Thursday, December 08, 2005

Day 140

Well I took the big step today or rather this evening and "imposed" on what felt like just about everyone. Meaning my scooter got loaded in Linda's SUV and off to class we went. Goodness! What a difference it made for me. I made it all the way through both classes without having to stop. So much for me.

All the casual work with the scooter has really paid off because Sanity is very comfortable working beside it. We have all sorts of kinks to work out. Things like pace changes and even the heel command when it is for motion. I actually wonder just how much that command means when I am using the scooter. The problem is caused by a very noticeable pause between the time I actually depress the go lever and the time the scooter actually starts moving. I knew it was happening, just didn't realize how much of a lag there is until now. Not real sure just how I am going to deal with the problem. At least in my mind it really is a problem.

The other problem was speed. This little scooter has all sorts of convenience things going for it, however speed sure isn't one of them. I realized pretty darn fast that it is going to take a lot of practice on my part to be able to do slow, normal and fast and make the differences really different and at the same time have each speed be smooth and consistent.

All the while I was fiddling around trying to figure out how to do the pace changes and even more troublesome, the turns, Sanity was pretty much trotting right along beside the scooter with a rather bored look on her face. Scooter doesn't have a top speed that is fast enough to really engage her attention.

The other thing my playing around last summer and fall did was to make a big difference in how all the other dogs view a scooter. We did stays with everyone else and that meant I had to turn around in the middle of the ring and then back into heel position. Meanwhile, all the other handlers and their dogs had to wait for me to get in position. Not to mention the fact that both Sanity and the dog next to us had to hold their position while I slowly backed into place between them.

The entire process didn't cause a single dog to so much as blink. However, a couple of students quipped that I was not going to be a favorite exhibitor when the carefully patterned trained dogs got antsy when exposed to something outside the normal pattern. I laughed with everyone else, but I do have to wonder at just how much of a problem it is going to be.

In the second class, I was calling all the commands while dogs worked Utility level material. Not a single dog was bothered by my coming up behind them during the signal exercise and not a single dog so much as moved a paw when I moved in to do the examination during the moving stand exercise. I realize that it most probable isn't a fair test. After all, most of the dogs attending the classes spends at least some time here in either day care or for boarding. The end result of all my playing around and getting all the dogs to follow me as a pack last summer and fall is I have managed to create a group of dogs who view a person on a scooter as just another form of normal. Pretty neat, actually.

Problems to be solved: How to get in the best correction for stay breaking when using the scooter. How to time the heel command at the start. How to deal with about turns when the instructor or later the judge doesn't allow for scooter turning space. How to manage to do the pace changes smoothly. How to best handle the return to your dog command during the stays. And the recall. What to do with it? I solved that problem by parking the scooter and carefully standing just far enough way so as to leave room for Sanity to pass behind me when returning to heel position.

Because of the lag time between the time I leave her and the time I call her and all the stuff I have to do to get in position, Sanity is going to have to have a stay that is like the Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to steadiness. Just because she was steady last night is no reason for me to think she will be as steady once we get into a real ring situation. Just one more thing to work on. Need I say that I am already trying to think through how I am going to handle all the Open exercise and I guess I will not think too much about Utility just yet.

The real point to all this is that I know that by the time Sanity and I have worked out all the issues to make competition a reality in all three classes (Novice, Open and Utility) she will be a truly fantastic service dog.

Goodness this is a long one, but I need to add just one last thing. A couple of my students were both amused and surprised at how much I talked to Sanity as I was working out how I was going to do each turn, each pace change and each halt. I was telling her when I was going to back up and when I was going to stop and warning her of turns, that sort of thing. If I did something that didn't work out quite right, I talked to her about that as well. This conversation, at least as far as I am concerned, isn't a one sided affair. Sanity is learning how to hold up her end so that we are truly having a conversation rather than my doing a running monologue.

One of the advantages to this sort of conversation is that once you put a thought into words and actually utter those words it is much easier to repeat the action you are discussing. It is also easier to work the kinks out and not repeat a mistake. Besides which, it sure does wonders for the relationship between dog and human. The key? Soft, quiet conversational voice and actually talk rather than high pitched squeaks or low pitched grunt and growl sounds.

1 comment:

  1. I talk to the "kids" (both dogs and cats) all the time. It feels like they understand me, so I keep doing it. People sometimes look at me funny, having a running conversation with the dog as we walk down the sidewalk! :)