I 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.
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.
One 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.
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.
We 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.
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.