Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What does 'In Training' mean for Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs?

What does it mean to have a Therapy Dog/Service Dog in Training?    As tempting as it may be to place a Vest on your puppy/dog and start taking them everywhere you go, there are a few things you will want to take into consideration. 

Taking your puppy/dog with you while you run errands is not a Training Session.   When you have a puppy or dog in training you should have a Training Schedule in place, this includes classes, outings, socialization, etc.  These are times when you are giving your puppy/dog 100% of your attention.  If you're taking your puppy/dog with you while you run errands,  it's impossible for you to be attentive to them and their needs.  All too often I see puppies being dragged around by busy humans who feel that this is a great way to 'fit the training into their hectic schedule'.   When you're out in public your responsibility is to be supervising your puppy/dog.  Are they behaving appropriately?  Are they comfortable or are they stressed?  Are you focusing on specific training goals?   If you take your puppy to the grocery store for your weekly shopping trip, are you really prepared to drop everything and leave if they suddenly become nervous or unruly?  I've watched people struggle with a cart full of food, screaming kids and an out of control puppy, and sadly they walked away thinking that was a 'training session'.    If you head off to the Mall with your puppy for  a training session and leave with packages, you probably were there for the wrong reason.  *grin*   I have lost count of how many times I've walked the isles of CVS or Kohls with nothing in my hands except a clicker and treats.   When you're in training mode, it's not about you or your schedule, it's all about the dog.

Bringing your puppy to work, not always fun for the puppy.  When a puppy is in training, especially one who is training to become a Resident Therapy Dog, there is a tendency to have them start putting in 8 hours days from the get go.  This may be fun and convenient  for the human, but it's not much fun for a puppy.  A young puppy needs to have their needs met and that is not likely to happen when your at your desk for 8 hours.  A puppy needs to gradually work towards putting in a full day at the office and that could take 12-18 months.  You'll need to have people on your training team at work to offer support and assistance throughout the day to meet the puppies needs. 

Have a Training Plan and follow it. From the day you start training, put together a Training Plan and follow it.  You should attend group classes, outings, play dates and have ongoing socialization.   Based on the age of your puppy/dog you will determine how much time you will spend each week doing formal training.   When you choose to train a Service Dog or Therapy Dog it's going to require a commitment of your time, be realistic about your availability.   If you don't have a few hours per week to devote to training for the next 18-24 months, then this may not be the right project for you.

Work with credentialed professionals.  If you're training a puppy/dog with a Program you will be receiving ongoing support and direction from their training staff.   If you opt for owner training, it's best to work with a professional who can guide and direct you.  They will also be the person who helps you make the tough decisions that come with training working dogs, such as, is this the right job for my dog.  Not every dog is cut out for Therapy or Service work and that's often not apparent until you're well into the first year of training.  Just because a dog is 'In Training' does not mean they will complete the process. 

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