Tuesday, May 4, 2010

News: Service Dogs - Why Do Some Quit on the Job?

In January, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine quietly embarked on an important new study to investigate a curious phenomenon: trained service dogs suddenly quitting early on in the job for no apparent reason. Until now, the issue had not been examined.

"We're studying seeing-eye dogs and a population of assistance dogs to try to find out why they don't seem to want to do it anymore," the study's lead researcher, Dr. James Serpell, tells Paw Nation. "They just seem to stop working, meaning they stop doing what they're trained to do." Read More


Anonymous said...

I only saw one program named of the three they plan to study, so I don't know if the study will examine programs that only use positive reinforcement training (such as clicker) or traditional training (such as choke chains) or a mix. I think the methods used for training and motivating working would have a significant impact.

Melissa Mitchell said...

I would tend to agree from an anecdotal standpoint, only time in the study will tell if that bears out in the numbers.

Anonymous said...

I left a comment there and thought I'd post it here too.

I think the study should focus on the owners, not the dogs. I have a rescued boxer who was about 3-4 when I got him. He does service work for me. But he is not "only" a service dog. He is also a family "pet" except for the times he does chores for me. He is loved and cuddled like our other two family pets. And yet when he gets "dressed" for work, he is all business. At home, he shares the "pick up" and "go get" chores with the pets (neither of whom have been trained at all except for what they pick up from the boxer's training." My boxer won't get burned out or feel isolated or lonely. He's part of the family and loves to work.

Again, the study is focusing on the wrong subjects. It's not the dogs - it's the owners.

Melissa Mitchell said...

I am sorry, I have to disagree with your comment.It is sometimes the owner true. But Ihave seenthree dog burn out in my time who had plenty of dog time, activities outside of working and lived with other dogs. Sometime is is just that the responsibilities and limitation of the working environment are too much for the dog in question. I also believe there could be burn out through in consistent maintenance of the training and adequate real rewards for the dog. Some dog do live for the work others are like us they want their pay check. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa - I understand what you're saying. I didn't mean that it's always the owner or always the dog but perhaps a combination of both plus various training methods. Not every training method works with every dog. I'm sure some dogs are better suited to full time service work than others. And other dogs not so much. My boxer is still an adolescent (and they mature more slowly than other dogs). He's in no way suited now for full time work and would definitely burn out. But he's ideal for balance work inside and for my occasional errands out of the house. I work at home teaching college classes online so our days are pretty laid back without much for him to do. I go out of the house about 3-4 times a week and he loves getting in the SUV and going places. Going out means working but for him, the excitement keeps the "working" from being boring or stressful.

Don't know if I explained that very well. I guess he's more of a part time service dog and his personality makes him well suited for that.

As he gets older I'll start training another dog and I'm already thinking of different breeds because as the years go by, I'll need more assistance that I do right now.

Thanks for responding!

Anonymous said...

Well, it's complicated. (But what isn't?) Of course, there are so many factors -- the dogs, the partners, the trainers, the training methods, etc. There's also type of work. I have seen with my own SDs that some LOVE certain skills and are not so crazy about others. Some of this has to do with their natural drives/inclinations, some with how I trained a particular skill. I learned my lesson with my first SD that the skill she loved the most was one that I had trained with the most joy and jackpot rewards because I had thought it would be such a hard skill for her to learn. So, my approach actually made it her favorite and strongest skill. I try to remember that now each time I train anything, but it's easy to forget.
So, I can very well imagine a dog loving to work for a skilled trainer, then going to a partner who is not as skilled or confuses the dog with a different style or less positive reinforcement, maybe accidentally (or intentionally) uses more aversives. The dog thinks, "Hey, this is not what I signed up for!" and shuts down. If they go back to the program and get evaluated and work for the trainer with gusto again, might they be placed with someone else?
Of course, I have a major emotional stake in this conversation because, as a partner trainer raising a new puppy, there is always the fear of The Big Washout.