Now that Kenai’s at his 1st birthday, his training has picked up again. We’ve been slacking, yes. Partly because he’s not at his best, trying to stabilize his growth because of pancreatic insufficiency. Partly also because I’m not at my best, trying to stabilize my own health. But in Jan 09, he will have a service harness ordered, so it’s time to start gearing up.
The first part of Kenai’s training was basic obedience, ie sit/down/wait/stay, learning to follow commands in all sorts of environments. In many ways he’s done very well despite the fact that I haven’t been able to socialize him nearly as well as a healthy person could have. In other ways, he’s found it hard to concentrate and relax in exciting places. He’s still a youngster, and I’m hoping that tendency to excite goes away as he matures.
This is his second phase of training, adjusting to a harness as a primary means of control and communication between us. He has to pay more attention now to where my body is and what it’s doing. He’s been taught the concept of bracing, counterbalancing, the step and wait, pull/no pull, and had shopping bags carried while holding his collar. He’s accepted it all very well, so I’m hopeful as we begin part two!
The third phase of Kenai’s training won’t begin until he’s done growing, and has been neutered, at 18-24 months. Then he will be taught weight bearing tasks like carrying a backpack, and preventing my falls with his body. For now though, he won’t be bracing me with any substantial weight, or carrying anything heavy.
Preparing for the harness:
Kenai, 51 weeks
Our first real training outing in several months began good, at least! I put a tracking harness under his vest since it has much the same configuration as most service harnesses, and it had a handle. We warmed up in a parking lot, walking with my hand on the harness, and using it to go through our walking paces (go left, go right, stop, slow). He did very well!
Next we went to the post office. The noises behind the p.o. box wall spooked him. He would walk around with me if I insisted, but he has nervous, even a little scared. Oy. I coaxed a little curiosity out of him by playing with the boxes, so he could tell that a person was making the noises, and the human voices seemed to reassure him a little. He pulled quite a bit, but I didn’t use the gentle leader, as that seems to make him insecure when he’s nervous.
He did better when we went up to the counter to say hello, and he did a very nice sit while I said good morning and explained that we were training to the employees. He was glad to leave. Noises will again be something I need to get him used to. Since he likes being outside, we walked around the grounds of the post office, still practicing our walk, then I took the equipment off and let him wander and sniff.
Next it was the grocery store. He was still very jumpy. He just couldn’t relax, even as we did nothing but walk around. I wound up putting the gentle leader on as the pulling increased. He didn’t even want attention as people came up to him out at the car again. His vest was off, but he just wanted in the car. So unlike him. So we called it a day.
It seems our main preparation for harness work is going to be getting him back in the swing of real working outings. Noises and movement need to be our focus while we wait for the harness to arrive. (Long down stays and exposure to places). His first training phase needs some reinforcement. Not surprising, since he’s been “off training” so much while his health was a major issue. Public obedience practice never really ends for service dogs, especially while they’re young.
Today’s outing was much more positive. We walked all over the Braum’s parking lot, using the same tracking harness and vest combo. He’s wonderfully responsive to the harness, easily heeling with only it as an indication of which way I would move next. That was so encouraging!
He was definitely alert, noticing cars and people, scanning for the barking dog etc, and “the nose” kept wanting to follow scents. So there was a certain amount of excitement in his energy. When I bring my chest up to stand taller I can feel him instantly change: weight shifting, mild uncertainty, wanting to pull immediately stops. It’s amazing, that wordless recognition of intentions! Dogs are unbelievably intuitive!
Despite the stimulation, he did so well, had plenty of praise and petting. I deliberately didn’t go inside–adjustment to last time’s not so fun outing. We practiced “step” on curbs (he steps up and waits for me to step up using his shoulders), and worked on not having to say “slow” or “stop”. I had him “pull” me slightly up the incline, and put pressure on his shoulders going down the incline. Then I let him sniff around the bushes for a few seconds before saying “heel up”.
Then it was to the vet for his weekly weigh in. He did very well, considering how excited he gets around other animals, even just their scents. I had more trouble with the nose sticking to the ground, and putting more pull on the leash, so the gentle leader was put on. Animals are a trigger for him wanting to play, so I was proud of how he did. Had to crab at him a couple times, but he was controllable.
We’re going to build up to indoor public practice, and I’ll try to “rig the odds” in his favor by choosing places carefully, and practicing outdoors so he can find his groove. I’m encouraged.
