The story of a boy living with Type 1 and his family's journey to raise and train a diabetic alert dog.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Training at School

Last week, I started what will be a regular training routine at school. I woke at 5 am to get ready for work and then took Bo for 30 minutes of exercise before taking him to school to train. Given Austin is at his grandparent's summer camp Monday thru Thursday, I am training with Bo weekly Monday-Wednesday and Austin is joining us on Friday.

School Training Session II - July 9, 2013

We arrived to the school at the front entrance and we were greeted by a member of the custodial staff. Bo was wearing his Freedom Harness and his service dog vest. I had both ends of his his Freedom Harness leash clipped to the front of his harness. He barked at the custodian who opened the doors for him and I gave the command to leave it. He was interested and focused on the man, so I tried a firm 'enough' command to no avail. It was clear that Bo was too distracted to respond to a one word command, so I tried redirecting his behavior by asking him to do a series of commands. I used a piece of kibble to lure his attention to me before having him 'sit' go 'down' and then 'wait' -- while I dropped a treat in front of him. This exercise worked in the moment of following each command but once he completed each task asked of him, he began barking again at the custodian. (Note: The custodian had good intentions but he was making direct eye contact with Bo and attempting to speak to him, rather than simply ignoring him.) I asked the custodian to walk ahead of me (he had to unlock the library where we were to hold our session) and I followed at a distance with Bo. With the distance Bo did stop barking and he did focus on walking with me.

When we got to the library I weaved between desks and chairs to practice 'behind me.' I then sat at a desk and put Bo in a down stay. He was good for about 5 mins and then he got up. I put him back down and he didn't like it. He barked at me a lot and didn't respond to my firm 'enough'. He got up and barked and he started mouthing the tongue of my sneakers. Then when I moved my hands to my sneaker tongue, he mouthed my hand. I tried redirection. He didn't work. He barked more. I tried ignoring and he still was barking. He was not liking being bored. He wanted to explore the library. All this happened in the matter of a minute or two. At our last training session with Helen at school, she said we would need to help Bo learn that part of his job as a service dog involves being bored. For this reason, a portion of each session at school involves me or Austin sitting at a desk or table and having Bo in a down stay doing nothing. It's our hope that we will see progress in Bo's ability to settle in a down stay by our side without breaking his down, barking, whining or doing any other activity that is not conducive to being in a public space as a service dog.

School Training Session III - July 10, 2013

After consulting with Helen on Bo's second training session and his sassy behavior, I took her advice to add lounge whip play into his pre-training exercise session. So, on Wednesday July 10, I walked the school track with him on a long leash and made brief stops to let him chase a squeaky toy at the end of his lounge whip. He showed signs of being more fatigued after this session than he had been the prior day. (Note: Helen introduced the lounge whip to us when Bo was just a young puppy. It still is one of his favorite play activities and it never fails to expend a lot of his energy in a short amount of time.)

Bo showed progress in his willingness to stay settled by my side as I sat at a table quietly. Eventually, he settled without barking but it took work on both of our parts. I rewarded him for his work and then change the focus of our work to walking 'behind me' as I weaved between tables and chairs. After a few passes between chairs and tables, I sat at a computer station and had him go down, while I pretended to use the keyboard. He didn't bark at all in this extended down stay. Progress.

I reserved the last 7 minutes of the session for scent training. I hid a scent sample in a scent stick and then hid the stick and gave Bo the 'find it' command. He got very excited to play this game. I would first give him the 'sit' or 'down' command followed by the 'wait' command, then I would hide the stick. Once I hid it out of his sight, I gave him the command to find it. I think this was his favorite part of the session.

We work really hard with Bo and we invest a significant amount of time, energy and money in his training. It's work that requires patience and dedication. Despite all the work we do, Bo is not perfect. There are times when he doesn't respond to our command immediately and even times when he doesn't respond at all. As you can see from the training sessions I described above, he is not perfect and our training sessions are not perfect. However, it's not perfection we strive for but rather progress.

Training Session IV - July 11, 2013

When Austin worked Bo at school on Friday, Bo showed excellent progress in his willingness to settle by his side in a down stay. Austin timed the spaces between Bo's food reward for staying settled. He treated Bo once after five minutes and another time after six minutes. These two videos are from the fourth training session at school with Austin handling Bo. 

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