Although I had used formal training with my dogs in the past, and I intended to do that again with Charlie, as Charlie’s human mom, I wanted to approach this “training” process differently.
Therefore, as soon as I knew Bella and Jack were expecting, I began to ask friends who had worked with and trained therapy dogs, for their advice. One friend guided me more then anyone, and lead me to a wealth of resources. I began to read as much as I could about therapy dogs, service dogs, emotional support dogs, and how to train or educate them for that purpose. When I finished a book, I passed it on to my husband, who has been a part of Charlie’s education from day one. We talked about the information we acquired and began to develop our plan.
Reading to Prepare for Training / Educating
Knowing that every moment mattered with this boy, my husband and I read a number of books. Before I go any further, I’d like to thank my friend from Texas, for recommending all these books. Her willingness to share her many experiences over the years, with the training and educating her own therapy dogs, volunteering for Canine Assistants in Atlanta, fostering, evaluating, and adopting many pets from many rescue organizations, and so much more, helped guide me through this on going process with Charlie; she had a wealth of knowledge, which she was so willing to share, and for that I am so grateful.
I’d like to list and give credit to the amazing author’s who wrote the books Mike and I read and discussed before we ever met our “Puppy with a Purpose”.
- Love is All You Need, Jennifer Arnold
- The Other End of the Leash, Patricia B. McConnell PH.D
- Through A Dog’s Eyes, Jennifer Arnold
Socialization is a Huge Part of Early Training/Education for a Puppy
Socialization of a puppy is especially important, but even more important, when the puppy’s purpose is to be a therapy dog.
All the while, as a therapist herself, our breeder kept the puppies inside her home, where they were warm, secure, and loved; allowing them to feel safe, while bringing in family and friends to hold, love and play with them. Thereby, helping each puppy become comfortable around people and new experiences.
Reading Jennifer Arnold’s and Patricia McConnell’s books, as well as the popular magazine, “Whole Dog Journal” helped us to understand the importance of socialization. My Husband and I wanted to continue what the breeder had already begun from the moment we got our new puppy.
Traveling with a Puppy
In Jennifer Arnold’s book, Love Is All You Need, she refers to the method of raising and training or educating a puppy to be a service dog, as “The Bond-Based Approach”. Our breeder, Denise a therapist, used many of these techniques while introducing the puppies to a safe and secure world. We wanted to continue what she had begun. Therefore, knowing we would be traveling back to Georgia from Dallas, TX, we did a lot of research ahead of time to make sure our puppy would stay with us, and know he was safe and secure.
Being puppy prepared, when we came to pick him up, we brought a blanket for him, which we rubbed all over Mama Bella’s fur, so that his mother’s smell would go with him as we traveled, and took him into his new forever home. Once again, helping him to feel safe and secure at all times.
When traveling with an animal, be sure to speak with the company you are using in advance. There are different regulations depending on the age of the animal, and many have different and specific company requirements. I do remember being a little concerned about taking him through security, but they allowed me to remove his leash and collar, and walk through with him in my arms. We were required to pay $150, bring his shot records, and a soft travel crate that would slip under the seat. Thankfully, no one asked us to do that. In fact, when the flight attendants heard there was a puppy on board, they all gathered to see him. Charlie stayed in my arms, or on his blanket on the floor throughout the entire trip.
Developing A Therapy Dog Team Using The Bond-Based Approach
Knowing that Charlie’s purpose was to become a certified therapy dog made it easy for us to set goals. Our first goal was to let Charlie know he was loved. According to Jennifer Arnold’s book, Love Is All You Need, “Love needs to come first. Dogs who are loved, love in return allowing a strong bond to develop. Dogs who know they are loved feel safe enough to learn to make good choices.
“Dogs don’t make us earn their love, and we shouldn’t make them earn ours.” As we showed our love to Charlie by providing the basics, food, shelter (our dogs have always lived indoors with us), affection, play time, praise and encouragement, he felt safe and secure and we began to bond. Educating him with the basics: sit, come, stay, and leave it, along with a multitude of treats, clapping, and encouraging words, like “Yay Charlie, Good Boy and “YES”, we also tried to continue what the breeder had begun by introducing Charlie to as many people as possible. Until he was fully vaccinated, we had to be careful where he went or who came to visit. Close family and friends are usually a safe choice.
