Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking Advantage of Teachable Moments and Discoveries with your Service Dog

Teachable moments is a phrase parents often hear meaning that life life presents parents with natural opportunities in which to teach their children valuable life skills and lessons. These are times when children often show their natural interests, strengths, and talents. Once again dogs like children are subject to teachable moments. As a person becomes more intune with their dog, their existing skills and potential for further skill has great potential to increase, that's if you are ready to take adantage of learning opportunities as they present themselves.

Shiloh and I have now been partnered for six months. She has become much more confident in employing the skills she was trained to do before placement with me, as well as gained some new skills such as flushing toilets, ferrying things around the house and wheelchair pulling. The wheelchair pulling and toilet flushing are examples of things I began teaching her when a natural but not life dependent moment to do so presented itself. We happened to be in the bathroom one day and I had time, so I lured her to flush the toilet. It wasn't long before she figured out what I wanted and on the natural marker of the sound of the toilet flushing I threw a mini party. With wheelchair pulling I started by just going for short walks around the block and rewarding her for the slightest pressure against the harness. Again, I did not have anywhere we had to be and we weren't far from home, so I could always call for help. Shiloh is not like a lot of dogs that take any opportunity to go faster. She is quite content to go at my snail pace. Bastien, my first service dog, took to the invitation to go his natural and much faster pace and ran with with it! She is slowly getting the pulling down and as she has more experience with it is enjoying the increase in pace. The other day my roommate and I had some errands to run at the local mall but were in no great rush.I decided that this would be an ideal moment to make some advances in Shiloh's pulling training. Again, I had my roommate so if Shiloh was not interested in working on this it was no big deal. I have trained dogs to pull before and find the low friction, smooth floors of a mall ideal for working on pulling since the chair can coast and the dog is really just maintaining this momentum. My roommate acting as a sort of lure decide to see if she could really get her going by going ahead and calling her. She has since been pulling more steadily.
I also like to take advantage of natural talents and preferences. Shiloh likes to use her feet for things more than her nose. In the case of doors and door buttons her feet often work and work well, but I have been working to show her with the small buttons her nose is more effective and she is now to the point where she is choosing between foot or nose depending on the situation. Shiloh is a very observant girl and it shows.
Bastien is also a dog of many talents. He had a particular talent for learning the names of people, places, and things. I was able to capitalize on this to teach him to find specific people and places while out in public such as my parents, boyfriend, boss, the exits, bathroom and pick up only specific things even if there was a pile of things on the floor.
To take advantage of a teachable moment one needs:
1. Patience
2. Time
3. Rewards on hand
4. To want the dog to succeed but not be in a situation where the dog must do it for safety.
Have any of you had memorable teachable moments with your service dog or been able to identify and turn a natural talent into a trained task?

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