Written By Amie Chapman
One of the things I love most about the puppy raising experience is that each experience is different. Each puppy gives me different challenges and triumphs. Sure I can have puppies that are similar in some ways, but they can also be very different in other ways. Raising a poodle so far has been a very different experience than all the other breeds of puppies I have raised.
Pixie is a very smart, sweet, sensitive puppy who loves to go everywhere with me. I am her world. She is a very different dog today than she was last year. Last year she was a tiny puppy trying to figure out the world. The world was a very scary place for her. She was very timid and unsure of many things that we came across. She would walk slowly through stores as the atmosphere was a little overwhelming for her as a young puppy. She would bark at stuffed animals or other objects in stores because she didn’t understand what they were. She was hesitant to walk by refrigeration units. She was afraid to walk by papers or bags blowing in the wind. Metal coverings on the sidewalk were also scary and she would walk around them. Things in the dark were very scary for Pixie. Fire hydrants, shadows, noises, people in the distance. Certain noises like jingling keys would sometimes put her on edge and cause her to let out a bark or two.
The other big thing that she was nervous about was people she didn’t know. She was very aloof with my coworkers and she wasn’t interested in really anyone other than Matt or I. A couple of times I handed her leash off to friends when we were out with them. Even if I walked right next to her she knew that I didn’t have her leash and would be nervous to walk with the other person. Once I took her leash back she would jump all over me like she hadn’t seen me in days.
Children have also been a challenge recently for Pixie. When she is around kids that are calm and quiet, she is usually ok with them. If kids are running around playing or loud she struggles. She gets excited and I really feel like she just doesn’t know how to process the energy they have. She is very curious about kids and wants to check them out, but if they walk up to her and try to pet her she will back away and try to avoid them.
Over the last year (and especially the last few months) Pixie has grown and changed so much. I have watched her confidence grow immensely. She walks through stores with confidence and doesn’t waiver at the sound of keys jingling. I was able to walk her through Spirit’s halloween store and even large moving animatronics didn’t spark a negative reaction. She was actually curious about it. She can now do night time walks in the dark without barking at anything. Things flapping in the wind are no problem for her now. Big scary statues, even dog ones that she was once very apprehensive about approaching, she can walk right up to. I was able to capture some great before and after video of how much Pixie changed when approaching a large dog statue at the park. The first video was Pixie’s first time seeing the statue and she was very nervous about it and didn’t want to get near it; she even barked at it. It took quite some time for me to convince her that it was ok to check out. But the amazing thing about Pixie is that she learns and recovers from things very quickly. I didn’t record my second time taking Pixie to the statue, but she was much more confident about it. I did manage to record our third trip to the statue and watching the change in her was amazing. Pixie walked right up to the statue like it was no big deal. Now I can get her to not only walk up to it, but put her feet up on it too. Matt and I were able to put the clips together and make a short video of her progressive change.
She is also way more social with people. She loves going to work with me and now will say hi to all my coworkers. If I get busy and need someone else to take her out to go potty she will NOW go with someone else willingly. She will even greet strangers out in public if I give her permission. She is even getting more comfortable around kids. When we are at stores and we come across kids she is much calmer. Even if they are jumping around or making lots of noise. Walking through playgrounds is still a work in progress. She gets a little excited when she sees kids running, but she is still getting better. We recently attended a Birthday party for our friends daughter and Pixie was much more comfortable than I expected her to be. We have even been spending time with a young teen who is waiting for a service dog for himself. He is non verbal and moves a little differently than your average 12 year old. The first time we met, Pixie was very unsure of him and barked a couple of times. Now after only a few times of getting together Pixie walks right up to him with her tail wagging.
Pixie still has a ways to go before she can be considered a trained service dog. She seems to be just really starting to mature and hitting her stride. Her personality is really coming out now too. She is silly at times, but also takes her work a little more seriously now. She is still struggling with certain distractions, but her recovery time and focus are continuing to improve. And as long as she keeps improving, we will keep going with her training.
Her reaction to hyperactive dogs is similar to hyperactive kids. My coworker has a very hyperactive Jack Russell Terrier and we tried to introduce Pixie to him. She was a little confused by his energy and her response was to put her foot on him and try to make him sit still. We all joked that if she could talk she would probably say “dude, calm down. We are at work and this is not appropriate behavior.” She is very “proper” at the clinic and doesn’t play much inside the building. But if I let her out in the back parking lot with her favorite dog friend, she will run and play hard with her buddy.
There have been times that I have been worried that we were going to have to release Pixie from service work because of her confidence level and her distraction level. She is still alert barking when she sees other dogs sometimes and is very distracted by birds and small animals. But she is still making strides in the right direction so I want to give her time to mature. She is really trying hard and connecting with me better each day. She walks amazing when we are inside buildings, and is a super awesome shopping companion. Shopping is when she is at her absolute best. She is very focused on me, doesn’t pull or get distracted by food, people, or items very often. She can walk perfectly next to a shopping cart, and her ability to make tight turns in isles is pretty amazing. But on the flip side she gets distracted easily when we are in an outside environment and is pulling some on her leash, so we are working hard on getting her more focused in this environment.
Despite Pixie having a few challenges ,(and most of the puppies I have raised have had challenges) she has lots of amazing qualities. A big one is her calmness. She is a very mellow girl and always has been. She has no problem settling almost anywhere. When she is at work with me she will stay curled up under a desk for hours. She is great in restaurants, and can stay curled up under the table quiet and settled for as long as I need her to be. She is amazing on every type of transportation we have tried together. Airplanes, trains, buses and cars she is almost as perfect as they come. She doesn’t have body sensitivities to any of the gear I have used on her (I have tried lots of different items on her), except she is not the biggest fan of her head collar when we use it. She learns most things quickly, and seems to like to be challenged. Despite being very mellow, she is always ready to get up and go when needed and she has plenty of energy to go all day long if that is what is required. She is amazing at entertaining herself at home if I’m busy doing other things. And she is one of the best potty trained dogs we have raised, she has never had a single accident in public and is super reliable at home. She seems to know when she is “working ” and when she isn’t, and she takes her work very seriously.
At 16 months old Pixie is now at the age where most of our other puppies were returned for formal training. I have started to teach Pixie a few tasks already, but have taken a break from that to really work on her focus and self control with her distractions. I will be the first one to admit that she is a little behind where she should be with this at her current age. This is not her fault. I work a lot, that along with dealing with other personal issues it has been hard to work with her every single day on the things that distract her the most. So even though things are taking a little bit longer to work through challenges with her, she is still trying her best and we will see what we can accomplish. Most dogs are around 2 years old when they graduate as a service dog. If Pixie keeps improving the way she currently is, she will be amazing in another 7 months when she is 2. I still think she has a lot of promise and I hope that together we will reach her full potential. Stay tuned for more from this girl!