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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Beyond Basics"

It is our last night of "Beyond Basics" puppy-class at the Leader Dogs for the Blind school.  FLD Mike completed the "Foundations" class in January, thanks to my sister Anne and Company, who completed the sessions for me when I couldn't make it.


It's hard to believe three more months have zipped by--FLD Mike is now nine-months-old!  Only three more months until we return him to Leader Dogs for his formal training.  Although Mike has a more relaxed "working pace" than my first puppy (career-changed Rosie), I still wonder how he'll do.  Like all puppy-raisers, I hope for the best.

Tonight's class takes us outside to practice practical situations:  stairs, crosswalks, roadside traffic.  But first we begin with a challenge.  We are separated into groups; FLD Mike is paired with a 10-month-old male German Shepherd (GS).  We take our jacketed-puppies on leash into play areas to work on "name recognition," using treats to reinforce their focus.

Then, our instructor announces:  "Okay raisers, remove your puppies' jackets and leashes.  Let them play!"

This is highly unusual; our puppies have never been allowed to play together in class.  FLD Mike doesn't question my OK release--he immediately dashes over to the GS and rears up into a wrestling embrace.

"Raisers," the instructor yells above the chaos, "call your puppies!"  Our instructions are to call our puppy by name, followed by the "come" command.  If our puppy ignores us, we are not to repeat either the command or the name--we are to go and get our puppy and bring him back to where we called him.  Release and repeat, although if our puppy does not "come" the first time, we must drop that command and call by name only.

FLD Mike ignores my first Mike. Come.  I drag him off the GS and get him to follow me to the other side of the pen.  Now his focus returns to me and he sits.  I ask for a DOWN instead, so I can give him a treat.  He complies.  Good boy!  OK!  He tears back to continue wrestling.

Mike!  I leave off the "come" command as instructed.  Mike ignores me.  I go get him.  I make him SIT or DOWN.  He is attentive; I release him; he streaks off.  We do this more than a few times.  Once or twice I am sure Mike hears me because he tries, but fails, to break away from the GS to race over for his treat.  Another time, Mike follows the GS to his puppy-raiser instead, expecting a treat from her.  I go and get him again.

After this fun and instructive exercise (we all have a long way to go to achieve a reliable "come"), we puppy-raisers struggle to regain our puppies' focus for our next task--crosswalks.

...to be continued

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