You really would be amazed to know about how many outings, socializations, and adventures us service dogs go on each month. We have to be exposed to lots of people, environments, noises, surfaces, etc. so that we are confident to work in public. My puppy raiser Becca loves to take me everywhere she goes which includes little things like errands or finding new adventures like taking me to the firehouse this month! In addition to working, as a young Labrador, it is also important that I get plenty of exercise. This usually means going for numerous long walks a week, playing with toys in the house, playing ball in the yard, and finding new trails to explore. Becca and I have been on the hunt lately for new trails to explore because it allows us both to get exercise, I walk on various terrains, and you never know what type of people, bicycles, or other dogs you might pass. Sometimes we go to the reservoir, various parks nearby, the school campus, or walk a few miles outside of the neighborhood. The best thing about the reservoir besides the water obviously (I am a lab after all) is that it is SO big there are so many different entrances and trails to check out.
Back to the beginning of June…we had some special visitors stay at the house: Becca’s grandparents! I really like when they come visit because its more people that can give me love and affection. Becca’s grandfather even walked me in the neighborhood a few times and I was quite gentle. It is good for other people to handle me while Becca is with us even though I have mommy-itis. While they were in town we took a trip to Towson Town Mall. I walked on carpet, slippery tiles, went up the stairs, walked across the glass tiles, went into Nordstrom, Anthropologie and had to settle in the dressing room, settled under a booth at Stoney River Streakhouse and Grill, walked around Pottery Barn and rode on the glass elevator! I even watched another service dog walk by while I was in a store.
I got some real life practice with “step” this month because my puppy raiser fractured a bone in her foot, had to wear a boot, and it was pretty sore. When we got to graduate school I practiced taking one step at a time while she used me to brace, and I hit all the handicap buttons – the buttons are super skinny so sometimes it takes me more than 1 try, but I always get it!
Normally I am not able to attend the preschool where my puppy raiser teaches, but on certain days I do get to join her. The teachers had 2 days of prep before summer camp starts, one of which they had to sit through a meeting. Before getting down to work I got to run around and explore the playground. They have this squishy flooring on the playground and faux grass that I ran on. I even went up on the climber and in a little house. I got to take my vest off and sniff around the classroom and chew my bone while Becca and a few other teachers helped get her room ready for summer. Several teachers had to clean out the shed on the playground that was full of teacher supplies. We went out so Becca could take a look and I did a few more laps and even laid in a puddle that collected from the rain on top of the sandbox cover. Then the best thing – I saw tiny humans on the other side of our playground! Faculty kids were at school that day while their parents worked and I licked many of their hands through the fence. I even got to see a few of the really little kids in the hallway.
This month I also went to go see the Megan Leavey movie! I went back to the school campus before hand and chased my tennis ball on the enclosed baseball field so that I would be ready for a nap in the theater. The movie was so good…at least that’s what mom tells me. I am kind of a movie pro by now so I did a nice job ignoring the popcorn on the ground and stayed settled on my “place” the whole movie. There was dog barking and growling, explosion noises and lots of other loud noises, and of course there was mom getting emotional. The noises never bothered me, in fact I took a nap for part of it, and also checked in with mom by putting my head against her leg.
As I am sure many folks have noticed, this month it has been HOT out. A girl needs to cool off somehow, especially when you’ve got fur like mine, so we got the kiddie pool out and my puppy raiser sits with me while I splash around and relax in it. I also found some water on a trip to Home Depot. We had to pick up seeds for Becca’s students to plant in little pots. While walking around the garden area it was like mist was appearing out of nowhere! I think we need to get one of these magic machines to keep at the house this summer…
Becca and I walked on 2 new trails this month. While we couldn’t go as far as we normally would because of the whole fractured foot thing, I found water on the first trail within 5 minutes of being there. Quite honestly, I could’ve spent the whole time in there fetching sticks on my long line. I met 3 very friendly dogs as we entered the trail but only briefly said hello. When I came back to the trail on another day, not only was there a huge tree that had fallen across the trail we had to go through, but a dog was off leash. Becca being the protective puppy raiser that she is saw this dog trotting up to me, so we sat off on the side and did “look” and “watch”. When the owners called their dog and he did not listen Becca blocked me with her body because we had no clue whether this dog was friendly or not. She asked the owners to please grab their dog, as I am a service dog, and was frustrated that they ignored the 2 very clear leash law signs at the start. I barely reacted to the dog and we went on our way!
My human grandma, puppy raiser, and I also explored the new nature pavilion on campus. It is a beautiful space tucked down a driveway located right near the ropes course. We checked out the pavilion, and I went on top of several platforms that are part of the ropes course. I quickly found out that if I stood at one end, the platform went down, and when I walked back to the other, the same thing happened!
Towards the end of June I took a very special trip to the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire House! Becca called and asked if I could come visit and so some socialization and training, so HD Maggie and HD Honor came with us. When we got there we met Knap, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Olive, a black lab. Knap did the whole tour with us and it was great practice for me to remember I’m working and stay focused on Becca even with other dogs around.
We had an awesome volunteer fire fighter, Albert, show us around and he let us see so many different things! We got to go in the ambulance, check out the truck that goes to mass casualty accidents, go in the fire truck, “hup” and “paws up” on so many surfaces, we climbed rubber stairs and checked out where the firefighters sleep, went through the lounge, kitchen, and watched 2 trucks take a birthday party of kids for a quick ride, noises and all. Nothing phased me, in fact I was so focused on Becca sometimes that she couldn’t get me to look at certain things. Albert took us to where all the gear is kept, got himself dressed, and interacted with us pups. Then we went outside and heard the oxygen tank and all the different beeps that go off if a firefighter is down, we went in a school bus they use for practice drills, and even walked on the grate leading into a trailer. That grate was the 1 thing I wasn’t sure of. Becca was patient in waiting me out and got a tummy treat out – then I decided it wasn’t so scary. She had me do it several times until I wasn’t even phased. I walked on many different surfaces and textures, and climbed several different stairs, both in the station and on the various trucks.
What an awesome socialization that was for us given that we have to be confident in all scenarios and across surfaces in order to be great service dogs. Hopefully I will never have to ride in an ambulance with a veteran but you never know what could happen.
Another new socialization I had was going to the podiatrist! Apparently that is a human foot doctor. A paw doctor sounds like someone who would just rub my paws all day, but apparently thats not what the human kind does. I had to settle in the waiting room and the exam room while waiting for the doctor. I was tucked back next to the big chair and stayed settled for the majority of the appointment. I watched intently as Becca’s foot got checked out and while she had to stick her foot in some squishy stuff to get orthotics made. I was a good pup so afterwards we had a quick walk on another new trail!
Last but not least, for graduate school one week we had to go towards downtown Baltimore to the main Loyola campus for class. I sat through a presentation by a teacher in another school and was on my best behavior because the associate dead of Loyola’s School of Education was sitting in as well. After the presentation, myself, Becca, her 2 classmates, and professor took a nice walk across campus to check out a new room in their library with a cool interactive board. One classmate even tested it out by writing “Clara is the smartest grad dog at Loyola!” She is so right! Honestly the hardest part of this outing was the several squirrels that ran in front of me – I am a dog, not a robot after all!
Thursday night classes at Hero Dogs are still on of my favorite days of the week because I get to work, see my friends (especially HD Ruby), and my favorite HD people. I usually get to play with HD York, HD Maggie, HD Honor, and sometimes HD Boomer and HD Stella at the big field before class. We have been working a lot on the tasks of the Canine Good Citizen test and I think I am doing awesome with it! We also practiced ignoring distractions like bagels or pizza by weaving in and out of them in the training room, playing “leap frog” with the other dogs, we practiced “hup” and “off” in all the puppy raisers cars. We do so much in class and learn lots that I always sleep the whole car ride home!
I have some exciting things coming up in July so be sure to check back next month and follow me on my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Raising-Clara-Hero-Dog-in-Training-1669777589950790/