20140216-IMG_9612I was asked a GREAT question recently: “I wonder if you have tips on keeping up training with a dad. My daughter got hers in December and I want her to keep up her skills.” I realized that I talk a lot about how much work a service dog is, and how much on-going training is required, but I never really showed you what a daily or weekly training regimen looks like. This post will show you a lot of different things we do with our dogs to aid in our working, training, and handling of them on a daily basis. While there are occasions that these dogs get free time, we keep them pretty busy (and they keep us pretty busy) all day (and night) long.

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On almost a weekly basis, we take our dogs to a rally class hosted by our service dog organization, Canine Hope For Diabetics. These weekly classes provide multiple sources of training, everything from socialization, distractions, new obedience skills, and since we happen to be surrounded by diabetics, real time alert training. Rally is essentially an obedience course. There are anywhere from 10-20 stations set up with a different command at each station. Some are as simple as sit, down, or stay. Some are more complex, and may give you some homework to work on for the next week. It is a fantastic way to build a bond and create focus with your dog, and there are lots of places that offer rally training or some kind of obedience course work that can get you involved with your dog.

photo 2 11768146254_16e5a2fe9c_b 11253929786_f2d90b7e3c_b 11866413054_4a529138b3_b 11865981205_fc6252af20_b 20140201-IMG_6572 20140201-IMG_6687 20140216-IMG_9535 20140216-IMG_9747 20140216-IMG_9916One of the things we work on daily is maintaining structure in the day to day life of the service dog. Our dogs are not just put out in the backyard to self entertain for hours on end. Almost everything we do with them has some purpose or structure built into it. And that begins with place training. We utilize these Kuranda cots all over our house and when we go to rally. The dogs “place” on them (essentially a stay command, but the place adds a location like these cots to it). When we hang out watching TV at night, they are on place. When we are cooking dinner, they are on place. When we get up to go grab something from another room and come back, they still need to be on place. We work place daily, all though now it is just ingrained into our day.

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We exercise our dogs every day. Our Labs are field labs, and as such, have a higher energy level than most. They were bred to work all day long. I find that when it comes to training activities, I have a greater success if we have already gotten some excess energy out. I run with them 4-5 times a week (it also helps keep ME in shape) and we will play fetch or retrieval games with them, or before rally, we will run through the agility course a couple of times to help burn off some energy and increase focus on the handler.

 

8493364227_6a2c848382_b 1909242_10201900818739101_1636188838_o 1979102_10201900744777252_1329745957_oWe practice “leave it” often. And in various places with different items. “Leave it” requires the dog to leave whatever happens to be on the ground alone. If you are taking medicine and drop a pill, go into a movie theater with popcorn on the floor, enter a booth at a restaurant with french fries on the ground, or your 5 year old tries to pour his own bowl of Fruit Loops, “Leave it” becomes a VERY good tool. We practice this a lot.

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We take our dogs for walks daily. Our walks require proper heeling, and we always involve some random obedience commands during the walk. As we are walking there will be a “sit, stay, come, down” and various other things thrown in. When we walk in our neighborhood, there is a public space where we do an exercise called “squares” which is a heeling exercise, seen in the video above. We also practice these things while we are walking through school, the grocery store, a park, where ever we happen to be, and we do them both in vest and out.

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A couple of times a week we play fetch and retrieval games with them. They don’t really consider this training, or work, for these dogs this is pure fun, but again, there is a structure to it. The dog must wait in the heeling position while we throw the ball or bumper, show patience and wait until we release them, and then return to us, give us back the item, and go back to the heeling position before we will throw it again.

We also do scent training several times a week. Using a scent stick, or a muffin tin, or just an opened sample in an effort to keep our dogs fresh and on point. The rewards for finding the scent are high, keeping these games really exciting for the wonder twins. And obviously we have several opportunities every day to work with a live scent sample.

We are also training different ways that these dogs can go above and beyond their duties to help assist us in a crisis.
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We also spend a great deal of time working with these dogs in different types of public access scenarios. Taking them to school with us, to the mall, the grocery store, to restaurants, on subways, buses, planes, to crazy places like Disneyland, and introducing them to characters in costume. We take our dogs with us and subject them to many different, strange, weird scenarios in order to build confidence, trust, self control, and distraction free focus. These dogs are subjected to all kinds of things on a daily basis that the basic pet will never see.
Many of these scenarios aren’t thought of as “training” at all initially. We are living our day to day lives, and we always have a dog in tow. But while we are at Target, or the fast food place, we create scenarios and training opportunities that we can work through. Dropping french fries on the floor for “Leave It”, pulling animatronic animals down off the shelf, opening up a scent sample while in Ralph’s, at almost any place we go we can create a training opportunity. We definitely try to make specific time available daily for things like a walk, some fetch, or some scent work, but even beyond that we are always working these dogs on something. It is hard, constant work. But the effort pays off. And with dogs, as soon as you let up, they let up. The more we train, the harder they work. We try and make training as convenient as possible, obviously trying to build things into stuff we are already doing, like a trip to the store. But the structure at home, which needs to be maintained, is often the hardest concept for people to grasp. This is a lot of work, and it requires a large effort on everyone’s part. We also strive to keep everything fun and enjoyable, for both the dogs and us. That requires things be done with love, patience, and treats!
I didn't say it would be easy, i said it would be worth it
How do you like to work training into your day?
Team Blackdogsrule
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