Friday, September 30, 2011

Puppies and Piggies

As part of my apprenticeship at ECAD, I will be spending a couple of months at each of the different schools that we work in.  This will give me a chance to learn about training at all the different stages of puppy development, and to learn about the different populations of students that we work with.  I began this rotation at a school called Green Chimneys.  Green Chimneys is located in Brewster, NY and it is a residential or day-school that serves children with emotional, behavioral, social, and learning challenges.  The thing that makes Green Chimneys so amazing is that it has pioneered the use of animal-assisted therapy with the students.  The school takes in abused, mistreated, and unwanted animals and gives them a fresh start on life.  All of the animals that do not have the potential to be rehabilitated remain on the campus for life.  The students work on "the farm", caring for chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cows, owls, hawks, vultures, eagles, llamas, and, of course, puppies!  That's where I come in.  All of ECAD's puppies start their education at Green Chimneys.  This means that we are working with itty bitty pups ranging from 2 to 6 months old.  Our current class consists of Sevilla, Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid (6-month old labs) and Ace, Bauer, Specht, Hanson, and Boone (3-month old golden retrievers).  Today was a special day because it was also the first day of school for Blondie's pup pups who are just 5 weeks old.  They seemed to enjoy their first day and we look forward to having them back when they're a bit older.

Barcelona, Madrid, Ace, Specht, and ?

In my first two weeks at Green Chimneys, I've learned a lot about training such young puppies.  The first thing that I learned is that they are really, incredibly, unbelievably frustrating.  I have been spoiled for 3 months with the older dogs and it's a real adjustment when you realize that a puppy barely knows how to sit or walk on a leash.  For me, this has been the most challenging thing I've experienced since working for ECAD.  I forgot how much patience and motivation puppies require.  I catch myself saying "no" when they don't even know better.  Working with the puppies makes me feel like a failure about 90% of the time, but then those moments when they truly learn something that I taught them makes it all worth while.

Bella and Jazmine

After a day spent with 9 5-week old labrador puppies and meeting a mini potbellied pig named Bella, how could I not love my job (I've always wanted a pet pig).  If you're in NYC this weekend, be sure to check out the Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  Green Chimneys animals, staff, and students will be at the service and I can say first-hand that it is something every animal-lover must see.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Personal Training

As most dog owners and trainers know, a tired dog is easier to work and has better manners in a kennel situation.  Our facility at ECAD is not conducive to free-running the dogs outside.  We are equipped with dog runs, but they aren't large enough for the dogs to get up to full speed.  We are lucky to have been given an old treadmill that allows us to run the dogs indoors.  Unfortunately, most of the dogs who were taught to run on the treadmill as younger pups have since forgotten or developed anxiety about it.  So last week, I decided to devote a significant amount of time (as well as sacrificing my lower back), to becoming a doggy personal trainer.  I spent 3 full days running 15 dogs each day.  Some of the dogs loved it, and jumped right on for 15 minutes at 4.0 speed.  Other dogs required three people, one in the front luring with kibble, another holding the rear legs up to "wheelbarrow" the dog, and a third with an arm behind the back legs to keep them moving forward.  Needless to say, maintaining that position for 15 minutes with a bucking/peeing/crazed dog is quite a work out.  The miraculous part of this whole training exercise for me was to see that by the second day, the majority of dogs got back on the treadmill better than they got off the day before.  It was like they needed to sleep on it, come to terms with it, and then they could love it.  I have dogs who were miserable the first day, who I literally had to hold upright, who are now running full-speed ahead with a huge grin on their panting faces.