I had a long drive to Branson for some special bloodwork. The first stop was at the gas station we always go to. He didn’t give me any real problems, though he still has a tough time staying in the heel position. Without the gentle leader, he also tries to smell people, which is a no no.
Once at the lab, I went in without him first, getting my blood draw done. Then I brought Kenai in. I sat in the lobby, got a down that he didn’t hold, and he just watched out the glass windows. Once everyone else had left, the nurse okayed taking him in the back, where we walked around. I gave him names for noises, like copy machine, little fridge, etc, and had him down by the blood draw chair. We stayed and talked Great Danes (her son has one), and eventually I asked him to down stay at my feet. He fianally did it. All a matter of comfort level.
Later in the afternoon we went out again with Mom. I left him in the car at the cafe, since we needed to actually eat–I have to rebuild his long downstays. So the cafe for Kenai will be starting with a 15 minute cup of coffee and going up from there.
This was a “fun” outing day, finding a new field for him to sniff his way through. I’m exploring the idea that if his instinctive nature is satisfied, ie nose to the ground with no “leave it”, Kenai will feel less of a need to sniff and wander when he’s vested up. It might be confusing on the other hand, but we all know the attraction of forbidden fruit. When it’s part of his instinctive nature, denying it may cause frustration or the blahs. I can see both sides of the argument.
Anyway, on a long leash and collar, he had a ball following all the scents in the new open field. Unfortunately he got too excited and started doing zoomies. So I put the tracking harness on him; don’t like him pulling on his collar in case it hurts his neck. He’s really got the idea of not pulling in a harness–that’s the upside. It meant he didn’t pull, but he didn’t really get into his nose to the ground, either. I’ll have to come up with a solution.
What a good outing! We went to the doctor’s office for my shot, and Kenai was relatively relaxed and confident. I did have the gentle leader on him until we were in a room. But he didn’t get all whiney and fussy this time. He didn’t lay down, but that’s okay.
The nurse thought he was pretty good guy, didn’t mind that he watched what she did all curious. He sniffed the injection site, checked out the blood pressure cuff. He wasn’t intrusive. He did have to balance me when I wobbled off the scale (wasn’t the shock of my weight, Ha!). It was the only pull he did, and he was the solution to it too.
In the future sometime my goal is for him to walk into a place and just lay down on his own while we wait. He won’t do that until he’s comfortable, which is my first step: getting him comfortable anywhere. We’ve got a year until he’s an adult, falling into the “lazy dane” habit of laying down to wait! As he gets more relaxed, I’ll start asking for a down.
As a reward, we hit an open field for the nose to entertain itself. It’s behind a construction site, where the noises et all got noticed then ignored. We walked over to the building under construction, and when he made a peice of metal jangle he startled. I jangled it some, he came to sniff, was rewarded and on we went. It was a good day.
I wasn’t planning on going anywhere, but Mom okayed my brother coming yet again to do his laundry. You’d think after 5 weeks he’d bug the landlord to fix his. Grrr. What part of leave us alone doesn’t he get?
Anyway, we started out in a field by a little country church, and big man K was having such a good time in the warm sunshine that we stayed nearly 45 minutes. He followed this scent and that scent, and was very proud of himself for finding a discarded hat! Then it was to the gas station, where he got to see his “girlfriends”, and carry my wallet for me.
I like this new found confidence, marking attempts not withstanding. He’s curious again, and calmer in public. Next was another field to kill time until the puppy store was open. Oh how he loves that puppy store! He gets to be off leash and always gets treats for a pretty sit. We coaxed a down out of him too.
His “job” there is to keep watch for customers coming, and let us know they’re at the door. He comes to me, gets his GL on, and practices his polite waiting for attention, or politely accepting the lack of it. He also makes sure the dog food bags smell right, and to check out any new beds like a doggie consumer testing tech.
It’s a good place for him to relax, and to keep up his manners–not everyone wants to pet him. Most of their customers have little dogs, so his sheer size can intimidate. Politeness matters when you outweigh grown women! He was ready for a nap when we got home.
The Harness Acclimation
His guide harness came, and it was introduced to him at home with treats and lots of happy fuss. He wasn’t too sure he wanted that big heavy thing on him at first, though he didn’t resist it. Our first outing in it was to the bank, and the awkwardness was mine! With the euro leash hooked on it, wrapping around me and the huge winter coat felt very constricting. I had his vest over it for the pockets, and should have left my purse in the car. Too much stuff. Live and learn.
