Part of becoming a service dog involves getting used to a lot of different sights and sounds. Ike had a field trip today to our local commuter train station.
It's highly likely that in his lifetime as a service dog, Ike and his partner will need to take public transportation. It's crucial to make these experiences fun for Ike.
To that end, I brought lots of yummy treats. Not just any treats, though. I brought the really yummy and smelly stuff: feta cheese and tiny pieces of grilled pork chop (leftover from dinner a few nights ago).
Ike doesn't normally get this really delicious stuff in his everyday training. Going to WalMart isn't a big deal to him now. Going with me while I get my hair cut is old hat. The treats I use for those locations are more mundane (but still pretty tasty) because he's used to those situations.
But a train station? That's big. And potentially scary.
The grilled pork and feta cheese helped Ike create favorable associations with the potentially scary train. The noise of the station, lurching left and right on the train ride, the hustle and bustle of people, and the screeching and banging that a fast-moving train makes - any one of those could have thrown Ike into a tail spin.
The feta and grilled pork helped ensure that his train ride was a fabulous experience.
In addition to the really good food, I was careful to lower my standards for Ike. He was in a strange place. With lots of odd sounds. And almost every person there was a stranger to him. So instead of asking him for newly trained behaviors, I asked him for the very easy ones - the behaviors he's been doing since he was a pup. And he got paid BIG for each of those behaviors!
This allowed Ikey to build up his confidence, to realize he really could lie down even on the rocking and rolling train. He really could sit as the train came into the station.
If you're raising a puppy, remember to use very good food treats when you're taking your pup somewhere new. Also remember to lower your standards if you're training somewhere distracting or potentially scary. Let your dog take his time exploring and deciding when he feels comfortable. The more positive experiences your pup has, the more likely he'll become a confident, well-mannered dog.
There's a lot more training ahead for Ike. But his first introduction to the trains and buses earned an A+ today! Next time we go back, we'll likely raise his criteria slightly -- maybe I'll ask him to sit for a little longer. Or expect him to watch me a little more. And maybe he'll get the feta and grilled pork every second or third treat. But by really upping the treat value this first time, I've created a positive association with trains and with training. And that's priceless.