Wednesday afternoon Aries and I returned to the synagogue with my good friend S. to review what we worked on last week. During that session we used clicker training for targeting the handrail leading up the bima steps. In case you aren’t familiar with this amazing training strategy, it involves a bell, a clicker, and a bag of goodies. The bell is fastened to the target– in this case, the handrail. A goody is offered at the target, and when the dog rings the bell, even accidentally at first, the clicker is sounded and a goody is given. Each time the bell rings, there is a click and a goody. Bell, click, goody. Bell, clicke, goody. After about 15 times, the bell-click-goody pattern is so anchored into the dog’s memory that you advance to the next step.
Step two involves moving a few paces back from the target, and giving the command. The word for this command is the Dutch word for find, zuk. If you have worked the first phase properly, at this point the dog rushes to the target to ring the bell, to hear the click, to get the goody. This is repeated a few times, moving back further and further from the target. Eventually the target is removed entirely and the clicker put away. The command is given and the team finds the target.
Aries loves this game. At The Seeing Eye, I used the technique for the elevator n the building, my dinner chair in the dining room, even a trash can when visiting a local college campus. In every one of these situations, Aries did a great job. My confidence knew no bounds. Maybe we would even try the clicker to locate the handrail when returning to my seat.
We drove to the building and got out of the car. This time I decided to see how Aries would do with the wheelchair ramp. Spot on. S unlocked the door and we all entered. Aries had no problem getting me to the sanctuary doors. She even moved me around a table which was very much out of place. Once inside, Aries took me to a seat for a brief pause. Then the moment of truth. Would she hit the target?
I stood. Aries stood. “Forward,” I said, and when we were within view of the handrail, “zuk”.
My right hand touched the rail and up we went.
But before we could do anything else, we were interrupted by a fellow congregant who had come to the building to work with the AV equipment used for broadcasting services over ZOOM. Oh well. We exited and regrouped.
We moved easily out the sanctuary, out the door, down the wheelchair ramp toward the parking lot. But before leaving the premises entirely, I proposed we try heading for home. I heeled Aries and walked human guide with S across part of the parking lot, across first one concrete island then another and part of the way home. Then we turned around and S took her place behind my right shoulder to coach. Aries stepped up. She pushed into the harness and we were off
I could feel her happy excitement as she followed my commands, first “Forward”, then “Right”. She stopped to show me the curb onto the first island. Then the down curb. Then the up curb. Then the down. Across the remaining parking lot and up the curb cut to the ramp. Up the ramp, pulling– pulling all the way to the door.
What a champ! I can’t wait to see where we go next time!