First off, update on Emory. She was doing really well, pretty food motivated, had a good nose, loved people, but unfortunately she hadn’t received the proper socialization. Socialization is mandatory for a service dog though. I tried to work her through some things, but realized that it just wasn’t worth the time for a 50/50 chance that she would be able to get over her fear. She was very comfortable with loud noises (the breeder plays all sorts of noises in the puppy room to get them accustomed to sounds), but she was scared of objects. I saw this when I took her to pet friendly stores such as Tractor Supply and PetSmart. She did fine, except that items on the shelf would startle her. She would stop walking and just look at it for a while, then cautiously creep towards it, stepping backwards if she got scared. The first time I took her to PetSmart she was overwhelmed by everything going on, so I just fed her treats, in an attempt to get her comfortable. For a pet dog, this is no big deal. So, I decided to wash her out of DAD training and sell her as a pet. She is a wonderful dog for a pet, as she is pretty calm and laid back, but LOVES people and interacting. She loves to play with toys and is great with kids. In early January she went to live in Oregon with her new family, and she is doing well.
After Emory was put on the market, I began looking at litters available to evaluate. I still didn’t want to imprint a pup, and at this point I didn’t have time to raise a litter and get it old enough to sell as a DAD by August when I leave for college. But I realized that I should start with a pup at 8 weeks, so I can get that necessary socialization in. I evaluated two litters, and after a few hours tentatively chose one. I chose it based on its temperament. She was the most interested in me, was food motivated, used her nose, and was confident. The next day I came back, to solidify my decision, and make sure she had the temperament I though she did. I formalized the decision and reserved her. She was 7 weeks old, and I wanted her to have the most time learning from her siblings as possible, so I didn’t want to get her until she was 8 weeks. Each day until she was 8 weeks old, I went to visit her and work with her. We worked on following the treat, associating the low blood sugar swatch with high value rewards, and coming when called. At 8 weeks I brought her home. Her name is Suzie.
I’ve been working on basic obedience with her – sit, down, stand, stay, come, heel, touch, place. And we’ve been working on scent training. For the first few days I had her, I continued associating high value rewards with the low scent. She naturally began pawing the scent, so I rewarded that. But quickly she began to just paw the container with the scent, and not actually smell it. So I began to balance rewarding her for smelling, and rewarding her for pawing. Because she caught on quickly, I had to move to giving her more than one option to “alert” to (paw). I had wanted to continue to reward her for smelling the scent to build a really solid foundation, but didn’t want her to learn to just paw the container and ignore scent. So, I began to put the scent swatch in one closed fist, but present both fists. At first she just pawed a random one – obviously she had learned to paw an object. But because I had moved pretty quickly, she then began to focus on the scent and began to paw the hand with the scent in it.
Then, I put the scent swatch in a container. I began with a pvc container with holes drilled in it. I put it on the ground, and rewarded her each time she sniffed it. Then I waited for her to paw it, which she did quickly because of the previous practice. Then I put two pvc containers, but only one had the positive swatch in it. Gradually I added more containers. I did it in tiny steps like that so that every encounter she had with the scent was positive and she was confident. If she’s confident about what to do each time she smells the low bg, then when she begins live alerting she will be confident and will improvise if needed, not just stick to her training.
Now, I put anywhere from 3-15 different containers on the ground, many different types, and only one has the scent in it. I wait for her to alert to it (usually she sniffs it, lays down, and puts her paw on it), then reward multiple times. I reward each time she sniffs it again, reinforcing that sniffing is good and teaching her to be persistent.
*Note: I have 5 different types of containers, and about 3 of each type. One of the 3 is designated as the “positive” container. This means that if I choose to use that type of container to have the swatch in it, that positive container will be the one to have it. The other 2 of that type will never come into contact with a low swatch. Below is an example of one set of 3 containers. This is a picture from Sadie’s training, so the other two boxes had hotdog to try to proof her training and alerting to only the low scent swatch – Suzie’s not at this point yet! The middle box is the only one that has ever had a low swatch inside, the other two boxes will never have the low. This is so that I don’t have to worry about the pup smelling a box that at one point had the scent in it, alerting, and me not rewarding it – confusing the pup.