Laurie had the AMAZINGLY distinct pleasure of meeting and training with Wounded Warrior, Jamie, who suffers from a back injury and anxiety, and her MAGNIFICENT German Shepherd, ZULU!!!!
When I first opened the door, I was simply aghast at how strikingly beautiful this dog was. If I could handcraft a German Shepherd, it would look like Zulu! From the very beginning, Zulu was polite, responded to Jamie’s commands, made absolutely incredible eye contact, took treats gently, and already knew “sit”, “down”, “sit/stay”, “down/stay” (even when I disappeared out of sight), “heel”, “wait”, “leave it” with food, “load”, “unload” – just incredible. And Jamie herself – what an amazingly compassionate, gentle, kind, and brilliant person – who I felt like I had known for years!!!
I was astounded at how much training she had already done with Zulu. I asked her how she did it! She was so humble – and just smiled and shrugged her shoulders and said that she and her partner read the manual (an added star for her!), but had already done training with Zulu by themselves based upon their knowledge of dogs and what they had seen with the military dogs (using POSITIVE reinforcement only). Zulu, who is 18 months old, is playful yet extremely gentle with her little tiny Maltipoo brother, “Sarge”, and they get along famously. Zulu has that adorable quirk in German Shepherds with big tall ears where if you say something in high-pitched voice and tilt your head, she tilts her head along with you – then again, then again! It was adorable!! But truly, the eye contact was impeccable. I encouraged Jamie to use the “watch me” command as often as possible to reinforce this.
After I had done all these commands with Zulu on our first meeting, then Jamie demonstrated the ability to do exactly the same – except, of course, the stays were a bit more difficult because Zulu has an amazing bond with Jamie, and doesn’t like it when she disappears around the corner!! After the session, we went into the backyard, and Zulu amazed me AGAIN! Jamie can throw the ball, tell Zulu to “get it”, Zulu runs like wildfire, Jamie says “bring it”, then with “give it”, Zulu will either drop it right at her feet, or we worked on having Zulu gently put it in Jamie’s hands. Jamie will continue to work on this because with her severe back pain, it will be beneficial for Zulu to be able to retrieve items. We will continue to work on that with different household items.
At our second session, we met at Petsmart. Zulu performed perfect heels with the prong collar held upright in just the perfect direction and fit. I tried many different types of distractions walking behind Zulu and dropping items, and Zulu did not break her heel. We navigated through aisles using the words “left” and “right”. There weren’t many dogs there at the time, but the ones that were there, we asked if Zulu could meet, and whatever breed or size they were, Zulu did a loving, appropriate “sniffing” how-do-you-do, and all dogs reacted positively to her. We did several meet and greets, and Zulu had a bit of difficulty staying in the “sit” position because she wanted to approach the child or adult, so we will work on that. We did meet and talk with a Vietnam Veteran who was in a motorized wheelchair, and he just loved Zulu. We gave him treats to put in his hands, and it was a bit awkward for him because of his arthritis, but he was absolutely willing and excited and Zulu was gentle taking the treats, and then let the man pet her as we stood and talked with him for about 10 minutes. Zulu was patient, eventually just lying down while we finished our conversation. That is important for a Service Dog.
We then took a shopping cart, and safely tied Zulu’s leash to the cart giving her just the right amount of leash to heel alongside the cart, but not so much that she could go in front of the cart – which is extremely important. You always want the dog to be in a heel position next to any shopping cart so that it can still respond to commands such as sit, watch me, etc. Zulu adapted flawlessly, even when Jamie did maneuvers like backing up quickly and taking tight turns. Zulu repositioned her body easily to each change in direction.
Next, we will meet at Walmart at 6 pm when it is busy! And I forgot to mention – Zulu already naturally responds to Jamie when her anxiety levels are high or she is in pain by going to her and applying pressure or just snuggling to comfort her. These two will be ready to pass the PAT in no time!!