Sodapops Training

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ServiceMini

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So I decided to use this to document some of the training Sodapop and I have done/will do together. :) I'm going to be going through and going from when I first got her, to now, and posting her training and what she's learned.


This is her on our first walk together, learning how to lead next to the walker and get used to the village. She accepted the walker very well, with no real fuss. She was very curious about everything on our walk, and whinnied at most people she saw. We took things slow, and for this first walk only went around the block before heading home for a nap and some rest. This was her second day of lead rope training.

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ServiceMini

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This is the third day we had her, I was working on teaching her to follow me around and pay attention to where I was, the same way I do with all my other animals when they're babies or new to me. I especially find this important for either very small or very large animals. But I thought it was important for her to know that following me = good things, where as not following = nothing happening. She typically doesn't follow me around much, but she does come when called and is aware of where I'm at, which is all I really want.
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ServiceMini

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This is from the day when I first started working with her on scratch-interruption, one of her tasks for when we're in public. She was at the point of consistently licking my hand or nudging it when undistracted.

To train this, I held a carrot in my hand and lured her to my leg and started scratching, and waited until she made an attempt to get the carrot out of my hand to give it to her. Over time she knew that scratching meant she had to bump my hand strongly (which makes me stop scratching) to get the carrot. Once she fully understood this, I then removed the carrot from my hand and started giving it to her after she tossed my hand up.

To counter this becoming a nosey/demanding behavior, I also worked with her on me holding a carrot in my hand and letting her try to get it until she gave up; and over time she learned the only way to get a treat is to behave and be polite- unless I'm scratching. I always use the 9-10 ratio. 9 times out of ten, she must be polite and not beg for a treat in order to randomly get one for behaving well. 1 time out of ten, I will scratch and she will be rewarded for interrupting it. Making behaving well the most rewarded means she doesn't learn the bad behavior of begging, but still learns how to interrupt scratching. She is now at the point where when I'm scratching, she will toss my hand away a few times before starting to lightly paw at my foot if I don't listen, which makes me listen very well to her. 🤣 😅

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ServiceMini

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This is from a ride to the park, where she road in the bike-trailer for the first time, and met her first service dog friend! It was also the first time she wore her vest. 😍

Here we were at the park, and she was just learning how to not-nibble grass while vested, and to ignore people calling/talking to her.
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This is her practicing 'Front Block', where she stands in front of me sideways, useful in two scenarios. One, to create space between me and a triggering person, so I can calmly interact. Very useful for certain people who don't know what personal space is. 😂 The other scenario is to help keep her safe; to keep her within my view and using myself as a shield to make people leave her alone. Very useful for kids in stores, people trying to pet her, or agressive dogs. My service dog was taught to do this as a puppy, largely to keep people from grabbing at him, and so this is the very first position I started teaching her to get into whenever I sit down/stand for awhile. We are still working on connecting it to the name 'Front', but she lures into this position and knows to stay there very well by now.

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This is of her and Oden, a service dog we know. He was beautifully behaved, especially for never seeing a horse before. It was so nice to see her so relaxed with him right there. She was trying to boss him around a bit by walking right into his face and pinning her ears, but after being told no by me a few times she stopped and settled right down. She's my little sassy pants!

It's incredibly important to me to have her comfortable around dogs and other animals; as we have a serious problem where I live with people bringing untrained dogs into public, or allowing them to be off leash in public/in their lawns while we're on walks. Again I try to use the 9-10 ratio. 9 of her encounters with other animals are positive, to offset the 1 time it's not (we've already been lunged at a couple times, and once a dog made contact with her), so luckily she still loves dogs. She has a poodle friend bigger than she is that she winnies at to come say hi every time we see him. 🥰
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I find it particularly cute how she followed where Oden looked!
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This video is the final bit of training we did that day, where we had gone up to the splash pad to watch the water and adjust to kids screaming and running. She did so, so good this day, it made me so amazed to see how level headed she was. We practiced walking over a playground, practiced walking over a wooden bridge, and she met loads of little kids.

