Training Thursday Week 4

Week 4!! One month in to our training and we are doing great!! Today was an exciting day all-around! Not only did Matthew, the trio and I take an exciting geocaching field trip in the woods, but he also got the "high paw" from Ronin's psychiatrist who gave us the all important "required service dog note" that we'll keep in Matthew's vest and use to apply for his official service dog status! And a big plus...I found out that ALL of Matthew's expenses are TAX DEDUCTIBLE Smile That made the husband VERY happy.

Okay, but on to Training Thursday. We're on Spring Break this week, so Helene came to our house. It's always nice to have the trio around to make training a 100lb dog even MORE fun! Tongue Out

Today we worked on the command "come." This is a command that I have been waiting for. "Come" is a HUGE game for Matthew. I'll call him, he'll come up just close enough to make me think I can grab him, then he'll laugh at me and haul ass away. James or the kids have been careless a very small handful of times and Matthew has gotten out of the house or backyard. He doesn't go far, but he could...easily. And he doesn't come when we call him. I have to turn it into a game and get him to chase me back in to the house or yard, and then quickly shut the door or fence. It's a PITA and it's dangerous; for him, and for any small animal that he might want to play with. But when we're INSIDE the house, it's not an issue. Matthew is attached to my hip most of the time, and if he's not, all I have to do is call him and he literally comes hauling ass like a bull in a China shop straight at me. But outside...outside is a different matter when he's off-leash.

First and foremost I had to learn that my voice for the "come" command has to be friendly, exciting, cheerful. Never angry, and never yell. Who would want to come to a screaming banshee?? (I must remember this for my kids....)

We began practicing with a L.O.N.G. leash so that he could have some freedom to explore, sort of lose himself in the moment, and then I'd say "Matthew Come" and he better start coming...and if he didn't, I had him on leash and I'd reel him in, pulling the leash until he arrives at my feet, and then I want him at a sit in front of me. We had lots of treats, lots of leash, and LOTS of distraction.

I was excited, I was ready.

And we practiced. When I call Matthew to a come, he needs to come every single time. It's not optional. I need to be able to reinforce that he HAS NO CHOICE but to come when I call him. Therefore, when we practice he'll be kept on the long leash (I need to procure one from the pet store) and gradually we'll make modifications; long leash me holding it, long leash with him dragging it, and eventually losing the leash all together. We also need to practice EVERYWHERE where he needs to come; by the lake, in the backyard, in the house, in the front yard, (not the dog park, never going there!) basically anywhere and everywhere where he could be off-leash.

He loves me so much and I am as equally fond of him. Kiss

Working down near the lake proved to be the most challenging (lab/water=lots to do!) as did having the children around, but we'll get it. We've got all the other commands down pretty dang well, so this one will just take lots of practice, just like all our other commands! Dog training (like kid raising) doesn't stop as soon you think they know it. You keep going, you keep reinforcing, you keep praising, you keep building upon what they already know.

We're still discussing what we're going to do next Thursday. But one thing is for sure...I'll be practicing come A LOT. Because I really don't like it when my family doesn't come when I call them. It's sort of a pet peeve and drives me a bit batty.

If you trained your dog what was the most DIFFICULT command for your pup to learn?

Training Thursday Week 3

Technically this is week 4, but we were sick last week and had to cancel our lesson, so I'm going with this being Week 4 LESSON 3.

During out week 2 lesson, we met in a public place so Helene could see how Matthew interacted with people and distractions. He did really well. Me, not as well. I am so on edge when it comes to Matthew being in public because SE Guide Dogs told me that Matthew displayed aggressive tendencies towards other dogs, so I'm always freaked that he's going to see another dog and just go ballistic. But we didn't come across any other dogs, and he did fine. BUT...there was this bird, this white ibis that flew in front of us while we were walking and Matthew lurched after it, and my initial reaction was one of PANIC!! Matthew lurched, I screamed, and Helene sort of laughed. It was then that I think she decided that I needed to see Matthew actually put in a controlled situation with other dogs. She didn't tell me her grand plan then, but later that week when we talked to set up our next lesson she told me that's what she wanted to do. She wanted me to bring Matthew to a neutral place, and interact with her 2 dogs. One big black German Shepherd, and one small dominate Jack Russell Terrier. She sensed the hesitation in my voice, and said if I thought I wasn't ready, we could wait. ME?? Not ready? BRING IT ON! Tongue Out

