Training Service Dogs

Aug 14, 2016 7:08PM

As assistant dog trainer I got a ton of experience working with dogs: the more glamorous side of training and the not so glamorous side of cleaning kennels and sick dogs.

The glamorous side was really hard work though. I was mostly on the search and rescue team. We were training dogs who would use scent to find a child with a disability who has wandered off. I was the track layer. I would run off, going a route the dog handler knew, and would hide. The the dog would go to work trying to find where I went. When the dog found me I would shower it with praise in the form of verbal praise, treats, cuddles and play time--depending on what the dog preferred most. One dog love this red rubber chicken toy more than anything. She would track me anywhere with her nose to the ground to play with that red chicken.

I had to work hard to make sure this was the most happy and exciting thing ever- it helped when we transitioned the dogs to their new families. When a child goes missing, it's very scary and stressful for the parents, and the dogs pick up on it. However, if they think of tracking as the best game ever, that helps them stay enthusiastic when other around them are nervous.

Sometimes it was discouraging work though, maybe our current class of dogs weren't natural sniffers, it was a really hot day, or once I jumped into a bush to hide not realizing it was a thorn bush.

The not so glamorous side of my work included cleaning the kennels every morning, bathing dogs, and long strenuous days. There was one month where many of our dogs got sick and we had to be extra diligent in giving medication, bathing and cleaning the kennels. I also got to help transport puppies to our prison program where inmates helped train obedience. Puppies almost always get car sick. I hated having to climb into a carrier to clean out vomit or poop.

What made every thorn scratch, hot day or poopy kennel worth it was when I met the families. The dogs were often being trained as service dogs to children who will never be able to be a dog handler, and other times for veterans, or other children: children or adults with autism, down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, seizures, ptsd, diabetes, or a physical impairment. When I met the families I saw how the dogs changed their lives. I saw children calm down in the middle of a tantrum, dogs alert to a seizure, and parents tear up when they saw their dog track their child.

To train these dogs and change lives took a massive team: dog trainers, assistant trainers, socializers, kennel staff, and our in house vet crew. Our vet, Doc C (as he had us call him), did everything from the regular physicals and vaccines to treating sick and injured dogs. He was essential to us keeping the dogs healthy. Whether there was a limp, a cough, or a tennis ball got eaten he was there.

Working with animals is an incredible, exhausting, and oh so fulfilling venture.

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