Laurie had her first training session with Natalie, and her yellow Labrador, “Pearl”. Natalie is barely 30, but has endured over 20 surgeries in her lifetime. She has severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, and has many other autoimmune diseases that keep her in constant pain. She has to get bi-monthly infusions that have side effects similar to chemotherapy, so she is always feeling quite ill. However, she manages to take care of her dear father, who is deaf and has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s. They live off of meager disability payments each month despite their severe illnesses, but they have a passion for stray dogs – they have six right now that have over the years just shown up at their door. They pay for the dogs and all their shots and upkeep before they pay for their own food. It’s a sad situation, but somehow, they’ve made it work so far.
I initially went over to train Natalie’s dad’s “buddy” first as a hearing dog, but they decided that Natalie needed a dog for mobility more importantly. Luckily, Pearl, who showed up at their door about 2 years ago all skin and bones, is tall and strong enough to offer that mobility.
We had our first session at PetSmart. Natalie was there with Pearl, and her father came with his pup. I could not believe how well-behaved Pearl was! They initially had her on a harness, but Pearl could still pull Natalie, who has to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair to get around do to her many leg surgeries. So, we put on the right collar for Pearl, and she began heeling perfectly! We went all through PetSmart – Pearl acted as if she had been doing this for years! Natalie had her walker, and Pearl learned to maneuver with it just perfectly. Pearl was kind and gentle with other dogs, with children (would go into an automatic “sit”), with male and female adults, and never barked once. Pearl was not distracted by any noises I created, and was not even distracted by the cats there or the birds. She can “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “heel”, “control load and unload” into and out of the car, “wait” at doors, “leave it” (although she really didn’t focus on anything but Natalie), and she was fine with me taking her for a walk, too.
I showed Natalie how to use Pearl’s shoulders to brace when Natalie was having difficulty getting up from sitting positions or sitting down. Pearl also started learning “covers”, and responded very well. I also showed Natalie how to walk with Pearl if she didn’t have access to a walker by using Pearl as a brace against her leg.
All in all, it was an incredible first session for a dog that had never done any training outside the home! The session lasted quite a while, but Natalie’s dad was very patient and just strolled around the store with his scruffy little buddy! This team will pass the Public Access Test soon. We will need to work on “sit/stay” and “down/stay” quite a bit more, as Pearl wants to be near Natalie, but I don’t think this will take long. We also practiced tying Pearl to a shopping cart and Natalie used that while I took her walker, and Pearl navigated forward and backward and around tight corners extremely well!