Choosing a Medical Alert Pup for Training

by Debby Kay  ©2018  All rights reserved.

Last week I started doing scent detection training with a couple of eight week old Labrador puppies.  What is striking about the pups is the ease which they have grasped the training.  It is clear after working many other breeds of dogs the difference it makes when you have a puppy who is first, from a working breeding of dog and second, purposefully bred for a job such as these puppies.

People ask me all the time how do you choose a puppy for the medical alert work and I thought writing a little about these pups might help people who are looking to get one themselves.

I try to always choose a puppy from parents who are either doing the job I want the puppy to do or have at least been trained to do it and can demonstrate their ability.  With the medical alert work that might not always be possible but the parents could have abilities that demonstrate related skill sets.  For example, they could have tracking degrees, search and rescue certifications or scent detection titles. If the breeder you are dealing with can’t show any of their dogs with these titles, and especially the parents, then I would walk away. Thinking they can do the work and proving it by actually earning tittles or certifications are very different things and make a difference when you get your dog for such an important purpose. For the medical alert dogs, I want some evidence of good social skills so I look for parents with good citizen titles or obedience titles.  This will be helpful in narrowing your choices especially if you are not an experienced dog person, to puppies from parents with proven abilities.

Being able to focus on the job and the person they are working with is another trait that makes training a puppy for medical work much easier.  This trait is tricky to judge in little pups under 4 months as pups at this age have short attention spans.  I will bait a room with 1-3 smelly things such as fishy cat treats and just watch how a puppy reacts when they come in the room.  A pup from parents who are bred to use their noses will go over the space thoroughly sniffing every nook and will find all the treats.   When I sit down with a treat hidden in my pocket, the pup I want will be the one who almost immediately follows its nose to the pocket with the treat. I have done this test with breeds that are not necessarily food driven as well and it is a pretty good indicator for sorting out the pups that will be easy to train for scent work.

Madison is one of the pups I am training now. Madison’s dam is a diabetic alert dog who took time off from her duties to whelp a litter of pups with me.  Her sire is an explosives detection dog who has sired many working medical alert and other detection dogs.  On the first day of her introduction to the diabetic sample, Madison sniffed and stayed with it. By the end of the session she already adding in the paw alert signal on her own.  Her focus was for short periods but she repeatedly sniffed and pawed at the sample until her little tummy was willed with treats.

It was easy to get 25-30 repetitions of the scent training exercise per training session with her. Compared to some of the others pups I have worked with over the years at the same age that is really very good for the first week.  That is not to say a pup won’t learn if you only get 5-10 repetitions at a session. It means it will take longer for that less focused pup to build up a good scent memory of the odor that is central to their job.  Dogs learn by repetition so I am keen to give them as many repetitions as I can at every session.  For my money (and time) I really don’t want a pup doing life-saving work that does not have the natural desire.

Madison is also learning games of self-control and things to teach her about body awareness at this age.  These are two important parts of a service dog’s education also.  Here is a short video of one of her training sessions.  She has a lot to learn but is off to a good start.

For anyone interested in learning more about all inner workings of canine olfaction I am hosting a 2-day workshop in April by the world renown expert in the field Dr. Adee Schoon from the Netherlands.   She brings the science and practical aspects of scent work all together in a manner that is easy to understand and motivating at the same time.  Hope you can join use for this rare opportunity to learn from such a gifted knowledgeable person. Click here for details.

National Train Your Dog Month

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January is a month set aside to remind people the importance of training your dog.  In some ways I would prefer socialize, educate and help your dog assimilate into modern human life over “train”, but for ease of writing let’s just stick with train.

What does that mean to you and your dog?  Maybe you don’t have very high expectations of your companion and you are perfectly happy if they hang out and at least don’t pee in the house or chew your shoes. But you are really missing out on a life enriching experience if you don’t engage further with your dog in something.  Dogs like people need to have their minds and bodies stimulated with some type of activity in order to stay healthy and vibrate. But beyond that the relationship and understanding you will develop with your pal will forever change your perspective on dogs, other animals, and even life itself.  Our dog companions are very much reflections of our lives.  How committed are we to some goal or ideal, how serious we are ourselves, how generous, friendly, happy, healthy we are is indeed reflected  by the way we interact with the dog by our side.  So take a look and be honest with yourself (and your dog) just where do you really stand on all this.

