Friday, September 14, 2007

The Spice of Life

I brought Belle with me to the golf tournament on Monday. Although she had been to one once before, it was over a year ago. She did wonderfully on the "whole", but I also witnessed some behaviors that surprised me - and that we will need to work on.

Long Drop/Stay: Belle normally does this cue very well. During class at the Training Center, she manages this cue despite the distractions of other dogs and other people. At home, she stays in place when I leave the office to go downstairs. At the golf course, however, staying with the cart when I went to take my shot made her miserable. She got up, she whined, she tried to follow, and horrors, once or twice she even barked. I guess we need to work on this cue in a wider variety of places.

Greetings: This is my ongoing nightmare as Belle's trainer. People would see her and walk right up to her, ignoring her pack. My focus was often on someone else at the time and the first I would know of the approach was Belle's tug on the leash. Even after I explained that she was working - many had a tough time keeping their hands off of her - and she wasn't helping either. I was in a bit of a dilemma - I could not be as firm as I would normally be as my primary role for the day was as ambassador. Still, Belle and I need to continue to work on this most troublesome of cues. She so loves people, it is difficult for her to maintain her focus on me in situations when others approach and my focus is elsewhere.

Get it: The tournament format was best ball. All four members of a team take their shots from the same place. The next shot is then taken from the best of the four shots, and so on until the team holes out. This often meant that I would have to pick up my ball from where it landed. I thought that retrieving my ball would be a good opportunity for Belle to practice get it, bring it, and give. The trouble came with her thinking I wanted her to pick up every ball, whether I gave her a cue or not. As a consequence, we ended up practicing leave it also.

Heel: The course rules require the use of a cart. Belle felt more comfortable walking/trotting next to the cart rather than sitting next to me in the cart. Thus, I pretended the cart was a "scooter" and had her at heel while I moved the cart from place to place. At times, she was perfect. At other times, particularly when she saw the other carts ahead of us, she wanted to "catch-up" to them. Again, this seems like a focus issue primarily. If she's truly focused on me and my needs, I would expect that she would ignore the other carts.

The neat part was I was the only one that really seemed to notice that Belle was not behaving as I would like. To the other golfers and guests - particularly at dinner - she was a model service dog in training. But the day really seemed to zoom in on what Belle and I must accomplish together if she is to graduate in nine short months. Belle needs more practice on attention in places with a variety of distractions to become the well seasoned pro she will need to be to be a Helping Paws Service Dog.

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