Felix’s SD prospect evaluation

On Tuesday we met with my trainer Jill from Courteous Canine so that she could meet Felix and tell me what she thought of him. Jill is an excellent trainer and has helped many people train their own service dogs as well as being an excellent pet dog trainer. We met up in an outdoor mall outside Charlotte at a Starbucks.

We arrived first, and I worked with Felix on shaping the watch cue as well as responding to his name. He did very well! He enjoyed meeting a few people and sniffing around. Selected pictures below show him getting treats and observing the environment.

He was happy to see Jill when she arrived! He did jump on her leg a little bit when he met her, which is unusual. Usually he doesn’t jump on people when he meets them. But I think he really liked her! Pictures show her interacting with him, walking him, and holding him.

We sat outside Starbucks and talked for a while about Felix. I told her about my biggest worry with him, which is marking. He has attempted to mark a few times in my house and in the pet store. Most of the time I’m able to catch him before anything comes out and distract him. But I’ve never had a dog with a marking problem before, so I didn’t really know how to train it. Jill said the first thing to do is give him a treat every time he pees or marks in an appropriate spot. I’d been giving verbal rewards, but Jill said that isn’t enough. She said that rewarding him for marking trees and bushes is really key so that he knows where the appropriate places to mark are.

Then we had a long discussion about belly bands. Given that Felix had never been outside of a house or yard before until we got him two weeks ago, and that his puppy window is rapidly closing as he’s already 6 months, she thinks the most important thing right now for his training are exposures to different places, people, and things. The best way to get that is to take him to pet-friendly stores. I expressed concern at taking him anywhere other than a pet store just in case he were to mark and I didn’t distract him in time. She suggested I use belly bands to take him as a pet to pet friendly stores.

I would use the belly bands as a training tool, not something to rely on. Just as a fail-safe in case the worst case scenario were to happen. Of course I’d be training him and managing him in the stores so that he didn’t even get to the point of lifting a leg, but just in case, the belly band would be there. In a big way, the belly band is for me—reducing my anxiety and stress about the possibility of an accident happening so that we can more effectively train. I’m hoping to not need a belly band anymore after about a month of training, and I wouldn’t put a service dog (or in training) vest on him while he’s wearing it.

While we were talking, we noticed that Felix liked to find things to pick up with his mouth. So Jill tried tossing her clicker onto the ground to see what Felix would do. He ran over and picked it up and tried to carry it off! She did this several times over the course of our meeting, and every time he immediately picked it up. And not by the stretchy wristband, but by the hard plastic and metal clicker itself! I think we have a retriever on our hands! Hestia was never able to learn how to retrieve, and I never tried with Alice. It will be super nice to have Felix able to pick up small things I drop when I’m in my wheelchair! Pictures below are a selection of Felix with various clickers.

We talked also about training him to walk next to my wheelchair. She suggested using Brad’s wheelchair with me walking next to it at first so he gets the general idea, then moving on to my wheelchair. We started that yesterday and it went well. I’ll be using a wooden spoon with peanut butter on it for treating him while I’m in my wheelchair so there’s no chance of treats falling under my wheels and him trying to get them and getting injured. Picture below is of Felix getting treated next to Brad’s wheelchair.

Brad and I had had discussions about my training approach with Felix, and I wanted to make sure what I thought was what Jill thought, too. So I asked her what I should be focusing on in my training. She said what I had already thought, which is that obedience can come at any time really. It’s not very hard to teach a dog to sit and down. But experiences and living in the world are much more important and time-sensitive. She said that I need to be focusing with him on the types of things he’ll be experiencing every day as a service dog. As Brad would say, I need to be focusing on developing his psychological shock absorbers.

We discussed that I had so far only worked with him on his name and shaping “watch” (I had had him 12 full days at that point), and she suggested skipping “sit” and “down” in favor of doing “touch” next since that’s more useful in terms of positioning and attention. I know we’ll cover sit and down in puppy class anyway, so I can just wait until they come up there to teach them. After talking with Jill and seeing how much Felix enjoys picking stuff up with his mouth, I think I might also want to work on shaping the retrieve sooner rather than later with him.

Overall Felix did pretty well during our session with Jill. He was fine meeting other people, explored his environment well, and wasn’t afraid of sirens or big trucks and cars going by.

He did have one issue, though. We were on one side of Starbucks that had two sides with tables on it. We heard a bunch of barking from the other side. Apparently it was a couple of Samoyeds in a car barking at a Bernese Mountain Dog who was walking by. We didn’t know that, though. The next thing we knew, a Berner was walking a foot in front of Felix! Felix had been scared by the barking he heard, and he barked at the Berner. We had to get up and walk across to another seating area (with the Samoyeds barking at us!). It was too over-threshold to work on training at that moment. But now I know I need to play the engage/disengage game with him around other dogs more to get him better able to handle the stimulus. The picture below shows him excited by the Berner.

We went across the street to some empty table and chairs and continued our conversation. Jill practiced restraining him, and he accepted it very well! The pictures below show us at the other seating area with Felix on the ground and then being restrained by Jill.

In the end, Jill said that Felix has a good temperament, and it’s likely he’ll work out for me. That made me very happy!

Even though I had been standing too much when talking with Jill and my hips were hurting, I wanted to take Felix to see the fountain before we left. He did a good job going down the large steps to get close to the fountain and walking around it! I was very pleased! In the pictures below, our backs are to the camera and we are standing in front of a beautiful fountain. I am looking at Felix, and in one pic he is looking at me, and the next pic he is looking at the fountain.

Below are all the pictures from our meeting with Jill. In them, I have medium-length wavy brown hair and am wearing a pink sleeveless dress. Felix is a sable and white Japanese Chin wearing a purple plaid harness. Jill has grey hair and is wearing a dark navy shirt. Brad is dressed in a grey suit with blue accents, and a Spitz dog pin on his lapel (a gift from a friend).

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