I attended a day-long conference on social media last week and Ike, service pup in-training, went with me.
This was the third New Media and Technology conference put on by the Frederick Chamber, and this was also the third year a service dog in-training attended.
Public outings like this are priceless for service dogs in training. There are lots of people, different noises [microphones screeching and popping], different surfaces [carpet, shiny linoleum tiles], and lots of laying around doing nothing.
Doing nothing might sound easy, but it's pretty hard for an 8-month old dog who's never really had to do that before. It takes practice, believe it or not.
Often, trainers work the dogs in a training session, then let them go do whatever they'd like: play, sleep, hang out with us. Rarely do they need to just lay still in one spot for any length of time. We changed rooms after each session, which meant Ike had to get up, move about 100 feet to the next room, then lay back down and settle again for the next hour. After the first two sessions, Ike got the hang of it and conked out pretty quickly.
Another new experience for Ike: applause. This isn't something most dogs accept right away. Imagine for a moment that you're in a room with 100 dogs. Without warning, they all start barking, for seemingly no reason. You'd be pretty startled, right? I think that's the way dogs experience our clapping in appreciation for a good speaker.
Ike's dead-out asleep, minding his own business when, without warning, the entire room erupts into thunderous applause. It's enough to un-nerve even the calmest of dogs (which Ike definitely isn't). I'll bet it's not fun to wake up from a nap that way!
To help turn something potentially scary (and annoying) into something fun and enjoyable, I simply gave Ike a handful of treats the same time the clapping started. By the end of the day, the clapping would start, Ike would wake up, and look to me for treats. Perfect!
For you social media peeps: If you're on Twitter, search #FredNMT3 to see all the chatter that went on at the conference. Lots of good stuff if you're into social media. I'm there, just look for me @smartdogu and see if you can find out why wearing heels that day wasn't a good choice for me…