is removed to increase a behavior. That’s just sad.
Anyway, Tripper did a really good job! He had a hard time with the leather purses, but got really good at ignoring people and even Hestia walking by him in favor of getting good treats from Barbara!
Then we worked on walking nicely in the store, which is trained very similarly with rewards for walking nicely, and when he loses focus, backing up until he focuses on Barbara, then rewarding and moving forward again.
By the time 40 minutes had passed, Tripper had had enough! He is just 10 months old, so this was a lot for him! We went outside the store, and just then Phyllis and Avalanche showed up. Tripper and Avalanche have never met before, so we spent a bit of time working on attention while the dogs got closer to each other. Both Tripper and Avalanche were very good even though they were both hot and tired.
Barbara, Tripper, and Mick drove over to Panera after that, while the rest of us walked over. When we arrived at Panera, Barbara demonstrated some of the training she’d been doing with Tripper, and Phyllis with Avalanche got to practice with an interesting garbage can!
When we went inside, Brad got me a green passion smoothie and it was SO tasty! Wow! Mango and spinach and some other stuff, yum.
The rest of the class we spent talking about service dog related laws and how to deal with access challenges. It was really great to help educate Barbara and Phyllis, and it’s always good to have Brad around for law discussions! I remember when I first started how confusing all the laws were, and how unsure I was of myself when handling access challenges. After 45 min of discussing service dog related stuff, our class ended, but we hung around longer to talk more about both service dogs and general stuff. It was a lot of fun!
Tripper and Avalanche did great in Panera! This was only Tripper’s second time in a restaurant ever, and I was so impressed! He was very nearly perfect, aside from one moment of interest in the ground. But that was quickly retrained! Hestia was happy to take a break, too.
We talked a bit about my restaurant philosophy. Some people with service dogs are extremely strict about what position their dog is in at all times. For example, if they are sitting they only want their dog to be in a down next to them. Personally, if I am feeling well when I am sitting and taking a break, I want my dog to be able to take a bit of a break too. Service work is hard! So I allow my dog to shift positions, to stand, lie down, or sit as they feel comfortable– so long as they are not in an aisle, disturbing people, eating food, etc. I think letting the dog take breaks is important in keeping their stamina and working life longer.
After class, we had to run to Walmart to get Ollie more chicken, and Hestia was PERFECT!
Brad got some excellent pictures of the class, and they are posted below. Enjoy!