An SDit (service dog in training) has one absolute requirement: attentiveness. I need him aware and ready to respond to my body’s movement, my body’s changes, my emotional state. So I continue the “pacing games” where they had to stop, start, turn, change speed and such without losing that at my hip position when they were younger.
That’s why I love the pacing games: glued to my hip is a constantly reinforced position, directly and passively rewarded. The brace or counterbalance or anything else is learned while already in the right place.
By now I hope the pup has gotten good at the basics, and has started to really enjoy our little dance moves! To me, walking with an SD is indeed more of a dance than anything else. We’re having fun being 2 bodies but one team.
Only now I’m adding in some new “tricks” as they learn them: a step up or down alert (in case I missed it), or sustaining a slight pull in harness up a long incline, or a counterbalance with their harness in the midst of those direction and pace changes.
Many of these new tricks of the game are actually serious, but I won’t tell them that! If I turn left hard, it’s highly probable I’ll wind up really needing a counterbalance. If I stop suddenly, I’m likely to need a bit of a brace. My balance has it’s problems…
These “tricks” break down into braces, counterbalances, pull/slow harness work, guiding alerts, and hearing alerts. Those categories will have their own pages, but as they learn them, they get thrown into the pacing games as real life-like situations they will face frequently, though at a slower pace.
The idea is to make knowing those tasks so second nature they are called “defaults”; they don’t have to be a command. I often don’t even bother to teach the pup the name of the action, because my body movement itself is the cue.
This big girl here is one the dogs from http://www.servicedogproject.org/
Of course I don’t use weight in a brace, or let them pull very hard since I’m talking about immature dogs–18 mo is when their bones’ growth plates close and it is safe to bear weight.
Right now though, the puppy is getting used to the idea of “mom pitches forward, I move, pressure on my shoulders”. I want the positions and the acceptance of pressure and pulling in a youngster.
I start young with the guiding and harness work, because young puppies accept new and unnatural things easier than older dogs. It also gives us a year to have the actions down before it’s the real thing. Giving myself that time to work the kinks out and make the “work” fun increases my chance for success: the odds are stacked against owner-trainers who want as much from an SD as I do.
So we play our games and my pup plays the games with my family, my neighbors, our trainer…it’s all fun and games, but I know it’s for real life with me later on, and I’m not telling my puppy love that! I’m always amazed at what a pup can learn to do if they enjoy my attention and doing things with me. Dogs are the greatest!