Working with a Service/Therapy Dog

Involved dog owners these days are frequently working with their dogs to serve others.  Many people have a service dog of their own for various disabilities and others may be in training with their pets to be helpful in the areas of therapy at hospitals or care centers.  Some dogs excel at search and rescue and the owner/dog team is called to duty when needed.  We are personally now training a young Golden Retriever from the NorthStar Foundation to be a service dog/companion for a wonderful family with two special children. JoJo is first and foremost a typical Golden puppy.  He has an affinity for carrying things in his mouth, retrieving, watching birds, and nudging for attention.  Last night I took him to attend a wonderful children’s performance where Amelia, his future best friend was making her debut as a “Georgia Peach” in a tribute to America.  This high level of commotion and crowd size was a first for JoJo.  He was challenged, but handled it very well.  A few things came to mind that I feel are worthy of sharing regarding our dogs.  If you are striving toward your dog working with the public, or even if you only have personal occasions where you need your dog to settle and almost become detached to the surrounding chaos, you need to master certain skills.  Then you can “plug your dog into” an exercise.  Last night, JoJo’s ability to maintain a down/stay, made him able to cope with the unbelievable degree of distraction!!  When the dogs are “working”, they need to feel it through your execution of proper demeanor.  For example, had I began petting JoJo’s to ease his anxiety, I would have been encouraging him to be needy rather than learn to cope. Instead, I reinforced the “stay” command with a hand signal when needed accompanied by pleasant facial expressions to reinforce.  I have often seen guide/service dogs with vests that say DO NOT PET.  In this situation, with their “work clothes” on, they are not supposed to be seeking attention.  Translate this to your Golden who is dive bombing your house guests.  You need to teach your dog some basics really well, and then use these skills to replace the unwanted craziness.  Having a “job” will provide an alternative behavior, but your training needs to be very precise and consistent and taught with the utmost patience.

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