by Zan Raynor, certified dog trainer and CEO of ELLAS Animals INC
If you’re following along, you know we often train Public Access at theme parks and this week we spent a day at EPCOT. We’re at that stage with our two Service Dogs in Training that is all about patience and repetition in Public Access training and we’re starting to see that investment paying off.
Specific Challenges that Require Patience and Repetition in Public Access Training
Every dog is different and each has their own particular challenges. Pumpkin really struggled with public bathrooms because of the loud noises. Phin never blinked an eye. For a few Public Access training trips, I had to psych myself up before using the bathroom every time. Now, just a few weeks in, Pumpkin and I are drama free in public bathrooms. Our patience and repetition in Public Access training really paid off.
Phin heels like a champ but doesn’t auto-sit when we stop yet, unless he’s offered a command. That’s why walking/stopping/walking/stopping all day is such a good training opportunity for him. He doesn’t get that much during our formal training sessions each day. Attraction queues have patience and repetition in Public Access training written all over them!
Ride Vehicles are like Public Transportation
Both dogs struggle with ride entrances. Unless you’re season pass holders like we are, you may not think this is an important Public Access skill for Service Dogs; however, it’s amazing practice for multiple forms of public transportation, which is indeed an important skill for most Service Dogs. We live in a small town and have very limited opportunities to use public transportation with our dogs, so Disney World is a tremendous resource. They have the Monorail, which is like a train or subway to a dog, trains, trolleys, buses, cars, ferries, etc. In addition, every ride, from Frozen to Spaceship Earth provides an opportunity for the dog to learn to trust me when I ask her to enter a vehicle and to practice the appropriate place to sit while riding. This is another area where we’ve seen our patience and repetition in Public Access training pay off. Although they may still balk at the entrance to any ride, they are just as likely to walk right on and we see their confidence grow with each trip.
Service Dog Relief Areas take Patience and Repetition in Public Access Training Also
This week, we didn’t stop on our way into town to let the dogs relieve themselves but EPCOT’s an easier place for this as there are long strips of grass between our car and the park entrance. Knowing they had relieved themselves, and that Phin hadn’t vomited on the ride in again (!), helped us enter the park more relaxed than usual. We’ve never had an accident in a theme park, but I’m always on high alert since the dogs think they’re outside but the inside rules apply. I generally check the map for the Service Dog Relief Areas when I enter the park and this day was no exception. The difficulty is that these maps are usually quite vague and there is such a large area where you have to look for such a small and discreet spot. In addition, it seems that few cast members know where they are (again, very discreet) and they even seem to be relocated more often than the maps are updated. In this case, when we got to the area indicated on the map, we couldn’t find it, needed to ask, the food service cast member didn’t know where it was but asked a janitorial cast member who did (don’t those responsible for keeping it nice always seem to know where everything is?) but it was actually two countries down so we held off and went there a bit later.
Our first stop was Mexico, which gave us a chance to work on not pulling as we walked up the stairs with our dogs – something that is still a challenge for both as we only have three steps in our home and none around our little town. We rode the Gran Fiesta Tour boat ride. The attendants asked us to wait for the accessible boat and that worked out well because the dogs walked right on the ramp, rather than needing to step down into the boat, and I don’t think they even realized they were on a boat. Drama free!
Next we rode Frozen Ever After in Norway. This was more of what I had been expecting. Both dogs had to be cajoled to step down in the boat but then they settled in. I’d been a bit apprehensive of how they would handle going backwards (Pumpkin just turned around to watch) and the short drop (they didn’t even seem to notice).
Ignoring Other Dogs Takes Patience and Repetition in Public Access
Meanwhile, we passed two other dogs in the park and both experiences went well. Neither of our dogs are aggressive toward other dogs, and they don’t even bark, but they are curious and will generally approach other dogs to become friends if the opportunity presents itself. They also both get very agitated if the other dog barks or lunges. The first dog was as calm as ours as we passed by, with all dogs ignoring each other as they should. The second dog was a small dog in a stroller who barked and lunged but both of our dogs just kept walking, only turning their heads to watch the little guy. This is another area where patience and repetition in Public Access training is paying off because ignoring other dogs is an important Service Dog skill and there isn’t really a way to train that during our formal training sessions at home. We need to be out and we need to see other dogs, and it really helps if those dogs are also well trained. Again, we just need multiple daily opportunities to work on this, just like every other skill.
