In several of my previous posts, I have shared with you a variety of key elements that make me a good service dog. And different aspects that are important pieces of my job. This week I want to share with you another important part of my job.
To perform my job effortlessly I need to feel comfortable working in tight spaces. And also feel comfortable walking on any type of surface.
Working in tight spaces and walking on some surfaces did not come easily to me. But I have worked hard to be more accepting of these challenging settings.
Are there things that you have felt uncomfortable doing but have worked to overcome the challenges? It sure does feel good to work through those things that seem uncomfortable at first glance, doesn’t it?
As I told you in my post My new service dog vest … and some needed adjustments! I have had some sensitivities to wearing my vest.
Along with my body being sensitive to having my vest on I used to have some discomfort when working in tight spaces. This was because I didn’t like the pressure of feeling closed in. Or the feeling of there not being enough room.
This could be seen when my mom and I had to navigate through narrow aisles at a store. And when I had to lay between my mom’s chair and a nearby object like a wall if it seemed too close. And when retrieving a dropped item that had landed in a tight spot.
Laying close to my mom’s wheelchair!
My mom isn’t very big. In fact, she is quite small. But her wheelchair is big so she takes up a lot of room! This can make a small area feel even smaller for me. So my mom and I have done some training to help me feel more at ease in tight spots.
For working in tight spaces my mom has worked with me on a couple of different things. Both of which have increased my comfort level greatly!
One type of training we have done has given me a better understanding of where my body is. That sounds kind of funny, doesn’t it? But sometimes dogs have difficulty maneuvering their bodies. This can be because they are thinking about where their front feet are but not their back ones.
My mom and I have done this fun training exercise with a bucket. She uses a rubber feed bucket like the ones horses eat their grain from. But she doesn’t put anything in it. Instead, she turns it upside down so I can put my front feet on top.
Working with my mom while using the bucket!
I have learned to have my front feet on the bucket and move my back feet around so that my body stays straight next to my mom’s chair. As I pivot she tells me “get in” which means I need to move my back end in close.
This has helped me so much with my service dog work. If we are in a tight space my mom just tells me to “get in” and I keep my back end in close. This way we can navigate narrow aisles or maneuver around objects so we don’t bump anything.
I have also struggled a bit with working close to objects. As an example, if my mom dropped something and it was under the edge of a chair it was hard for me to put my head close to the chair to retrieve the object.
To help me feel more comfortable with having my body close to an object we have played some retrieve games. Ones where my mom tosses an item closer and closer to something that might feel uncomfortable. Like in between objects. Or under a table or chair. When I retrieve the item she gives me lots of praise. And sometimes a tiny treat!
Riding the bus at Walt Disney World with my mom. See how nicely I’m laying in that little tiny space!
When we are out shopping or at appointments my mom is always looking for training opportunities. She has me practice the retrieving in tight spots. And has me go under objects like a table or chair. Or lay down between her chair and another object. Sometimes she even gets close to a wall as we are moving through a hallway.
The other thing I have had to work extra hard on overcoming is stepping on odd or unusual surfaces. Like manhole covers and grates on a sidewalk. And uneven surfaces. Although we don’t encounter too many uneven surfaces because my mom’s chair prefers the ground to be flat!
When we were in the mall I used to do this silly thing of trying to jump over or pull away from printed signs on the floor. They would catch my eye and I would think I should avoid them. But my mom worked with me so that I would know and understand that it was just different coloring on the floor. And not something that needed avoiding.
When we play our training games I get more proficient at my job. It gives me confidence. And also strengthens the relationship I have with my mom. I know that I can trust that she will keep me safe and not ask me to do something that she doesn’t believe I can do. If you ask me I think we make a great team!