Yikes! – I had the best of intentions to keep this blog updated, but life has gotten in the way. And when it comes down to a choice of whether to spend time updating the blog or actually training Rocket, the latter has to win out. We’re continuing to work on lots of skills, and now that Rocket is in Big Dog class, he and I are going to lots of new public places to train. Even though Rocket is learning a lot, I also find I am developing a better understanding of what it is like to have to navigate as a person with a physical disability out in public. One of the frustrations I have encountered on a frequent basis is door switches placed in inconvenient places, covered up by displays so as to make them almost impossible to find, and even broken or poorly functioning switches. At the library we sometimes visit, they have a garbage can right next to the door switch – it is always a challenge to get Rocket to focus on hitting the door switch instead of diving headfirst into the trash. This very same switch has been very hard for him to activate, and even if I try to hit it with my hand it doesn’t work well. If someone without a service dog were to try to activate the switch who has limited hand strength or function, I can see how it might be difficult to get out the door without help. So I have taken it upon myself to become somewhat of an advocate. At this particular library, I went to the counter and inquired (nicely, I hope) who was responsible for the upkeep of the door switches and asked if the switch could be repaired. The librarian was very pleasant and agreed to forward my concern on, but so far I haven’t seen it get fixed. I’ll have to be more persistent, I guess. At least the libraries have door switches.
Changing the subject completely: It is a temptation to only write about the successes and not the issues we go through in the training process. Well, Rocket has had a significant issue from the very beginning, and that is rubbing his face and Gentle Leader on the floor or on me when we are out in public and he is in a situation where he is in close contact with other people. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Gentle Leader, it is a wonderful tool that gives a person super control over the dog; essentially it is a head harness, based on the principle that if you can control where the head of the dog goes, you control the rest of him. They are NOT a muzzle (can you tell I’ve been asked that question before?), and are not uncomfortable for the dog if fitted properly. Rocket can wear his Gentle Leader without any problem in most situations; however, when I take him to church, where there are a lot of people, or other stimulating environments he seems to resort to this, and it has been difficult to train him out of it. It is as if he is so excited to see other people that he just doesn’t know what to do with himself, and so this is an outlet for his excitement At least that’s my current theory. At any rate, our teacher, Nancy, has given us the option of trying to wean him off of use of the Gentle Leader by using a limited slip collar instead. While the Gentle Leader is a wonderful tool, it is, unfortunately, sometimes difficult for people with limited hand function to put on the dogs, so it would be a good thing if he could learn to work without it anyway. I agreed to give it a try, and we have been working without it sometimes out in public. The problem is that without it on, Rocket can easily get to the floor with his nose to sniff, and he acts like a vacuum cleaner, with me having to use all my strength to pull him away from whatever it is he is sniffing. Obviously not the best way to handle the situation. It certainly has pointed out that we have a great deal of work ahead of us with the “Leave It” cue, and in some ways it is like going back to kindergarten. We are making progress, though.
Well, here’s Rocket working on the door switches at the local post office – isn’t he getting to be a handsome boy?