Every Thursday for who knows how long, Matthew and I will be having private lessons with a tutor. But these are no ordinary lessons. These are lessons to get Matthew trained as a mental health therapy dog. You might be sitting there scratching your head? What, Jenny?? A mental health therapy dog?? Yup! I'll be blogging on Thursday about our Thursday sessions for as long as they go on!! I have to do it on the same day, or I might forget what we did!
As I've mentioned, my son Ronin has special needs. About 2 years ago his psychiatrist recommended that we look in to getting Ronin a specially trained service dog, and even wrote us a prescription for one! But our insurance wouldn't cover it, and of the many programs I contacted, no one had a dog that they just wanted to give me. These dogs are pricey! Any where from $20,000-$50,000. Yes. You read that correctly.
I decided to do the next best thing and adopt a dog that had been bred as a service dog, but for reasons was not able to complete his training. That's where Matthew came in to the picture. I waited 18 months for him. And it was worth the wait!! He came to us fully house trained, and he's smart as a whip, and boy does he ever love Ronin and Ronin just adores him!!
This is the two of them enjoying an after school snack this week
I had the trainer come to the house on Monday afternoon when the children were home. She got to see how Matthew and the trio interacted together. She got to witness Ronin having one of his "off" days and how Matthew responded to him, and vice versa and she said without a doubt, Matthew was a great fit for a therapy dog and she'd love to work with us on getting him through that process.
Ronin uses Matthew as his giant security blanket, and Matthew knows exactly what to do; he provides Ronin with a sense of calmness when he's stressed or upset. He nudges Ronin to get him back on task, and despite Ronin knowing NO boundaries when it comes to personal space, Matthew takes it all in stride, letting ME know he's had enough by gently walking over to wherever I am and either leaning up strongly against my leg, or putting his head in my lap. This is his way of saying "mama, Ronin is overwhelming me and I need a little break." I gently stroke Matthew, tell him what a good boy he is, and generally within a minute (really, maybe less) Matthew is back at Ronin's side.
The majority of our training will take place while the children are at school. I am considered Matthew's handler, and when we go through the certification process, it is me that will be leading him through it.
To begin with, Matthew and I have to establish a relationship with boundaries. That means he needs to know what I want for him to do, and I need to know how to ask for him to do it. He has some basic training, and a great base for us to build upon. Today we started with heel and easy walk. I want him to walk on my left side, I want him to sit when I stop. We worked on that up and down the street, in the backyard around some very tempting vegetation that he likes to be distracted by, and we did it throughout the house (quick turns in small places) and overall he did very well. Better than I did. I wasn't giving praise at the right time nor cuing as early as I should have been. That's okay. We are a work in progress! I did do some things right! Though I can't remember what any of those were right now.
We have all week to practice! Next week we are meeting in a public place to see how he does around noise (ummm....my house is pretty dang noisy) and people. He is easily distracted, so next week's lesson could be interesting!
Tomorrow night I get to go shopping at Pet Smart!! Matthew needs some new toys! Apparently the stuffed animals he loves could be very confusing for him in the long run. Since they are soft and plushy, he could end up eating a couch cushion or pillow b/c the texture is going to feel the same. YIKES!! Don't want that happen. We also discussed my running with the dog and the trainer said she could tell Matthew was so happy when he was "working" so he'd probably really enjoy wearing a doggy backpack and could carry our water bottles! Score!! She said light colored pavement was okay for running, grass is better, stay away from black. Tomorrow we are going to hit up the trail for 5 miles and do our homework!! How do you get your therapy dog certification? Practice, practice, practice!
Have you ever gone through professional dog training with your pup? Just basic obedience or did you go further in your training??