If you want to get started and have not ever done anything too much with your dog before you should start out with simple things, like a regular walking time in different places every other day, or at the least once a week.  My guys can’t wait for this time and will yip with joy when its time to go.  You can take a toy to toss for those whose dogs are retrievers or take some treats and try tossing them for your dog to find with his keen sense of smell.

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Many training centers offer trick training classes and you’d be surprised how many of the tricks learned in class can be turned into helpful things the dog can do around the house.  If you like, there are several ways you can earn titles even by doing the tricks.

 

If your dog likes to use his nose sniffing things out, sign up for a scent training class.tara head in box Almost all the training facilities are offering it now and I guarantee your dog will thank you.  Sniffing fun is for dogs of all ages and breeds and the one thing they all seem to enjoy immensely.    Its a natural act for them so you don’t need a lot of training skills in order to have fun with your dog.

Another thing a large number of dogs enjoy is dock diving. This is an activity where the owner tosses a favorite retrieve item in a pool and the dog jumps from the dock to get it. During competition they will measure the distance and titles can be earned but there are a lot of places that offer it for fun as well.  It is not difficult to get an eager retriever to jump after the toy and it is surprising the many different breeds you see that enjoy it too.

These are just a few ideas to get started, but certainly not the only things you can do.  The point is do something with your dog, get out there with your dog and engage. Your dog will benefit greatly from it and if you keep it up, his behavior will continue to improve.  Well mannered dogs just don’t happen, you have to work with them every day, interact in a meaningful way daily, and keep doing it all their lives.  You asked your dog into your life and I feel you owe it to him to make it a good life by giving him the most important thing possible-something to do with you.  Happy training!

 

 

 

 

 

Smart Phones, Smarter Dogs, and more Smart Technology

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.

c92af701-dd27-4b83-83b1-d9ee92d24d35The 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.Morgan and Ranger pups

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

 

 

Size Doesn’t Matter

By Debby Kay © January 2015 all rights reserved 

When I was growing up my father kept a kennel of hounds, so all the dogs I knew where his dogs. I asked for my own and finally when I was six he got me my first dog very own dog, a female tri colored Chihuahua that I named Candy. Over my years in dogs I have had a total of 19 Chihuahuas and have really come to enjoy the breed. I mentioned to my husband Sam I would love to have another one that I can also use to demonstrate my training methods at my workshops, but it would have to a very special dog if he/she was to represent what a small service dog can be like.

Several months ago a russet colored Chihuahua at a Dog Days street festival stole my heart. He was wearing a tiny scarf that said, “Adopt Me”. I watched him for quite some time as dozens of dogs of every breed and size imaginable went by. He stood quietly unless one of them stopped to sniff and then he would sniff them back, wagging his tail the whole time. The shelter volunteer that was holding his leash had no awareness of what the dog was doing. At one point two people each walking well-muscled pit bull terriers stopped to chat with the girl holding the Chihuahua. Since the people were engaged in conversation they failed to see the challenging stare that the two pits were giving each other. The tiny Chihuahua offered some calming signals to the two larger dogs but neither were paying any attention to him and in an instant the Pits were lunging and snarling at each other over the top of the Chihuahua. Quickly the Chihuahua backed off a safe distance and watched quietly as the two dogs tried to rip each other apart. When the whole mess was finally stopped and the aggressive dogs left, the little dog just looked after the retreating dogs with a look of amusement. I smiled and walked over to the Shelter table and asked if I could adopt the little dog whose name I learned was Boo.

head study of red colored chihuahua

Boo the Chihuahua making himself at home.

Boo acts like he has lived in our house all his life. The integration has been seamless. You would think a Chihuahua in a house with 15 Labrador Retrievers would be hiding all the time but nothing could be further from reality. Boo walks with the Labs and hunts birds with them and will retrieve anything that he can carry or drag just like the Labs. He realizes he is small and will stay out of the way when the Labs get crazy and start jumping around a lot but otherwise they treat him with the same respect they give any other adult dog; size doesn’t matter.

