Warrior is a male Yellow Labrador Retriever. At this time he is just over 16 months old. YIKES, you say, he is still a “pup-o-lescent!” Yes, he is, but at the same time, he is quite mature for his age. Most of the other pups from that class are just into their advanced training. In 3 or 4 months, Warrior has managed to complete most of that training – yeppers, started at 13 months of age!!
He is still “rough around some of the edges,” but with the encouragement of the PAALS people – trainers and volunteers – I was given the confidence to take him home, complete his advanced training, and to add the really special tasks I need done! They believe in me, and believe that because of my experience with my beloved Emmy I can do this. YAY!
Warrior was fostered by two of the volunteer “pup fosters,” and “went to prison” for much of his basic training. PAALS has an arrangement with a prison in the general area. They teach likely inmates (carefully screened) to train puppies in the basics. This benefits the prisoners (lower recidivism rates, a salable skill after release), the prison (fewer incidents involving those in the dog training program), and PAALS (frees up trainers to mainly work on advanced training). You can read more about this at the PAALS website.
Himself and I trekked to Columbia SC (a 4-5 hour drive from us because of my need to stop and walk around from time to time) on July 21. We checked in at the InTown Suites near Columbiana Centre. Not the classiest address in town, but the “Price Is Right.” Then we went to the local grocery (we later discovered there was a much closer Publix) to stock up on kitchen needs. Back to the hotel, stow food in refrig, put away the supplies, then out to dinner. I honestly can’t remember where we ate, at this point – I think Denny’s – at least we ate there once that first week. The details begin to blur already!
Classes started the next day. I was a class of ONE! The trainer, Maureen, put me at ease immediately. She had a wonderful sense of humor, had lived with and worked extensively with Warrior in the 3 months before we got there, and knew all of the foibles to warn me about! (No, he isn’t perfect! But what dog or person is? Warrior has a major sense of humor – dog humor, that is – and it will get him into trouble from time to time!
We worked in about 15 minute bursts with an hour or so between. Dogs are like “wind-up” toys. They go and go and go – then just stop and take a nap! Dogs don’t sleep as much as cats, but they are in the running! Maureen corrected me and corrected me and corrected me – I need to be as perfect as possible when giving cues. Position the dog for success in such things as going through doors, getting on elevators, actually, doing nearly anything. The dog’s position is important. Don’t take any guff off the dog – he KNOWS what he’s supposed to do, but like most adolescents (think of him as like a 15 year old boy) constantly tests the limits. “Hmmm, can I get away with…” “Does she really, really mean it? Really, really?” “I don’t want to do that! You can’t make me!” “If I can do enough “behaviors,” in one batch, maybe I will earn a treat – even though she hasn’t ‘cued’ me!” (Not hardly, LOL!) Maureen helped me recognize when he was being “a teeeeenager,” and when he was uncertain about things. This is an important differential!
Finally, the 9 days of training were over. The last day was the Public Access Test. Although all PATs are very similar and include identical behavioral tests, every Service Dog team has different, important tasks that are included. For instance, our test included Warrior picking up my cane and pressing a large button on a special device to call 9-1-1 if I need it. Warrior had to demonstrate his ability to pick up 3 different objects and bring them to me. We found that rubbing pieces of Lamb Roll on a Paracord fob that was attached to various objects (my cellphone, a little wallet, my keys and my cane) helped Warrior “want” to pick up an object. Heh, heh, heh! I had to manage my scooter, my cane and Warrior all at the same time. We safely went through an automatic door, then went to a corner by a store. Warrior “proved” he could sit and “down.” Then, after I had told him to “stay” and moved 6 feet away, he “stayed” for 1 minute without moving. After an appropriate reunion which included a treat, I told him to stay again, then moved 15 feet away. He “stayed” for 1 minute without moving. Then we had another reunion!
Next, we walked through the cosmetic department of Belk’s and walked past an area of Misses’ clothing to the elevator. The elevator is very small, so only one tester and the vid person could ride with me. Warrior and I safely navigated entering the elevator, going up to the next floor, and navigated exiting safely. On exit from an elevator, I am going backward, and experience much pain when I turn my head to look back at where I’m going and looking at Warrior. But I managed it! Twice, on different elevators! We were so excited!
He picked up each object. Then we went to a counter. He took the wallet, raised his forefeet up onto a counter, dropped it into the hand of the clerk, then got off. We pretended I had purchased something. She placed the wallet into a plastic bag, folded it over and stapled it. Then Warrior went “up,” again, got the package from the clerk, got off and dropped it into my hand. We had a struggle with this, and it took about 12 tries. He may have been “feeding off” of my anxiety, so I took a deep breath “re-booted” his brain (had him sit and down and stand in sequence) then he did the whole thing perfectly! The fact that I didn’t “lose it” and kept my cool, and kept working with Warrior was the reason this didn’t count “against” me.
Next (GULP!!) we went to the Food Court of the mall. Those who know Labrador Retrievers, know that they are a “walking appetite!” I went to a table and had Warrior sit, then down. All the time, he had to focus only on me, and to NOT be attracted to any food put down on the floor. The testers went about dragging chairs, putting food down, dragging more chairs, dropping clipboards flat onto the floor, and other things to distract him. He did focus on me! Of course, I was shoveling treats down him everytime he looked at me, so he decided the treats were much “yummier” than any of the distractions! A child was brought over and stepped over him while he was lying down, and petted him below his cape while he focused on me, not on the child. This is very difficult, more difficult than you might understand.
We also demonstrated that Warrior would go “under a table. We had practiced both under tables and under benches, so he was quite willing to do it properly: go under a table and lie down. Good Boy!! (treat!)
Fifteen minutes 4-5 times a day is my training schedule with him. I have a list of cues to practice and a report form to send in on a weekly basis for the next 3-5 months. After that, I’ll report mainly if there are any problems that I might notice or anything I might have questions about. This not only ensures that I AM working him and teaching him, but that we are in good shape as a team. I will report on any outings during this initial time frame: grocery, shopping mall, doctor, friends, meetings, restaurants, etc.
PAALS wants us to be successful. They will do anything in their power to support us. So I am confident that eventually – in a year or so – Warrior will be “one of the greats!”
Also, I have a GoFundMe website in an attempt to pay off what we owe PAALS for Warrior. Clients pay 1/3 of the costs and expenses of puppy raising and training over a (nearly) two year period. This includes vet bills for regular visits, testing of hips, vaccinations, etc.; toys for stimulating problem-solving abilities (not a minor expense!); food for growing pup and grown dog; and some of the administrative expenses to keep PAALS running (VERY IMPORTANT!!).
More later! Please share this blog with others!