How easily I forgot how much work a novice pup needs. Today's first public outing with Teddy brought me back to reality quickly – young dogs need a lot of work! Lots of fun experiences, lots of learning needs to take place to help a young dog learn how to walk calmly, sit politely for petting, and
how to "take it all in" without getting flustered, scared, or flighty.
Today was a perfect starter day for Teddy. I had lots of errands, but all of them would be quick, in-and-out. None of my errands were imperative – if Teddy's behavior fell to pieces it was very easy for us to leave. I had some high-value treats with me, as well as some of his regular dog food.
Because he'd be earning quite a bit of his food on this jaunt, I fed Teddy only half his breakfast. No need to get him good and full before we left – you don't need a pup who's got to go to the bathroom and then wants to take a nap when you're out for the morning running errands!
Our first stop: The UPS Store, where I had to drop some packages off. Teddy looked positively thrilled to be out and about. A customer inside the store was very happy to see us, but didn't reach over to pet him, thankfully. Teddy's experiences up to this point have been quite misleading – everyone he's come into contact has been overjoyed to see him and he's gotten very warm receptions. Teddy now believes that everyone – even in public – is going to pet him.
Service dogs need to learn to be invisible, inconspicuous – they're supposed to blend in. This one's going to be a hard lesson for Teddy to learn. He wants to stand out! He wants to jump! He wants to pull! He wants to be petted! Blending in isn't on his list of things to do…yet.
With the help of the very cooperative customer in the UPS Store, Teddy got his first lesson in being inconspicuous. The woman spoke very fondly of Teddy to me, but didn't come near him, which allowed me to redirect Teddy's attention to me. He's a smart bugger, he catches on pretty quickly and gave up on soliciting attention pretty quickly when he learned he could work with me and earn bits of his breakfast instead.
Second stop: Walmart. Walmart can be overwhelming, even to people. It's big, it's bright, and there's a lot going on. Teddy alternated between pulling ahead and lagging behind. He was quick to investigate any spot on the floor, hoping it might be a piece of food. I kept up a good, quick pace though, reinforcing him for catching up to me and pretty soon he was keeping up just fine. He sat nicely in line while I paid for my purchases – he's got patience!
Third stop: Post Office. We practiced waiting before going through doors here. I'd noticed he'd started flying through any open door and that's neither safe nor polite. After making sure there wasn't anyone on either side of the door waiting to come through, we spent a few minutes on "wait" and "at ease."
Last stop: Tractor Supply. What an interesting place if you're a dog! All kinds of different smells — dog food, cat food, horse feed and treats, bird seed, leather…it must be intoxicating! Teddy was very curious – eyes moving all the time, nose on the ground (we'll work on that), and eager to see and meet new people.
You never know what you're going to get the first time you take a young service dog in-training into public. It never goes perfectly, but it's not supposed to. Young dogs need to learn, they need to see, they need to do. Think of all the new things Teddy experienced today:
- shopping carts banging and rolling
- bright lights
- shiny, slippery floors
- smells, all the funny (and probably delicious) smells!
- the new sounds: cash registers, public address systems, cars starting
- loud trucks revving their engine
- concentrating on me while there are so many other things to see and do!
Teddy had a great first day out. I'm planning another fun day on Thursday for him that will introduce him to sitting quietly for a period of time. Service dogs need to be able to go, go, go like we did today, and they also need to learn to relax quietly when needed as well. It's fun to watch the dogs learn new things and experience the real world for the first time.