I want to add a note about the photos below. These are family, friends, colleagues, and a few students. One of the boys pictured below was a precious child who was in one of my classes. Braxton is very special and intuitive. All of the people picture below knew about our journey to acquire our ‘Puppy with a Purpose”, and many of them prayed along with us through this journey. Braxton, wanted us to get a boy. I didn’t tell anyone which puppy we were getting, just in case something changed and we ended up with a girl. When I brought Charlie to school for a special preview to the staff and my students, I wanted Braxton to have a special time with just him and the puppy. I went to one of my teacher friend’s classroom, who didn’t have students with her at the time, and left Charlie with her. I went to the lunchroom, and got Braxton, and told him I had someone special I wanted him to meet. Let me back up just a second. When Charlie was around our family and the different age children, he was very puppy like and a little excitable. When I brought Braxton into the room, and set Charlie down in front of him, Charlie reacted differently. His little tail kept wagging, but he gently, and sweetly, kept trying to give Braxton kisses. Charlie knew Braxton was special. My eyes filled with tears, because it became so apparent and real to me that God had truly given me a very special puppy. A real Puppy with a special purpose. After Braxton had his special time, I let him go back to the lunchroom, and I took Charlie to meet the rest of the team of students.
Again, as I walked into my classroom, and totally disrupted what my wonderful substitute, (who gave me a month of her time, so I could have what we called it paw-ternity leave) was doing. Another one of my special students in my gifted class, walked up and took Charlie out of my arms. Charlie just snuggled into his chest. Later when the other students held him, he did the puppy wiggle and squirm. Charlie instinctively knew the difference. I thanked God that day, and many times since for this amazing “Puppy With A Purpose”.
Playtime Is Learning Time
We had many fun play times, which was really education time for puppy Charlie. We used and created fun adventures to expose him to different types of experiences. We made a ramp, which eventually became a See-Saw for him to walk back and forth as it moved and he learned to balance. Using a Hula Hoop and treats we encouraged Charlie to jump through it. We used play ground equipment or steps to walk on, boxes or tunnels to walk through, rocks to climb on, and most anything we could find to safely introduce new experiences, while encouraging him and building confidence. We took walks and allowed him to climb on tree stumps, and run through grass and water; all the while remembering that puppies have short attention spans and get tired quickly. We always tried to end each play time on a positive note, with lots of love and treats or toys.
It was important for us to keep in mind that we were developing a Therapy Dog Team consisting of my husband myself, and Charlie. A team is developed through bonding experiences, and of course we added lots of love and affection. One activity we would use, and we still do it today is to take some really High Value Treats with Charlie and go outside. When trying this, make sure the dog is on leash, or is in an enclosed area. One of the team members takes Charlie and tells him to sit, facing the other handler. We say, ” Sit.” The other handler is about 15-20 feet away, and calls Charlie’s name and says come. Charlie is to run to the handler, run around him, and sit in a heel position, to receive the treat. (The first few times we did this, we allowed him to sit in front of us. Then after he was successfully performing the task, we used the treat to guide him around to the sit/heal position, giving him the treat, and said “stay.”) The activity is repeated back and forth between handlers. Charlie loves this game, because he gets to run and get good treats. Sometimes he gets so excited he races to the other handler before being called. This is because he is smart and knows what is coming. When he does that, he has to go back and sit and wait to be called. This bonding with the handlers, is also a great way to practice a reliable come or recall, which every handler wants to master for the dog’s safety.
One of my favorite bonding techniques that I use with Charlie, and his half brother Jack’son, and his adopted sister Kaydee, is food sharing with me. This idea came from Jennifer Arnold’s book, Love Is All You Need. Every night before bed, I get two or three Blonde Oreo cookies. The three dogs sit in front of me, and I separate the cookies, as most do with Oreos. (Be sure not to use chocolate, as it is poisonous to dogs) I break them into fourths, and I take a piece first, and eat it, then I give each dog a piece one at a time. It’s that simple. They love it, and it helps them realize we do things together. It can be done anytime, and as often as a team would like. When we do “Nighty Night Potty Break Time” as I call it, they can’t wait to relieve themselves, get right back inside, in order to get their Oreos; although, any cookie would work. I use this activity in the evening before bed, when they are sitting in their spots waiting for me to begin. I have also used this type of activity with Charlie, if he is having a day where he isn’t choosing to cooperate with me. We take a break and bond with food; using cheese, cookies, deli meat, it doesn’t matter. Don’t forget to take a bite first, then give a piece to the dog.
This activity, when used following a non cooperating period, (and yes, that happens!) gets the dog’s mind off performing, and into having fun with treats. It gives him a brain break, and then after a few minutes, we go back to working together with a more positive attitude.
Jennifer explains in her book how this activity started with an abused rescue dog. It became an activity which is used at Canine Assistants, the organization she created to train service dogs. Dogs want to please, and by using positive reinforcement, the dog learns to enjoy and love what he or she is doing.