Most canine experts mark a dog’s maturity by physical and behavioral milestones (things like weight, aggression and, in the words of Paul Owens, acting like “a teen-age bozo”).
I’ve found another marker, one especially good for charting the development of a service dog: outings.
The first time our now 19-month-old golden retriever Dancer (who you may know from the Service Dog Teams section of the Love Heels web site http://loveheels.org/working-teams/) visited us, we soon discovered the limits of her outings. Left alone in the back yard for a few minutes, the then 7-month-old dragged a dirty 2’ by 4’ beam into the house. Outings in the backyard had to be well supervised!
Last week Dancer hit a new milestone in her outing development: a walk to and through the Self-Realization Meditation Gardens in Encinitas. Benefitting from a brisk 25-minute walk to the gardens, Dancer behaved perfectly. She sat on command while I took photos, went into a down-stay while I contemplated life and a tree, and avoided the meditators, picture-takers and gardeners.
Distractions that would have beckoned her at an earlier age were ignored (thanks in part to a close grip on the leash to keep her at my side). The flowers smelled, the waves crashed, the koi fish twirled. But Dancer kept her cool.
Dancer, who has lived with us to help with our son Zander since June, is still a work in progress. (She was placed with our family earlier than most service dogs are because our first service dog, Bree, died suddenly from an aggressive cancer just days before her third birthday in 2011.)
Dancer’s “To Learn List ” is meaty, but manageable. She is distracted by other dogs when walking in the neighborhood with me and Zander, who has autism. Her behavior is less reliable at training sessions at Nazareth House, overcome at times by desire to romp with doggy friends and cede my authority to her first trainers. At home, she’s quick to pick up forbidden items like shoes, socks and my fuzzy slippers to get attention.
I will be blogging here weekly about Dancer’s progress, my triumphs and setbacks, and news from Love Heels. I’d greatly appreciate it if you could share this blog with your friends by email, Facebook, smoke signals, etc., and ask them to subscribe so Love Heels and Dancer can get the attention they deserve.
Thanks, Sophy Chaffee