Had a fun Thurs-Fri-Sat at BlogPaws here in Denver, it was a great event! I want to thank all of our friends and readers who brought us a nomination in the Petties Awards. The winners of "Best Cause Related Blog" were the dedicated bloggers at ILoveRescueAnimals.org – congratulations, Ashley and Nikki! Ruby and I were so happy to have met you and look forward to working with you on your mission!
We may only have finished as runners-up, but Ruby and I could not have felt more like winners! People from every aspect of this conference – session presenters, fellow bloggers and attendees, vendors, hotel and event staff – expressed incredible interest in Ruby and her training. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to answer some really excellent questions about service puppy raising and to meet some wonderful and caring people. Thank you to everyone who came up to us and spent some time learning about our journey and the role service dogs have in the lives of individuals with disabilities.
But most importantly, how did our Roo behave during her first conference? Well, all in all, I can definitely give her a solid "B." Was she marvelous? NOPE! Did she get restless and do things the likes of which I haven't seen since she was a baby? Ohhhh, yes.
During our first hour-long session, she expressed her displeasure by pawing and rubbing at her Gentle Leader, swimming (yes) across the floor, snuffling under a tablecloth like a pig on a truffle, and chewing on her leash, while giving me the "HAH! What are YOU going to do about it?" eyeballs.
And some of those behaviors kept popping up throughout the three days. But I wasn't really worried. This was a weekend of firsts for her. Crowded rooms with large audiences and loud talking and applause and food and microphones and huge video screens and music and other dogs, cats, small animals and birds in attendance. And the expectation that she had to ignore all of these thousand distractions and just be quiet and still? A lot to ask.
But here's what happened over the three days: with a little help from me, she learned to calm herself. When we were seated and she'd start to go nuts, I'd quietly begin puppy pushups -- softly giving her the "Sit, Down, Stand" commands in rapid succession -- to help her channel that nervous energy and gain her focus. Once she locked in to me, I'd gently rub her snoot or her rump, her favorite places to be petted, so she'd feel that secure and familiar sensation in this unfamiliar place. As she relaxed, I'd put her in a down and make sure to treat her frequently as she gave me the desired behaviors.
Would she stay in that down? At first, no. She'd pop back up and we'd start the cycle again. But each time we went through it, her downs lasted longer. First it was a few seconds, then it was a few minutes. By the last day, during the long lunch and awards session, she started out fidgety (and a million thank yous to the awesome gals who sat on either side of me -- one whose legs got licked and another whose foot was used as a pillow) but Ruby wound up calming herself and eventually going to sleep.
As always, it's the constant repetition of the training that makes all the difference. And, on that note, I have to say how utterly bursting-at-the-seams proud I am of her when it came to interaction with the other dogs at the conference. No lunging, some curiosity and pulling and sniffing, but many times, she'd just out-and-out ignore 'em and walk right by. Can you believe it? She was so good, I put her in a sit next to an unfamiliar dog (with his owner's permission), and snapped a few pix. She couldn't care less. In most of the photos, she's not even looking at him.
Two more things really encouraged me. First, she responded very well to the "Heel" command, like, almost military style. Second, she made some great progress with "Under." She's not got it fully down pat yet, so instead of adding another challenge to the already challenging conference rooms (and to give her a break from all the din), I kept taking her into the bathroom to practice. We were in and out of there so often, people must think I had some sort of near-fatal bladder issue, but who cares! Look at my girl! Settled under and stayed while I'd wash my hands, walk around the room, freshen the make-up, chat with other gals in the ladies' room...she didn't move a muscle till I released her.
Oh, and how 'bout this? "Sit/Stay" with dropped leash while waiting in a busy line. Didn't budge.
It really was a win-win – we met some great people and had our most unique and challenging training experience yet!