I am in the process now of training Boo to be the demo dog for the medical detection workshops I teach. I want people to know not all service dogs have to be medium to large size dogs like Labradors. Small dogs have a definite place in the world of service dogs. They still have very good noses and can alert on scent changes in a human, they are capable of activating an alarm, and can very well get someone to help if needed. For many people who live in apartments with limited space the small dog is the perfect answer. The best part about the smaller dogs is they fit into places the larger dogs do not such as on public transportation. The down side though is many of them are not as willing to work as some of the larger typical service breeds are, so finding a really good one can be a long and arduous search. I got very lucky when I found Boo. He is smart, willing, and just slightly larger than most Chihuahuas, weighing in at 8.1 pounds, which is about as small as you would want for a detector dog.

Some other considerations when looking at size for your potential detector dog is their face structure. Be aware that dogs with too short a muzzle could possibly have breathing problems, which would interfere with the detector work. Boo had a nice length muzzle for his size, which helps him with his scent work. Many little dogs I had been looking at only wanted to sleep and had no interest in work, so it was refreshing to see Boo with his eager to please attitude and insatiable appetite for tasty treats. Both of these qualities help a dog learn the scent lessons they will need so they are high on my list when screening potential dogs. As with the larger breeds, the smaller breeds have their own list of potentially serious genetic problems such as patella and teeth issues to name a few, so it is important to learn what these are for the small breed you are considering. Boo checked out clean on all these points as well.

The obedience training part of the service dog work with a small dog is the same as with any other dog. I do not make any excuses for a dog to not learn obedience just because they are small. There is no need to carry a small dog everywhere, they are capable of walking and in my opinion they seem to prefer it. If I do a lot walking, Boo does get tired as he is working twice as hard or more to keep up with my stride, so I make sure he has sufficient rest time to recover and have also taken care to build up his stamina. When I first got Boo I enrolled him immediately into a Manners Class at the local obedience school where he graduated 8 weeks later with his AKC Canine Good Citizen award.

Author with her Chihuahua

Boo at his graduation from Manners Class.

The greatest challenge in training the small dog as an alert dog has been with the alert itself. It is easy to teach the sit and paw when a person is in the house, or at a desk such as in an office. What is more difficult is to teach the alert when you are out walking. To overcome this obstacle, I am working with Boo to have him grab a tab and tug on it. I have tried several different ways of doing this and may have hit on the right design when it occurred to me that something on his leash would make the most sense. I’m working with my service dog leash maker now to get that set up and can’t wait to share the photos with everyone when we get the final design worked out. I mention all this to point out that while training a small dog is a challenge and there are limitations to what they can do, there is no reason you can’t train your little guy to help out and experience the success I am finding as I move along the program with Boo.

Do You Make These 3 Mistakes that Cost You Success in training your scent detection or medical alert dog?

By Debby Kay ©2014 all rights reserved.

This fall the weather has been so wonderful for training dogs I have had to really get on my own case to sit and write this month’s blog. When I am out with the dogs I tend to lose track of all time and just want to continue doing what both the dogs and I love to do and that is train. What does training mean to you? Is it a chore or is it a joy? Do you and your dog(s) really come away with a satisfying feeling after a good session or are you both happy to see it end? I’d like to talk about 3 common mistakes I see people make that can affect the performance, learning and outcome to your dog’s training.

#1 Attitude. Most people I deal with want to train their dog to help with some special task such as alerting to a blood glucose change, or identifying an allergen for their person. These are important tasks for a dog and it is critical to your success that the dog has the right attitude towards the job. What many don’t realize is they will get that attitude from you, the trainer so it behooves you to come to the job with the right frame of mind. You should always know what you are hoping to accomplish during the particular session. Start with a goal in mind. Make sure that goal is reasonable and can be accomplished in the time you have set aside. Train when you feel you have the energy and the right positive frame of mind. If you are super tired, angry with some other person that just ruined your day, don’t bring that baggage to the dog’s training time with you. No one, including your dog, wants to work with someone with a bad attitude. If you are tense, relax with a cup of herbal tea and a spoonful of honey, both of which are known to help with moods. Just let your dog sniff and play on their own until you feel calm and centered again before you pick up the leash and treat bag and start to work with your dog. If you are tired, take a 15-minute power nap. Be refreshed when you start your work with your dog.

