Training a Service Dog for Mobility
I was asked to talk about Service Dogs and Service Dog Organizations at an educational conference on neurodegenerative diseases. My talk was scheduled for the lunch hour. The noon hour is a time that is traditionally reserved for an entertaining, non-scientific talk about a topic that’s related to the theme of the conference. I was excited to have the opportunity to discuss service dogs at this conference because neurodegenerative diseases often cause mobility disorders, and Six Legs in Motion’s core mission is to train Service Dogs for Mobility.
With the word “entertainment” in mind, I decided to bring Echo, wearing his service dog vest. I knew he would be a hit, and he was. But I also knew it would be a challenge to bring him into a conference room packed with over 200 people eating lunch. He has been in public places but this time was different. There were lots of people and lots of food, both on and off the tables. I knew it would be a challenge for him to lie quietly under the table for two hours. This would be a test of his good behavior and my skills as a dog trainer. The first hour was not too bad. I was eating lunch and I could monitor him and control his behavior. During the second hour, I was giving my talk while Echo stayed with my wife Nina. I avoided looking in his direction so I wouldn’t stimulate him, but I could hear him moving around. He managed to be fairly quiet and I was able to finish my talk. At the end of my talk, he was at the end of his patience. He let out a big “Woof” when I mentioned his name. Fortunately, his woof was so well-timed that people probably thought I’d given him a cue. Nice job, Echo!
Even though the audience probably thought that Echo had been invited to “speak”, a well-trained service dog would have laid down quietly until released. At Guide Dogs for the Blind, puppies the same age as Echo can stay in one place for up to three hours and more. Echo is not quite there yet. We failed one of our requirements for service dog certification by Six-Legs-In-Motion. We’ve got work to do!
I’ve modified his training program. His training now includes sessions during which he his tethered to a piece of furniture near me — in my office, during meals or while watching TV or reading. We will slowly build up to periods of 2 to 3 hours of “quiet time”. Right now he is at my feet under my office desk. I only release him after he has been quiet for an extended period of time.