Day 2 with the Guide Dog puppy: Moving Fast

This entry is part 4 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

IMAG0246So yeah, lots of puppy posts. Not gonna apologize.

This one’s a little less “aww!” and a little more training-oriented. I’ve got to type fast, though, because I just put the pup down for a nap after a big afternoon!


Frankly, we’re bad at it. My theory’s pretty good, because this is my day job, but the cards are somewhat stacked against the execution.

The infant-bladder gives me about a 7-second warning that she needs to go, when she disengages from play or exploring or whatever. (And she’s the peeing-est puppy ever. She’s urinated 8 times since her last drink. Where does it all come from? Yes, I am aware of possible medical issues and will keep an eye on her, just in case.) That’s not much time to get boots and coat and leash on and get to her designated concrete toilet outside. Remember that “winter puppy syndrome”?

Even when I can predict and get her there, it’s cold out (about 30 degrees warmer than for her arrival! but still below freezing) and I can actually see her tighten up. Hard to pee and poop when you just want to curl up and shiver. So we’re getting both good and bad repetitions in.

Also, I’d been carrying her to and from the toilet, because her first day she was showing signs of paw pain and frozen paws are a real risk in sub-zero temps, especially for a puppy conditioned to 70 degrees. This is a good decision for her welfare, but it means she has no practical knowledge of how to get to her toilet.

To give her credit, when she feels that sudden urge, she tries to make it to an out-of-the-way, not-lived-or-played-in space, such as behind the bathroom door or back under the stairs. She doesn’t know how to head for the toilet, because she’s not walking there.

The good news is, the weather should continue to warm up over the weekend, peaking above freezing before next week’s drop again, so maybe she’ll soon learn how to find it. And the further good news is, she hasn’t had accidents anywhere but my house. I can live with that.


So far, Mindy’s handling everything better than I’d even ask.

She went with me to lunch today. I was meeting Alena, who would of course understand any distraction on my part or any accommodations needed for the dog and I was prepared to bail if she couldn’t handle it. But she needed a meal, too, and I want to establish right away that going places is normal and full of more opportunities than staying home.

Again, we don’t have a lot of behavior under our collective belt yet, so I was looking more to just classically condition that out-and-about is interesting and rewarding. But Mindy remembered our trip to the feed store yesterday, and she remembered what those clicks were for. The moment I got her out of the car with her leash and vest on, she plopped into a sit and focused hard on me. Remember, we don’t even have a cue for sit yet! She remembered this was an opportunity and she was ready.

We practiced some leash walking across the parking lot (clicks for being beside my left leg, nose forward) and entered the deli, and I realized I had planned poorly. I usually visit at off hours, but this was prime lunch hour and the place was packed. The line ran all the way to the door. Too much distraction for a newbie puppy? I glanced down at Mindy, and she was next to my left leg. Sitting. Staring. “Hello? We’re in a place and I’m wearing my leash and vest thing, and yesterday that meant if I put myself here you’d feed me. Hello? Are you paying attention?”

Let’s hear it for a high rate of reinforcement!

So we stayed in line. Mindy glued herself into position — not pressed to me like she was alarmed, but about 18″ out, glancing about but very much focused on holding her position. She had greeted someone in the parking lot, but once inside she was more intent on doing what had earned her kibbles yesterday. People in front of and behind us pointed her out and talked about her and even to her, but she quietly ignored them.

I’ve got to hand it to the breeding program, they’ve got some nice calm genetics in there. (Alena points out that my last puppy experience was Laev! and my perception might be skewed. And that might be true. But I still credit their selection.)

A few minutes later we reached the front of the line. Mindy sat next to me at the counter, receiving kibbles as I ordered. Then she greeted a couple of employees, with permission, and even kept her paws down mostly.

My table backed up to a wall, so I put Mindy between my chair and the corner. She sat immediately, still working the system she knew. I reinforced that a couple of times, but I really didn’t want her sitting beside the chair. I would have cued a down, but we don’t have that yet, either. So I gave her a cheese chew to help her relax in place without focusing on me. And yes, this is a big stretch from my normal focus-building!

After a bit of chewing, and given how intensely focused she’d been, it was a good bet she was getting tired. I picked up the remaining chew and stopped clicking the offered sits. Mindy kept sitting, looking at me, and then she slouched against an empty chair, using it to hold herself in the sit. Finally she slid down, and I clicked and treated.

This is pretty much what her face looked like the first time I clicked the down.

This is pretty much what her face looked like the first time I clicked the down.

Mind. Blown. “What?! But — but — but I thought sit was the magic behavior! You mean I can do other things?”

I clicked the down for a while, and then Mindy wanted to see the restaurant activity. She didn’t try to move away, just rotated to watch — putting herself in perfect position beneath my chair. Oh, yes, we can click and treat that, too.

Then she went to sleep, curled up against my foot under the table.

I wondered if I’m pushing too fast, but I don’t think I am. I’m not asking for anything more than Mindy’s offering, for one thing, and the moment she looks over-faced or I have to start managing to avoid bad behavior we’ll be outta there. She’s gotten a lot of compliments on her composure, so she’s not presenting a bad image to anyone. And I’m very aware that I have about three weeks of prime socialization period left to set these environments as “normal,” and there’s yet another big snowstorm rolling in next week which may limit the socialization we’ll be able to get then.

"You mean I can lie here and get treats for watching the people? Seriously?"

“You mean I can lie here and get treats for watching the people? Seriously?”

I want Mindy to think that outings are fun and full of reinforcement opportunities. It will be a lot less difficult to upgrade behaviors than to change a lack of enthusiasm. Already she thinks that going out in her vest is the bomb, and that can’t be wrong.

Behaviors & Cues

Yes, I actually do plan on getting some behaviors on cue!

She has a baby nose target to my hand. Sit and down will be next, and probably starting collar cues (move in the direction of light leash pressure). Her leash-walking is coming along in a hurry, but I’ve been clicking for position rather than for responding to a leash cue.

Obligatory Cuteness

Okay, the post isn’t all business. Fun factoid: she hiccups when she’s sleepy. 🙂

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About Laura VanArendonk Baugh CPDT-KA KPACTP

Laura was born at a very young age and started playing with animals immediately after. She never grew out of it, and it looks to be incurable. She is the author of the bestselling FIRED UP, FRANTIC, AND FREAKED OUT. She owns Canines In Action, Inc. in Indianapolis, speaks at workshops and seminars, and is also a Karen Pryor Academy faculty member.

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