8 months 2 weeks 3 days old
So today Knightley, husband and I had a short trip to our local big shopping centre. I just wanted to buy some socks, and have permission to take Knightley in, so we made it a training visit.
As I was about to cross the road to enter the building, for the second time now someone thought I was blind and was worried I was about to walk into some cars. I had Knightley in his vest so I guess they just assumed he was a guide dog. Assistance dogs here in Australia are still pretty few and far between compared to places like the US and Canada. Anyway, so we crossed the road after arranging to meet my husband inside (so I wouldn't have to walk in from the parking lot, even though I have a disabled parking pass, it would have meant a significantly longer walk). Knightley and I walked in nice and smoothly through the sliding doors. I know some dogs have problems with sliding doors, but when Knightley was a baby puppy I spent a lot of time hanging around some sliding doors near our small local shops, so he got really really used to them. Now he just doesn't seem to notice. So he walked through smoothly. I do notice though, when we change surfaces from outside to inside (eg concrete to polished floors or carpet), he sometimes tries to start pulling. I don't know why this is - maybe it's partly coming into an area with lots of interesting people. What I need to do is find some sliding doors with a surface change underfoot that aren't used very much, and go in and out and in and out, rewarding him when he sticks with me, and backing up if he tries to rush ahead.
Anyway, we got inside and there were quite a few people around, it being a Saturday morning. So I stuck to the outskirts and walked slowly around with him. As he settled down to his usual assistance dog plod we started to walk more in crowded areas. I stopped several times and asked for sits and the occasional eye contact. I also got him to hold my sunglasses several times, which he did nicely. We then went into the shop I wanted to go to, which is where the hubby joined me. He did sniff a bit at some clothes as we went past, which wasn't great. I think I may need to train a 'no sniff' cue, as he tends to be a 'nosey' dog. I found the socks I was looking for and hubby went to buy them so I could concentrate on Knightley. We did a nice smooth exit out of the shop and continued our slow walk around the area. He is great on polished floors, doesn't mind them one bit.
I do however have problems with him when people reach for his head (despite a no touch, in training patch on his vest). He will ignore touches on any part of his body except for his head. I tend to fairly sharply say 'leave it!' and that stops not only Knightley but also the people who were about to touch him. It isn't exactly tactful, but I am really talking to Knightley, and that is his cue! However, I need to get him to the point where the cue isn't needed and he won't respond to people reaching for him. It makes me really annoyed that people do it despite three patches saying no touching. Also kids that aren't under control of their parents, and who just come over and start touching him... that drives me mad too. Knightley is a young dog and just starting this type of training. He is certainly not un-distractable at this stage, and I wish parents would heed the patches on his vest because Knightley has a lot to learn still and having kids like that just doesn't help at all. I guess sometimes they figure that 'special' dogs are never going to hurt their children, and it won't hurt the dog to be patted by a child. Knightley isn't doing much for me now obviously, but over time I hope he will do more and more. Having him distracted will impact upon that work, and having him distracted now will mean he doesn't get the practice focusing in public like I want him to.
We then walked back to the car, through the shopping centre. He walked very nicely with his plod plod plod wag wag wag. It's nice when I see him in a reflection and can see how much he enjoys being out with me in public places by his general body language. Judging by how he is at this young age he is going to deal wonderfully well with the stress of public access work, although he isn't doing much at the moment obviously, compared to what I would see as ideal for our future together. Still, the reason a lot of assistance dogs don't make it to the end of their training is because they can't cope with public access stress, and Knightley just loves it at the moment. He is also the most bombproof dog I have ever seen, he's literally afraid of nothing. We took him through a carwash with us today and he just lay next to me panting gently eating the treats I offered. He was absolutely fine, not a moment of worry.
We continue our retrieve training. I'm getting him to hold things in public. A couple of days ago outside the shops we did some work with the dumbell. Just holds, with and without me. I'm not asking him to pick up anything yet as I am re-teaching it from the beginning, as you should whenever you significantly change a behaviour. He is doing good holds though. I am trying to get him to pick up my crutches at home - not entirely, but just raise one end so that I can snag it. However, he really is quite wary of them for some reason. I am focusing on nose bops for now, to get him used to touching the crutches, as well as some more standard classical conditioning (eg scattering food around the crutches, holding a crutch behind my back, bringing it into view and feeding him treats, hiding it away and the treats stop). He is certainly improving, but as soon as the crutches move suddenly he becomes a little more shy. I can't remember ever accidentally hitting him or putting one down on a foot or anything, so I am not sure why he is so wary. Anyway, I'll work at it.
I'm also getting him to pick up the handle of my handbag, and that is going a lot better than with the crutches. We do sometimes have problems as he stands on the handle strap and then finds he can only pick up it a few cm off the ground! I could shape him to pick it up elsewhere on the handle, near the bag itself, but then when he picked it up he would have to take quite a bit of weight of the handbag itself, which isn't good for a dog. So I'm not sure! We'll work at it. Maybe I can teach him not to stand on the handle strap.I'm also starting a wallet/purse retrieve, but we're starting with a nose bop. I'd like to actually use a cheapie replacement to train with so that Knightley doesn't ruin mine! I think his mouth is quite soft (he is a golden retriever, after all!) but I haven't actually tested it with an object. The classic test is with a raw egg, but if he breaks it he may decide he likes that test and break them deliberately if I try it again. He gets a raw egg 4-5 times a week afterall. I could do a boiled egg I guess, but there must be other ways to test how gentle his mouth is.
I am actually using him to pick up stuff for me as a reasonable matter of routine now. I am motioning with my feet to what I want him to pick up (assuming I didn't just drop it, in which case it's obvious to him). I'd like to start training a laser pointer retrieve, but that's certainly not going to be child's (or puppy's!) play. It would be very useful though, especially if I were in a wheelchair and couldn't use my feet.
So things are going well, except I am very very tired at the moment and sleeping very poorly. It's lovely to have the husband back here though, life is so much fuller and easier with company and a helper. Although I still miss not having Knightley on the bed!
Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment
For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!