Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mall Walkers

Fire either really likes Dakota or he's too tired to care.

SSD Dakota and I have become mall walkers.

Before I continue with this post, I guess I should connect a few dots between this one and my last post from two years ago. Here's the short version:

Doppler was discharged from the program shortly after he entered advanced training. He couldn't get over his anxiety about stairs, and stairs are one of those "make it or break it" skills for service dogs. Even if he would have been placed with someone with a wheelchair, he still would need to use stairs in an emergency situation. Although I couldn't adopt him, he found an awesome family and is living the life as a pet. (Seriously, he's got the life. He lives out in the woods and has a little boy to play with. I'm pretty sure he's one of the happiest dogs in the world.) 

After Dop Dop, I helped raise SSD Cookie Dough and then SSD Oasis. Cookie is now an awesome working service dog (if I do say so myself). Oasis decided service dog work wasn't for her, but she still wanted to be a working dog. She's now an explosives detection dog with the CIA! 

I'm ridiculously proud of all three pups. 

And now, I'm raising SSD Dakota. She's a seven-month-old black lab, and you know what's awesome about that? She matches my wardrobe! Almost all my dress pants are black, and for the first time ever, the dog hair doesn't show! Trust me, this is a big deal. 

I wasn't originally going to raise Dakota. My fiance and I are busy planning a wedding, and we had decided that raising a puppy would be too much. So I just agreed to puppy sit Dakota for a week until she was ready to go with a raiser.


After five days, the little snuggle bug had wiggled her way in and now I'm raising her. She's been with us for four months now. 

And now we're mall walkers. One of my goals for 2017 is to walk more each day, which is a great goal in the spring, summer, and fall. The winter? Not so much. Plus, treating a puppy in the cold is miserable. Your fingers get wet, which means they get twice as cold. Not fun.

However, 'Kota still needs her exercise. Throwing a ball in the yard is great, but it does nothing to help me hit my goal of walking more. Plus, going to the mall also lets 'Kota practice her skills out in public. With a full treat pouch, we head to the Colonial Park Mall.

It took 'Kota a minute or so to settle in. This was her first trip to this mall, and there were lots of unfamiliar smells. I'm sure there were lots of dog smells, too, since Susquehanna Service Dogs takes their advanced training dogs to the mall regularly. I needed to use a lure to get her to go through the doors  correctly. Although she waited for me to tell her "go on through," she just wanted to sniff the carpet as soon as she was inside instead of turning around to look at me. To help her be successful, I used the lure, and she whipped around in a beautiful "go on through." 

Once we were inside, we paused for a few minutes just to get our bearings. I clicked and treated 'Kota for attention. After about five clicks, she was ready to begin our first epic mall walk.

Dakota was a champ! She walked nicely on a loose leash. We only had to do a few penalty yards in the beginning. She's also becoming a rockstar at taking the stairs. (Since raising Doppler, stairs are one of the things I make sure to work on.) Colonial Park Mall has these great sets of 2-4 stairs that are perfect for practicing. Little 'Kotes will stop right next to me on each stair, exactly like a service dog should.

We also got to practice some leave-its near the food court. I also started working on "under," even though we won't start that cue in puppy class for a while. Hey, I was surrounded by benches! Plus, Dakota already knows "under" when we practice with the chairs at work. However, I've learned that she's not great at generalizing, so we started back at the beginning when we practiced with the benches at the mall. I knelt in front of the bench and used a lure to get her to go under. After that first lure, she followed my hand under the bench. We'll keep working on it on our next mall walk.

Overall, we walked a mile and a half on our first mall walk! Dakota will sleep well tonight.

I opened a bag of chips. She woke up to investigate, but got none for her troubles. Beggars get nothing.

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