Monday, January 23, 2012

Haddie goes Hockey

Ice, snow, and wind could not keep our CCI Group from heading to the local hockey arena Saturday night with our pups for an outing. I was happy it was clear enough on the roads for us to attend, as I knew it would be excellent training for Haddie. And I was right ... but maybe in the end I learned more than she did.

I will admit that I was a wee-bit a lot frazzled getting to our seats and settling in. We had never been to this arena prior, so everything was new to us from the parking to the will call office to the arena seating chart. We worked well as a family, so that I was happy about too. While we might have been sweating under our coats, we kept our cool. The "never let 'em see ya' sweat" definitely came into play.

We parked in the section of the parking garage that did not have lights. As in, it was pitch black so long as another car was not coming to park with us. It was loud and eerie, to say the least, but Haddie got out of the car and did her stretches after the long (hour) car ride to get there. She acted as if we park in the dark under ground every day. First hurdle - check.

The next was going in the stairwell. I knew this had been an issue for her in late November when I had taken her with me when I escorted a family member to the doctor's office. She was not having anything to do with the stair well on that day, so I knew I had to possibly be ready with creativity to get her to not back out (the plant of the paws with the pulling backwards look).
The stairwell was crowded, so before I could even think we were shuffled politely, but quickly, through the winding five flights of stairs. Except for Haddie pulling a bit to the top, and me having to re-position her into a Heal before we kept going, she did really well. No backing out - check.

Walking outside to the arena was not an issue, she's been on plenty of sidewalks among traffic and cold weather, and even recently on snow and ice. But the crowd was something new. While she didn't try to solicit attention, I was focused to be sure she didn't get stepped on. I don't think any of the attendee's even knew I had a dog with me. I consider that she passed that test, she blended in quickly and kept up with the pace of weaving in and out.
Up more stairs and waiting in line before heading in the door, it had been thirty minutes and she was still perky. Once in the arena we found more stairs to get to our section. The stairs were steep, and this time, Haddie was more patient about sticking with me and not pulling ahead. Part of that was because it wasn't so crowded and I didn't feel like I was getting pushed at a rapid pace either. The game had already started and most of the crowd had been seated. I was able to get her to slow down and she was fine. Our Trainer stopped me during the evening and complimented Haddie's stair skills, taking them like a Pro. I was glad that she saw Haddie's improvement from a particular class time in late November when it wasn't the case. She certainly passed cement, steep, narrow stairs in a loud environment - check!

Our seats were smack-dab in the middle of the row. Offfff course!  We scooched on by the first fourteen people with minimal stepping on their toes and bags. That was the hardest of all!! It was a very tight squeeze, but thankfully Haddie did not break focus and kept going. No stops to lick or find a pat on the head. It was awkward, nonetheless, but we finally made it to seats 15-18. The first pup I saw sitting next to us was a baby - they were holding him/her the entire time. Yes, I was jealous. They had it easy (wink).

Good for us - Haddie went into an Under with out even being asked. I am sure she was truly trying to escape the overwhelming noise and smells, and thought we were crazy for bringing her to this wild environment, but it worked. She stayed there. I kept checking in to make sure she didn't grab that piece of dried candy on the floor by my son's foot, or that she didn't find left over beer stains, or popcorn. She was certainly sniffing, but she thankfully didn't lick any surface more than twice - check!
It was the kiddos that wanted to get up and walk around before Haddie ever suggested that she wanted to do the same. But I was ready too, so we took a walk around the arena where it was (yes, seriously) more quiet than sitting in our seats. You could still hear everything, but it was not as magnified. During our walk we had a lot of people wanting to pet her, which we allowed. Haddie did great at sitting and waiting for the friendly pats to be completed. She was so good.

We sat with the 4-H club too in between the periods of the game, and she just hung out like the veterans waiting for her turn to have someone show her affection. One man was taken with her and spent about five minutes petting her head, massaging her ears, and rubbing her feet. She was in heaven, but I kept my eyes on her tightly to make sure he was gentle and that she was okay with all the attention. I had to jump start my mind to "pretend" this was her new Handler. What would it be like to see her with someone else?
We left just before the third period to get started on our long drive home before the parking garage crowd slowed us down. The walk back to the car was a breeze, as we were the only ones leaving early. We were all pretty much skipping to the car in happiness - Haddie was amazing at the Hockey Game.
Between the crowds, the NOISE, and everything else that was new to her ... I could have very easily seen a different dog at the end of my leash ... but instead ... I just saw Haddie. I am so grateful that she was so good and that I learned from her that night.
I learned that the dogs that graduate are truly lifesavers for their Handlers, and are truly equipped to handle any environment. But the Handlers still have a tough, demanding, and never ending job of working with their dog in any environment too ... I keep replaying squeezing myself and Haddie through the fourteen people to our seats. It was not easy. I have a much deeper appreciation for the team of Handler and Service Dog.

Also, getting attention by so many strangers is a new perspective for me. Sometimes you just want to move on, sometimes the attention is nice ... but it is all because of the dog by my side. It just brings a whole new level of social to your world. Positive and negative. Interesting. I know I've felt it before in our outings, but everything was so vivid, intense, extreme at the Hockey Game, I felt it more.

I am so grateful the weather cooperated for us to hang as a group, to share with Haddie, and to learn.


  1. Wow, what a great experience! Good job Haddie!

  2. Good job! It was weird to see Mindy being handled by someone else after handing her over to her partner, but it's also very rewarding. I have definitely seen the impact these dogs can have for their partner's social life from events and outing like these! It's a never-ending adventure of valuable lessons.

  3. Oh wow - what a big experience! And such a good one too! Glad Haddie is really coming along so well and maturing! Thanks to your great efforts!