My Service Dog, Jade

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beaming With Pride

Handi-Dogs, Inc. was featured on KGUN 9 Morning Blend...here's the vid!


Today both my girl and I are just beaming with pride! Today Jade and I moved into the Precertification stage of training and both of us couldn't be happier! I almost can't believe how well she's done and the changes I see in her are just amazing! She has come SO far! Today was our last actual day of class, and from here on out, it's only field training, out in public.  We've been doing field training for some time 
between classes, and Jade goes everywhere out in public with me. So it's nothing new to her, but as soon as the field trainer feels she is ready to take the exam, we will.  Then she'll be a Certified Service Dog.

When we first started training, and even up until about 3 or 4 weeks ago, Jade had a big issue with loud noises and strange noises; she would set her tail between her legs (all the way to her tummy), tremble and head for the nearest exit.  It was frustrating, and unusual for a Lab, but we worked through it, and we made it.  The trainer kept on pushing us on this, me becoming frustrated and Jade becoming nervous and plain old, freaked out! It would be so hard to calm her down after "noise" sessions and I'd have to take her outside for a break to get her back to reality....most times even after the break, I just couldn't get her to refocus and perform any longer until we left training. 

"Noise" sessions consisted of the trainer, and volunteers making noise.  It would start lightly, then get louder and more frequent.  Jade would freak out, the tail would tuck, she'd start trembling and heading for the door, and I would become frustrated and discouraged.  The trainer would take out the whistle and blow it, drop pans, clipboards, and such on the floor, clap their hands, turn on the vacuum cleaner, get out the robotic remote-controlled toys (little dogs that bark, Santas that sing, and the like), and just make a ruckus.  Not all at once, of course; but it didn't matter, Jade just couldn't handle it, and I was sure we'd never get passed it.  Sometimes, I'd have to take her outside, and let her walk around and sniff a little, giving her a break; I'd stand there looking at her thinking, "We're never gonna make it...she'll never be a service dog...," and I'd find myself getting upset with the trainer, and thinking, "Why does she have to keep deliberately trying to freak my dog out!?" But I knew the trainer was just trying to make Jade "bomb proof," and I was just frustrated and discouraged.  What made it worse was that none of the other dogs ever seemed to be bothered by the noises.  

We practiced these "noise" sessions in class, and I practiced them at home, dropping pots and pans, slamming doors, etc.  In the last few weeks, I could see Jade improving during these sessions.  She was no longer tucking her tail and heading for the door, and no longer trembling.  She was still visibly anxious, but it was more of an excited kind of anxious.  Her tail would be wagging, and she would be tolerating the noise, and I'd be feeding her treats constantly, but she still couldn't perform once it was over.  I couldn't even get her to do a down/stay, or even a sit/stay, but she was improving, and I felt hopeful again.  

Well, today, she impressed EVERYONE, including the trainer, and volunteers! I was so proud of her, I almost busted into tears! The trainer started doing the "noise" session, getting the remote-controlled toys out and the like, and Jade was a CHAMP! She didn't only tolerate the noise makers, but she was able to look at them, and even "target" them! 

I guess I should tell you how we got passed the noise issue.  Of course, we practiced making noise and desensitizing her.  The trainer would make the noise, and I would feed her treats and tell her what a good girl she is; but it was something the trainer taught me that helped us move passed this.  We learned the "look at" game.  "Target" was something we learned at the beginning. The "look at" game, as the trainer explained, helped Jade start to feel differently about loud noises, and helped her "change her perspective" about loud noise.  I would put Jade in a sit and as the noise would happen, I would tell Jade "look at it" and she turns her head to look.  When she looks, she gets a treat.  Learning "look at it" changed the way she feels about noise.  Don't ask me why, I'm no dog psychologist, but by God, it worked! "Target" is when a dog walks up to an object or person and touches it with her nose.  I can basically point to anything and say "touch" or "target" and she will walk up and touch it with her nose. This also helps her feel differently about scary things, like the vacuum cleaner, for example.  

So today, the trainer dropped the metal bowl on the floor (the training room, I should mention, is a huge, fairly empty room, that echoes loudly), and I told Jade to "look at it," and she did, and she got a treat.  Then I told her to "touch it" and she did.  She wasn't upset at all! No tucking, no trembling, no heading for the door, and she was able to perform like a champ after the noise session, with no problems at all! I almost cried. She stood there watching me, tail low and wagging, completely relaxed, with a smile on her face, waiting for the next command.  The volunteers were clapping, as was the trainer, and I was seriously tearing up.  You have no idea how frustrating it is to try and get your dog over her fears.  Maybe you do, but if you do, try the "look at it" game, it's a godsend! I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing.  I say almost, because I know how hard we worked.

We also practiced separation, which she also had a bit of an issue with in the past.  Jade and I just don't do well apart, but in order to pass this test, she has to be separated from me, with someone else holding her leash for 3 minutes.  No barking allowed, no whining, no panting, no trembling or otherwise anxious behavior allowed.  Let me tell you, the first time we practiced this in class, I could hear Jade, from the next room, doing this strange kind of whine/bark and pulling on the end of the leash trying to get to me.  Today, I gave the trainer the leash, and walked away.  I heard silence.  When I returned to the room, Jade was sitting quietly, waiting for my return.  Wow! Mind you, this was AFTER the noise session!!! I'm astounded!!! This trainer knows her stuff!

I know some of my readers have made comments about Jade's little episodes when she runs into another dog, so if you all are reading...this paragraph is for YOU! We practiced that today too, since it was the last day.  We practiced walking her close by other dogs, walking side by side with other dogs, and sitting closely in a little circle with other dogs, and Jade was a CHAMP once again! I told her to "look at the dog," and she looked, then she looked at me, and got her treat! NO PROBLEMS!!!! I will also add, that Jade met another dog at the park the other day, and made a friend.  The dog sniffed her, she sniffed the dog, then gave an appropriate "let's play" bow and sniffed some more! Again, I'm astounded! However, I know now that this issue was mine, not Jade's.  If you have trouble with your dog getting reactive while meeting another dog on a leash, pay very close attention to what YOU are thinking and feeling, because mark my words, your dog is feeling it too! If you're nervous, which I was, your dog will become nervous and protective, thinking that she has to protect you because something is wrong. I learned this, and Jade is fine now.  

I know this is a long post, but I hope it's helpful, and I can't help but be so proud of my girl and how far she's come! She really amazes me sometimes.  

We practice other things too, like "go get the phone," "take me to the door," for when I get anxious while out somewhere, prolonged down/stay, with me walking away and out of sight, and prolonged "leave it" while food is thrown nearby.  She did everything perfectly! 

Then, Jade was given her pretty, new, red vest, and we proudly put it on. The trainer and I talked a bit after class, and she told me how proud of Jade and I she is, because she knows how hard we've worked.  We also talked a bit about my possibly volunteering to help others train their dogs for service. It's a thought, but I'm not sure yet.  I'll decide when Jade and I are all finished.  One thing's for sure though, I will certainly miss going to classes with Jade, and seeing the trainer and volunteers there.  There's just something about those people! And....how can you not just love watching these dogs grow and learn?  Such an amazing thing to experience! 

"I did it, Mom!"
3 months cute!

Wading in the river.

What a beauty!

Anyone up for a swim?

Moving forward!

The definition of relaxation, with a smile!

She LOVES that little stuffed dragon!

"Can I lay on the couch too?"

Proud little digger at 3 months!