Well, not all done. Bernie and I SUCCESSFULLY completed the therapy dog training with Paws with Love which is affiliated with Therapy Dogs Inc. We were both tested last night which we passed all tasks. I was tested in the handler proficiency skills and Bernie on his proficiency of following directions. Together, we make a therapy dog team. So proud of him and us!! The only thing left is 3 observations in a variety of settings in order to ensure Bernie still is calm and responsive when new distractions come into play.
Bernie loved attending class every Monday. He grew into being the life of the class and other participants commented on how much Bernie was smiling last night. Bernie’s smile fades when a camera comes in front of him, but just picture him with his mouth parted, a huge grin across his face and his energy is telling me “what do you need me to do now”. I’m glad I got us involved in this. The experience expanded our relationship and strengthened it in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
On my end, it was reinforcing for me in getting my recognition for using a rewards based training program with Bernie. Yes, I’ve used food as a reward mechanism in training him in such cues as look at me, sit, sit/stay, down, down/stay, touch, recall and even lowing his reactivity to new and strange stimuli. The food motivated him to work and build trust with me. It helped him to work on his obedience cues when we were sitting during class which helped lower his overstimulation. It re-focused his attention on me and he was less aware of what was going on. The key for successful training is the ability to wean a dog off of treats and for him to continue to follow the handler’s lead. This is specifically done by pairing the treat with verbal praise and or affection. Over time, the dog will recognize praise as the reinforcer thereby removing the treats as a component. The test, not only for us, but for CGC (Canine Good Citizen) and the Therapy Dog Training all required a flat buckle collar, 6ft leash and NO TREATS! Bernie followed my lead, impeccably. The feedback I received was “Bernie will do anything you ask”, “You’re really great at giving praise”-which was also a testing requirement. At no time did I give a treat reward to Bernie during our test and Bernie STILL responded as enthusiastically as ever and may I even say better than last week! This proves to me Bernie is truly motivated by the act of doing the tasks rather than receiving the food. This is the goal for training! We also didn’t use ANY aversive methods such as shock collars, pinch or choke collars or even using the word NO.
Build a relationship with your dog and will be amazing what you can both do together!
I have a few ideas of how to keep our momentum going in structured socialization and therapy dog interventions. I’m looking forward to share more of our adventures!