Sunday, July 10, 2011

Train-the-Trainer: Week 1

To say that this first week (has it really only been a week?) of Train-the-Trainer was a rollercoaster would be an understatement.   We have had some really high points: late night study sessions spent laughing hysterically and eating ice cream, our first full day of bonding with our dogs, cheering for each other as we improve and excel at training techniques, lending a shoulder to cry on, or sharing a box of cookies to giggle over.  There have also been some really low points: moments of complete exhaustion, moments of self-doubt, moments of frustration with the dogs and with each other.  Through the tears and the laughter, though, we have learned a lot this week and we have bonded as a group and developed substantial and meaningful relationships with each other.
See below for individual photo captions.  Click on the collage to see it larger.

Our week began with lengthy lectures and intimidating quizzes.  As a group, we pretty much bombed our first quiz, which jump started our intensive, late-night study sessions.  We didn't start really handling the dogs or doing any hands-on training until mid-week.  Throughout the week, we test-drove a number of different dogs, each of us learning our individual strengths and weaknesses as trainers and learning the quirks of the dogs' personalities.  We learned about grooming, canine learning theory, motivation, praise, and correction.  On Friday, we were asked to keep our dogs with us during lunch, marking the first time we were entrusted with a dog without supervision.  At the end of class that day, Lu told us that these were our "matches" and we would keep them for the evening.  These were the dogs we would be working with for the next 4 weeks, bonding with them and training them, and eventually training our clients to work with them.    

Adam was paired with a large male yellow Labrador named Russ Jr.  Adam described Russ as "good-spirited, like a gentle bull".  Russ is a boy's dog in every way - he is big and loyal, he loves his ball, wants to roll around and wrestle, but he's even-tempered and serious when working.  They have already developed a visible bond and are working beautifully together.  When Lu took Russ's leash yesterday to demonstrate how he would help his autistic client (by laying on top of him during a meltdown, or grounding him if he tried to bolt), Russ periodically glanced over at Adam showing his loyalty.

Hana was paired with Cocoa, a petite, gentle, mellow, female Golden Retriever.  Cocoa is steady, calm, sensitive, and expressive.  They are a great match, and when Hana was feeling down this week, Cocoa responded by leaning against her leg and staring into her eyes.

JP was paired with Sprinkles, a goofy, galumphing female Golden Retriever.  Sprinkles can be really silly, which compliments JP well because he's a very serious guy.  She's really good at making him laugh, which is exactly what they both need.

Ben was paired with Garrison, a more mature, male, deep-red Golden Retriever.  Garrison lives for a good snuggle and he's an absolute love.  He is eager to please, calm, steady, and handsome.  He will sit still for hours if he's getting petted, leaning in to get as much contact as possible.

Alas, I was paired with Joplin, a female Lab x Golden cross.  She is younger than the other dogs and is very active.  She doesn't hold still for more than 5 minutes (we're working on this), lets her excitement get the better of her, and goofs off as much as she can get away with.  She is eager to please, and will benefit from a "drill sergeant" trainer who will give her command after command and be extremely consistent.  She is different from any dog I've ever worked with and I love that she is a challenge.  I look at Joplin and see the learning potential for me as a trainer.  Joplin will be an alarm dog, meaning she will be responsible for alerting somebody to an alarm or medical condition (for example, she has to be persistent in waking up a narcoleptic).  This job will capitalize on her personality characteristics that would prohibit her from being another kind of service dog, and she is definitely a natural.

I know this is an insanely long post, but it was a very eventful week!  I promise to keep it shorter next week. Please leave comments with any suggestions or things you'd like me to elaborate on throughout the week or for next week.   

Photo Captions:
1: Ben and Tina on their first lunch date
2: Reese being a demo-dog
3: Cocoa and Hana hard at work
4: Joplin thankful for Pauly's bed
5: Joplin
6: Crisco adoring JP
7: Our first group lunch and unsupervised time with the dogs
8: Tina's princess paws
9: Lecture time
10: Lu teaching Russ to go behind an autistic child who is head-banging
11: Cocoa and Hana being attentive
12: Lu teaching Russ to lay on or near an autistic child who is having a meltdown
13: Lu teaching Cocoa to lay on an autistic child
14: JP grooming Sprinkles
15: Cocoa
16: Russ Jr.
17: Russ Jr.
18: Joplin
19: Garrison and I cheating on Joplin and Ben
20: Garrison

1 comment:

  1. Dont keep it shorter! I like em long! I love the fact that you are being challenged and that you've got a lovely snuggle buddy. Miss you lots. Love, Super