Logan is a service dog in training.
Visit his page for more information and to read all of my blog posts about him.
Logan and I have been doing lots of training in the house, in the backyard, and even walking up and down the street I live on. But this weekend we took a big next step. Logan got to go to school with me! (If you’re new to my blog, you can find all of my blog posts about Logan, a service dog in training, on this page.)
As some of you know, I teach classes in the University of North Texas’ behavior analysis department as an adjunct professor. The University can be a busy place, so it is going to be a great setting for Logan to practice his service dog training.
Logan is doing great practicing his cues at home and in the backyard. However, in new environments or when around strange people, he sometimes can become quite distracted. And, the university can be a busy place. Even though it’s the summer, there are still plenty of people on campus, including students taking summer classes, children at summer camps, and freshmen attending orientation sessions. I know that Logan’s not ready to go to the University Union, the cafeteria, or some of the other more interesting buildings on campus.
However, I thought that he would be ready to go to the building where our department is located, especially if we took some extra steps to make the trips fun and easy for him. I wanted to make sure that he would be able to be successful on these trips and that it would be possible for him to be on his best behavior.
Here are some of the things I did to help make Logan’s first few trips to school a positive, successful experience:
It’s all about Logan: For these first trips, it was all about Logan. What I mean by this, is that our only purpose was to work on training. I wasn’t going to school because I needed to meet with someone or work on something specific. This way, I could focus all of my attention on Logan. Also, if something went wrong and we needed to leave, it would have been no big deal.
Weekend visits: Logan’s first three visits to school were on the weekend. We went twice in the evening and once early on Sunday morning. I knew there would be very few (if any) people around and that this would make it much easier for Logan to stay focused.Short trips: On our first trip to school, we walked around the building for about 10 minutes, practicing different easy behaviors. Then, we found a quiet spot and sat for about 10 minutes, letting Logan practice settling in a new location. Then, we went home! During our next few trips, we gradually added a bit more time to each trip.
Easy behaviors: While we are at school, we practice “easy” behaviors that Logan already knows well and can do reliably at home. So far, this has included behaviors such as leash walking, sit, down, stay, eye contact, picking up dropped objects, and a few more. This helps him be successful, since he already knows these behaviors pretty well.
Take things slowly: If we do encounter something that is difficult for Logan, we either avoid that situation for now, or find a way to make it easier. If we encounter a group of people, we just move away and let them pass. Logan wasn’t sure about the big staircase at first, so I let him take his time as he figured it out.
Build routines: This goes along with my previous point about easy behaviors, but we’ve been doing basically the same thing on each of our trips to school. We arrive, then go into the building and walk a few laps around the second and third floor, practicing different easy behaviors. Then, we go hang out in my office for a bit, and Logan gets to practice settling in a down stay while I work on something. At the end, we take a winding path around the building to get back to the car, then sit in the grass and practice eye contact while the car cools off a bit.
Routines make things easier because Logan knows what to expect. As he gets used to the building, he has become more and more focused on each of our trips. Imagine if we went to a different building every single time or did something completely different on every single trip. Eventually, Logan will need to be able to handle lots of change, but right now, this would be very overwhelming and overstimulating to him! So, we’re keeping things simple for now. Once he gets comfortable with this routine, we’ll start going even more places and doing different things.Keep it fun: Last, but certainly not least, I am doing all I can to make sure these trips are lots of fun for Logan. We’re taking plenty of treats with us, and when he’s hanging out in the office with me, he usually gets a few good belly rubs. Also, we are practicing behaviors that he knows well and enjoys doing.
The first time we stayed in the office for a significant length of time (around half an hour), we brought a bully stick with us to make the experience even more fun.
Importantly, I’m also always on the lookout for things that he might not enjoy. If I can anticipate some of these things, we can avoid them so that he does not have an unpleasant experience. For example, it’s been in the 90s this week, which means that my car is an oven. We turn on the A/C and let the car get completely cool before going to school and also on our way home. This makes the car rides much more enjoyable for both Logan and me.
Logan got to go on three short trips to school this weekend, and then again on Monday evening and Tuesday evening. On Tuesday evening, one of my friends met us at school to help Logan practice some of his training, and he did really well.
I think Logan is making great progress with his training so far, and I’m looking forward to watching him continue to improve!