#2 Consistency. I am not talking about routines when I am talking about consistency. Routines are nice and certainly are useful in training, especially early on to help the dog focus on the learning objective. I discuss this in my Super Sniffer™ Handbook and we practice this concept at the workshops I offer. What I see as a common mistake though is lack of consistency in both intent and communication people give to their dogs. The best example of intent I can think of that I see frequently is during one session the person will be very serious and strictly enforce the “rules” of performance for the dog on a particular exercise. Then the next session they allow for slack behavior that previously was corrected or not allowed. If you intend to be serious about the “rules” of performance you are establishing then be consistent about it. You will lose your dog’s respect if you keep this up too long. This is no different for people if you think about it.

Lab jumping into ocean waves

When a dog is living life to the fullest the joy is apparent in everything they do

If my intent was to pay you for a job well done but you only got a paycheck once in a blue moon, I doubt that you would want to work very hard for me.   Communication is key to success in all of dog training and yet people will continually give conflicting commands. I see the major problem here is people are just not thinking about what they are doing or saying. It takes some practice and discipline but if your dog can learn then you can too. So be aware of what words and cues you are giving and be consistent for your dog’s sake.

#3 Time. The final and perhaps the biggest mistake many people make who are tying to train their own alert dogs is they do not allow enough time. I am not necessarily asking for hours a day but EVERY day there should be a minimum of 2-3 training sessions. These can be short and of course should be fun and engaging, with a clear goal in mind. If you are going to train the dog then schedule the time to work with the dog. That dog will not learn by osmosis or by reading the book, they are going to need to work with you so commit the time and stick to that schedule. This might include getting up 15 minutes earlier, so after you walk the dog in the morning you can spend 5-10 minutes doing a quick session before breakfast. The same can be in the evening; allow a bit of special time with your dog just for training.

This might seem too simple but it is amazing how many people will bring problem dogs to me and in reality it boils down that their person has not set aside any time for training the dog.

Yes dogs are a lot of work, but my father always said that all great things in your life would require work on your part. That is what makes those things great and so satisfying too. Happy Training!

The Value of Proofing

Proofing is dog trainer’s lingo for setting up an exercise where a dog has choices and the hope is if your training was good he or she will choose correctly. In the world of medical detection dogs the proofing is done fairly early in the process of the scent association conditioning. In the beginning of my Super Sniffer™ program I have the scent contained in an easy to hold metal tin. I am using this deliberately as a visual cue to the dog, but I am not rewarding the dog for looking at it, bumping it with his nose, pawing at it, or licking at it. I am only rewarding when the dog sniffs the tin. This concept is easy for the dog to figure out and one reason it is so successful with so many different types of dogs, including breeds you don’t commonly think of as working dogs. After enough repetitions of the sniff and reward, the whole exercise is becoming a conditioned response. The dog is learning when he sniffs the tin he will get a nice food reward and praise. What needs to happen however for us to be successful in detector work is something different. The dog needs to figure out it is the presence of the odor inside the tin that we are really rewarding for. In order to connect the dots here for the canine mind we set up a simple exercise, which we often refer to as proofing against visual cues.

Take two sniffer tins (or whatever container you are using) that are identical and make sure one of them is clean and new and has never had any scent material in or near it. The other tin will contain your target odor. I scratch on the back of the tin with the target odor a large X so I will not mix up the tins and reward the dog for sniffing the wrong tin. Now hold both tins out for the dog to see. A lot of the dogs will go to the closest tin, which for our example we will say is a blank. They sniff it and then sit. False sitting like this is very common at first. This behavior tells you the dog is thinking, “I sniff the tin, I sit and I get fed.” If you do nothing he will in due time get up and go to the other tin and do exactly the same thing. This time you reward him. Now the dog is thinking, “Hmmm, I got food for sniffing that tin, wonder what was different about it?” After a few more times they soon figure out “OK I get it, it is the tin with the funny smelling stuff that I get rewarded for” and they will not waste any more time on the other tins there after.

