Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jilly Unleashed - In the Park

Jilly's romping instead of running away! It's taken 4 years of training and treats, practice and problems but finally, Jilly can be trusted off leash. Please understand, that I am a firm believer in the leash law. But today was a training exercise and, if all went well, a graduation from our private dog training home school.

We adopted Jilly as a 'Career Changer' from our local guide dogs association when they determined that she was not going to meet their needs. Jilly jumped when she heard van doors slam. She startled when someone walked behind her. Refused to walk over sidewalk grates or jump into the back of the car. Played 'keep away' instead of fetch. And refused to come when she was called.

But from the first, I saw the love in those sweet brown eyes, I was determined we'd fix those problems. It took time and patience and persistence. But one by one, we got through each problem. Jilly learned to walk with someone behind her, jump into the car on command, and walk over grates. Playing fetch without playing keep away took much more time, but now she loves the game so much, she bugs us endlessly for just one more toss.

Coming when she was called and being able to be off leash has taken a long time. There was progress and setbacks. There were times when I didn't think I'd ever be able to let Jilly off leash. It hurt me to think that she'd never be able to run with the freedom and abandon that I knew she craved. But I couldn't let her run free without knowing whether she would come back to me. It's not a matter of my authority, it's a matter of her safety.

Everyday, we practiced. Because she wouldn't respond to the word, 'come', I had to figure out other ways to do it. I started with treats and the word, 'here'. That worked so I added a hand signal. That worked but sometimes, Jilly would get rebellious. When that happened, even treats didn't work. So I had to get creative. I started playing hide and seek with her in the house. I'd hide in closets and behind doors upstairs and down. It worked. She loved the game. So, I'd call, 'Jilly, where am I?'. When she found me, I'd have my hand signal for 'here' and give her a treat. We took it to the backyard. It worked there, too.

And so, for the last 3 years or so, we've played that game almost everyday. I hid. Jilly found me. I called. Jilly came.

But I was still afraid to let her off leash anywhere but the backyard. I was afraid that she'd see the open space and like she'd done before, panic and run away. But I also knew that it was time to give her the final tests. I just hoped she'd pass.

First the test was off leash in the woods, just a few feet from me or my husband with treats. She passed with flying colors. Second, the test of letting her sniff around off leash. She passed that one, too. Third, romping with another dog in the woods off leash...again, she passed.

It was time for her final test off leash in the park's baseball field, next to the picnic area, playground, and yes, street. I knew I had to be calm and confident. I had to believe in her.

I let her off leash. Jilly took off at a full bolt run across the park, across the baseball field with her ears flapping and her tongue flopping out, she ran in circles around and around the field picking up more speed each time. I breathed out a sigh to see her joy. And I breathed in to calm myself and keep my confidence in her.

Then, I called, "Jilly, where am I?" and used the hand signal. Would she pass the test? Would she come to me in her moment of freedom? Would she finally graduate to be a fully trained dog?
She heard me. She saw me. She came running full speed across the field right to me. Stopped. Sat. And waited for her treat. I told her what a good, good, good girl she was and gave her treats, of course. Then, as she ran over to my husband, then back to me again and again, I jumped for joy and laughed as tears rolled down my cheeks.

Jilly may not have ever had the chance to graduate from guide dog school, but today, she graduated from her own home school. Jilly did it. I couldn't be prouder. Graduations are so emotional, aren't they? I just want to know which way to place Jilly's tassel?


Caelista said...

"Dog training home school"--I like that. What a happy dog! It's always uplifting to see them in motion.

goldenbird said...

Oh, how wonderful! Congratulations to Jilly. You must be so proud.

I can imagine how scary it must have been to let her off the leash. You sure did a great job home schooling her.

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Michael Turner said...

I know, I just reveled in her all out running and when she circled around and did that joyous leap, I was smiling ear to ear!

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Michael Turner said...

I am proud, relieved and joyful!

It was scary to unhook her leash especially knowing that it was those 'wide' open spaces that used to freak her out. I'm so, so happy to be able to let go and let her go!


Lois J. de Vries said...

My husband and are puppy-raisers for The Seeing Eye here in NJ. Two of our dogs graduated and one didn't. She was an alpha dog and hard to place. It was difficult to hear that, month after month, she was still in the kennel.

It's heartwarming to know that people like yourself are willing to take on and work with the dogs that don't get placed. Thank you.

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Michael Turner said...

Thanks for all the hard work you do with your puppy raising. I can't imagine how hard it must be to let them go and even harder to know they need another new home.

We all love Jilly so much and are so glad that she's part of our family, now. The training's been a challenge, but one well worth it! (As I type, she is laying on the rug nearby.)