I think that if you ask trainers what the most difficult part of their job is a majority of them will tell you, without missing a beat, people. You were probably expecting a different answer, right? Sorry, but it is the cold, hard truth. The problem with most dogs is most people. Don’t worry, I’m solidly in that category. I may be wrong, ask Lauri she will tell you it happens often, but I feel like I’m maybe a half a step ahead of some. (at least before I trip) (Editors Note: He is amazing with animals. Very intuitive. Sometimes, though, his stubbornness gets in his way.) I feel comfortable claiming my status in the pack for one simple reason. I know that I don’t have all the answers, but I’m rarely unwilling to ask the question.
Something I have learned, likely more than once, is that life is about perspective. I have changed mine over the years and try, now to take the path of the student. I have found it is much more fun than assuming I know everything. I still struggle to listen before I speak at times, but like I said, I consider myself a student and I’m learning. I take this view quite often as a service dog handler because I am well aware that I know very little on this subject. I don’t think there has been a visit to SDP where Carlene hasn’t asked me: “So, what are you working on?” If it isn’t her, it is one of the trainers. This question begs to know what issues we’re working out. I always have questions, and they always have feedback that I take with me. Some I use immediately, some I sit with and test. The test cases would be the answers I knew to be correct but maybe they didn’t sit with me quite right at the moment.
A long smoldering issue that I have is allowing Casper to pull. This is something he does more in new environments. Now, I have had talks with him about trusting me, but he keeps it up and I end up worn out. I clearly had not found the solution in reasoning with him. One tack that I found to work for me was to let go of his harness (he wears a planet dog harness at all times) and place an open hand on his service butterfly; he slows right up. This does not help me though when I need him for stability, but it is a step in the right direction. We also regularly practice the “one-step crawl” especially when he tries to lead my dance. This is a process of taking a step and stopping, repeatedly, so that your dog is always at your hip; it is a great focus tool to have. Still, this does not solve the problem and we keep trying. Then a day comes where I read something in the Daily Doggy, the SDP blog, that each recipient and volunteer is charged with reading on a daily basis. This allows us to keep up with what is on the collective consciousness for the morning, sometimes funny, informative or just anecdotal. Today though I knew I wasn’t alone when I read of another Dane pulling on walks. Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing like a dog at the end of a 15 foot lead dragging it’s owner down a sidewalk, but in the service world, for a stability dog any pull has potential to send someone to the ground. Of course our leader has an immediate solution. She said, “…the trick is to never let them tighten a lead; their head should be right at your knee and if it’s not you give a jerk, sharply pulling and releasing…A couple of those and and they will decide that the only way to stop you from jerking is to walk without pulling…Then praise, reward and walk on with your dog in place.” Of course I tried this right away and the response was just as we’d expect. Casper walked slowly with no pulling. The difference between the two was a matter of me changing my hand position and moving him back a few inches.
In the days since reading and practicing there has been much less pulling. Now the goal is to replicate this in all environments. Like I mentioned Casper is a creature of habit and he does very well at places like the office or restaurants we know well, but not so well in new ones. I have faith that we will get there with time and practice. The solution was simple, I just needed to learn how to show him that he can relax and allow me to lead.I still have all the support I need and we can both be more comfortable and enjoy our outings together.