Another way of proofing the dog to test the understanding is to set up a test using 4 similar objects such as new paint cans. The cans should be set up in a circle. Circles are important with the testing so the dog has the option of going around again and again if need be and sniff each can again until he makes up his mind which one is the target odor. When you have many similar objects and the target odor is in one, you are forcing the dog to choose by smell which one is correct. The other cans may contain materials that are present where the dog is normally working. For a diabetes alert dog these samples would be saliva samples collected from non diabetics whose blood glucose readings are outside the range the dog is trained to alert on. In a set up like this the dog is being proofed that he will not alert to the cotton collection material or saliva, only to the presence of the diabetic odor.

During certification testing there is one additional step to this type of proofing exercise, it is called a double blind test. The term comes from the fact that neither the tester or the person taking the test know which container has the diabetic sample in it. The only person who knows is the third party person setting up the samples. In this situation when the tester asks the dog team to come in and indicate which can contains the diabetic sample there is no way the tester or the handler of the dog can cue the dog, only the dog and his nose will be able to detect which sample is the diabetic sample. When the dog indicates the sample, the tester can look at the bottom of the tin to see if it has the X mark scratched on it, indicating the dog alerted to the correct sample. This is the only fair and acceptable way to test a dog’s understanding of the odor it is required to alert on. This method of double blind testing is commonly used in all fields of science. Unfortunately, for a diabetic alert dog, this is a bit abstract compared to his real job of alerting on people; but for testing purposes there is no way to control people’s glucose levels to make the test reproducible and uniform for all to take using people, instead of cans and scent samples.

handler working dog on a scent wheel

This Labrador is indicating to his handler which can contains the sample he was trained to alert on.

The value to the handler and trainer of proofing comes in the form of knowing without question the dog completely understands the scent he is suppose to alert on. To hear a discussion about double blind testing at a recent medical alert dog workshop visit my You Tube page at this link.

Evaluating Medical Alert Dogs

I recently hosted an intense hands-on workshop at my kennels for dog professionals that want to train dogs to help people with medical issues. Most of the trainers were there to learn more about the diabetes alert dog program but we also had trainers interested in seizure alerting (not to be confused with response dogs), Crones disease alerting, and allergen detection dogs. In order to make this workshop the most meaningful for these trainers I brought in a bunch of dogs at all different levels of training for these various detection jobs. A good part of the dogs came from a request I put out to those service dog users I knew. We would offer free training for their dogs, for the time of the workshop, to help anyone having problems. There was a great response and we got dogs at all levels of proficiency; half the dogs at the workshop ended up being owner trained.

Dog trainers usually have strong personalities; this comes from many years of taking charge of unruly dogs. But this group of trainers proved to be more than what you might think of a dog trainer in general, they were truly educators. It became very apparent early into the workshop that everyone was here because they cared passionately about the dogs and they truly wanted to use their skills and abilities as dog trainers to help educate people who were now asking the dogs in their lives to do more than sleep by the fireplace on a cold night. It was quite moving when people came to pick up the dogs how much time these trainers spent with the owners to help them understand the issues the dogs were having and what to do about it. The owners shared with us how very difficult it is to manage their conditions and train a dog at the same time. This sharing was valuable so trainers could devise exercises to fit a person’s life style and abilities, and show them things they could easily incorporate into their daily routine. The learning went both ways and was one of the best exchanges I have witnessed.

Overall the owners did a great job with the training of their dogs. As we worked the dogs both in the classroom and out on the streets however patterns appeared in the dog’s behavior that were clues to a few deficiencies in their training.

Pulling on the leash and lack of attention were near the top as two big problems. When we randomly passed off scent samples to the handlers to see if the dogs would alert in the new settings, the owner-trained dogs had more trouble focusing enough to find the scent sample when there were high distractions. Once the dogs were stopped and worked a little with the high distraction, they were able for the most part able to settle down enough to work a few repetitions of finding the scent sample.   The high distractions proved time and again to be the undoing of many of the dogs. It took work on the part of the trainers to get the dogs to settle down. I can understand this concept of working in public with some really strong distractions is something most people training their own dog would not think to do.

