August 11, 2009
Socialization is very important for service puppies. Until they have their complete series of shots, we either carry them in public places or take them to places where other dogs aren't likely to frequent. We've been to a few supermarkets, but Ruby really likes Whole Foods. Maybe it's the selection.
Actually, I think it's the people. When you're a puppy raiser and you have an adorable yellow ball of fur out in public with a cape on, everyone is curious. I was surprised to find that the cape doesn't immediately signal that Ruby is a service dog in training. I knew it wouldn't be much of a deterrent to people wanting to pet her (she's a button, it's nearly impossible NOT to want to pet her), but I thought the cape would instantly identify her as a working dog. Truthfully, I've found that's not always the case.
At any rate, you're with a puppy, you're going to get attention. Most people smile at her, but they'll speak to me first and tell me how cute she is. I thank them and let them know she is a service dog. To other people, I'm invisible and they just reach out and pet her. Some people just ignore both of us, and if I can make eye contact, I know they are aware of her working status and are respectfully leaving us alone.
Ruby and I have visited more than one Whole Foods, and regardless of the location, I really enjoy the reception we get. The salespeople are extremely friendly and the other customers are typically very polite. Whole Foods people just let us do our thing.
(As an aside, holy.....eeesh. I look like the wreck of the Hesperus. Of course, we're still up a couple times a night and she's raring to go at 4:30 am. But if I'm going to keep showing up in this blog, I really need to invest in a mirror. And maybe an iron and a hair clip. Do me a favor, just look at the cute dog. Thanks.)
As we were walking the aisles, an employee came up behind us wheeling a tall load of boxes. Ruby was frightened by it and started to pull away and cower. I asked him if he would mind letting us follow him and watch as he unloaded the boxes so we could work on her skittishness. He said sure, and couldn't have been nicer or more encouraging. I gradually eased her up to him and he talked to her calmly while he was working, making her interested and involved. She was over her fear in no time.
Trainers and experienced puppy raisers have given me great advice for these early outings while the puppy is still so young: "Set them up for success." When we visit public places, I like to take her an hour or so after she's eaten, so she's fed and toileted and calm, and there is less chance of distraction or accidents.
Speaking of which, I always carry a puppy pee/poo clean-up pack with paper towels, bags, and antibacterial wipes for surfaces (this great tip given to me by Raven's mom, Barb, on day one). Let's be honest, accidents are a worry for new puppy raisers! But once you're...initiated...and you have the right stuff to clean it up, it's no big thing. And it doesn't happen as often as you think it will.
Many thanks to all the Whole Foods employees for being so service dog friendly. We appreciate it!