Setting Goals: Man’s Best Friend Training/Educating With A Goal In Mind

I have heard many times, that dogs are Man’s Best Friend. I have come to the understanding that in order for me to truly obtain that title, I must begin to understand how dogs experience the world. Dogs do not think or process the world the way we do. Jennifer Arnold’s Book, Love Is All You Need, goes into the explanation of how dogs cognitively process information, and it helped me to realize first and foremost, that a loving relationship with Charlie, begins the moment I first touch him, hold him, and make him feel safe and secure.

In many respects for me as a mother and grandmother, it is similar to those first experiences with a newborn. The newborn does not know anything, and needs that warm, firm, secure hold and cuddle, to help them know they are safe, and their needs will be provided.

That bond begins the first moment they are held, and thus the Bond- Based Approach to Educating Charlie, began the first moments, my husband and I held him. That bond grew, and with each day as we met his needs, loved him, played with him, and introduced him to our world, he allowed us to share his. That’s why watching a puppy makes us laugh, because a secure puppy bonding with a family is a joy to behold.

Holding Grey Boy, in my arms for the first time was the most wonderful feeling. I looked in his eyes and my eyes filled with tears. This was the puppy I prayed for. He was so still and cuddly. He gave me a soft kiss on the check. I knew I was in love, and oh how that love grew over the next weeks, months and years. When you trust God for the details, he does an amazing job of providing you with your heart’s desire.

Educating vs Training

Once Charlie had all of his required vaccinations and check ups, we enrolled him in formal education classes. Jennifer Arnold in her book, Love Is All You Need, states that “Training can be defined in many different ways. But it’s important to note, that training your dog is opposite of giving him the ability to choose. “

Wait, why would a dog need to make a choice? When watching your dog, he or she chooses which toy and which person he wants. You can actually see it on their faces, when they are thinking and making a choice.

Research shows that dogs do have cognitive abilities. As a dog matures, he or she has to make choices, like what to do when he or she is left alone at home. Jennifer defines training, in her book, as “the process of eliciting a particular behavioral response, absent the need of independent thought, to an environmental cue usually provided by a person.” She further states, “Since it is obvious that you cannot be with your dog all the time to provide cues and control his behavior, it’s necessary to stop training, and begin actually teaching our dogs to think and make good choices on their own.”

Learning to Choose

Through the books my friend recommended, I have a better understanding of the many different ways a dog interprets this human world, and how he or she learns, while being a part of it. The book which resonated most with me was Love Is All You Need. Jennifer, the author is also the founder of Canine Assistants outside of Atlanta, GA.

Canine Assistants is a nationally recognized nonprofit that raises and provides service dogs for people with disabilities. The book is subtitled as The Bond-Based Approach to Educating Your Dog. Although Charlie was not going to be a service dog, and I discuss the different types of dogs and services they preform, on the page, (Service Dogs, Working Dogs, Therapy Dogs, And Emotional Support dogs) the way the service dogs at Canine Assistants are educated for their specific purpose is the approach I wanted to use with Charlie.

Having had many dogs of my own, I have seen first hand, a dog make a choice based on previous experiences, behaviors and outcomes. Using the Bond-Based approach is helping Charlie become more confident and willing to make good choices. It is a gradual process that improves with time and experience.

One example of choice, is a game we play, “Which Hand”. I take a treat, show Charlie the treat, put both my hands behind my back and place the treat in one. I bring both hands closed back in front. Charlie is sitting and I ask, “Which One, Charlie?” If he selects the one with the treat, I open the hand and he gets to take it. If he doesn’t choose the right one, I open my hand and say, “Opps, try again, ” and put my hands back behind my back again. I may or may not change the treat to another hand. Charlie learns to use his sense of smell, and select the correct hand. Charlie is learning to choose which helps his cognitive growth. This cognitive game and many more are found in the book, Love Is All You Need.

Every dog owner worries about the dog, one way or another, getting away from the handler, and running off, running out in front of a car, or running away and getting lost. We are working with Charlie encouraging, practicing, reinforcing the immediate sit, when he sees a car, or when we call out to him. When we are walking with him, and we either hear or see a car is approaching, we ask Charlie to sit, he is treated, and then after the car is completely passed, we use the release command. Just recently, and he is 16 months old at the time of this writing, when Charlie hears or sees a car, he is choosing to sit on his own. We reward, release and walk on. Be careful to not allow the dog to try to run after or chase the car. Some dogs because of the engine’s sound, find it a game to chase cars. Even though they are on a leash, when they attempt to run after or follow, use a firm voice, say “NO and come”, continuing the walk in the direction you were go. When Charlie did this the first time, it showed me that I should always wait several seconds after the car has passed to say, “Release,” and walk on.

Formal Education and Behavioral Training With A Goal in Mind

Charlie’s Graduation

There are many outstanding behavioral education centers throughout the US and Internationally as well. As an owner, I choose Pet Smart because after meeting the instructor, and knowing that she understood our ultimate goal of becoming a Therapy Dog Team, that she would work together with us, to help us, as a team, achieve our goal.