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ServiceMini

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This is her using her ramp to get down the stairs. We have it one step down to slowly work on her coordination and muscles needed for doing stairs (something all service horses need to learn), and because having it all the way up was just too steep for her. She adapted to the ramp very well, and it helped me not need to carry her down the stairs every two hours for potty training. To teach her how to go down the ramp, I actually started by teaching her to walk up it. Once she mastered that, I put my hand on her chest to help her keep from just rushing down it; as doing it slowly and methodically is safest. After awhile, I took my hand further and further from her chest. This was still fairly new to her, so she rushed down. We were showing her progress with this video. Eventually this will be helpful to get her into cars with too high of a jump for her. We found this ramp that is rated for 500 pounds, and have tested it to 325 pounds. It folds in half, and has teeth on the top to help with traction so it wont slide off the stairs. A very good find!
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ServiceMini

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This is her potty training setup. Adult horses can hold their business anywhere from 2-6 hours when fully trained, with the record being a very stubborn boy who refused to pee for about 10 hours. Sodapop is fully pee-trained, and honestly pee-trained herself in a matter of days to go to her litterbox or wait to go outside. But litterboxes are needed for indoor horses, as it's super important to keep their gut moving. Her litter box is a kids wading pool, and we use fine shavings. There is a product called Sani-care that is wood and clumps when wet. Poop training has been harder, but at 4 months old, we are at the point where it's not unusual for her to go a full day without any poo-based accidents. Night time is a different story, but it's getting better. My secret weapon has been mandarin oranges. She gets one little slice of one every time she uses her litter box, or goes potty on command outside. I think the biggest hurdle has just been age and waiting for her to physically and mentally be ready. We're at the point now where the only time she has accidents it's in the same room as her litter box, and she is busy eating. When eating it's only a 30% chance she'll realize she needs to go before it's too late. But it's so incredibly hard for her to make herself stop eating just to go potty, much like any other baby.

The process has been simple, just leading her into her litter box every time she starts to go and reward it, paired with tying her in her freshly-cleaned pool untill she went potty and rewarding her. Also taking her out every 2-ish hours for a few minuets, we're now up to every 4 hours as that seems to be her natural gut cycle.

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This is her after her second bath, she did wonderfully. She allowed me to wash her all over, no rearing or bucking like she did during her first bath. I started with her hooves and very low water pressure, then slowly worked up to a normal water pressure and her upper body and face, giving her breaks every 3-5 seconds and giving her occasional little bits of cut up carrots. She didn't enjoy her bath, but she did let me get all the mud she'd gotten into off of her lol.

This was also taking during the two weeks at my grandfathers house, where she lived with a doggy door to go out into a fenced in area, and without her litter box, instead having a vynal-covered corner that was fenced in (around the doggy door), or wandering the house with me right behind her to make sure she had no accidents. Surprisingly, her potty training was BETTER when she came home to her litter box- it's when she started pooping regularly in her litter box instead of having accidents. My only explanation for this is age and maturity, as I was expecting it to have the opposite effect on her.

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This is from last night, where we went to a football game. She did fabulously, we worked from our home up to as close as we could get; and she handled it so well that she was falling asleep standing there. We worked on not eating grass while standing, grazing when given the okay, and standing calmly next to me while people pass without whinnying at them or trying to go up for pets.

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And this final video is from tonight, working on stairs! Stairs are probably the hardest thing to teach in my opinion to any animal, but they're something that all service horses need to learn how to manage. They need to be able to use their core, balance, and coordination all at once to navigate them. Going up is the easier part to teach; although going up slowly, pausing between each step is harder. Sodapop can go up most stairs, although we're working on going up them slowly. We stick to small staircases, of 2-5 steps.

Going down is MUCH harder. We started with the ramp on the second-going-down step. This way she had to step down one step, with my hand in front of her and on her shoulders to help her keep her balance. Then we started learning on the back steps, which are three steps, not very high, and about a foot long- giving her MUCH more room to navigate each step. At first I had her going down at an angle- so her hind hooves could step onto the same step as her front hooves before the front went down next. So all four feet were on the same step at once.

After she mastered going slowly down them at an angle, we slowly straightened out until she mastered putting her front hooves down and quickly pulling her hind hooves down to the step her front hooves just came off of. For now we stick to small, wide sets of stairs to build up her confidence slowly, and to build up her muscles and coordination.

