I can't explain how truly beautiful and natural the bond between Twinkie and Zachary has become. They look for each other and love it when they find each other. When Zachary went to bed tonight, he asked Joe to leave the door open "in case Twinkie needs to find me". :) I know he's mine, but hearing that was just too cute for words! Since Twinkie destroyed the two special toys for her and Zachary to play with, I went back to Pet Smart and bought two more durable toys. Truthfully, I think Twinkie needs to be playing with the full spare tire we have for our Trailblazer, but that would be kind of cumbersome to cart around with us each day. LOL We'll see just how durable these toys are in the coming days.
Today was a big day for us. I got to run with Twinkie on a track, and later in the afternoon we went out on our first community outing to the mall. Jessa was the trainer who took us out to track this morning. Joe, Zachary and Sarah (one of the trainers) layed the track, and I ran it with Twinkie. I was happy Jessa let me hold the lead so quickly...the more practice the better! At first, you always know where your child goes. You know exactly where they are going and exactly how they got there. Your dog not completely knowing your child's scent combined with you not knowing your dog, their tracking signals and body language makes it nearly impossible to go on a "blind track". At this point, Twinkie has only tracked Sarah's scent for months while training, and now we're transitioning Twinkie to identify just Zachary's scent. We want her to start running the track and say, "Hmm, I know Sarah is out there, but this other scent is very familiar, too! Let's check it out!"
Since we start tracking by watching where Zachary is going and letting Twinkie watch him walk away for a short time, it's a little difficult to completely trust her nose when we, as humans, process the world so visually. Where I thought I saw Zachary and Joe walk to from around 200 or 300 yards away, and where they actually wound up was different. Different as in the opposite direction! Based on my visual observation, I may or may not have found Zachary. Truthfully, I probably would not have which is a pretty horrifying thought in retrospect. I would've been in the general vicinity, but when your kid is lost you don't want to speak in terms of "general"; you want exact locations which is where Twinkie was leading me. From the angle I was looking from, I thought they walked more over to the left.....which they did not. Twinkie was on to their scent pretty quickly and was definitely pulling and snapping her head to the right as she moved into the scent cone. Even though I knew this meant she was on to their scent, I was still trusting my eyes as opposed to her nose. I guided her more to the left a couple of times until Jessa told me to follow Twinkie's lead since she snapped her head back and pulled me to the right each time I guided her otherwise. It was hard to release that control and thought process because in my mind she couldn't be correct....I SAW where they went. Well, clearly I did not because once I trusted Twinkie and what she was "telling" me, she barreled through the field and found her boy. Just. Like. That. It never gets old seeing this happen. As difficult as it is to have complete trust in this dog that cannot verbally communicate with you and say, "Check it out...this is my gig, and I've got it.", you need to because they clearly do "got it."
Twinkie is certainly smart, but she does not have the ability to tell the difference between a practice track and Zachary gone missing. It's always the real deal for her, and we need to treat tracking that way without exception. Each and every time we track, Twinkie needs to think this is THE most exciting thing she'll ever do, and when we find Zachary it is a major PAR-TAY!!! As a reward for finding Zachary, Twinkie gets a sliced up hot dog and her orange tennis ball which she loves!! Twinkie isn't allowed to play with this particular tennis ball. The only time she sees it is at the end of a track since it's so rewarding to her. Once she locates Zachary, we need to jump up and down in excitement, hug her, praise her in the most excited voice possible and give her the hot dogs and tenny all at the same time so that she understands that what she just did was THE BEST THING EVER!! You look and sound like a complete lunatic at this point, but it is so important that Twinkie knows that she's nothing short of awesome. (Since she already thinks this, you can imagine just how excited we have to be!) LOL If she doesn't have this level of motivation to track, she simply won't be so eager to do it. Needless to say, she needs to always be eager to do this.
Our dogs are trained as scent-specific search and rescue dogs. They would never be trained nor used in the same capacity as a K-9 drug sniffing dog or search and rescue dog from your local police department. Our dogs are trained to begin their track immediately and ONLY for their child. To reinforce this, Zachary needs to hide with someone different each time. Sometimes it will be me, sometimes it will be Joe. Sometimes we'll take another kid with us or another parent. The only variable that remains the same each time is Zachary's scent. With each track, Twinkie will become more and more confident about who she is looking for which will subsequently make us more confident and not underestimate her ability to find Zachary.
So.......for all of you who are waiting with bated breath to find out if I had an asthma attack or wiped out as I did with Aubrey, the answer is no, I did not! (so there!!) LOL I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I braced myself for it, though. Twinkie definitely showed mercy.
After lunch, we all met at the Fairfield Commons Mall. We were a sight to behold...9 Golden Retrievers and one black Lab converged on Entrance D with the 4 Paws trainers, and we were off. Zachary needed some wiggle time and took off with Joe. He enjoyed walking around, riding the real train around the first floor and getting a snack at Yoo-gurt. Once they went on their merry way, it was just me and Twinkie (and Jennifer the trainer). Surprisingly, Twinkie did better than I would've ever anticipated. Based on how she busts my chops as frequently as possible back at the training center, we were completely prepared for this to be a nightmare! Walking into the mall for the first time was very distracting to Twinkie, but girlfriend pulled it together, with a little help from Jennifer, and it was pretty smooth sailing. She and I walked and walked and heeled and sat and downed over and over and over again for about two hours. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's mentally draining. The last thing you want is for your dog to misbehave while in public. Twinkie definitely had her groove and once again showed me mercy. So much so that she and I hit the Hallmark store and bought Joe's Father's Day cards. I was feeling confident enough that she and I hit Starbucks and sat outside of Starbucks for about 25 minutes. All sorts of people came to talk to her, and she loved every minute of it. When you know you're as awesome as she knows she is, it's fairly easy to hear people tell you that over and over and over again.