Clicker Expo and After

This entry is part 12 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

What a week! Mindy and I traveled to Clicker Expo in Norfolk, Virginia, and because I didn’t want to fly her, we drove. It wasn’t a bad drive, about 12 hours, and I broke it up into two days with a bit of hiking each way.

“Not a Real Service Dog”

On the way down, we had our first access trouble ever, when Mindy and I were ejected from a hotel after we were checked in due to her not being a “real service dog.”

Now on one level that’s legitimate, because she’s not functioning as a service dog for me and in many states businesses are not obligated to treat service dogs in training as service dogs. But I had been completely honest about the fact that she was only in training, and the time to make the decision that you don’t want a service dog in training is before you check us in, not after. (Also, I had to point out as I checked in that I did have a dog, because she was lying so quietly beside the desk that no one noticed her, so it clearly wasn’t because she was being disruptive or destructive. As near as I can tell, the night manager found out we were there and decided we couldn’t stay.)

at the Seven Days Battles Malvern Hill civil war battlefieldI called corporate from the parking lot, asking them to find us a replacement room. They obliged, and I rather suspect that manager will be re-educated in dealing with service dogs and customers. (To be fair, I’ve had nothing but welcome from other hotels in the same chain. This was just one grumpy person.)

The next day, we stopped at a Civil War battlefield for a short educational hike (and she practiced some stays while I photographed), and then we drove on to Clicker Expo. black lab puppy in service cape lying beside civil war cannon

Clicker Expo

Clicker Expo was great as usual, very social (I got to visit with a number of trainer friends and meet several in person whom I’d known only virtually before) and very educational. I particularly enjoyed Jesús Rosales-Ruíz’ talk on extinction and resurgence, for example.

I had four sessions myself, which I was pretty excited about: Behavior Chains (parts 1 and 2), a hands-on Behavior Chains lab, and Corrections in Clicker Training. (Thank you for the very kind feedback!)

Mindy kept me hopping! She accompanied me part of the time, but she isn’t ready to face that kind of environment for long periods yet, and anyway I didn’t want to be distracted by her while I was speaking myself, so I had to keep running back between sessions to take her out for toilet breaks and walks. She did pretty well overall, though she lost some ground in polite greetings and elevator rides as she discovered that everyone wanted in on the friendly puppy. (Sometimes even trainers need training! but she’ll recover soon.)

Fun fact: Once again, I had the #2 spot in the Toss Your Cookies charity contest. Always a bridesmaid…

Travels With Mindy

Traveling always points out any holes in training and allows for a lot of generalization. Mindy and I had a lot of travel time together in the car and hotels, and we learned a few things.

First, I was surprised to observe that her request to go outside to toilet is not based on the door, but on the bed!

My bedroom at home has French doors that open outside opposite the door into the room itself. (Why yes, I did design this house for owning dogs!) Early on we encouraged Mindy to sit at the door when she needed to go out. A few weeks later, the door hardware broke, permanently locking the door, and we had to order parts. So Mindy would still sit at the door, but we’d then take her out the front.

Mindy the black lab puppy sits in a hotel room corner, where a door would be relative to the bed in the bedroom at home

“Normally, there’s a door somewhere around this spot.”

And then in our hotel room, when Mindy needed to go outside, she went not to the hotel room door, but to where the French doors would be in relation to the bed, which is the largest and most salient object besides the door itself.

And this is why generalization of cues is so important! We’re never certain until we test what the key components are to the dog.

We stopped on the way home at the New River Gorge for some hiking. This was the first time Mindy has gone hiking, I think, and not just on a paved park road. She did quite well, even though I chose some rough terrain which we found covered in inches-deep leaf litter which made it tricky. It was great practice for “easy,” meaning to slow down! as she quickly realized that meant she’d need to watch her footing for the next bit.

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We very much enjoyed our hike, which got limbs stretched and lungs filled after days of sitting quietly in hotel rooms and lectures. But some of Mindy’s greatest entertainment came the night before, during our last hotel night. The puppy was really tired of being good all the time! and the rooms beside us were occupied, so the squeaker toys were out.

I thought back to traveling with 8-week-old Laev, when I’d filled the tub with a couple of inches of water and floated kibbles for her to play with and eat. Great socialization experience in a tub, great exploratory play, great way to occupy a bored puppy! I didn’t have a tub here, as we were in a handicapped-accessible room with a roll-in shower, and Mindy’s much bigger and might make more of a mess. But I noticed an ice machine across the hall….

I poured a bucket of ice into the shower and told her to go at it. I didn’t catch her best antics on camera, but she quite enjoyed herself.

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black lab puppy chasing ice cubes in shower stallMost importantly, she was quiet! and this combination of physical and mental play took the edge off so she could relax until our planned hike the next morning. And it was easy clean-up, as there were drains in both shower and bathroom floor. (And of course I didn’t leave any dog hair or other mess after!)

By the way, this was the same chain we’d stopped at before, where we’d been ejected. I knew it was just a freak manager.

Our first day home, last Wednesday, Mindy spent nearly the entire day playing outside. She’d been very, very good for the most part, but a whole week of good is a long time for a puppy. She earned that day of play!

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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