Charlie participated in three 6 week Behavioral Training Classes: Beginning or Puppy, Intermediate, and Advanced. He graduated with Honors, of course! It is important for the owner to feel good about the facility and instructor, while making sure everyone is on the same page. Becoming a Therapy Dog Team requires commitment on the part of both the owner and instructor. We used Pet Smart because I was comfortable with the instructor, and I knew she was aware of our goals for Charlie and would work with us to achieve them. Our first goal beyond graduating each class, was for Charlie to take the Canine Good Citizen Test, which most accredited therapy organizations require. Thank you Lorraine, at Pet Smart in Canton, GA for helping us as a team to pass the CGC one week before he graduated from the Advanced Training Class. Lorraine familiarized herself with the requirements for the test, and work diligently to help us all be ready.

Always Investigate the Training/Educating Facility and Instructors Before Enrolling

We recently felt it might be beneficial to do a review class to re-expose him to be around other dogs and people. One came highly recommended, and it sounded amazing. I called and spoke with the owner/trainer of the facility. We talked about 15 minutes, and the more we talked about the classes he began to ask me questions. Like, what type of lead or collar do you use? This led to him revealing that they ultimately train up to the use of pinch and shock collars. I am not a believer in this type of training. Most dog behaviorists will tell you that research shows that dogs who are loved and made to feel secure will do anything to please their handler. It may take some work and patience on the handler’s part, but certainly is a much more loving and humane way to educate and train the dog. Personally, I’d rather take the time to achieve the goals for our Therapy Dog Team, then to be in so big of a hurry that I have to use force to require my dog to behave. I have been very careful to talk to the instructors of the facilities we have used to educate Charlie. I have to remind myself that they are providing a service that I am paying for. The service needs to fulfill my needs and purposes, not theirs.

Main Goal: Become a Certified Therapy Dog

Almost all therapy dog organizations require the dog to pass the Canine Good Citizen Test, before allowing them to test for their organization. The Canine Good Citizen program was created so that any dog can participate. A dog does not have to be AKC Registered to take the Canine Good Citizen Test. There are some excellent YouTube videos available which show what 10 things the dog must perform in order to pass the test. This is the one I referred to throughout Charlie’s education and behavioral training, skip over the ads.

I have copied this information from the American Kennel Club about the Canine Good Citizen Test:

What is CGC?

The following information is from the AKC website:

“At the AKC, we believe that all dogs can be good dogs, and all owners can be great owners: all it takes is a little bit of training, lots of love, and of course, plenty of praise along the way. 

That’s why we created the Canine Good Citizen™ (CGC) program: a two-part course designed to help you and your dog be the best you can be–together. Since 1989, over 1 million dogs and their owners have participated in CGC, mastering ten basic skills that instill confidence and good manners in and out of your home. 

Not only does CGC training create long-lasting trust between you and your pup, but also ensures you’ll be good neighbors and friends to everyone around you—and, if you’re interested in going beyond the basics, CGC also lays the foundation for other AKC sports and activities like obedience, agility, tracking, and performance events.”

Charlie passed the Canine Good Citizen CGC Test in November 2019; he was 10 months old

Other AKC Titles a Dog Can Earn

Remember that a dog does not have to be an AKC registered dog to earn these AKC Titles. STAR PUPPY, Canine Good Citizen, Community Canine Good Citizen Advanced ACGC, and Urban CGC. Beginning with AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy, progressing to Canine Good Citizen, and now to CGCA” (advanced CGC) . The CGC program trains dogs through all stages of life to be well behaved in society. 

Titles an AKC Registered Dog Can Earn

When searching for a dog’s purpose, which I discussed on the page, (What’s the Difference: Service, Therapy, Emotional Support Dogs?) getting to know the dog by playing, educating, and bonding, the handler will quickly realize that the dog may be to calm or laid back, or has a very high energy level, is a people person, or responds to people with special needs. All these things will lead the handler to discover the dog’s purpose. Here are a list of many different things a dog may enjoy and be purposed for in his or her life. I also discuss more in detail the specifics of a Service, Therapy, and Emotional Support Dog on the “What’s the Difference” page.

Anyone interested in the above titles for their AKC Registered dog, please go to

Therapy Dog Organizations

There are many different Therapy Dog Organizations. It is important to read about each one and decide on the one that meets the needs of your team. Many organizations offer insurance, when you as a TEAM have passed their requirements. Be aware that some organizations restrict their members to only work within that organization. Others are willing to allow you to partner with other organizations. Ask a lot of questions and research the different organizations. Contact them to ask questions. Choosing the organization which best suits the therapy team is a personal choice. (Remember a dog does NOT have to be AKC regeristed to become a Therapy Dog).

The Following Information is from the AKC Website,

Since the 1980’s, there have been significant advances in the field of animal assisted therapy and the use of therapy dogs. Organized therapy dog groups provide educational material to volunteers, they screen both volunteers and dogs, and they provide liability insurance for when the dog and handler are volunteering in a therapy setting.

Therapy dog certification organizations are the experts in this field. It is their dedication that has organized and advanced the work of therapy dogs and their efforts should be acknowledged and appreciated. The following certification organizations are recognized by the AKC. A dog must be certified by one of these organizations to be eligible to receive the AKC Therapy Dog title.

AKC would like to thank the following national therapy dog registration/certification organizations for their assistance during the launching of the AKC Therapy Dog title: