My Velcro Dogs

My Velcro Dogs
Louie, Bradley and Echo

Monday, August 24, 2009

Our summer so far...

Bradley has matured significantly since I last updated. By no means has he reached full maturity, but he's much closer! A few weeks ago, we started working with a trainer. It was long overdue! Not for lack of effort or action on my part, but I just couldn't find a trainer who would work with us on the level I needed. I'm so grateful to have found a trainer who has experience with service dogs! I'm very happy with her and have a lot of confidence that we'll make a lot of progress with her help.

Unfortunately, the trainer, Laura, isn't a guide dog trainer. That means I'm still going to have to find someone to help us once we get to the point of training guiding skills.

Right now, we're still working on public access skills. I expected to be much further in progress than we are at this point, but that's because I underestimated the time it would take Bradley to psychologically mature. As I said, it's getting better and ever since we started working with Laura, he's making a lot of progress.

The biggest problem we're having is my anxiety. He works well and is right on target during training sessions at home and at quiet locations, but the more activity there is going on, the more anxious I get, and he picks up on it. He then gets anxious himself, and things unravel from there. I really hope this is something I'll be able to get more control over the more I work with him. For now, I'm having Laura handle him during our training sessions at crowded places, and he does wonderfully with her. But then, as soon as she hands him off to me, my anxiety causes him to regress.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any intention to have someone else train him and then expect to be able to work him myself. I do want to be involved in his training, and I take him out on my own on a regular basis.

I'll continue to update on our progress in this area.

In other news...
Joe and I are in the market to buy our first house! I've never been so excited. This is something we've both wanted for a long time. Renting is not fun and it's definitely not conducive to having a lot of dogs around like I'd like to. We have an appointment to see a house we've had our eyes on for a few months now that happens to be steps away from where we live now. Although we have yet to be inside it, we already have our hopes up about it, as the location is ideal for us. It's located in a suburban neighborhood, yet is within walking distance to stores and other businesses, which is great for me. It's a cute little red cape with an interior that needs updating, but has character and potential. We're hoping for the best! Otherwise, we'll have to keep hunting and we're tight on time- we want to close before November 30th so we'll be eligible for the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Practice, practice, practice.

And we're going to need LOTS of it!

We took Bradley out with us yesterday and, let me put it this way- he's done much better! It wasn't a complete disaster, but he wasn't SuperDog.

First, we went out for Lunch at Ruby Tuesday. Yes, we eat out WAY too often! He has been there before when he was much younger and did well. However, as I failed to remember, during our first visit, he did not lay under the table. Back then, I was allowing him to lay next to the seat. For safety and consideration of others, it's usually best to keep the dog under the table. I had him stay under the table yesterday, as I have been doing for a while. Unfortunately, the table only had one center leg and 4 bars extending around the base. This left very little room for Bradley to lay comfortably. He either had to lay with his legs on a bar or had to stretch out so the bar was under his armpits. Option number 2 meant there was less pressure on his body and he was more comfortable, but it also meant his nose was almost sticking out into the aisle. This created that much more temptation to sniff around and do a move that I call a "scootch". I'm sure anyone with a dog has witnessed the scootch before! This is when a dog is placed in a down stay and not so subtly inches toward a source of interest, like an object or a smell. When he did this, he ended up with his whole head sticking out into the aisle. Overall, he was well behaved. I can't hold it against him that it wasn't a comfortable environment for him.

Our next destination was Barnes and Noble. This is an environment he's very familiar with. It's a good place to practice because it's usually pretty crowded but still quiet and relaxed. He did very well here, for the most part. Unfortunately, there were just too many curious people who couldn't resist initiating contact with him. This is his biggest weakness and I'm actually a little worried about how hard it will be to move past. He loves people so much and as soon as someone starts interacting with him, he literally goes nuts. He pulls on the leash, lunges and makes every effort within his power to get to the person and become best friends with him or her.

I can't wait to buy an actual guide dog harness for him. I want to train him and practice with him with the actual equipment that we'll be using so I won't have to retrain things to suit the harness.

The posted photo shows Bradley under the table at the Ruby Tuesday restaurant. This is the position he was most comfortable in, with the bar almost under his arm pit, instead of where his weight was focused.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A long overdue update!

Well it's certainly been a long time since I've updated here. We've had some significant changes in the past several months but there's a little too much to cover in a single update, so I'll keep it focused on the main purpose of this blog; Bradley's guide dog training.

Bradley is now 14 months old. I can't believe how time flies... He's now about 65 lbs, has gotten taller and has filled out some more. The consensus is that he's also very good looking :)

I became much more relaxed with his training regiment over the last several months. I came to realize that he was still very young and immature and didn't want to expect too much of him too soon. I took him to places like the movies, and stores every so often but not frequently or for long periods of time. I think the reduction in pressure on him paid off. He's now much more relaxed in new environments and looks at our training sessions at various public places as extra fun experiences. (I'm starting to think he likes showing off almost as much as I like showing him off.)

Last night, he made his first trip to Home Depot. I couldn't be happier with his performance. We warmed up a little outside with some short down/stays and recalls and he shined. Once inside, he was eager to explore and get acquainted with the environment. He's been to the grocery store and Target before but Home Depot has a much different atmosphere- different smells, different sounds, different objects... I was very relieved to see how well he adjusted. I was a little worried about the sounds of machines spooking him but we kept a reasonable distance and the sounds confused him but didn't upset him. We'll definitely have to take some more trips there for training sessions since it's such a stimulating environment and perfect for proofing.

While we were there, he demonstrated his newest skill. I was extremely impressed for how well he did it without ever having done it in a formal training exercise before. This new skill is to seek out Joe and bring me to him. The command is "go to daddy!" I was utterly shocked at the enthusiasm and unquestionable demonstration of complete understanding Bradley exhibited! As we work on it more, we'll definitely have to work on a more controlled response. He'll have to guide me to Joe calmly and directly, rather than running to him like a bat out of hell like he did last night. That was fine for last night though- it was his first time practicing the skill outside of home and our primary goal was confidence boosting. As overtly enthusiastic as he was, I was really surprised that he finished in the same manner he finishes a recall; sitting and waiting to be released. I neither expected, nor instructed him to do that so he got major brownie points for it! Another intuitive improvisation he made was waiting for praise from me, rather than Joe. When I give him this command at home, Joe is usually in another room so I tell Joe to give him the praise when Bradley reaches him. However, when Bradley is working, he needs to keep his focus on me and only me. Bringing me to Joe last night really showed me how quickly he's starting to grasp this concept. I'm so proud of him :)

The "go to daddy" command will be very useful to me. Something I've always struggle with is going to stores with someone and having a hard time finding that person if we separate. Not only is it frustrating, but it also often results in anxiety. Joe is almost always with us when we go to various public places for training sessions and he has a good understanding of my needs and Bradley's training, so he's the perfect assistant to train the foundation for seeking specific people out. Eventually we'll move on to teaching Bradley to go to other people.

The posted photo is Bradley, tongue and all, sitting happily in Home Depot last night.