We took Sid out on a training run yesterday. Well, less a training run than a chance for me to get a feel for where he’s at in public access skills, so I know where we need work.
The first stop was Panera, to get a reading on where we’re at for restaurants. We picked an odd time and chose Panera because they have handy outdoor seating, plus the food was paid for when we sat down to eat, so if Sid had been a huge dork, we could have picked up and left no problem. He actually did very well until a sparrow decided to check him out, which got him a little excited. I’m not sure what that tiny bird was thinking, hopping to about 2 feet away from Siddy, but Sid at least was not uncontrollable. He just really wanted to try and bite that bird. In a lot of ways it would have been easier on him for us to eat inside, because outside you had a lot of distractions: small suicidal birds, human passers-by, traffic noises. But on the other hand I wasn’t at all sure that he’d be well-behaved enough for inside, so better to sit outside for my mental health.
The next stop was Borders, where the only problem was that Sid was starting to lose focus about halfway through our time there. I suspect it was because a book store is a pretty damn boring place for a young dog, and my browsing style in bookstores involves a lot of slowly creeping along shelves and then standing, sometimes crouching — in other words, not a lot for him to do but stand around. So it’s not surprising, given that he’s 10 months old, that his attention kind of wandered and also he forgot where his butt was and knocked into shelves once or twice. I think he’d have done better if Borders were more of a high-distraction environment, actually, because he does quite well with just standing around watching the world go by, as long as the world is, in fact, going by.
The final stop was PetCo, where he was pretty golden, which reinforced my suspicions about him doing better when there’s things for him to look at and smell while I go about my people business at the other end of the leash and harness.
All in all I was really pleased with him. For 11 months old and me just now having the energy to start systematic public access training with him, he’s doing really well. It helps that the foundations are there already: he has a good off switch, he’s accustomed to behaving politely. While he got bored and distracted, at no time did he go totally dork-faced and inattentive. I think the thing to do is ask him for brain work in boring places, like getting him to target with nose and paw while I browse the books. We’re also working on “Find Daddy!” and he enjoyed doing that at Borders.
The trip was also good for building my confidence in him. He’s not at the level where I can work with him without being mindful, and won’t be for a long time, but it was good for me to see his bomb-proof and confident self out in the world, getting bored but not anxious, and generally just being an all-around good candidate in the rough. Well, to use a rock-tumbling analogy, I think we’re through the totally rough stage, by virtue of early experience, his essential nature, and basic training in house manners. Now we’re on to the medium grind, and it won’t be too long before we head gleefully off into the pre-polish and polish stages.
Beowulf, bless his heart, taught me a lot about what I want from a service dog. Now Sid is showing me how to get there with him. And we’re having a good time.