In Germany we found the Service Dog Relief Area that the cast member had told us about. Both dogs did their business when invited to and I even got to snap a picture of Dan cleaning up the poop, as you would do in any public area, with a pet or a Service Dog.
In France we stopped for our favorite lunch, a ham and cheese baguette. I got stung by a bee as we entered the restaurant and I was really glad my dog is so well trained that she sat, moved, sat, moved, without commands through the food line while I was distracted and nursing the sting. Fortunately, I’m neither allergic nor phobic so my main feeling was relief that the bee stung me instead of one of the dogs. A half hour later, the bee sting was a thing of the past. Both dogs went “under” and stayed in their “down” quite well. Every table is a new adventure, even in a place like this where they’ve been with us before. You have to strategize each entry and exit point as well as where a dog of Pumpkin’s size will be able to go all the way down, keeping her nose and tail out of the walkways, and not have uncomfortable table legs or feet pressing into her belly. Of course, we also have to consider where both dogs can fit under the same table so they don’t irritate each other, especially as Phin starts to stretch out, as he does the more relaxed he gets. Sometimes he’s really just a teenage boy at heart.
Patience and Repetition in Public Access at Future World
Having circled the World Showcase, we headed back out to Future World (which is quite torn up right now with construction) and dropped our actual teenagers off to ride Mission Space. We took the opportunity to find the next Service Dog Relief Area, which was again like a little city park and quite pleasant. While I was searching for it, I asked another cast member. This time she actually knew where it was and added the reminder that at Disney Service Dogs can use whatever natural spaces they want as long as their handlers clean it up. This is a flexibility I really appreciate. We also grabbed some popcorn and soda and sat on a bench to wait for our kids. The dogs got to practice “under” the bench and “leave it” when we dropped some popcorn. They also had a chance to drink some water from our dog bottle/bowl.
Because we were so close, we all queued up for Test Track next. The dogs got to share a crate (there were two available, which is the first time I’ve seen that, but our dogs do fine sharing one so we just did that) while we rode. I appreciate that a cast member stays with the dogs the whole time they’re in the crate while we’re gone. As always, they were thrilled when we returned, all wiggles and kisses.
Next we crossed the gauntlet of construction to get to The Land. We skipped the escalator because we’re still on the fence about that and also the elevator because that’s no challenge for our dogs anymore. We walked down the long staircase to work on not pulling. First we rode Living with the Land, which is another boat ride. Like in Mexico, the dogs walked right on because it’s such a flat entrance and they enjoyed the ride without seeming nervous at all. Next we rode Soarin’ Around the World where the dogs shared a crate again. As we left, we used the public bathroom for perhaps the third time that day. I forget to even mention those because patience and repetition in Public Access training has made them unmemorable, as they should be.
On our way to the front of the park and the exit, we stopped to ride Spaceship Earth (in the big EPCOT “ball”). I had saved this for last and have had it on my radar since we started Public Access training in theme parks because it is not a static ride entry like the others we have worked on. This is a moving walkway (which we practiced at Universal) onto a moving ride vehicle. The joke was on me, though, because Disney was prepared. They asked us to go to the accessibility entrance where they stopped the moving walkway as we approached and allowed the dogs to use it as a static entry. It was drama free and the dogs enjoyed the ride, although Phin took the opportunity for a snuggle.
Outside the park, we let the dogs use the strips of grass again and left their Service Dog in Training vests on since we were just driving a short distance to the restaurant. We ate at Noodles and Company and the dogs did well with “under” and “down/stay”. As always, they got their pup cups from Starbucks as a treat on the way home.
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Note: We live in Florida, where state law extends the federal public access rights from the ADA to Service Dogs in Training. Click here to check the state laws where you live to see what public access rights Service Dogs in Training have before you head out to any no-pets-allowed stores or restaurants.
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