I’m encouraged. Our guide dog puppy in training is now five months old, a little older than the last one was at this point in the regimen, but she has retained her docile temperament. Try imagining a kid who is teething yet never gets cranky about it. Spice lost a baby tooth a few days ago. She walked over to me, gently deposited the bloody little item into my palm, and went calmly back to her bed.
Mary has been taking her around town, exposing her to an increasing variety of places, people, sounds and smells. In addition to normal walks, she’s been to different restaurants, to church, and to various stores and shops. She also attends a book club with Mary, though she usually isn’t impressed by their conversation and tends to sleep through it. These experiences are part of the socialization training. The dogs learn that when they are on the move with their human handler, they must be calm, alert and focused. That may require a lot of energy depending on traffic density and how many potential distractions are present. When their person sits still, the dog may nap, so they learn to drop off quickly, and to wake up as soon as their person starts moving.
Whenever I had an important exam in college, I spent hours before the test engaged in rituals to calm myself to better ensure success. Though I do study before tests, I have always had a lot of anxiety taking them. Routines help dissipate that tension so I can think clearly. Yesterday was Spice’s big test. This was the point in guide dog school where the previous pup flunked and was taken away from us for retraining. This time I was better prepared.
Just like people, if Spice is hungry or has to go to the bathroom she can get distracted from behaving properly. I’m not worried about her objecting to being handled by others. She’s cheerful and accepting, no matter who she’s working for. I concentrated on preventing other potential problems. It’s important that guide dogs not eliminate when wearing their work jackets. If a puppy poops during the evaluation, it’s a serious misstep. Spice tends to go every 5-7 hours. Her appointment was at 1:40pm, so we started our morning an hour earlier than usual, relieving at 6am to guarantee she would go again before the test.
When she’s clean, Spice smells good, and people unconsciously want to be near her. That enhances her charisma, hence a better score on the test, so we took her to the “Laundro-Mutt” for a bath. She has learned not to shake when she gets wet. That makes bathing her easier, and it comes in handy on rainy days. She’s confident we will be there to dry her off.
We met the regional training supervisor for the evaluation in a parking lot a few blocks from our regular classroom. The trainer tried exciting Spice, then creating distractions to see if she would break focus. She stayed focused on us instead of the other dog. The trainer performed a layover, pulling her down on her side via her collar. Spice complied without physical or verbal objection. That’s the best result you can get. The trainer remarked that she was “especially sweet”. I bit my tongue and refrained from saying “I knew that”. Then we went to class.
(It’s Paka’s first time in class.)
In class we did a variety of distraction exercises, and practiced “stay” and “come”, using each dog as a source of diversion. Each dog in turn went down the line near the others. If the dogs stayed focused, they got praised and were given a treat. We now have a tiny three month-old in class named Paka (“Pah-kuh”). The new routines are hardest for her, but she’s watching the older dogs with interest.
It was a very satisfying day. After putting Spice to bed, I celebrated with a hearty game of full-contact trivia with my Mom and her mates at a local club. Our team won second place!