Rally for a Service Dog

My easily distracted service dog after months of sheltering in place.

Sheltering and social distancing have taken a toll on my service dog and me. Steering clear of public places has weakened our being out in public places skills. Still, as businesses begin to open up, I need to rally myself to get back out into the community.

On the plus side, Bryce has become stellar at assisting me throughout the house and garden. We haven’t gone anywhere but house and garden, so he’s had ample opportunity to excel at what I need most in the kitchen, bathroom or out in the yard.

Staying at home was simpler. At shops and cafes, there are – people. The grocery store is at the top of the scary list. My husband (and local farm delivery) has taken that on since February. No one used to stop to talk to him in any aisle before the virus and they’re certainly not going to start, with a mask on.

Pre-COVID-19, I could be selecting peanut butter, bagging up lettuce or in the checkout line and there were always multiple too-close encounters with service dog petters, distractors, talkers. I reckon they’ll be the same folks who will be post-virus social distance breakers. I can hear it now, an echo of the cooing, squeaky, talking-to-a-dog voice saying, “I’m not going to pet you,” as they close in. Couple that with a not-being-out-in-public skill loss and I dread not only the potential for infection but also injury if our teamwork is sketchy.

Bryce and I at a beginner rally class.

So, I’ve rallied. Actually, we both have. We’re a team after all and rallying is teamwork. Really. Rally is an American Kennel Club (AKC) sport where a handler and their dog navigate a course of ten to twenty plus numbered signs spread across an area about the size of half a tennis court (the number of signs depends on ability level).

Beginners start with leashed dogs and advance to no leash. Each sign contains an instruction, such as Halt, Down, or Figure 8. The handler and dog move through the signs in order together with lots of communication, focus and praise. It’s fun, bonding, and great for retraining. And, the only other people around are teams focused on each other and the course.

Going to the grocery store could even become enjoyable, especially if we concentrate not on the people but on doing figure eights around them.

Here we are in class (with leash) and practicing (leash-free) at home.  

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