In all honesty, this is probably the only part of training that scares me. It's also something that I wouldn't be doing if it weren't a necessity. Training my dogs to go down one step at a time was hard, but with a horse it's just scary. 😖

And now, with the exception of one video that refuses to load, we're all up to date! :) I'll be updating this with various training we do, and how we go about it, as there's honestly no real record of a step-by-step raising a service horse. Hopefully by documenting everything, someday it can help others see where we made mistakes so they can avoid them!
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ServiceMini

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Are you training her for yourself or a client? She's cute as a button!
She's for me. :) I'm a service dog trainer for clients worldwide through video and text assistance, but I decided to personally switch to horses as they live so much longer and can safely do mobility work. I would need a mastiff for the mobility work I need; and their fully-trained workspan is only 3-5 years before retirement. So a horse was just more logical. :) I have considered, if she works out as a well stable-minded and able-bodied mare, possibly breeding her after she's fully trained before my service dog retires to train her foal to donate, but that's years off and fully dependent on how she matures. So far the need for service horse temperament younglings and adults is far greater than the horses available who have the right temperament.
 

ServiceMini

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That's interesting! I have a form of arthritis that is slowing me down a lot and I can't see myself ever being "horseless" though at some point it may happen. The option of a trained service mini is appealing to me.
As far as I know, there is only one training facility, it's in Florida. :) I'm in a group with the person who runs it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask! ☺
 

ServiceMini

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Guess who's graduated to a bigger set of stairs! Very proud of her. We practiced going down with me holding her coat for her (She is so tiny I'm using my dogs jacket on her and it fits perfectly) to help her keep her balance, then with her going down with me in front to keep her from rushing down and tripping. Going down slowly is hard for her, but is already getting easier and easier now that we're actively practicing it more. We are also working on going down the front steps of the house, which are 'normal' regulation stairs. On those she wears a special vest with a handle on it so I can help her down. As she's building up her balance and ability to coordinate it's getting less scary to work with her on these. She much prefers going up stairs.



We also worked on her walking in front of me, and she's been doing so well. No more lagging far behind on walks. ☺
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ServiceMini

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Soda just pottied on command for the first time!! We were out grazing on her lead, and I made her stop for a bit and then asked her to go potty, and she finally peed! When asked! 🥰 This is a HUGE step towards starting public access. Once she is pooping on command, we can start going for short public access trips! I am so proud of her. This is one of the bigger milestones for any service animal in training; it allows us to have our animals try to potty outside before we go outside.

To train this, I have been pairing the phrase 'go potty!' every time she potties, ever sense I got her. It's been building a mental connection, and she is finally old enough to start controlling herself enough to try pottying when asked to. So proud of my girl!

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ServiceMini

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Oh she is so awesome and so cute. Your works shows
Thank you so much!! 🥰 She makes training easy!

Today we went on a short walk up and down the street without my walker. We worked on starting to move, stopping, then speeding up and slowing back down, making sudden turns or circles, or backing up, while staying in a heel. She did so well, but we need more work on slowing back down! Once she gets going, she just wants to keep going lol. Maybe I can trailer her out to the park and teach her to trot next to my bike on a long leash and a dog harness on the grass? She never runs on her own, expect when she is on a walk! I have only seen her run once on her own, and beyond that it's when a teen the next road over jogs up and down the road with her for me (which she LOVES). Her fastest pace is a quick walk usually, although we've been practicing trotting/walking/trotting/walking.

She is doing good peeing on command now, but has been on an accident streak lately for pooping; but such is potty training. It's never linear. Funnily enough; when I came home today from a trip with Ponyboy (my service dog), I found her in her pool pooping! So it's a little bit of progress at a time.

We've been working on liberty work in the back yard, and she is starting to understand following in a heel position and learning to turn and keep close. We're working on this leashless, as we're switching to a hands-free leash (it goes around my waist or over my shoulder) as soon as she fully understands heeling and positioning commands so I can stop holding her leash, as it aggravates my MCAS and makes my hands blister and rash up.