I made a short list to help people remember when they are out training with their dogs to look for some of the following circumstances, then work your dog there until the dog is comfortable and reliable in alerting there.

  1. In the store in a narrow isle where people are going by with shopping carts.
  2. In a store with machinery operating, such a lumber yard with forklifts.
  3. On the streets near the fire station when the alarm sounds.
  4. At a train station.
  5. In a park where there are a lot of pigeons and squirrels. I throw out treats for the critters first and get them all around eating when I start training with the dog.
  6. At a ball game or other sports event.

Simple things like this are so valuable to the dog’s education. If the dog is not relaxed in a novel environment they are not going to have the focus to be able to do their job at detecting whatever smell they are trained to alert on. This type of training is something you need to practice at least 4 or 5 times a week with your young dog. If you are raising your own puppy, after a year of constant exposure to new places, sights, and sounds your dog would be exposed enough that he should do his job no matter where you take him.

The pulling on the leash problem is something that should be avoided while training the new puppy. They should learn from the beginning not to pull on the leash either by you stopping when they get to the end of the leash and not moving again until they return to your side, or by letting them hit the end of the leash while charging out away from you. Stopping short like this usually gets their attention and they will return to you, at which time you reward with a nice treat and kind words. Quickly, pups will learn where the best spot is for near you. Practicing loose leash walking with the younger pups in many new areas with loads of distractions ensures they do not get so excited when going places they pull on the leash. It takes a lot of daily practice.

A group of service dogs walking down a town street

Learning to loose leash walk in town with lots of distractions

If you are training your own dog you are going to have to make the time, even if that means you make an appointment with yourself. Later when you go back to these places with a scent sample for training your dog should have enough focus so as not to miss the presence of the sample.

We also saw the dogs coming in with a wide array of equipment some of which was very ineffective. I remember when I was a youngster in my father’s workshop. He had at least 8 different types of hammers. I could not understand why so many until he explained that each one is designed for a different job. The same is true of collars, leashes and harnesses. I would not expect an owner trainer to understand the differences any more than my father expected me to understand the different types of hammers. This might be an area though where an owner handler can benefit from working with a pro trainer; they will know the equipment that is best for your dog. Be prepared to change equipment too as the dog continues to grow and develop. For puppies a well fitting buckle collar, appropriately sized 6-foot leash, and a 20-foot light line are a good start. Having a treat bag that you can snap on when you pick up the leash to take your puppy out is also something to consider when you are buying equipment. My pouch has a separate area for my clicker and treats and another zippered place for keys and pick up bags.

Speaking of pick up bags, it is important that your dog know how to eliminate on command, on a leash, or on pavement. If you are training your own dog and starting with a puppy, make sure you walk your puppy on a leash when they go outside to potty. Put the act of them doing something to a cue word, praise and treat when they are done and clearly convey to the pup that you are very pleased with them. Teaching the pup to go on surfaces other than grass is simply a matter of taking them to a new area (gravel, sand, pavement) and giving your cue word, waiting patiently then praising profusely when they finally eliminate. This will be a lifesaver many times over when you are traveling or going places where grass may be off limits or non-existent. It is a simple element easy to forget to teach.

We all felt the workshop was successful, the trainers learned new techniques, the dogs benefited from experienced hands on their leash, the owners that generously shared their dogs with us got some terrific free advise and training, the trainers got priceless feedback and knowledge on the lives diabetics and others living with chronic diseases experience, and many new friendships were made. I feel very grateful to work with such a dedicated group of trainers who really care about helping people get the best from their relationship with their working dog and to know so many dedicated owner handler trainers as well. Many of the pro trainers are diabetics or have family members that are diabetic or suffer from some other disease that has drawn them to working and training with service dogs. All of them have decades of experience in training and living with dogs. Everyone had the same goal as I do, which is to share our knowledge of dogs with those who need help with their dog. Keep up the great work everyone!