Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trooper's electrifying day

Trooper with granddaughter Alice and granddog Ginny. They and their family came to an early Christmas dinner yesterday evening, and after everyone had stopped dashing like banshees around the condo and settled down, a bonding experience was had by all.

Yesterday was my first visit to a doctor’s office with Trooper in tow.

It was to my dermatologist for an annual full-body skin scan. The doc was not at all perturbed by the service dog’s presence in the examination room nor by my quick-shift handling of his leash as she swooped around me, probing and prodding my epidermis. Trooper just lay quietly by the exam table, quite ungalvanized by the sight of his master standing stark naked on the vinyl floor.

He was, however, charged with plenty of static electricity by the nylon carpet in the medical center’s waiting room. Poor dog. It was a cold day, and his shaggy fur must have harbored watts and volts and amps by the hundreds, and whenever I tried to give him a treat he recoiled as if I’d proffered him a hand grenade. Not until we got outside and were both grounded would he take the treats.

Same thing happens in our condo when temperatures in the dry air outside fall below freezing. During our training exercises I have to drop the treats on the floor rather than hand them to him.

Trooper, by the way, scored 100 per cent in the day’s exercises. Three times he jumped up on me, then led me to the source (Debby) calling my name, three times he jumped up on me and led me to the ringing phone in my office, and three times he jumped up and led me to the door knock. Of course we are still giving him treats every step of the way, and soon we will reduce their frequency until he doesn’t expect them any more, just showers of praise.

Troop has developed one bad habit. He has been hoovering up anything edible he sees on the floor, in particular a slice of Christmas ham that got away from me in the carving. He may be a highly trained assistance dog, but he is a dog, and dogs always go for the main chance if they think they can get away with it. I emailed Laura, his trainer at Dogs for the Deaf in Oregon, and asked what to do. She replied:

“Having him practice ‘leave it’ is the best thing to avoid scavenging. He has done this extensively with me and should transfer to you easily with practice. Start by having a treat in a closed fist, with Trooper knowing you have it. As soon as he is not mugging your hand he gets the treat by you opening your fist and letting him have it.  

“Repeat this exercise and incorporate the command ‘leave it.’  Also, when he is on leash, you can place some food on the floor. Walk past the treat and encourage him to ‘leave it’ with another treat in your hand. He gets a reward for looking away and not taking the treat. It Is good to have him on leash so you can help him stay away from a treat on the floor if necessary. The more practice with this, you will eventually be able to say ‘leave it’ and he will respond by leaving it.”

On our walk last evening he lunged for something unidentifiable but no doubt awful in the grass, and I said "Leave it!” sharply. He left it. 

Good boy. Both of us.

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