Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Working With the Dogs at NSD

As part of the information session last weekend, National Service Dogs had us practice working with some dogs in training.  I got a lovely golden retriever named Quantum.

They had us walk around several rooms, stopping in front of each doorway, telling the dog to sit and then go forward.  We had to keep several things in mind: don't lean down to talk to the dog (it's a submissive posture and not a good long-term requirement, since we want the dog to respond to our commands while standing), keep the leash loose (the dog should stay in place because of the training, not because it can't go any further), keep the dog on your right (I assume for consistency and so that it is not in the immediate path of foot or vehicle traffic which may not see the dog), and signal the dog verbally only (no hand gestures as the autism dogs are taught to ignore hand-flapping).

We had to get the dog's attention with its name, and give the command.  If the dog didn't obey on the first request, we gave it a gentle leash-pop and then repeat the command.

Quantum did very well going from sitting to moving forward.  I had his complete attention while we were sitting still.  Once we were moving, not so much, so I usually had to repeat the command to sit two or three times.  But we got it and the trainer said I was doing well for a beginner, so I'll take it.

It really brought home to me how different this is from training with a pet.  The standards are much more rigid and there's a lot more to keep in mind.  This is a working dog and it needs to held to a high standard or else places could start banning service dogs from their premises.  (One school in Waterloo is attempting to do that, although the dog is not from National Service Dogs.  The picture shows a red vest and all NSD dogs have purple vests.)

I've been going through the training manual and the first part is fairly familiar to us from working with Alex: single word instructions, commands not questions, follow up swiftly once you have his attention, be consistent, and start as you mean to go on.  Hopefully that will help. 

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