I think there is a clause somewhere in the agreement when you sign up to be a dog trainer that says something about training “at your own risk”. I never took that too seriously, I mean really, what is so risky about raising and training cute chubby Labrador puppies to be service dogs?
The challenge when raising and training a service puppy is to give them as much exposure to sights, sounds, and new experiences as you can conjure. You want your dog to be rock solid under all circumstances by the time he or she is placed with their partner. In the course of any day I am always on the lookout for new training opportunities. If you ask some of the local people who know me in the areas I train, I am sure they would readily tell you I am just crazy. Now I admit sometimes in my enthusiasm to find new things I find myself wondering if I am not a bit too creative but in the end I do have dogs that are rock solid. So I figure it is worth the extra effort that I go to for them. After a few sessions with me most of my puppies have figured out it is better to just lie down and wait until I get tired or quit. They seem to figure the game out early on and get amusement from watching me try all these new things to get them excited.
The Enivob’s have had a successful dairy farm in our county for over 60 years and it is quite an operation. They milk over a 100 head of registered Holstein cows, large black and white beauties, in a very modern, mechanized setup. Eddie, the son who runs the farm since his daddy retired, was kind enough to allow me to train in his pasture near the barns when the cows were inside milking. He just shook his head when I told him I would be doing obedience training in the field with my puppy Sage. Now for those of you who are city folk you need to know that cow pastures have one thing that is almost irresistible to a puppy and that is cow patties. So if you want to know just how solid your puppy is on her obedience you need to provide the ultimate in distractions. Sage was excited to be someplace new in the country, I think she was getting tired of the city noises and stinky smells. The first thing she did as I fiddled with the gate to the pasture was to stop and inhale all those glorious aromas of cow manure. You could see her eyes starting to glaze over with thoughts of rolling in this marvelous perfume. What would all the dogs back home think? Why they would be so jealous of my new perfume. I hated to interrupt Sage’s daydream but we were here to work. She was a bit reluctant at first to have to leave the thought of saturating herself with this glorious glop but soon we were working our little routine and she was paying attention nicely to me.
Technology is a wonderful thing, I have always felt we are fortunate to have so many things that make our lives easier than generations before us had. I for one, use the alarm feature on my watch to keep me on schedule. This is a great feature especially when you are in a cow pasture controlled by mechanisms that release the herd into the pasture on a regular schedule. Cows don’t have watches, but I can assure you their appetites tell them when it is time to be released so they can chow down on the lush grasses we were working in. Normally my watch will go off 30 minutes before the cows are released which gives me plenty of time to get back to my car. Today the battery in my watch died and of course I was so engrossed in training I did not realize what was happening at first.
Sage and I had just finished a very nice return to heel position and I was in the process of hugging her and telling her what a smart and wonderful puppy she was when I realized we were totally surrounded by a battalion of half ton mooing ladies. The largest one, whom I assumed was the leader, was the boldest and stretched forward to get a better sniff of us. To Sage’s credit she did not panic which really helped. The last thing I wanted was to be in the middle of a stampede. Since I grew up on a dairy farm I knew that cows are more curious than mean, so I just sat down next to my puppy and tried to reassure Sage they would go away once they were satisfied who we were. She trusted me so she sat very still; either that or she was so scared she was frozen with terror. In any case, after a few minutes I got up slowly, and we walked out of the pasture with all the cows trailing behind us.
I have to admit I was happy to get to the other side of the fence. Sage looked up at me as I closed the gate like I was crazy, she knew from talking to visiting dogs at the kennel, that people don’t normally spend the afternoon in a cow pasture. Well that might be, but I know she is cow proofed so if she ends up partnered with a dairy farmer there will be no worries.