Therapy Dog Training pt3

Another Monday rolled around and of course that means therapy dog training class for me and Bern Bern.  I rushed home on Monday evening, Bernie didn’t get his usual walk before class, so I knew in the back of my head Bernie would have a bit more energy. I didn’t expect Bernie to act like it was his first day!

Bernie and I immediately started working. I worked on redirecting his attention on me and Bernie worked on making the choice to follow my lead than go where the new people and dogs are in class. The thing about group classes versus individual sessions are the level and types of distractions present. Individual sessions provide the client/handler and the dog the time alone in working on getting the obedience cues down pat. By down pat, I mean a 90% success rate of asking for a sit and the dog sitting 9 times out of 10 on the first ask. This success rate also applies for all basic obedience commands. The usual space conducive for such consistent results is in the dog’s home enviroment, particularly inside the home. Ideally, dogs spend most of their time in the home, so the daily goings on and the coming and going and routine reduces the intensity of the distraction for the dog. Its like when a person lives near railroad tracks and overtime they don’t even hear the train when it passes by. Bernie came a long way in following directions, walking on a loose leash and coming when called. Its a whole other story when he’s presented with new sights and smells and he’s out of his normal environment.

The group dog training class is a great tool for deepening a dog’s obedience and for structured socialization. I believe a group class is complementary to the private sessions. The group class provides added challenges to the dog and handler. The main challenge being distractions. The distractions range from a wide number of unfamiliar people and dogs, dog treat smells, different sounds within the building or outside and working in a group setting rather than one on one. The challenges present are a great asset in strengthening the bond between the dog and handler. How you may ask, well the distractions will act to pull the dog’s attention away while the desire to look for the handler will push the dog in thinking about following the obedience cues rather than indulging in the newness of his surroundings. On the other hand, a group setting can be too much for some. In a group setting, I’ve seen (and personally experienced) dogs become overstimulated even to the point of being overwhelmed. These dogs will bark uncontrollably, will not redirect attention back to the owner and it will make working on obedience cues extremely difficult, if not impossible. On the other hand, dogs who are overwhelmed may show opposite signs of stress. Dogs may shut down and will not follow the handler or show the interest in working on any training during class. In these instances, its vital for the handler to reconsider alternative plans. The idea of continuing to put the dog into this much stress, to me isn’t worth it and its not helping the bond between the handler and the dog. Quite frankly, its also a waste of money. 

Bernie is energized and alert in group training. He is continues to surprise me of how much he follows his commands. We still have a bit of trouble with the leave it cue when there is food on the ground, regardless, I’m happy with his progress. Bernie moved past his fear of men. He was able to happily go off into another room with one of the men in the class. He contined to show willingness to work and was delighted to do so.

All in all, group training classes are a great addition in working on obedience with your dog. Group classes aren’t for every dog. Its a matter of keeping an eye on how your dog is responding in a more stressful environment and responding to your dog’s needs. Ultimately, you are responsible for your dog’s well being and its important in ensuring your are looking out for his best interest.


Therapy Dog Training pt 2

I’m so proud of my Bernie Bear! Not only did he defy my expectations, he continuously showed me how much fun he was having during his training class. He was smiling, tail wagging, eager in putting his best paw forward! He paid attention to me and followed directions like it was his job. In that moment, for that hour, it was his job and I was totally floored. I surprised because Bernie never responded to me so diligently until we got into class.

Its hard for me to believe, so let me fill you on the Bernie of yester year 😉 We adopted Bernie October of 2012. Eddie and I were volunteering at a Humane Society event. We had the lovely job of poop scooping, but we also took our time in checking out all the vendors at the event. There were people selling doggie clothing, to spraying painting on your pups and of course those selling delicious treats for us and them. As we made a pass around the event, Eddie asked me to accompany him over to one of the pet adopter’s tent and of course we went. As we walked over towards the dogs, there were about 6 six of them, all different breeds and sizes jumping and barking and trying so hard in drawing attention to themselves. We looked over and we saw Bernie. Bernie was just chillin’ in his crate. He was lying there just watching all the goings on at the event. Eddie was immediately drawn to him and asked to see Bernie. The rescue people were thrilled and maybe a bit surprised. We took him out and a quick little jaunt in the parking lot. Eddie immediately fell in love. He was ready to jump on board with adopting him. I, on the other hand was a bit more hesitant. I wasn’t yet a dog trainer, so I was unsure of my abilities in training him since our track record wasn’t established. Jack was still a bit of a terror and then add another dog which we didn’t know if they would get along, I was totally confused of what to do. 

Bernie was so mild mannered when we met him. The rescue people shared with us that Bernie ALWAYS gets looked over at events since he just lays there. They shared that people ask them “what’s wrong with him, is he sick” because of his laid back nature. They even said they almost didn’t bring him that day too, with that being said, I was hooked on adopting him.

We shared with the pet rescue people our concerns (which was mostly centered around how things would go with Jack). They were willing for us to go pick up Jack and immeditely do a meet and greet. Eddie jumped into our little Ford Focus and sped the 25 min home. We were so excited. We knew if all went well, Bernie was coming hom with us. 

