Mindy: She’s Back!

This entry is part 24 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

So, this is awkward.

You may have followed the adventures of Mindy as she prepared to serve as a Guide Dog for the Blind, and her return to the GDB campus in early March. Then I stopped updating, at first because I was waiting for news and then because I had news and I was waiting for an outcome.

Apparently she was doing well, acing pretty much all the weird stuff they threw at her — all that socialization and practice paid off! — but then there was some sort of weird episode. It was observed and reported by a single volunteer, and not any of the training staff, so without any disrespect intended to the volunteer, I just don’t have all the details I want. But it put Mindy’s career in jeopardy. There are obviously very high standards which must be maintained when placing a dog in literal life-or-death service work. Continue reading

Recall Roundup

This entry is part 22 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

Black Labrador Mindy in her green service vest beside an enormous prickly pear

Last November — yes, I’m more than a little behind on posting — Mindy took a trip with me down to my aunt’s ranch in Texas. I knew this would be an exciting trip for her for a variety of reasons, not least of which that the ranch is a seriously cool place for puppies to explore, with lizards, snakes, rabbits, deer, boar, turkeys, and many other things. (Some of these are fun to watch or even chase; some should be explored by sniffing their tracks only.)

The ranch is big, but not so big that a dog couldn’t find her way off it and get into local trouble. I would never have allowed Laev off-leash even for a moment there, if I’d ever taken her; Laev would have tangled with a rattlesnake and then chased a rabbit or deer straight off into a neighboring sheep ranch. There’s a ranch gate on the road which for years has been decorated with the hanging bodies of the latest coyotes or dogs which had been shot while hunting or harassing their stock. Continue reading

Training & Gaming at Gen Con

This entry is part 19 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

Mindy joined me at Gen Con this year. Because you can’t buy that kind of socialization experience. What is Gen Con, you may ask? Well, “Gen Con, LLC produces the largest consumer hobby, fantasy, science fiction and adventure game convention in North America. Gen Con, The Best Four Days In Gaming!™”

(Actually, I think it’s the world’s largest?)

A girl in a wheelchair is accompanied by a Golden Retriever wearing a service vest and carrying a plushed terrier on his back, dressed as Sir Didymus from the film Labyrinth.

Mindy wasn’t the only service dog at Gen Con. Here’s an assistance dog appearing as Sir Didymus (from Labyrinth).

It’s a gaming (and SFF, miniatures, film, etc.) convention which takes over much of Indianapolis each year. I posted on Facebook that Mindy wasn’t impressed by the 60,000 people, but that was an exaggeration; this year’s actual count was 56, 614 attendees. But of course, most of those people came more than one day, so turnstile attendance was 184,699. The con runs five days, but Mindy attended only three, including the two busiest. And she was a rock star. Rock star, I tell you. Continue reading

The Training Game and What It Teaches: The Rat Is Always Right

Many clicker trainers are familiar with what is almost universally known by the ridiculously simple name of The Training Game. It’s a shaping game played among humans, and most often a learner is sent from the room while the group determines a (physically and socially safe) behavior to shape, and then a trainer shapes the learner with the clicker to perform the chosen behavior.

There are a number of variations on this game, many useful. The trainer (and observers) can learn a great deal by doing this! and it’s a great way to test various training concepts and approaches. There is a variation I have not used in nearly a decade, however, with good reason: It broke the learner.

Continue reading

Fireworks Without the Freak-Out

This entry is part 18 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training
Fireworks on the beach on the Fourth of July. ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it was the Fourth of July this past weekend, Independence Day, with all the challenges that brings for pets and their people.

I was traveling with Mindy, the guide dog in training, and we did fireworks. With flying colors (terrible pun intended). Continue reading

Puppy’s First Tornado – Preparedness for Pets

This entry is part 7 of 7 in the series Storm Watch
Tornado warning

Tornado warning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring came very late to Indiana this year, and I got complacent. With a lot fewer spring storms, I didn’t prep for tornados like I should have. So when the warning sirens went off a few minutes ago and I saw that a tornado had been sighted, I was unprepared.

This is dumb. If you’re lucky, you get up to half an hour of tornado warning, if it’s considerate enough to touch down at a distance and with an observable and predictable path. The average warning time with today’s radar equipment is about 13 minutes, according to NOAA. But you might have just a few minutes, if that.

So I’m writing this post from my basement, waiting for the tornado to pass (it seems to be heading north of us) and making plans to improve my storm preparations. Continue reading

Puppy Goes Hiking

This entry is part 17 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training

Just a fun post of a day out with Mindy!

We went hiking at Turkey Run State Park. Mindy wore her Gentle Leader, which we don’t generally use but which she’s supposed to be desensitized to, just in case it’s ever needed in the future. I figured the best way to desensitize her is to put it on just before something really fascinating and fun, so this is her second walk/hike with it. She’s already used to it, because who can fuss about a (properly-fitted) Gentle Leader when we’ve got a whole woods to explore? Continue reading

Toronto Training – a service dog in training hits the road

This entry is part 15 of 25 in the series Service Dog Training
English: Panorama of Toronto. Français : Image...

Panorama of Toronto. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I just made a short trip to Toronto with Mindy the Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy, and she was amazing. So if you don’t want to hear puppy bragging, you might want to move on — but if you want to hear about new challenges and how we met them (and how we used previous training to better handle these new situations), keep reading. Continue reading