Helping Paws had the pleasure of performing three demonstrations at the Land o’Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show January 8, 9, and 10, 2016. Many thanks to our foster home trainers and graduate teams who braved the frigid conditions to participate!
Helping Paws breeds Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, and places them with volunteer foster home trainers when the puppies are seven weeks of age. We are very grateful to the many breeders in the community who support our mission by donating stud services for our breeding program. The Land o’Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show allows many of these breeders to connect with the offspring of their dogs.
We took this demonstration opportunity to showcase our training process. Our foster home trainers raise and train the dogs for the full two to two-and-a-half years that it takes for the dogs to become service dogs. They attend classes weekly, and train the dogs at home and in public.
Our first phase of the curriculum is called Perfect Puppy. The pups are well-socialized to promote confidence in many environments and circumstances. We use the process of clicker-training, marking and rewarding each skill, or succession of skill, with the clicker followed by a food reward.
A key skill is taught during this phase is Watch – the dog must learn to always look to the human for direction and cues. Below are Sally with Eddie (5 1/2 -month-old Lab) and Karen with Delores (7-month-old Lab). Even in this chaotic venue these pups are focused.
We add distractions, such as holding food treats out to the side, to prefect the Watch. Here is Sally doing that with Eddie.
The next phase of training is Awesome Adolescent. The dog begins to learn “service dog skills,” such as retrieving, turning lights on and off, and pulling gloves off – Tug.
Karen and Delores demonstrate Tug with a glove.
Below, Karen and Delores show how we “shape” pushing the toggle switch. Karen clicks and treats for Delores looking at the switch, and then touching the switch with her nose.
Eddie, meanwhile, is glued to the action.
The third portion of the training, Working Wonder, was well-represented by Ranae and Brooks. Brooks at 1 and 1/2 years of age is actually further along in the curriculum, but graciously agreed to demo Working Wonder skills. Here he is, getting focused:
A significant piece of retrieving items involves the dog getting close enough to the person so the individual can reach the object. In the photo below, Brooks brings the item closer to Ranae by adding My Lap to the skill set. This is important for our graduates with physical disabilities, may of whom cannot bend over to take an object from the dog.
Helping Paws teaches “affection” skills to our dogs in training. Here Brooks shows My Lap combined with Snuggle, getting close to Ranae so she can feel his touch on her face without bending over.
For our demo, we combined the final phase of training, Big Dog, with our community outreach program of demo dogs. Demo dogs have completed all phases of training, and have passed the public access test required of all of our graduate teams. For various reasons, including health issues such as allergies, these dogs are not placed as service dogs. Volunteers adopt these dogs and help educate the public on service dogs and about Helping Paws.
Big Dog skills include Brace (Jane and Tori) and Rise to turn on and off lights (Lu and Belle).
In addition to placing service dogs with individuals with physical disabilities, Helping Paws also partners service dogs with military veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Below, Big Dog Summit with Cathy and demo dogs Tori with Jane and Belle with Lu demonstrate Forward, a cue that tells the dog to stand close to its partner, facing forward. This provides two benefits to the veteran – a barrier between the individual and other people, and physical contact with the dog, which is comforting and confidence-building for the vet.
We are always honored to have graduates participate in our demos. They are our mission in action. Ethan and Stetson graduated from team training in September of 2012. Since then, Ethan has begun driving his own van, and returned to farming, all with Stetson at his side. Remember Awesome Adolescent, where we showed you Karen and Delores shaping Tug with a glove? Here is why we teach this…Stetson tugging off Ethan’s coat.
We were also grateful for Melissa and Winnie’s participation in the demo. Winnie is Melissa’s second service dog; they were matched and completed team training in October of 2014. Melissa has a busy life style, including walks along the river and dining in restaurants. Winnie is eagerly there for every outing.
Many thanks to our foster home trainers and graduates for participating in the demos, and to Land o’Lakes Kennel Club for inviting us!
Photos courtesy of Scott Kleckner with the exception of the group photo, courtesy of Peter Grottini.