Friday, April 5, 2013

Let Your Dog Pick Their Career

I have the greatest job in the world!  For as long as I can remember I've loved dogs and to be able to wake up every day and work with them is truly a blessing.  There are times when it can be challenging and stressful, but loving what you do makes even a difficult situation easier. 

I think this is true for our dogs too, especially those who work as Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs.  All too often I see dogs working in jobs that they clearly do not enjoy or are not suited for.  What is more concerning is when a dog is stressed or fearful and forced to deal with it on a daily basis.

I've heard it said that Therapy/Service Dogs are born not made and I absolutely agree with that belief.  That does not mean a particular breed of dog is better, it means the temperament of the dog and that is something they are born with.   A combination of genetics, early handling and exposure play a huge part in shaping your puppies temperament.   We can have some influence on shaping their temperament through early socialization, but ultimately your dog is who they are and no amount of training will change that.   If a puppy/adolescent dog is nervous or fearful, they can make great strides with proper socialization and behavior modification, but they typically will have problems dealing with stress or anxiety throughout their adult life.  While we should always strive to help our dogs deal with behavior problems, a dog should not have to spend their lifetime trying to be 'fixed'   I have been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember.  Over the years I've overcome it enough to be able to travel by plane comfortably and even ride the occasional escalator, but you will never see me standing on a tall ladder or para sailing.   I'm very fortunate to have a job that allows me to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground!

When I work with people who are training a Therapy Dog or Service Dog I express the importance of letting their dog decide if this is the right career choice for them.  That starts by keeping our agenda, albeit well meaning, in check.   When a puppy or dog is selected for a specific purpose it can be difficult to see beyond our goals and desires.   We start missing the subtle cues our dog is giving us that they may not be enjoying the process as much as we are.  Maybe they don't really like interacting with people, being in strange places makes them nervous, they don't like loud noises, small kids make them anxious.  Whether it's one specific issues or a combination of them, we need to be paying close attention to our dogs desire and ability to thrive in the job we've put them in. 

When I have a dog in training who is clearly not thriving I make the decision to career change them.   I've had many wonderful dogs over the years, not all were suited for Therapy or Service work and that's OK.  The bigger challenge can be when a dog you've been working for a few years decides this is no longer the job for them.  Being able to walk away won't be easy, I know, I've done it, but your dog will thank you.  You may have invested a few years of your time training and the expense that goes along with that, it's not easy to just let all of that go. 

My job as a trainer is not to help you 'MAKE' your dog into a Therapy or Service Dog, but to help you determine if your dog wants that job.   All to often I work with people who have been trying to train their dog for a job and things just don't work out, this can lead to frustration and disappointment.  The dog you once adored and could do not wrong, is now a source of frustration and makes you feel like a failure.   When your training plan is eroding your relationship with your dog, that's a clear sign that something needs to change.   This does not mean you should throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble, it just means be sensitive to your dogs needs and be willing to do what's best for them.

So how do you know if your dog likes their job?  It's easy, they are a willing participant in training.  You spend the majority of your time moving forward in training and not working on behavior modification to address fears or anxiety related problems.  You look forward to new adventures with your dog because they love trying new things and going new places.  You do not have to constantly change your training program or make accommodations for your dogs fearful or problematic behavior.  When you hit a 'bump in the road' it's just that, a bump, not a sink hole, you'll come to know the difference.   When in doubt seek the direction of a credentialed professional, someone who specifically works with the type of dog you're trying to train. 

I've spent years developing training programs to screen and prepare humans and their dogs for Therapy Dog and Service Dog Work.   We start with basic obedience training thru advanced Therapy Dog Preparation.

Another great resource is Dr. Rise Van Fleets Online Course, SELECTION OF DOGS FOR FAMILY LIFE & THERAPY WORK.

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