From Katherine Huggins, Team Aspen:
I thought you might enjoy an update on the continuing adventures of Team Aspen. We are still thinking and clicking outside the box.
We recently taught a class in Kansas City, Kansas.
When we first considered the possibility of Aspen being hoisted or lowered in a harness I outlined a series of behaviors Aspen would need to keep us both safe. I had our veterinarian check Aspen suspended in the harness to make sure there weren't any pinch points, her distal pulse stayed normal, spine wasn't compromised and determined what her hang time could comfortably be without risking harness induced pathology.
We took our time and worked on behaviors such as positioning when putting on the harness, remaining still and relaxing when lifted, targeting my hand as means of reassurance if necessary and trusting me to negotiate the wall. Many shaping sessions/clicks and treats later Aspen loves to fly whenever we have the opportunity.
The first photo is a hoisting/lowering exercise. We started at ground level and were raised to the second story window. I was having a little trouble keeping us balanced and was on my tip toes stretching to keep a foot on each side of the window to hold Aspen out from the wall. Aspen realized I needed help balancing and put her front feet on the window sill. It took a minute for me to realize what Aspen was doing. Aspen's primary focus was on her service dog skill of keeping me balanced-it didn't matter that we were 24 feet in the air. Aspen munched a well deserved cookie while we waited for the power team to reset the system from hoisting to lowering. When we were ready to lower I asked Aspen to move away and let me push us out from the wall. She pushed out and relaxed for the ride down.
The second photo is a horizontal traverse from the fourth story window across the parking lot and to a landing zone. I started out from the fourth story window and the power team at the top sent me horizontally until I was above Aspen. They locked me off and the power team at the bottom lowered me down so I could turn upside down and hook in to Aspen's rigging plate. Aspen decided that I was fair game and needed a huge sloppy kiss while I was upside down. Once Aspen was on line the power team on the bottom took us up and the power team on the top unlocked so we could go horizontal again. We entitled the photo "I believe I can fly". Aspen grinned and wagged her tail the whole flight.
Last weekend we helped with an auto extrication class for a volunteer fire department. The fire fighters were curious about Aspen's loading skills so we did a directed retrieve to pick up the "C" collar bag, follow the EMS instructor to the ambulance then drop the bag in front of the designated compartment. The second day of class the fire fighters included a bag of "Scooby Snacks" with the people snacks on the break table.
Aspen recently received an honorable mention in the AKC ACE Awards Service Dog Category. Her photo appears on the AKC website.