Sasha’s journey

Sasha is a Standard Poodle puppy that we bought from a breeder at 12 weeks old.

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Sasha had originally been placed at 8 weeks in a home to work as a helper dog for a child with Cystic Fibrosis. However the mum found out she was allergic to her, and so Sasha was sent back to the breeder.

When Sasha arrived it immediately became obvious she was a very fearful puppy.

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IDK whether this was due to her innate personality, her first home, or the breeder…I kinda assume it’s due to the first home, as the breeder seemed to have put effort into socialising Sasha (flooding maybe though…?).

We immediately noticed that Sasha was scared of people, to the point where she would stop walking and shy away when they were on the other side of the road to her.

She also cowered when cars went past (even when the road was quiet, one car would result in her moving away and tucking her tail) and she HATED dogs barking, along with numerous other things.

I worked so hard teaching Sasha the world wasn’t a scary place. In some areas progress was fast, in others it was hideously slow…but we were most definitely making progress 😛

Up until about 29 weeks old, people still scared Sasha. Although she got to the point where she could heel past them and ignore them no problem, if they talked to her (even calling out to her from over 15ft away) she would get skittish.

To this day she still hates dogs barking (eg. from inside a house or even miles away in the distance), and this still has the ability to freak her out depending on the place she is in. I have finally seen progress here recently in the last few weeks, but it’s slow going for sure!

As a youngster, although Sasha didn’t get excited about training, she WAS good at it!

In just one week she learnt how to heel on lead and, with regular rewards, she was better than most dogs we saw in our neighbourhood! For a dog that just a week before didn’t understand the lead and tangled me constantly, this was amazing!

At 3-4 months old she could focus easily at puppy class, a hall filled with often continuously vocal puppies, and she outshone the others with ease.

4 months old at puppy class

As the months passed we worked on nailing the basics, increasing confidence, and exposing her to the world without scaring her – actual ‘assistance dog’ work took a back seat.

At 32 weeks old Sasha has phenomenal recall and has never blown us off. She recalls from running towards dogs or people, playing with dogs, and anything else the world has thrown at us. She’s amazing. Her heeling is brilliant, she can focus around many distractions, and she’s progressing really well!

Because there are literally no good dog trainers in our area, I’m having to train Sasha completely alone. We searched the Pet Professional Guild and there were no trainers in an 80 mile radius, and the best trainers in our area (where we went to puppy classes) are okay at best – there was some flooding and force used on other puppies in the class, even as they were described as force free! In fact we only went to three of their classes because we were unimpressed with the things being done / taught.

So I’m doing it alone. I had already studied dog training for several years due to our first dog, but I’m constantly learning…so far we’re doing good.

I would love a professional’s input and will keep searching, and obviously because Sasha was so fearful as a pup there’s a higher chance she will need to be washed…but we’ll just have to see how she gets on 🙂

The difference; 12 weeks and 32 weeks old!

For a long time, I didn’t click with Sasha.

Initially it was the pressure of getting her socialisation ‘right’ (there’s a LOT of pressure on you when you’re raising an assistance dog!!), and because she was so fearful I felt like I was already so far behind.

Then I found it hard to bond with her because she’s so different to most dogs I love – I like crazy-hyper dogs, dogs that need a ton of stimulation. Sasha is the complete opposite; she’s incredibly calm and hard to rile up.

It was only very recently that we clicked.

I put all my effort into making training fun and finding things she enjoys. We have amazing training sessions now (I love watching her body language as we’re training ^__^ ) and we also have several different games we enjoy playing together.

We are very close now, and I’m MUCH happier about our relationship 🙂

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I caught a seizure alert on cam!

How Sasha’s taught

Sasha is trained using force free methods.

This means she’s rewarded for doing the right thing (totally different to a bribe, think of it like being paid for work), and either redirected or ignored for doing the wrong thing. No jerking the lead, yelling, hitting, prong / choke / shock collars here.

She’s learning so much at such a rate, it’s incredible!

At 20 weeks old Sasha knew

  1. Sit
  2. Down
  3. Stay
  4. Touch
  5. Ah ah (stop what you’re doing and move away)
  6. Recall
  7. This way (change of direction, on lead or off lead)
  8. Let’s go (start moving from being stationary)
  9. Side (move with me to the curb, to cross)
  10. Stop (freeze from moving)
  11. Between (move between my legs)
  12. Alert to stimming
  13. Seizure alert
  14. Go get daddy (run to my partner)
  15. Two (front paws placed on an object)

At 32 weeks old Sasha knew

  1. Sit
  2. Down
  3. Stay
  4. Touch
  5. Ah ah (stop what you’re doing and move away)
  6. Recall
  7. This way (change of direction, on lead or off lead)
  8. Let’s go (start moving from being stationary)
  9. Side (move with me to the curb, to cross)
  10. Stop (freeze from moving)
  11. Between (move between my legs)
  12. Alert to stimming
  13. Seizure alert
  14. Go get daddy (run to my partner)
  15. Two (front paws placed on an object)
  16. Leave it
  17. Keep up (speed up to get into heel position)
  18. Back up (move back into heel position)
  19. Find it (sniff out a treat)
  20. “Hoop” (sit from down)
  21. Face boop (nose nudge my mouth)
  22. Still (stay very still, for grooming)
  23. Seizure prop (lie still when I slump on / over her)
  24. Head up (lift head from sniffing and make eye contact)

Team photo!

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And now some training videos:

18 weeks old, off lead training at the train station

Working on stay and stimming alerts at 25 weeks old

Hands free heeling at 31 weeks old

Heeling and following directional cues with lots of distractions

Learning a new task to stop me accidentally dislocating my fingers!