We arrived back at the event an hour later and it look like everyone was packing up. We quickly searched for the rescue and the lady said, “I didn’t think you were coming back. There was so much attention paid to Bernie after we left, I said, he’s taken”. That brought a huge smile to my face. The piece of advice that was shared with me next, is something I continue to share with others: a good dog and dog interaction is when both dogs greet each other and then ignore one another. This is exactly what happened. Neither Jack or Bernie became overly concerned or too involved. Success!

Over the course of the next couple of months, we discovered Bernie was nervous. He was afraid of sounds and of Eddie. Bernie would back up away from Eddie and hide and start barking at him almost every time Eddie came in the room. Bernie would often hide under the bed during stressful moments (when I would drop something) or would refuse to eat if he perceived me to be leaving. He frequently had accidents in the house as well as other people’s houses. Eddie became disheartened since he was the one who picked Bernie and he didn’t know why Bernie had a hard time adjusting to him. I didn’t know the answer either, but I was eager and motivated in finding a solution.

As I enrolled and graduated from the dog training program, most of my practical application of the course material centered on Jack and Bernie. I applied concepts like learning theory and classical conditioning in improving the responses towards new stimulus and experiences. It was like magic! Both Jack and Bernie were less aroused in new and stressful situations. Now looking back, the ease of popping a treat or throwing a ball when something new happened helped create a positive association towards that new experiences which led Bernie in decrease his fear response when something unexpected were to happen. Genious!

Now fast forward a couple of years, and Bernie and I were preparing for Monday’s class. I’ve never really challenged Bernie’s obedience skills. He knows all of his cues, but I didn’t take him out in public spaces like stores on a regular basis and practice those skills. We have on occassion go to the local pet store and I would frequently drive around with both Jack and Bernie in the car, but I never thought it was enough. I did make sure he was exposed to unfamiliar dogs and people and I do know he loves the ladies, but it was a part of our life, it wasn’t a planned training regimen. I chose the option in taking both Jack and Bernie out as much as possible, but in the back of my mind, I always questioned myself, like I should do more with them. In any event, last night was amazing in my eyes and I couldn’t have asked for better execution in his tasks than what he gave, especially with recall. Bernie usually has this look on his face like he’s weighing the options of whether coming when called. Not last night. Bernie kept his attention on me and waited for me to release him from a sit. Wow! Also, Bernie calmly approached when the evaluator walked around with a walker and a cane. Bernie showed interested and fear never reared its head. Bernie’s body language remained loose and his tail happily wagging. A truly amazing sight. 

I’m looking forward to see in the coming weeks how Bernie progresses. He totally rose to the occassion. He also didn’t show any shyness in front of the camera!


Therapy Dog Training pt 1

About a week or two ago, a colleague of mine reminded me of a nonprofit in the area who was offering some dog training, so I checked them out. Paws with Love is an organization which provides schools, hospitals and clinics therapy dog interventions with their clients. I’ve been interested in getting involved, so a great way is for Bernie and myself to go through the training.

Our first day was on Monday, well, Bernie’s first day was this past Monday. I attended an orientation the week before and found out some details of our 8 week program. I also found out about some of the other dogs in the group and I was curious about their previous training. I did like how the trainer expressed positive reinforcement and explained about the particular type of temperament they were looking for in a therapy dog. 

When we pulled into the parking lot, Bernie was all perked up. He was eager to see where we are and what we were about to do. I didn’t let this distract me from knowing what Bernie’s triggers are and I made sure to be his eyes for them. Bernie has a hard time around unneutered males. Maybe he’s jealous 🙂 or maybe he has a difficult time being around a dog with that type of energy. Wouldn’t you know, we were walking to the front door and this Great Dane who was still intact moved in front of us. The Great Dane turned his head around to see who seemed to be sneaking up behind him. Bernie locked eyes and his body froze. I was already anticipating his reaction, I quickly moved Bernie around the other side of me and I was between the Great Dane and Bernie as we strolled through the door. Phew, I was not interested in dealing with an issue the first moment of the class.

The next maneuver in the gauntlet (at this point, just trying to get us checked in) was moving past an American Bulldog. I also know this is a hard breed for Bernie too, so I quickly assessed another way around and quickly and happily brought Bernie to the other side of the room. Bernie seemed preocuppied with the newness of his suroundings, so it didn’t really phase him, but I saw the other dog and he definitely noticed Bernie.

We settled down and I saw how overstimulated Bernie was in a new surrounding with MANY different surroundings. He began whining and wanting to meet everyone. I practiced his commands and he was able to redirect his energy towards me. I also think it helped him in settling into the class. His lips were pulled back into a smile and he gave me some of his best attention. Bernie’s tail was high and constantly and freely wagging. He seemed to be the happiest in that moment. 

We were evaluated on leave it and having our pups walked by different people in the group. Bernie was in his element, especially with the ladies. His ears were back, he’s grinned and his tail constantly wagged. On our practice round, one of the female evaluators came up to us and shook our hand and had a conversation. Bernie’s job was to sit there calmly. Well, Bernie jumped up a bit and we had a do over. Bernie learned quickly and remained seated and waited for a treat. So proud. 

Next week, we work on recall. This will be our biggest challenge. Bernie is very cerebral. He thinks methodically about what his move will be when we call him over. It has to be very interesting for him, so I have to be the best thing for him in the room! 

Stay tuned…. 


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