Part of Good Dog! Bubba’s training is going on outings to public places, which he greatly enjoys. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs are allowed in public places with the person they are trained to assist. This means they often work in distracting situations in public, so he must learn to be relaxed and able to work in many environments in order to become a service dog. My job as one of his co-raisers is to train him during public outings and in as many places as possible. One such outing was to a large sporting goods store that had the challenges of tantalizing smells, stairs, narrow aisles, people, different floor surfaces, and other distractions. Good Dog! Bubba took all of this in stride, ignoring distractions while working on his commands. I found it fun to look for challenges for him to overcome, including doing a “go in” under a bench and staying in a “down” while I looked at items on a shelf.
In addition, one of our weekly training sessions this fall was at a pumpkin patch. The Good Dogs in training in Fresno enjoyed jumping up on hay bales, watching the Ferris wheel, and walking among the pumpkins. Good Dog! Bubba worked confidently even around the crowds of people and a few dogs.
Other places where we train include pet stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, grocery stores, and get-togethers with friends. At a grocery store outing, Good Dog! Bubba ignored dropped produce on a floor and barely noticed moving carts, appealing food items on shelves, and even the misters on the vegetable produce aisle. An important part of these outings is practicing staying out of the way of other shoppers. He delightedly practiced loose leash walking behind a shopping cart.
Another important aspect to handling a service puppy in training, especially in public, is to not overwhelm him but set him up for success. Some situations are too distracting for him to do more advanced commands; I often practice easier commands he has fully mastered and slowly refocus his attention from distractions to working. This was useful during the grocery store outing mentioned above, which helped him focus on working rather than the shopping carts and people. At weekly training sessions led by Good Dog! Regional Team Leader Brittney Micely, she encourages us puppy raisers to find challenges from which the Good Dogs we handle can learn and succeed. I enjoy working with Good Dog! Bubba as he masters jumping on noisy and wobbly carts on command, lying underneath shelves, walking confidently over textured mats, and ignoring loud noises.
As he gets more accustomed to working in public, I will take him to more difficult outings. Instead of quiet stores that hold fewer distractions, we will work in large crowds and busier places, such as zoos and outdoor events. Through it all, I know that Good Dog! Bubba will conquer the challenges to ready him for a life as a service dog.