The past month has come with some changes in Rocket’s routine. For a week in April we did a dog exchange in our class. Rocket went to stay at another foster home (thanks Linda!) and I brought Miss Becca home. It was quite interesting working with another dog. Becca is definitely wired differently than Rocket. While she was very happy to come home with me and settled in quite well, I did notice that it took her a few days to respond well to me when we practiced our homework. It was as though she needed to know she could trust me before she was really willing to work in a focused way. But once that began to happen, she became very responsive and fun to train. There was a TV special on PBS in April called Through a Dog’s Eyes that featured a service dog organization from Georgia. It documented the process of matching service dogs with their partners, and I could also see in this show how important the human-dog bond was for a partnership to work. I’ve been told that Helping Paws essentially allows the dog to choose the person – that they won’t force a dog to work with someone they don’t want to – and I appreciate that very much. I want to know Rocket is going to be happy when he goes to his new home. Oh, yes, I know – he’s only a year old and we have months and months of training ahead of us, but after sending him away for a week, it has been on my mind a bit more.
I’ve also been wondering a lot lately about who Rocket might eventually be matched with and hoping and praying that that process will go smoothly. Right now Rocket is very attached to me – I’ve found in the past with my own dogs that training them strengthens the relationship, and in Rocket’s case this has also been true. He is such an exceptionally sweet dog; I believe that, just as mentioned in the TV show, almost more important than the physical assistance he will be able to provide someone is the capacity he will have to love that person. And yes, it is going to be difficult for me to say good-bye, but I also think I will be heartbroken if for some reason he is not able to fulfill the purpose for which he was bred.
A week after Rocket came home he went in to have his neutering surgery. Dr. Reierson from Elm Creek Animal Hospital graciously offered to donate the surgery, and everything went well. Rocket had to wear an e-collar for several days afterward because he wouldn’t leave the incision alone, and he hated it at first. But then he discovered it was kind of fun to push Risa around with it, and he actually didn’t mind at all having it put on by the time he was done with it.
Here are two more video clips. I took the first to show how he is coming along with his light switch skills, and in the next he is practicing the Really Reliable Recall. Rocket’s recall is beginning to look really awesome. This has come with months and months of practice. Want to know the secret to training a reliable recall? Here’s how we’re doing it. First, I don’t use his special recall cue unless I am very, very certain he is going to respond when I call him. For instance, if he is out in the yard and is extremely distracted by something (say, a rabbit), that is not a time I would ask him to come. Secondly, when he does come running to me, I have a big handful of his favorite treats, and when he gets to me we have a 20-second party; he is allowed to chow down on the food and gets lots of praise and petting. In fact, in class when we practice this we are timed to make sure it is a full 20 seconds. He gets this big celebration EVERY time I call him. And it is working. That’s a big feeling of accomplishment for me, and we’re going to keep up the practice I’m sure.
Funny – it’s about bedtime, and Rocket keeps going into the bedroom to bring me things – shoes, a hanger – I think he’s trying to tell me he’s tired. So I’ll quit for now.
And here’s his recall: