Dear Service Dog Diary,
I know I haven’t written in a while, but I really wanted to include this day in my diary. This was a very important day because it was packed full of successes and frustrations. Today we went to Bark in the Park, which was a Brewer game where people could bring their dogs. We had taken Finn to a hockey game a long time ago (pre-service training) and remembered it being a lot of fun. So we of course wanted to share our love of going to baseball games with him!
Arriving was definitely the hardest part. Finn can still be quite dog-reactive; meaning that he pays more attention to dogs when he should be paying attention to me. Most of the time, he is just genuinely interested in what the other dog is going to do. However, he did have an unfortunate event at a dog park a few months ago and can get defensive. Luckily, his defensiveness is not so bad that it is aggressive. We have also put a lot of hard work into training him back to comfort. Long story short, he still gets a little “huffy” at some dogs, but is significantly better than right after the incident. Look at me getting all defensive for my boy now!
Anyways, he only “huffed” at the very first dog we saw. Then I put his vest on and I never heard a peep out of him the rest of the night. It really amazed me! I just want any other people out there who have dog-reactive (or people-reactive) dogs that there is hope. It takes a lot of hard work and care, but there is hope. We have a lot more work to go, but I can already see progress and that is so encouraging. It also helps that we have trained with both a dog behaviorist and our service trainer, neither of whom are concerned by his behavior.
The walk into the park was exhausting and difficult. Finn has never been the biggest fan of his gentle leader, but rather tolerates it. Well, today he HATED it. He tried to paw it off his face at least 10 times on our walk into the park! I had to very firmly yell at him, which is not necessary most of the time. It’s so embarrassing when he does that too because it just feels so unprofessional. After I gave him the stern warning, he stopped trying to paw it off.
My biggest frustration during the whole entrance to the park was that Finn would not look me in the eyes. I’m not sure if it was the fact that he couldn’t see my eyes because I was wearing sunglasses or that he was so mad at me about the gentle leader. Although it was probably a mix of the two. He would look Andy in the eyes and seemed to generally pay more attention to Andy. He would pull when Andy walked ahead. I even tried to body block his sight, and he just kept trying to look around me. I was so frustrated that I was almost in tears. We will definitely be asking our trainer how we can work on that.
As you can tell, it’s incredibly easy to focus on the negatives. However, after I realized how I was focusing on the bad, I fixed my attitude. I failed to notice how well Finn was doing despite the massive amounts of distraction. This is easily the most distracting environment he has ever worked in.
He didn’t try to play with the other dogs or bark with them; he wasn’t distracted by all the different people; he did start focusing on me after I took my sunglasses off (this is the reason I thought they contributed to him not making eye-contact with me earlier); he did brace for me and hold me up during 3 particularly hard coughing fits; and he did train for my enzyme alert in the middle of the game. On top of all that, I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to carry my backpack because Finn had his.
Our last trip of the day was to Kopp’s. Finn did an amazing job, but was definitely fading. We were still in Milwaukee, and Finn did really well with the amount of diversity. It really impressed me. We even had a guy come up to us and talk about service dogs and training. Finn just stood there next to me. I was so proud of him for being so good. He normally gets antsy when he has to stand in lines. The only part that I had trouble with was getting him positioned to be laying out of the aisle. Every time he laid down, he took up most of the very small hallway. He knows “under” and will lay under my legs, but I think he was just too faded by that point.
There were many things to be proud of. Of course there were going to be some frustrations. He is still in training and has a lot of work to do before he graduates to being a service dog. It all goes back to the patience piece of it that I talked about in my last diary entry. Time will bring successes. He already has so many successes. Finn would have been an insane, let-me-play-with-everyone mess even just six months ago. He may have been obedience and task training for a while now, but he only just started doing public work. That is a totally different environment.
I preach patience and positivity so much because I hope that by preaching it, it will start to sink into my own brain! I think it’s a really important piece to owner-training – if not the most important! You need to stay positive to keep your dog positive. The easiest and quickest way to get discouraged is by not having patience. I know it might seem like common sense, but I promise it’s really easy to forget.