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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Yes, he can.

Down to the wire, even after an extended deadline for submissions to the 11th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival (ADBC). This edition is being hosted by Frida Writes. If you don't have a clue what the ADBC is, visit the ADBC home page to find out, and to catch up on past carnivals.

This post is my submission for the 11th ADBC, the theme of which is Resources and Tools.

We settled at our place behind one of the long tables in the conference room at Leader Dogs for the Blind. Or rather, we tried to settle. My back and/or hip screamed at me in a knot for some unknown reason, and FLD Dutch was up to his new tricks.

I had placed his "mat" next to my chair on the right side, to give a bit of distance between Dutch and Cheri's petite Chocolate Lab puppy on my left, and asked him to settle. He slid into a down, and rested his chin on his front left paw.

For one second.

He popped up. I ignored him.

He lay back down, chin to the floor. I dropped a piece of kibble next to his snout, which he snarfed up like a great white shark.

He looked up at me. BARK! I flinched.

Quiet, I whispered. His head dropped. I waited. He looked back at me but put his head back down when a treat was not forthcoming.

I dropped a piece of kibble. SHARK ATTACK.

Pretty much it went like this for Dutch and me most of the morning--the first of three days of on-campus "Puppy Counselor Training" at Leader Dogs. It was a good thing I only fed him half of his breakfast.

I was part of a team of over 40 volunteer puppy counselors that act as liaisons between the 450 volunteer puppy raisers and Leader Dogs for the Blind. Our responsibilities are to assist the raisers in the training of their puppies and to organize monthly outings to practice specific skills.

This was our yearly training intensive to become better counselors. Deb Donnelly, the new Puppy Development Supervisor that Leader Dogs hired just over a year ago, is a Karen Pryor Academy certified clicker trainer, and she brings the same positive reinforcement techniques to her people training. Deb had asked us for specific issues that she could address during our three days. I was ready--I couldn't get Dutch to settle and suspected that my reinforcement timing was off.

After lunch another counselor, who happened to be puppy-less, offered to take Dutch. My back needed the break.

Dutch played his same tricks with her as I watched from across the room.

A golden retriever puppy in a blue vest is lying on a brown carpet behind a black chair and a white table, looking up at a red-haired woman who is holding his leash. She is wearing an orange and yellow print shirt with black pants.
FLD Dutch looks up for a reward.
Now the golden retriever is lying down facing the camera, with his nose to the floor. In this picture you can see two other women sitting behind Dutch's handler.
Here Dutch has turned around and is in his typical "settle" position--just before he vocalizes...

At last, Dutch was about to become the class demo. Deb talked to us about products to help calm anxious puppies. Thundershirts. Rescue Remedy. Lavender oils. As she spoke she nonchalantly meandered over to Dutch and lightly spritzed lavender over his back. He leapt up, snorting, and jumped away from his mat. He cautiously sniffed the mat, but backed up to the end of his leash.

Eventually, he slid down. Not on the mat.

Deb moved a chair to the center of the room and asked to take Dutch. She picked up his mat, walked him to the chair and sat down. She never said a word to him, just held his leash and placed the mat next to her chair. She continued her lecture.

Meanwhile, Dutch barked and whined and pulled and sat down, lied down, jumped up, and walked from one end of his leash to the other. Deb continued to calmly hold the other end of his leash, ignoring him, but very aware of his antics.

At one point, Dutch seemed to "give it up" and lied down on his mat. Shortly after, Deb dropped a bit of kibble near his belly, so he had to curl around to get it. He looked up at her, but she was focused on the rest of us.

He fussed. She ignored.

He lied down again. She waited. As she reached behind to her treat bag, Dutch's head whipped up in anticipation. She drew her hand away and held it open to show him there was nothing there. He dropped his head to the floor.

The 7-month-old golder retriever puppy, in a blue vest, is lying on a mat on brown carpet, looking up and back at a woman seated in a chair. She is dressed in blue jeans and a blue shirt. She is holding his leash with her right hand, and reaching toward the dog with her left hand. Her head is bent down looking at the dog.
FLD Dutch anticipates the treat from Deb.

She waited. He sighed. Another piece of kibble dropped out of the sky between his belly and his rear legs. He shifted position. She waited and eventually rewarded in the same manner. Finally, Dutch rolled over onto his side and fell asleep.

FLD Dutch has rolled over onto his side and is gazing across the room at me. Deb is relaxed and explaining lots of great things to us.

Deb only used about four treats during the entire session. "Of course, he is very tired," she said. Without saying a word about my behavior, Deb made it obvious that a couple of things I did, and didn't do, contributed to Dutch's superstitious bark and the difficulty in adding duration to his settle.

By the end of the second day of counselor training, more than one person asked me if I had a new puppy. Dutch was a different dog, no doubt. And I was learning to wait for the reward-able moment, and to place the reward where it would encourage the behavior I wanted.

I am grateful to have Deb as a resource, not only for guiding the training of my Future Leader Dog, but also when I need help in advising the puppy raisers in my group. Thank you Deb, for all you do!


  1. What a great post! I'm often guilty of over-treating, thanks for the reminder to slow down and let the dog make the right decision :)

    1. Thanks Kelly, and thanks for stopping by!

  2. I'm glad you had a chance to post. I was at the fabric store yesterday and was more mindful after reading this when I rewarded my dog for "leave it" yesterday--doing so not right after he's touched something and left it--but when he's continuing to leave everything alone for a bit.

    Even when standing up/walking, they can relax into the needed behavior instead of being a little high strung.

  3. Thanks, Frida! I'm so glad I was able to post too. There is always so much to learn.