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Training Your Dog

The importance of training and temperament

There is no doubt that dogs used in therapeutic settings require high levels of sociability and reliability. They must also poses a genuine love for people and the temperament to be a 'working' dog. A dog that is inherently shy or fearful is likely to become stressed in a busy and bustling environment day in and day out.

Selection of dogs for therapy, therefore, must take into account a dog's innate personality and temperament. After identifying that a dog has the basic make-up to be a good 'therapy dog' however, training will become the building blocks that ensure your dog is reliable. Through training, your dog can be socialised to those circumstances he will encounter in therapy, such as wheelchairs or screaming children! Your dog will need to respond reliably to obedience commands in the face of these distractions and must be stable enough to manage the occasional uncertainty that this type of work will no doubt bring.

When considering what skills your dog may require, ask yourself what he is likely to face in his 'work'. How is he likely to respond if someone accidentally hurts him? Or if he gets a fright? A good example of the basic skills that may be required is the Delta (USA) skills test, a measure of the temperament may be the Delta (USA) temperament test. These tests are not required for registration with most Australian organisations, however if you are not confident your dog can reach this most basic level of training, it is strongly recommended that you invest time and effort in training prior to starting any therapeutic work.

Issues of reliability and duality

Lead The Way This brings us to the very important issues of reliability and duality. Firstly, how reliable is your dog? And Secondly, how will you manage the dual role of animal handler and therapist?

Much has been written about the potentially complex and difficult issues that may arise when working in this 'dual' role. For example how are you and your dog going to cope if the human clients become distressed? What if a client accidentally, or worse deliberately hurts the dog? Where will your loyalties and obligations as a therapist lie, withLead The Wayyour client or
your beloved pet? Many individuals and organisations overcome this issue by having a separate therapist and animal-handler. The therapist is a professional, however the animal-handler team are often volunteers. In this circumstance, the handler may remove the animal from a potentially volatile or dangerous situation whilst the therapist works with the client. Alternatively, therapists may chose to work in pairs, common in group settings, so that the therapist who is handling the dog may leave the situation. However there are times when the animal owner, handler and therapist are the one person.

Lead The Way It has been our experience that this issue can only be addressed successfully with a very high level of training. The handler must have excellent communication with their dog and above all trust. In the event that the dog becomes stressed or a difficult situation arises, you must be able to figuratively 'remove' your dog to a 'safe' place, such as a down/drop stay. In some cases this may need to be outside of the immediate area, such as in the hall, around a corner or in some other place out of your direct sight. Importantly you must then be confident that your dog will indeed stay there, feel safe and reassured, no matter how distressing your client's behaviour becomes. This will require a very high level of trust between you and your dog and the communication skills to be able to reassure your dog about what it should be doing.

Real-life dog training - The "Lifestyle Canine Communication System" (LCCS)

Lead The Way advocates training via LCCS for dogs working in therapeutic settings, as it ensures knowledge, trust and reliability. The system is designed to promote communication in real life settings and under high levels of distraction. One of the key concepts of this system is teaching handlers to effectively 'socialise' their dogs to multiple and often difficult situations. The language taught through LCCS is easily translated to everyday encounters and is ideally applied to often unpredictable therapeutic settings. The system is built on leadership and fosters high levels of trust.

To learn more about Lifestyle Canine Communication please visit Alpha Dog Training, the founders of the system.

Intensive Therapy-Dog Handlers Course

In conjunction with the team at Alpha Boarding Kennels, Lead The Way offers an intensive five day course for individuals wishing to train their dogs for therapeutic work. The course is designed to provide a comprehensive background to dog psychology, body language, training, handling, socialisation and "Good Behaviour Shaping". It also provides guidelines for visiting, teaching of therapeutic commands (eg. 'say hello') and managing ethical and OH&S issues. Participants are offered the opportunity to handle a variety of dogs, in order to thoroughly hone their skills, in addition to training their own dogs to a standard that would be sufficient to gain registration with Australian bodies offering certification for 'therapy dogs'.

Whilst animal-handler teams will complete a comprehensive assessment on the final day of the course and receive certificates attesting to the standard of their dogs, it is strongly recommended that teams seek additional registration. There are a number of organisations in Australia who will register, certify and insure teams for volunteer visiting. Lead The Way will not offer insurance to animal-handler teams.

Please note: Insurance laws in Australia are changing. It is important that you clarify with any registering body the limits of your insurance cover. You may also be covered by your workplace liability insurance. Currently in the USA, only volunteers are covered as visiting animal-handler teams. Professionals must purchase their own insurance.

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Advanced Therapy-Dog Applications Course

Running over 3 days, this course focuses on enhancing your bond with your Therapy-Dog, extending your existing communication and skills, and workshopping more advanced therapy applications.

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Please contact us for more information on our handlers' course.

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