Since my last blog, my DAD in training Sage, and I have logged in over 14,000 miles crossing the country talking about Diabetes Alert Dogs. She is becoming quite the spokesdog for DADs.
I remember her first public demo when she was a little over 7 months old; she literally got stage fright and froze staring at the crowd. It took me a few moments to get her distracted enough and refocused to proceed with the demo. She had been in a crowd before that but being on stage was a bit different, this time the crowd was all staring at her! Compare that to the last talk I gave to doctors and medical student and the general public at Ohio University’s Institute of Diabetes last month, where she was a total ham, she has come a long way.
It is easy to forget these 55 pound dogs are still puppies, still growing and developing, and still learning. When I go to troubleshoot problems with a dog in a family situation I find that the problem is the dog is still a puppy. My 48 pound 5 month old male Labrador, Stony, is one of the sweetest pups you will ever find, however these past 2 weeks he’s been a bit of a monster when playing with the other dogs. If I did not know better I would think he was turning into an aggressive, domineering out of control male. Not the case. He has just lost 2 canines and is still cutting in one of the molars. He’s totally miserable and out of frustration is growling and grumbling at the other dogs. They are ignoring him and so am I. I know he will grow out of this and he will be back to his old sweet self when he is feeling better. So for now I just do very short obedience exercises, watching for signs of building frustration from him as a cue to quit on a positive note; and then we do a lot of physical exercise type things to allow him to run off the aggravation of the teething and growing pains.
Sage, has already had her first heat cycle so she is through the hormonal stage and has settled in nicely to her training as a DAD. She is certainly enjoying the traveling and being the center of attention at my talks. It is asking a lot of a dog just a little over a year of age to travel all day, sleep in strange locations, then perform in places she has never been, in front of hundreds of people; Sage has handled this well. I have seen her get sleepy on me on some occasions and I have seen her fall so sound asleep she doesn’t even stir when I get up in the middle of the night. That is to be expected from a young dog. It is one reason I caution teams of diabetics and their DADs to not expect 100% of alerting from your young dog. This pertains more to people raising the dogs themselves to be DADs then people buying fully trained DADs. There is another point here I don’t want you to miss, all this traveling I have done with Sage has really helped her to mature more quickly and better in my mind. Traveling forces you to spend more time with your dog then you would perhaps at home and whether you set time aside to formally train your dog while on travel or not, there is a lot of training going on just by virtue of the time you are spending together. So many people raising their own dogs forget or decide not to take the dogs with them as they run errands, visit relatives or friends, or even travel. That’s a big missed training opportunity and learning experience for your growing dog.
On one our trips to Texas, Sage was really missing all the great play sessions she gets to partake in when she is at home. She will spend hours with Stony and Rosie, two other DAD pups we have here, romping and running and rolling in the yard. She spied a KONG™ Toy booth at the IACP conference and insisted I take her there. I can tell you it is a big mistake to let a Labrador go shopping and pick their favorite toy out, as you can see from the shopping bag full of goodies she did not stop at one. Back at the hotel room she literally played with all of them until she finally went to bed and fell asleep using one of them as her new pillow.
Sage and I are reaching a point in her training now, where I will start the night alert training and work more on the advanced public access training. The experience she has gleaned from the travels we have had will serve her well as move forward. At a little over a year now she will be doing more of the off leash in public areas and working in some pretty high distraction areas with the leash being dropped periodically and me feigning a blackout to see how she handles herself in public when her handler is down. She is already learning how to get help at home, we will see if she can put the pieces together as we move forward with the final parts of her service dog training. I think the most important thing I can share with those following my blog that are training their own dogs is to not rush when to move to the next step in training. The dog will give you signs that they are mature enough to handle additional responsibilities and will also give you signs that they are stressed out from you throwing too much at them at once. I read a post recently on one of the sites I follow that a young dog had been displaced by a fire from her home and then started school with her young handler for the first time all within 48 hours. That is a bit much for a young dog to handle; it would be too much for me too! If you see your dog’s performance waning some or more false alerts or misses starting to occur look at what is happening in your life and try to reduce the stress factor not just for you but your dog too.