Training is hard work. Dogs can grasp concepts fairly quickly when tasks are presented in the right ways, but humans… Humans can be a real challenge. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the idea that one must become aware of their own energy in order to be effective with their dog. It’s hard to comprehend the idea that a dog who is acting out is very likely mirroring the energy their humans are giving them. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me I’m off my rocker about that. ::chuckle::
Another challenging factor about training humans is that while we have the ability to think and reason things out, we often get stuck inside one particular thought-box and we can’t see anything other than what’s inside it. This standard way of thinking has its benefits, of course… but it also denies us the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. This is definitely the case with training dogs for Support work.
When I am training a dog for support work, I expect my client and all the people directly involved with them to participate in and experience the journey, from puppy-hood, all the way through to testing and certification. I feel this is an important part of the bonding process not only for them, but for the dog, too. It makes no sense to me to raise and train a dog, and then give that dog to someone they don’t know and who doesn’t know them – and then, expect the dog and the person to fit with each other. Sometimes, despite all the efforts made to ensure a good match, it just doesn’t work, and if it’s not working, then neither the dog nor the person will trust each other. In the world of Support and Service animals, mutual trust and respect between the dog and their person is absolutely critical.
Many people disagree with me on this, saying that a dog should never be given to their person while they’re a puppy. I can agree with this – to a point. The client and those directly involved with them must spend significant, ongoing time with the dog so they can get to know him or her, and so the dog can get to know them. In my experience, when a match is good, the dog sometimes has responses to their person’s needs that are both different from what they’ve been learning, and much more effective. Also, it’s been my experience that involving the person in the dog’s journey not only helps with the bonding process, but it also makes the person feel useful and capable. People in general need to feel needed, capable, and useful. This is even more important for people who need a support or service animal.
Life itself is a journey. We live, we learn, and we either go forward or we get left behind. Whether family pets or service or support animals, dogs are wonderful teachers. They teach us how to be happy, they teach us what unconditional love truly looks like, they teach us how to live and work with nature’s flow, and so much more. Without a dog to share it with, life just isn’t the same…