She is starting to respect 'leave it' for longer than a second or two, but we still need to solidify it with grass. But I am so proud of her. She comprehends what it means, she just still has baby self control; so with age it will get easier. I usually don't expect young animals to 'leave it' for very long. So if she goes for grass, I say leave it, she stops and then ten seconds later goes for it again, I'm still proud of her even as I tell her to leave it again. I also use the 9-of-10 method on this, where 9 out of 10 times she will be rewarded for responding to the leave-it command, so she understands that usually it's better to leave it than to ignore me. Once she hits a year old, I will expect her to be able to leave something alone for a few minuets, and at two or three indefinitely. But that comes second by second, and through countless reputation and praise and rewarding the wanted behavior.

She also seems to be picking up on my Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome with all the walking we do. About 30-60 seconds before an episode of extremely fast heartrate + low blood pressure + starting to faint, she will either freeze and refuse to move if I am standing, or will come and nuzzle me with her chin while I'm sitting. I caught a photo of her doing this yesterday; she lays her entire head on my lap and sways her head back and forth.

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She does this VERY consistently(Started out once in awhile, and now it's every time when we're out of the house with zero alerts at home when Ponyboy is there for me), which is exciting. It took Ponyboy two years to start alerting to my fainting spells and heart rate changes. If she is picking this up (it will take a few more weeks of consistent alerting for me to be fully convinced, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much), and I can shape it into a consistent alert, then it will make going places in the summer months far more possible. Ponyboy HATES the heat, and the heat is very triggering for my physical health issues, so with Ponyboy not working in the heat means we stay home or indoors any time it's 75F or higher out, a huge portion of the year. Having a horse in the heat is much different that having a brachycephalic breed dog in the heat, so it's possible I could go out safely during the summer.

I am hoping to teach her to nudge my hand to alert when we're walking instead of freezing. This should be fairly simple. I will need to teach her to nudge my hand by saying a word, and then cue her to nudge my hand as soon as she freezes up. By doing this every time she alerts and only treating after she's nudged my hand, she will learn to freeze then nudge my hand without a cue, and hopefully will voluntarily phase out the freezing. (Explaining for future service animal trainers, and anybody who is curious 😉 )

The only way I can tell that it is an alert when we are walking vs a fear response is that there is no rhythm or consistency to it beyond me instantly having an episode after she freezes paired with her freely moving again as soon as I am back to normal.

I am rewarding this heavily every time she does it now that she's proven to only be doing it before I have an episode. But I will not be trying to shape it for a few more months, to avoid putting stress on her when she alerts. Avoiding stress for young animals is key in building a mindset where working/training is fun for life-long wanting to work.

Sorry for the book lol. I am just very interested in documenting all of this, in hopes that someday it can help others.

So far known tasks are:
Scratch interruption- mastered inside, but only around 80% of the time outside, and 30% of the time when outside eating

Front- Very good at, but needs work when the rollator isn't there and I'm staying still for awhile.

Possible fainting/heart rate alert. Alerts 100% of the time when outside for the past twoish weeks, 0% of the time when Ponyboy is around or I am inside.
 

ServiceMini

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I appreciate all this documentation as well. It motivates me to get out and DO things with my four-legged crew, instead of just feeding and running back inside.

What are you using to record your video? A cellphone or camera? How do you set it up?
Thank you!! :) I hope that you're able to hang out and have fun with them <3

I use my phone typically :) I am lucky enough with her alerting me when I'll have an episode that I can keep one hand on my walker, or take my hands off completely long enough to record short videos or snap photos. :) I have dug out my proper camera though now!

I am actually in the process of getting a custom vest made for Sodapop; but I'm unsure how much it will cost. But I'm hoping to also be able to get a tripod, or something to set the camera up on so I can record videos of both of us together to show how I train her new tasks, or how to train different tricks. I know I learn much better through viewing lol. :)

When she is doing public access, I actually have a go-pro I use on my service dog to record out outings at times (the nice thing about being in a single-consent state for recording stuff) incase we run into legal issues. Usually at Walmart, as they allow any animal into the store. But I'll be attaching it to her to record our outings once in awhile. :)
 
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