Since this post I haven’t really even mentioned anything about starting training with the Delta Society, so I think it’s time that I give you all a little update!
The first part of training focuses on the owners, as there are two 8-hour-long seminars that have to be completed before your dog even steps foot - or paw, actually - into the door. I was a little wary at the thought of having to sit still for two full days (sometimes I think I have selective narcolepsy because I can fall asleep anywhere if I’m tired enough and am sitting still). The seminars ended up being really informative, and it gave us all a chance to meet each other. The part that had me absolutely fascinated was when we learned about calming signals, which I’ll go into more in a later post. I met two amazing girls, Jen and Abby, and it turns out that we all work for the same organization! There will definitely be future lunch dates for us, I think!
Last Wednesday was the first part of training that required both me and Claire. We had all been warned ahead of time that the dogs are not allowed to interact before/during/after training because they need to get used to being around other and staying neutral. Abby and Jen and I all arrived at the same time on Wednesday night, and we couldn’t even greet each other beforehand! We were standing on different sides of the quad yelling to each other so that we could talk without the dogs getting near each other. Training is held in the basement of a high school, so there were about 15-20 dogs and the owners in one room – very close quarters to expect your dog not to be able to even greet another dog! I wasn’t sure how Claire would do with this; she is SO friendly and always wants to say hi to people, animals, insects, flowers, etc etc etc. But the trainers certainly know what they’re talking about – I didn’t react to the people or the dogs, nor did I give Claire the okay to greet the other people or the dogs, so she responded to my cues and stayed right by my side.
The trainers had us do a few exercises just so give us a picture of what the upcoming weeks of training are going to be like. We worked on loose-leash walking and neutral dog (our favorites…). Neutral dog involves standing across the room from another person with their dog. You have to meet each other in the middle of the room, shake hands, and then keep walking – the tricky part is that the two dogs have to stay neutral and can’t lean over the midline of your body to sniff the other dog or greet the person. Claire did a great job and kept her eyes on me, though! I was really proud of her.
Another exercise tested our response as a team to loud noises – metal chairs falling over, people yelling, and things being dropped on the floor. It’s really important that you can keep your dog calm and focused on you so that they don’t get overstimulated or frightened, despite what is happening around you. Your dog needs to trust that you will take care of them and keep them safe. The trainers simulated situations that could happen when you’re out in the field, whether it be a hospital, mental health facility, school, or community program. The trainers do these exercises randomly throughout the session so that you can’t prepare beforehand. I have a strong startle reflex, so I was more jumpy than Claire! She would jump and look toward the noise with her ears perked up on alert, but she didn’t bark or cower or try to run away. Her curiosity comes in handy sometimes! As do beef treats to keep her focused on me ;)
The first session was just an hour long, but with all of the stimulation combined with all of the hard work that Claire had to do, she fell asleep sitting up in the car on the ride home! I’m really proud of her. We’ve been consistently practicing things that we learned in the first training session, and I can already see such an improvement in both of us! I hope that all of our hard work pays off! I am feeling positive about it :)