Kenai walks beautifully with his harness, better than even the gentle leader. I’m so happy about that. He pays attention and is very sensitive to how the feel of it changes when I go this way or slow down. Let’s hope that continues, though it’s possible he could just get used to it.
Last stop was his favorite puppy store, to show off since the ladies there have followed his progress since 9 weeks old. Also to associate a happy place with the new harness. He realized he could trot around when released, and he had a good time just being Kenai. He came right away when called, and holds very still while my clumsy fingers get the harness on and off.
With the arctic blast gone, we finally got out again after some running in the kennel and a wander in the feild. We went to the puppy store for food, which they were out of…darn it, I had to get some of a different kind, and that doesn’t bode well for the boys. But that’s what’s what. I was pretty weak and sore, so we didn’t stay long or horse around too much.
The next stop was the smoke shop, and there were banners outside flapping in the wind while I got him all strapped up. Normally he’s skittish of noises from above him, and he made sure to look at the source. But he stood still, picked up his foot for me, and didn’t do any tango steps while I got his harness on him. He got some praise for that!
I released him to go see his buddy Al, a former Dane owner. Kenai came back when I called, but he had slipped into puppy meet and greet mode by then. I had to correct him slightly for sticking his nose out for attention from people. Still, he did pretty well walking through the tight aisles and not bumping the booze racks. He’s always been so conscious of his body, and well co-ordinated.
This outing was for the benefit of his nose, since our 3-4 times a week outing schedule has been interfered with by weather. He seemed to have a squirrelly sort of wild hair, and I wondered if I should let him run in the kennel before we left. I chose not to, thinking just time outside would be sufficient to satisfy his exercise. We first went to the gas station, and got a soda for me. He was determined to sniff a passerby, too.
Next was his “tracking” in the red harness. He was indeed a bit too sideways, and halfway through our wander he got overly excited by a stick and the goober run commenced. On leash. When he starts that, I can’t stop it, and we both wound up sore. He pulled my hand really hard twice, and when he finally stopped, I gave him a major butt chewing. Then I just sat on the ground to catch my breath. He’s only done that twice in his life, now a third time.
That’s one of the drawbacks of trying to exercise a dog that’s healthier than you–there’s always a risk that the dog will forget their strength and manners. I wasn’t injured, but it didn’t feel good. So from now on, any hint of squirrelly and he goes to the kennel for his goober runs first. Another reminder to trust my instincts.
This was a “quickie” outing, just a run to the gas station, and a Walgreen’s drive thru. He went inside the c-store, and unfortunately I think his sensitivity to the harness may be wearing off. He wanted to pull, wanted me to walk faster rather than him walk slower. *sigh*. He did the step-n-wait command very very well, though. *good boy*
He didn’t want to squeeze into the tight space by the first register to pay. We normally go to the other one, which is open. He also didn’t want to go out the door when someone offered to hold the door for us. This is the second time he’s been skittish about going through a door with a stranger right next to the opening. I may need to work on this.
Oh, Kenai…what’s with you? He seems to be having a bit of insecurity this week. After a quick swing by the vet for his weekly weigh in, we walked all around the parking lot. He was disturbed enough by the barking dogs across the street to be turning sideways to watch them. Made his skittish all of a sudden.
We walked into an empty lawyer’s office next to the vet, just for a new experience. This time with me holding the door, he wouldn’t go in since a man was standing in the hallway looking at him. I said hi and asked if the man would mind our having a short training session, which he enthusiastically okayed. Was that a slick cover or what?
Anyway, after making a pleasant acquaintance Kenai seemed to get the idea from my voice and tug on the harness that we were going in if I had to shove his rump. He went in. We just walked around, practicing going through tight spaces, stopping to talk etc. The lawyer was so curious about the training and all the tasks SDit’s learn, it was a good experience.
He asked if he could hold the door for us, or if it was part of the training. Wasn’t that nice? I thanked him and said it was training, since Kenai was so long: getting in and out of doors takes a wait, okay, turn series of commands so neither of us get hit by the door. The dogs were still barking across the street, Kenai was still jumpy about it.
