I would not call myself a techno-geek but for an old lady I do try to keep up with things as the world changes. Technology can be wonderful in many ways to make our lives better and can even help with training our dogs, especially our service dogs. While I find my greatest satisfaction comes from getting my hands dirty in my garden or stroking a furry critter, I do try to incorporate the technology in my dog training when I feel it is appropriate. With this blog I would like to examine a few things in that area that can help with training you might not have tried yet.
Smart phones are a great invention and I am still learning some of the many incredible things my phone can do for me. One simple feature for people training their own service dogs can use, is the alarm feature. Setting an alarm, a simple task, can help you stay on track with your training program. Its easy to get distracted so just go to your calendar and set up appointments with yourself for training time with your dog and turn on the alarm reminders. While you are on the calendar plug in all the dates your dog gets heartworm, flea prevention and when vaccines expire. I was appalled recently when I learned a client had let heartworm and all the vaccines expire on their dog that they had brought for breeding to my stud. There is no excuse for this if you have a smart phone.
The phone can also help with training, as it is a great source of sounds. I use several apps to create noises to help socialize pups or desensitize older dogs. All the apps I found were free too. No reason you should have a noise sensitive dog if you have a smart phone. And while you are training you can also be taking videos from your phone that can be reviewed later by you or another trainer to help with any training situation that might come up. This is one of the best features of smart phones in my book.
Some other technology that is really useful are the new age electronic collars that have built in lights and tracking devices. I have a lot of black or dark colored dogs and at night when everyone goes out for the last potty walk the light on the collar really comes in handy for keeping track of dogs. Here is a link to one of my favorite eCollars that lights up.
The tracking devices are super nice too, they run on an app on your smart phone. What a great invention for helping to keep track of dogs, especially in my situation where we are on a farm in the country. They are very easy to use and very reliable too.
Perhaps the best new thing to be tested so far is a new device that the service dogs wear on their vests. When something happens to their owner they can pull a tag and the device will repeat, “ My owner needs help” until someone comes to help the distressed person. There are other electronic devices being tested for dogs to activate to help a person but most of those are still in testing phases. Dogs might not be able to speak as we do but this is one step closer to allowing them to “call” for help when they sense distress for their person.
I’ve also been doing a little digging into some research on breeding smarter dogs. There is actually more work being done in this area than I first suspected and I find it quite fascinating. One thing that some of the research supports is that dogs that excel at a job will produce puppies that have a better than average chance of excelling at the job also. This is what has been referred to as Instinctive Intelligence. So dogs bred for example to be great sniffing dogs for many generations do this behavior on their own and require a trainer to just put a few rules to this natural drive to make it work for the partnership. Another thing that scientists look at is what they call Adaptive Intelligence which is a quality needed for medical alert dogs as they need to learn and adapt to the changes of their person’s medical condition and solve problems presented as a result. This is something that can vary within a given breed with some dogs having better adaptive abilities than others. This is also different than the dog’s learning ability when instructed by humans, which the scientists called Working Intelligence. I feel that all three need to be present in a very high degree to in order to make a good service dog, especially a medical alert dog.
Most breeders do not train their breeding stock to be service dogs and thus are not able to know to what degree the dogs possess these different levels of intelligence. This makes getting a puppy a very tricky proposition for a person looking for a service dog prospect. I know one group I was asked to help with their breeding program, experienced greater success with future litters when they finally trained all their breeding stock. They were better able once doing this, to determine how to improve the breeding of future litters. Smarter dogs are possible and are becoming more available as professionals are learning how to apply what science is discovering, to the practical world of producing better service dog prospects.
I would like to end with a favorite quote and some food for thought:
Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. – John Ruskin