Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Therapy Greetings

Every year Shakespeare does Agility demonstrations for the Reach For Tomorrow program for handicapped and at-risk children. It's a five-day program servicing about 3,000 kids, but this year we participated only two days, as I had other committments. But that's still two days of several hours of running agility and greeting kids -- each demo is followed by an opportunity to pet the dog and learn basic dog safety -- and that can be quite tiring for a black dog in the sun. So I took Laevatein along this year to help share the load.

Laev hasn't had the therapy training that Shakespeare has, so during the meet n' greet sessions I have her lie on a blanket and take occasional treats from me while the kids pet her back. I also make sure to choose Shakespeare for those kids with special equipment or more obvious mental handicaps, as he seems to be a little better than average at recognizing that this particular "abnormal" is not a threat of any sort. He's actually great at this; I've seen kids overcome with emotion at actually being near the dog begin to shriek and flail their arms excitedly or even step on his ear as he's lying on his side, and he doesn't react. Laev is never going to be that kind of dog, so I didn't even ask her to do that.

But Laev did some basic jumps and tunnels for the kids (delighting them and teaching her to handle applause and audiences). She also learned very quickly that if she flopped on her blanket and ignored the kids touching her, she could get very tasty treats. That was pretty simple for her, as she's confident in groups already and all I was after was reducing the number of Doberkisses she distributed to kids to may not want them, but she thought it was a great game.

We had trouble only once in the two days, when I delayed in talking too long to a new group and lost Laev's attention while she was waiting. She actually left our "ring" (marked by a line of flags, nothing more) and went loping across to the next station -- the archery range! My heart stopped for a moment as I called her, but fortunately no one released as she ran by. (There probably wouldn't have been serious damage, as these are small bows designed to let kids try it for the first time, but it sure wouldn't have done her any good.)

Laev did recall to me, but more slowly than what I've seen before. It was a loop back to me at a lope rather than a racing gallop. Granted, she was moving through a crowd of people in an open field with wooded edges and there were a thousand things competing for her attention, but I'd rather see her come more quickly even in that situation. Guess we'll be seeking out new recall distractions for practice! I wonder where I can find crowds through which we can legally train.

Laev stayed on leash for the rest of that afternoon. At the end of the day, as crowds were clearing, I took her off leash again and did some heeling and short formal recalls in the area. No problems then, she was happy to stay focused for her toy. But I ain't trusting her yet. :-)

We're headed to a Kathy Sdao seminar this weekend. I'm actually really looking forward to that, trying a conference setting with Laev. She's not as fluent in clicker skills as I would like (she is less inventive than Shakespeare in offering new behaviors for shaping) but that's what seminars are for, right?

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