Yahoo & I Graduate!

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It’s been an honor and a privilege working with my dog, Yahoo, over the past 10 weeks. He taught me just as much as I taught him.

For example, as I was teaching him to sit, he was teaching me how to teach him to sit. He taught me how to properly give the command: “Yahoo, sit.” Always say his name first. As I’m giving the command, I’m giving the hand signal: elbow in, palm up, then I raise my hand up through his line of vision (the motion is similar to curling a dumbbell). This is done approximately 6 inches from his face as I’m giving the verbal command, “Yahoo, sit”.

If he doesn’t sit (and he didn’t in the beginning) then I would lift on his leash and push down his rear, without saying the command again. So basically, I’d give the command, then make him do it.

This simple but complex method teaches the dog to sit on the FIRST command. Opposed to repeating the command over and over as I try to get him to sit. By repeating the command over and over, I’d be diluting the cue and teaching him that he doesn’t have to obey on the first command. These are the little things that make a big difference.

Yahoo taught me how important it is to be consistent. No short cuts. Do it right, every time.

Yahoo also taught me the importance of communication. My celly and I have to work together, and do things the exact same way in order to be efficient and effective with our training efforts.

The graduation ceremony takes place in the visiting room. The center of the room is cleared out, and all the tables and chairs are set up around the perimeter.

The first class of 2016 enters. It’s an elaborate entrance as half the dogs and trainers split off to left and the other half splits off to the right. The audience applauds.

We circle around the room like two trains heading for a head-on collision. Right before impact, we strategically shift and intersect one another like race cars on a figure 8 racetrack. Before you know it, we’re all circling in the same direction.

The assistant trainer (he’s an inmate) stands in the center with a microphone and gives a series of commands, such as: sit, down, stay, come, circle, reverse circle.

All the dogs perform beautifully. Then we circle off the floor in a single file line. A crew of handlers quickly set up an obstacle course. Yahoo and I are fourth in line.

The assistant trainer announces, “Up next is Steven and Yahoo!”

We’re off!

“Yahoo, heel!” I say as I lead him to the slinky tunnel. He cruises through with ease.

I lead him to a make shift door. “Yahoo, sit!” I say as I give the hand signal. He sits like a champ. The door opens. “Yahoo, heel!” He follows me to three steps that leads up to a ten foot plank. (The first time we attempted this in rehearsals, Yahoo didn’t want anything to do with it. So I spent one week teaching him to jump up on chairs and benches.) We get to the plank, Yahoo conquers it with confidence and ease. Next is the cone weave. Yahoo easily weaves in and out of every cone without making a single mistake.

I’m so proud of this nine year old dog. Whoever said, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks” never met Yahoo!

After the obstacle course, it’s time to give an oral presentation introducing ourselves and the dogs.

I had never given an oral presentation before. The audience consists of my peers, high ranking DOC staff, sponcers, volunteers, and members from the community. To say I’m nervous would be an understatement! But I gotta face this fear and overcome it.

I’m fourth in line. As my turn approaches, my heart beats faster. I take deep breaths and compose myself as I mentally rehearse my speech. The microphone reaches my hand…it’s time! I get up in front of the audience and say:

“Hello, my name is Steven. This is Dicky. And THIS is Yahoo. Yahoo is a 9 year old Border Collie/Lab mix. He came to us from PAWS after his elderly owner passed away. When we first got Yahoo he didn’t know any of his commands. Today he knows all his commands. Yahoo is even-tempered and well behaved. For more on this magnificent breed, here’s Dicky.”

That’s it! I kept it nice and simple. In and out! After all the speeches, we were awarded these certificates:

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The graduation concluded with cupcakes, juice, and socializing with the audience. Out of 12 dogs, 4 of them got adopted. Those 4 dogs, and their handlers, each get a “meet and greet” table. At this table, the handlers get with the adopters and give a complete assessment and breakdown of the dog. The adopters also get the 10 week journal that was kept throughout the entire training process.

Yahoo didn’t get adopted…not yet anyway. So Dicky and I got to bring him with us back to our lavish penthouse.

If Yahoo doesn’t get adopted, he’ll go to a rescue shelter.

ADOPT YAHOO…HE’S READY!

Yahoo is well behaved, and very mellow. He needs a home with someone who is always home, such as an elderly person. Yahoo knows all his commands and is potty trained and crate trained. All he wants to do is lay by your feet, eat, and follow you around. He needs a low energy owner with no other pets or kids. He doesn’t need a lot of space or exercise. I run with him, but he’d rather walk. He’ll alert you if someone is at the door or prowling around.

For the right person, Yahoo will make a wonderful companion.

Check out PAWS for info on adopting.

For more info on The Dog Program:

HAVA
Orvis Magazine
Between The Lines
Freedom Tails
Brigadoon Service Dogs
SCCC Freedom Tail Program

 

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Steven Jennings

Author: Steven & Suzie Jennings

She was raised as a Mormon, and he is a convict serving 43 years in prison. This blog offers a glimpse into two vastly different worlds that somehow came crashing together. Join them on their journey through prison life & married life.

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