Monday, March 22, 2010

Dora and The Sit Test

When training a service dog, ICAN wants to ensure that the dog pays attention to its person EVEN IF the person isn't right in front of them and making eye contact.

We begin teaching this by using a command the dogs know well: SIT. Using this command, dogs and handlers participate in the "Sit Test". Dear pup Dora recently was introduced to the Sit Test with a very funny and insightful result! Read on for more on Dora and her Sit Test (and several photos that show Dora's progression from a pup to an adolescent dog).

The Sit Test involves the following:
1) The dog sits upon request facing the handler.
2) The dog sits upon request at the handler's side.
3) The dog sits upon request with the handler seated.
4) The dog sits upon request with the handler sitting on the floor with his/her back to the dog.
5) The dog sits upon request with the handler lying down on the floor.
6) The dog is asked to lay down and stay while the handler walks 6 feet away, then asks the dog to sit.
7) The dog is walked across the room and told to stay. The handler asks the dog to sit from across the room.
8) The dog is walked across the room and told to stay. The handler calls for the dog to come, then asks the dog to sit when the dog reaches the half point of the room.

Simple, right? Handlers and their dogs turn this training exercise into a friendly competition as their dogs learn new ways to perform the SIT command.

Brandon, a handler at Plainfield Correctional Facility who trains Dora, was helping her through the Sit Test commands. Dora, like all of Smoke's Pup Crew, has passed her Level I certification of skills and is working on her Level II certification. (They remain a precocious and advanced litter! And beautiful...did I mention beautiful?)

Dora was having great success at the Sit Test until she reached the 8th and final step -- the step that requires the handler to be on one side of the room with the dog on the other, then the handler calls for the dog to come and gives the sit command when the dog is halfway across the room.

In ideal situations, the dog will begin to come to the person and then instantly sit when the sit command is given.

Dora had another idea.

She was used to being told to COME. She was used to being told to SIT. But, this new game of being away from her handler and then told to BOTH come and sit within a few seconds of one another seemed to confuse her. Or more accurately, she seemed to think Brandon was confused! Imagine a thought bubble coming out of Dora's head and it saying, "WHAT? You tell me to come, then you tell me to sit, then you tell me to come, then you tell me to sit? Which do you want - come or sit?"

Then, Dora had a brilliant idea. She'd give Brandon BOTH commands!

So, sweet Dora took a few steps toward Brandon when he said "Come", then before Brandon could say anything else, she'd sit! Then, she stood up on her own, took two steps toward him, then sat down. Again and again she did this on her own, slowly making her way toward Brandon, as if saying to Brandon, "Look dude, it seems to me you are very confused on which command you really want me to do. SO, until you make up your mind, I am going to do BOTH!"

The handlers and ICAN trainers erupted into laughter at Dora's attempt to fulfill Brandon's commands. Dora looked around at everyone with a look that said, "Humph. I'm not sure what's so funny. I'm simply trying to problem-solve here. But everyone IS laughing and smiling at me so that must mean I did something right! I just love when they laugh and smile at me - makes me feel very special and loved."

And so you are, Dora.

Check back soon for an update on another dog from Smoke's Pup Crew. Future blogs will speak to one or two of the pups and what they've been up to in training and while on furlough outside of the prisons.