Next was the big outing. I left his harness on in the car, getting him used to the feeling of down with it on. We stopped at the local junior high school. I intended just to walk around outside and maybe stand inside the doorway so he could hear and see the kids moving about. More barking, charging dogs across the street…
Kenai pulled like a sled dog in that harness. Now I know his sensitivity to it has worn off. Darn. I had to correct him several times wandering back and forth on the sidewalks. We worked in heel and also on the right side. I stepped on his wayward toe while he tried walking sideways to watch the crazy dogs. Ugh.
Hoping inside he would relax since we could just stand still and acclimate, the barking outside less noisy, in we went. No luck, we drew a crowd of adults! I explained I was just wanting to get him used to the hustle and commotion of schools as part of his training and it thrilled everyone.
They asked if I would be interested in doing a presentation at their “Awareness Day”. Big man K is a ways off from solid enough to behave in an auditorium full of excited kids! I said I would be interested, but that I wouldn’t bring Kenai until he was totally reliable, and he’s just 13 mo old right now. It would be a great thing, wouldn’t it, helping educate about the lesser understood mobility assistance dogs?
Despite his Malamute identity crisis during our walk around the halls, pulling me like an overweight sled, the idea of getting Kenai ready and able to do a school presentation is inspiring. I’ve been wanting to kick up his training and socialization, thinking about asking (paying) for Joni the clicker trainer Kenai loved so much to give us a few sessions out in public.
This opportunity, and reading about other SD has made me wish recently that I had help. Maybe it’s just an inferiority complex or something, but I’d like for Kenai to be sharper and less distractable. Of course, he’s a teenager, so dork is a way of life. Really he’s very good, but has his triggers, ya know? I’d like to find a way to make up for my failure to socialize him in schools and around other dogs as well as he could have been.
I’ve contacted a professional SD trainer with experience both in training Great Danes for assistance work, but also for training Danes for anxiety alerts. I’m not concerned at all about Kenai’s not alerting anymore, it’s just that this trainer will understand how to work with people handling dogs when they have anxiety problems.
We haven’t been out because of an ice storm, and likely won’t for a day or two more. But I’m taking the opportunity to sort out what I’m wanting to work on with Kenai. Having a list is good, so is a few “final goals”, but when working on the list, one or two things at a time seems to work out better. So here goes:
skittishness/startle response: loud noises like motorcycles, skateboards, putting up ironing boards after Mom scared him with it, construction sites, and the like make him startle. He will investigate with encouragement, which is a good sign. Still, I’d like to end the nervousness in loud places. Tight spaces, elevators, and doorways where people are congregated around also make him try to refuse.
excitement: crowds and other dogs are big triggers for Kenai. Dogs especially. He will be excited to play on sight, unless we encounter dogs barking or charging at fences. Such situations are overstimulating, and he loses all focus on me. Crowds we haven’t worked in much, but his habit is to want to watch the movement, and to even pull on me to get attention from strangers.
tasks: he knows the commands, but I’d like to sharpen them and teach him more. Right now the nervous excitement is interfering with his obedience. Once that’s dealt with, I believe he will be able to focus. We need to improve his down stay placement and time, being left with another person without fussing, walking in harness, steps, doors, and probably a bunch of commands I didn’t even know about.
When he was young, the loud noises, kids, crowds, and other dogs were simply not an issue. After the disastrous experiences with our first trainer at 5 mo old, this underlying nervousness in public and at home appeared. I know it’s not his basic nature, it’s learned via experiences. But changing Kenai’s mind is not an easy thing. He seems worse now that he’s an adolescent.
I think we need to go straight back to socializing before getting very far into the actual tasks. I’ll go with the trainer’s judgment though, if it seems sound and she can explain to me her reasoning. (I want to learn…). I have a few images in my head of grown up, trained Kenai that I try to keep in mind as we shape him. The idea is totally unobtrusive.
we can walk into a restaurant and Kenai drops to his downstay exactly where I put him and doesn’t move, preferably taking a snooze.
We can go to a store and nothing on the shelves interest him (the nose…), and he ignores all people, doesn’t react to any loud noises. If we go to the mall, none of the crowds or noises breaks his composure, and he shows no interest in people.
We can go to my college campus, take the elevator, walk through the crowds, find a place for him to down stay during class, and not have to even think about what he’s doing.
We can participate in the junior high school’s “Awareness Day” with perfect demonstrations of what he does, why he was chosen as opposed to a lab or golden, SD ettiqute from him and from people, and the auditorium of excited kids doesn’t disturb his composure or focus. That’s our big test.