Teddy's public debut focused mainly on getting in and getting out of locations and situations rather quickly. We stayed just long enough to expose Teddy to a new situation, make it fun, and then we're outta there.
Today, we worked on settle-in-and-relax scenarios. The life of a service dog is varied – there are times when they're in and out of places lickety-split, and there are other times when they're in it for the long haul — they might as well get comfortable.
Teddy debuted today at the Frederick Chamber's lunch event with former Governor Robert Ehrlich. This was a good opportunity for Teddy for several reasons:
- Many of the attendees are service-dog-savvy. Talos did a great job of breaking them in so they'd know what to expect when a woman with a young dog walks into the room. Friendly, but not exuberant greetings are the norm with most of the Chamber folks. They make for excellent and knowledgeable distractors!
- I could leave if Teddy wasn't ready for the situation or if he became unruly.
- The luncheon would require that Teddy be still for a considerable period of time. We've worked on this skill at home – it was time to measure our progress in the real world.
- There would be manageable distractions. Lunch being served! Delicious, hot lunches! Again, if Teddy couldn't manage, I could very easily leave.
- New sounds, surfaces, people to experience. Applause, carpet, draping table cloths, microphones, hustle and bustle, noisy crowds.
- Lastly, this was a "quiet" event. Quiet meaning Teddy needed to settle in, relax, and take a nap.
I went well armed: clicker and treats were at the ready! Teddy's loose leash walking skills leave a lot to be desired, but we practices stopping and starting every time the leash got tight. He's still a young dog, he has self control issues – his desire is to jump and say Hi to people, but he's starting to try to maintain his decorum and restrain himself from putting paws on people. It takes a lot of work on his part, but with lots of practice, it's becoming less of an impulse and more under control.
Applause was a little startling to him. He sat bolt upright and looked curiously around the room. He didn't appear frightened, but the noise took him by surprise. After realizing that, I had my treats ready and they magically appeared immediately after any applause started. He ate the treats greedily, which means he wasn't particularly stressed.
It's important that potentially scary things (and applause can definitely be scary) be paired with very good things from the outset. By the end of the luncheon, we'd paired applause with treats appearing out of thin air about 15 times. He's beginning to look forward to applause now!
Teddy responded perfectly to his down cue (the word "down") in the midst of a crowd of people. He also took it upon himself to curl up under my chair when he really settled in. The service dogs will be taught a "go in" cue which means: tuck yourself under the table or chair and chill until I tell you otherwise. It's basically a "you're off the clock, but don't go anywhere" message. We haven't started teaching that to Teddy yet, so I was doubly pleased to see him make that choice of his own accord today. Especially when there were so many delicious smells and interesting things to check out.
He got a chance to meet Bob Ehrlich (a dog lover) and many other people today. He didn't jump or put his paws on anyone – that's an accomplishment.
One thing people don't think about very often – Teddy also had his first experience accompanying me into the ladies room. Service dogs need to learn to accompany their person everywhere. Public restrooms are one of those things that a dog needs to be introduced to early on in his training. They're small little cubes with panels that make voices sound echo-y and loud. They obscure 90% of the person in the neighboring stall — except the feet! Of course, most dogs want to duck their head under the stall to see who those feet belong to. It's a bit disconcerting to be on the other side of the stall, minding your own business, and have a dog head suddenly join you in your stall! So not only do the dogs need to get used to going into the stalls, but they have to get very good at minding their own business when they're in there!
Both of Teddy's outings have been good experiences for both of us. He's a smart little guy who seems to enjoy this new life in public.