We are still having "puppy classes" even though Volt will be ten months old in less than two weeks. As I have mentioned before, SAGA keeps a very close eye on the pups throughout their first year to make sure they are on track with their training.
And Volt was the only thorn amongst the roses today with yellow lab Yoko and black Lab Whistler in attendance!
First we took a stroll around the kennels. There were LOTS of dogs in kennels today, and puppy Riddick was put into a kennel enclosure with some toys and a big bowl of water to wait for me until after our lesson. The walk around kennels is to start the pups off ignoring the dogs behind the gates. And the dogs behind the gates have to ignore the puppies too.
We also did the obstacle course that has been constructed in an enclosure at SAGA. It consists of various objects lying flat on the ground that the pups have to walk over or through- metal drums, ladders, tyres, different kinds if metal and plastic grills, corrugated iron and kiddie pools (which have water and grass and leaves in them in the summer), a series of poles the pups have to weave through and a painted fibreglass calf! The point of the obstacle course is not to force the pups to walk over the obstacles, but to get them accustomed to coming across things they don't see every day and not freaking out. Their formal training will teach them to navigate around such objects but a big part of the puppy raising is helping the pups walk past or up to things in every day life without baulking. They can't flip out if they have to walk across a metal drainage grid or some such. If SAGA notices that a particular object or surface stresses the pup, we will then work on helping the pup get used to it without making it a negative experience.
We also did some obedience work- "forward", "sit", "stop", "about turn", "down" and return to heel, and the pups have to ignore each other while we do these exercises. Another part of obedience training is the SAGA PDS offering the pups a cookie and us telling the pup to "leave it" and not allowing them to reach for it or snatch it. And then we walked a circle around cookies that had been dropped on the ground and telling the pups to "leave it".
Guide-dogs are taught not to be distracted by anything when they are on-lead, not even cookie treats!
After the obedience session we went for a walk in the street outside SAGA. A couple of houses from SAGA's gate is a big yard with several dogs in it and its an excellent chance to see how the pups react to dogs behind fences. Volt and I have been doing a lo of work on this because of Volt's "positive dog distraction" (he loves other dogs) but to my dismay, all his training disappeared when these dogs ran to the fence!
This kind of lapse in training is perfectly normal with the pups as they are in a different place and its interesting and they want to run around and sniff and see everything, and the reason we do these exercises is to teach them that the rules apply no matter where we are. We did a couple more passes in front of the dogs and Volt settled down nicely, giving the dogs little more than a passing glance by the time he realised I was serious. We went further up the road and crossed at two traffic lights on a very busy street which is a great way to see if the pups are afraid of passing vehicles, and the pups have to wait patiently at our side without wanting to run into the street.
We then headed back to SAGA for a glass of cold water and a bit of a chat about how the pups are doing- and even this is part of the training session because the pups are close together whilst we sit and they have to sit or lie quietly without trying to play. The pups got water too (and an ice cube in Volt's case) and then we set off home after collecting a damp and dirty Riddick from kennels.
All in all, Volt did really well. Our PDS can see a HUGE difference in his pulling, obedience and dog distraction which I am glad about because we've worked really hard on it.
Stupidly (because I knew I should have) I didn't wear a hat or sunblock and I am now a bright shade of pink on my neck and shoulders!