Thursday, August 27, 2009

PUPdate from Plainfield Correctional Facility

It's hard to believe the pups have been at the Plainfield Correctional Facility (PCF) for over 2 weeks now. And what a learning curve it's been for all of us involved with these pups. First of all, the relationship between ICAN and PCF is in its infancy so that means lots of time spent working out details and training schedules. And, we are thrilled to report that this facility has been fabulous to work with and they've embraced the pups and the ICAN program wholeheartedly. Thank you to everyone at PCF!

Second, the handlers training the dogs at Plainfield are new to dog training so their learning curve was significant. And, we are pleased to say, they each met the challenge with determination, hard work, gentleness, and dedication. They have thrown themselves into the ICAN program and into training these pups with a verve and a passion, and we are so appreciative for what they are doing. And let me tell you - THESE PUPS WERE A TAD CHALLENGING!
What do we mean by that? Imagine you are a dog handler new to dog training -- and the first pups you are given to train display two traits: 1) they aren't food motivated, and 2) all they want to do is play with their puppy siblings. Dogs that are food motivated are easier to train because they will display certain behaviors knowing a reward is coming their way -- food or a treat. Alas, these little guys didn't seem swayed by any of the treats the handlers and ICAN staff tried, leading to some frustration and some feelings of "What am I doing wrong?" Of course, the handlers were doing nothing wrong. The pups just weren't responsive to food like most ICAN dogs in training. Hmmm...what to do!?

The answer? Miniature MARSHMALLOWS. Yes, finally we hit on the treat that seemed to get the puppies attention...the beloved marshmallow. Now, the pups are responding to the handlers requests for behaviors, such as giving eye contact and and sitting. As for the nonstop sibling play, this was addressed by separating the pups into smaller groups during training time. Often people wonder if service dogs ever get to play - trust me, the ICAN pups and other ICAN service dogs are always given their play time. Who could take play time away from a dog for any reason?! When they play, we smile and laugh.

In addition to the original 8 handlers inside PCF who were hired by ICAN, we've added a 9th handler and several babysitters who look after the puppies' needs when their primary handler is busy with schoolwork or their job at PCF. In the next few weeks, we plan to host some of the Tony Stewart Foundation staff at the prison so they can see how their support is unleashing abilities and changing lives.

August 20th ICAN took the pups from the prison for a few hours to attend their Puppy Shower. Our next blog will be about that, but suffice it to say, it was a blast and the puppies were a huge hit with the 125+ people who attended the party. What a great socialization opportunity for the pups. While the pups were the main attraction for shower guests, there was a close second that really captured people's hearts and interest -- what the handlers shared with us in writing about their first few weeks with the puppies. Our guests were genuinely moved to read what the PCF handlers shared about the pups they are training. Of all the comments we received that night, the majority were people thanking us for sharing the handlers insights and thoughts. Again, ICAN thanks the handlers at PCF for helping our supporters and volunteers understand how these pups are avenues for joy, learning, service, and future opportunities.

What next for the puppies? Starting this week, the pups will go on their first furlough. This means an ICAN volunteer will remove the pup from prison for several days and work with the pup outside of the prison environment. This way the pups are exposed to people and things they might not see, hear, and smell while inside PCF. Furloughs also give the handlers a chance to rest up, take a break, and reflect on what's been learned to date and what they might learn next.

Check back in a couple days to see photos of the Puppy Shower and photos!

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