Sunday, June 19, 2011

A food motivated dog is a piece o'cake

Puppy kindergarten

Our little boy has started school ~sniff~. They grow up so fast, don't they?  One minute you're inhaling puppy breath like it's snickerdoodle scented or something and then [blink] next thing you know, the dog is asking for a lift to Petsmart so he can meet up with that cute golden-doodle he met in puppy class.

People remark on how well-behaved Yaxley behaves in public. Well, the dog is kinda with me all the time, so he's bound to get some attitude adjustment during the day. So when we head off for some structured obedience training, I have a talk with the trainer at Petsmart just to give her a heads up.

I brief her on CCI's command words and let her know we have the basics covered - Sit, Down, Bed, Heel, Come when called - but it would help to reinforce these in a distracting environment. Like, say, around hyper puppies who may not have the upper advantage of hanging with their person all day, every day.

Vulcan mind meld thing going on
with Food Lady
So she wants to see if Yax can test out of basic obedience and start directly into the intermediate class. As I step aside, she puts Yaxley in a Sit and walks a circle around him. She drops a dog treat onto the floor, but he doesn't break eye contact with her. Another dog treat, then another, bounces off his paw. The two of them have some kind of Vulcan mind meld thing going on.  Yax doesn't move.  She grabs a handful of tennis balls and bounces them one by one past him. The thought bubble over his head is "what's a guy gotta do around here to get a dog biscuit, anyway?" And there's a slobber string that's now touching the floor.

Ok, she says.  Let's try something else.  She tells me to walk Yaxley through the store, in Heel position, while she walks ahead of us.  Then she's flinging dog treats on the floor -- as we're walking past the cat adoption section. So can you picture this: there's kibble pinging off the vinyl flooring in front and cats all fuzzed up and flipping out and Yaxley is doing his thing.  Perfect.

We go back to the training room.  And she says, "what is it you want to work on again?" Um, basics with distractions?

Yeah, so we may need to kick things up a notch for the next class.

Why focus is so important

Because Yaxley is training to be an assistance dog, he needs to be focused on his handler. What is it you want me to do next, Food Lady?  An assistance dog will go anywhere his human partner wants to go, which would, of course, include restaurants. I'll be up front about it and admit that my pet dog in a restaurant would only result in an embarrassing event that may or may not involve the authorities.

Not so with the CCI pup, though. These fuzzies are not pampered with people food or fed from the dinner table. You know that first rule of dogdom - "if it hits the floor it's mine."?  CCI pups have to waive that rule. The new rule is "it's yours when you're told it is."

I realize that can sound a little harsh, maybe not the way you would treat the dog that you love so much.  But let's think this through for a minute. So number one, the dog is not starving by any means. Instead he's certainly well fed, well loved and (Bonus!) well behaved.  And the pup does get treats; lots of them actually. But each one is earned. No gimmies. A good Sit with eye contact is sometimes all that's being asked.

And - this is the important part -a person going into a restaurant needs their assistance dog to focus on what's going on.  Not what's yummy on the floor.  Hoovering the carpet all the way to the table is not a desirable thing here.

It's too late for Jager; way too late. Too much street dog in his history to do anything about his nasty little habit of food stealing. So he's banished from the kitchen when I'm cooking up dinner. Not because I'm witchy mean in the evenings, but because I've tripped over the goober dog while he's right there mentally willing stuff to drop from the counter.

The Yax man, however, is comfortable on the kitchen floor. Just watching and happy to be hanging with me. Pretty darn good for a little guy, I think.

Jager attended the school of hard knocks.

These aren't dog biscuits.
They're my puppy rocket blasters! POW POW

Sunday, June 5, 2011

CCI Summer Camp

CCI Summer Camp - June 2011

I have a deep respect for the Boy Scouts of America program. I've seen for myself how this organization, with the guidance of committed parents, can transform a seemingly goofy kid into a young man with leadership skills.

For a boy to advance among the BSA ranks, he's required to earn a number of merit badges. By the time he's working on Eagle, the highest rank, he'll have completed at least 21 merit badges. He'll have focused on life skills, survival techniques, and have been introduced to several vocational choices. This is the stuff he needs to not only get by in the world, but to excel. Be head and shoulders above others.
It's really a good idea for the scout to go to a BSA summer camp to earn merit badges. Even a weekend camp will have specialized merit badge counselors offering opportunities to work on things that just aren't available at home.  

So with this in mind, we set off to CCI summer camp with little Yaxley in tow. 

YaxleyI don't wanna go to camp! I just wanna stay home and chew on Jager.
Me:   You'll love it. Really.
Yaxley: (whining)   I won't know anyone there.
Me:   That's the point, kiddo. You'll make new friends. Got your stuff packed?
Yaxley:   aww
Me:   Criminy kid. Enuf already. Just get in the car.

Well, that brought back memories.  Except for the chewing on Jager part.

And like at every BSA summer camp where you have that one kid running rings around the campfire with a stick on fire, Yaxley was determined to show us how much we still have to teach him.

Our CCI camp counselors, Mary Beth and Jenny, set up an obstacle course for the pups. The intention is to introduce the pups to new experiences. It's all about working towards that been-there-done-that mental state they need as assistance dogs.

Our first station was at the tires. The point was to simply walk through and move on. Yax had some trouble getting his head around this one.  A little gentle coaxing with a dog biscuit from co-puppy raiser and then me putting down the camera and stuffing his body into the first tire was all it took. Once sitting inside the tire, he realized it was not indeed a Pit of Doom and found a reasonable comfort level. Ok then, let's move on to the ladder station.

This went much better now that Yax knew a dog biscuit would be involved. He stepped in, looked to see that, yup, there's a treat in hand over there, then moved along.

Check out that look of concentration he has in the second shot. Furrowed brow, tongue pressed between lips, and tail up for balance. He's all over this one.
Now for the weird surface of the wading pool. No problems here. We also want the pup to be able to perform a Sit and Down on these new surfaces. Which Yax did do, but I can't post the photo of the Down since he took the opportunity to roll onto his back to look like some kind of furry dead lizard baking in the sun.


Almost done. Now for the crate surface. A walk across, with another Sit and Down. A pro, he is. Well done, yellow dog.

Ok, so CCI doesn't really give out merit badges at summer camp. And that's ok, I think, since it would just end up being something else to finger swipe out of a puppy maw. Instead Mary Beth had a much better reward for achieving all the accomplishments this morning.

The pups had a chance earlier in the day to meet a pony, duck and a rather ticked off rooster. Now time to meet the milk goat. 

Manna from heaven, ambrosia from the sky. Fresh goat milk comin' at ya.  Just a couple of squirts to get the idea of the thing, then Yax closes his eyes to fully enjoy the experience.
Got goat?
Yaxley tells me now that summer camp is great!  He wants to go again next month.  Not a problem, kid.  I think we will.
Aww, I don't wanna go home
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