Penny's Adventures - Getting Started

Dear Friends,

Saints for Safety, Security and Serenity trained Saint Bernard Penny to help an autistic boy, Nathan. Here, she walks with Nathan and mom Tammy through the park.Penny girl is here around me in the kennel front room as I write this to you. I love the way she snuffles around when she investigates things. It’s a fun, new sound to me that I’m already getting attached to hearing. She’s a warm and loving girl that is wonderfully well bonded. But let me begin at the beginning…

Our lives together began on a very hot day. I knew I would need to take Penny in with me on my errands right away. My goal was that it be a fun and interesting day for her, and that I not let her feel overwhelmed. Well, I needn’t have worried! We both said goodby to you Marty, and off we went to CURVES. I figured that CURVES would become one of Penny’s favorite places. It’s always cool, being both air condidioned and filled with 7 fans! It’s also a cheerful place with friendly people that greet me whenever I arrive, by addressing the Service Dogs first, and only then saying “Oh, hi Leslie, How are you today?”. As we walked in the music was playing and the woman over the loud speaker was marking the time to move to the next machine. Penny had cheerfully hopped out of the warm van, had a good piddle in the neatly landscaped groundcover outside ( as every good Service Dog should) and she was clearly ready for the CURVES experience! So, as we walked in, she wagged her tail in response to the friendly greetings. After introductions I looped her leash around the leg of the table at the front of the room. This was going to be her place to wait. She could see me and everyone else, feel the fans and listen to the music…the staff person was grinning from ear to ear. She was going to be the closest to Penny during our visit. Since I hadn’t taught Penny to down yet, I just watched her watching us and the moment she layed down i went to her and told her what a good girl she was for waiting so nicely! She wagged as if to say “well, of course!”

As I watched she held her down and patiently waited for me. If someone approached her for a cuddle she got up, greeted them and then resumed her patient waiting in her down postition. Perfect behavior. Friendly, unobtrusive, quiet, appropriate. Really ideal! After my 30minute workout was complete we were off again to our next appointment. She seemed a bit disappointed to have to get back into that warm van, but I promised her we would be out again shortly!

Our next stop was a professional building with a glass door entry and then a flight of 20 steps, quite steep stairs at that. The string of bells hanging from the entry door jangled as we entered. Penny was unimpressed. I spoke to her gently and encouragingly as we approached the stairs. She responded with her cheerful wag and walked along beside me, exactly matching her stride to mine, right up the stairs! I was thrilled! I wondered what she would think about looking down the stairs on our way out…but we weren’t there yet! First I wondered how she would manage an hour laying still in a tiny office. As we walked in, I saw her begin to snuffle and I quietly told her that i wanted her to settle now. I took a small handful of my treat mix and sat on the couch and placed the treats on the floor, covered by my cupped hand. Penny snuffled my hand, then pawed it. I waited. Very soon she turned her head sideways in a new attempt to reach the treats. First her head, then her shoulders then the rest of her body was on the floor and instantly the little pile of treats was exposed! She was joyful as she snuffled them up. She looked at me. More? Quickly I dropped another morsel on the floor between her feet and stroked her big head and praised her effort. She was being a very good girl! I attempted to continue my meeting in a coherent way while keeping an eye on Penny and continueing to drop morsels in time to reward her effort to maintain her “down” position. I wasn’t fast enough. Shortly Penny got up, effortlessly located the baggie of treats under the pillow beside me, and indicated that she needed more of these yummies if I wanted her to hold her “down”. I grabbed another small handful of treats and resumed my cupped hand presentation of the prize. Penny looked at me, snuffled my hand, placed her elbows on the floor, head on the floorsideways next to my hand and efficiently plopped into her “down”. This process was repeated 3 or 4 times during the first 20 minutes or so. After that Penny remained down. She understood. What was being rewarded was gettting down and staying down. Smart girl! Patient girl! When it was time to leave, I gently woke Penny from her nap. She stood up, wagged her tail and was happy to come along with me to the next new adventure! But before we could get to the door, we had to get down the long flight of 20 stairs. It looked more intimidating to Penny from the top than it had from the bottom. She wasn’t sure. I sat on the top step and talked to her about it. I spoke in soothing, encouraging tones. I waited and gave her time to think about it. she layed down at the top step. I praised the “down”. All the treats were gone now, so I stroked her head. She stood up, looked and layed down again. She needed more help. I stood and she stood. I hugged my new big beautiful puppy. I hugged her and hugged her and inched her closer to the first step. Then as I held her firmly and securely I gently lowered her front legs onto the second step. In a moment my hand was on her collar gently holding her in place as the soothing and encouraging words swept over her and I began my downward descent. She got the idea and followed my lead again matching her stride to mine perfectly step by step never forging ahead or lagging behind. At the bottom I took her into my arms and told her what a WONDERFUL puppy she is! She was very proud of herself! And she had every right to be!

That was the end of our first town adventures together. When we got home she settled in very well. Met a lot of collies, was very accepting of thieir loud greeting, and got familiar with the place. I learned that the dog door to the front yard isn’t quite big enough for Penny to use easily. Something she efficiently showed me by piddling on the floor. I learned my leasson quickly and opened the sliding glass door to the front yard for her. She went out to finish her piddle and was rewarded with lavish praise for her effort! For the next hour or so she played a new game of taking toys out of the toy box and creating her own depot for them at the end of the yard. It was interesting to see which toys she chose and how she piled them up! Play will continue to be an important part of her life, so knowing which are her favorited toys is great. After her play time and meeting my neighbor Julie, Penny had her dinner and explored the large pen and field adjoinging my bedroom. Its a fairly flat field and I can see her when she’s out there so I think that will remain her place when she’s not with me. Her first companion for the night was Brady. He’s my senior rough stud dog and the one who raises all the boys. He’s a very tolerant , patient, gentle dog. They seemed to like eachother ;)

Well, I’ve gotta run now. Today we’re off to visit my friend Julie Flanery who owns a lovely place called “wonderdogs’. I take all the Service Dogs through classes at Julie’s place for fun and great exposure to other dogs. Penny is laying under my chair now. She likes to be near but is never clingly. It’s a very Saint way I guess. Very nice, comforting and excellent for Service Work!

More soon. I’ll keep you posted on Penny’s progres and her activities. Thank you so much for helping me further this work with one of your wonderful dogs! It is a pleasure to be with Penny and I am excited to have her in my life!

Hugs,
Leslie and snuffles from Penny too!

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