We arrived at our destination and I snapped a quick picture. We were both happy, though inside I was a bundle of nerves. Would my dog rip out the throat of another dog? What would happen? OMG OMG OMG!!! But I didn't have too long to think about it because Helene arrived right on time, and we were off working. She came dog-less and first off she wanted to see how Matthew and I were working together on our heel. We passed that test pretty easily Wink She said she was satisfied with the control I had over Matty, so she was going to go and get her German Shepherd first. SE Guide Dogs said that while Matthew had dog aggression, he particularly had dog aggression with SMALL dogs, so we were going to start with the big dog first.

I put Matthew in the back seat of my truck and Helene brought out her pup, Talon. I greeted Talon, and then took his leash from Helene and she went and got Matthew.

We kept the dogs at a good distance for a short time, and then gradually brought them closer together, with Helene carefully observing Matthew's body language. After a minute (literally, it was very quick) we brought the dogs together. They said hello, they sniffed, there was no growling, no hair raising, no aggressive signs AT.ALL. I even felt confident enough to handle both dogs at the same time.

We let them sniff and mull over each other for about 20 minutes. No reaction from Matthew at all. Helene decided it was time to get the little dog (Kaiser), so off she went to transfer them out, and up went my anxiety level!

I could tell as Helene was bringing Matthew up that he was apprehensive. She told me she could feel it from him as well, and that he was looking to me for cues on what he should do, so I should try to remain calm and praise him as he approached. We brought the dogs together and a little bit of hair went up on the back of Matthew's neck. Nothing to bad, and Helene had him and I had Kaiser, so I was following her cue's and she let the dogs come together. Matthew apparently displayed some dominate traits by placing his head over the little dog (I totally missed this, that's why she is the PRO!!) and then he completely turned his back to Kaiser. There was very little butt sniffing going on, no friendly greetings like with Talon. Every few minutes Matthew would turn back around and sniff, then turn back around. But he was visibly nervous. And at one point there was a little something something happening, but Helene quickly picked up on it and we separated the pups before there was any sort of incident.

So, in a nutshell. Matthew DOES NOT HAVE DOG AGGRESSION!! Matthew has dog anxiety, but it's something that we can work on and likely get him over it. Eventually we will have Helene's dogs over to my house and the dogs will have a controlled play date in my backyard. And I thought I was a helicopter parent with my trio. Surprised

Then we worked on the sit/stay. Matthew did AWESOME, so I practiced with him when we got home.  I did it just like Helene taught me with keeping him on leash, shaking the leash, had the kids distract him while he was in a sit/stay on leash and he did great. So I bought out the big leash, big bone and distracting kids. AND HE ROCKED IT!

And then I was feeling VERY brave and I brought Matthew to football/cheerleading tonight. We walked a mile around the field with stops to practice sit/stay. We did encounter one other dog, and despite me telling the dude WE ARE WORKING RIGHT NOW, he let his dog on a long retractable leash come running up to us. Matthew let the dog smell him, but I could tell he had enough and just as I was about to pull us away, Matthew gave a little growl and the dude invited us to the dog park. Undecided Really?? Couldn't ya tell that neither me or my dog wanted to be there?? I pulled a Matthew and just turned my back to the dude and off we walked in the other direction. When we saw him again about an hour later, I took a very wide berth and didn't make any eye contact. Cool I need to get Matthew his working dog vest so that people will leave us alone! I understand that he's so big, and so beautiful, but if people aren't going to listen to my words, maybe they'll realize the working vest and give us our space!

Homework this week: continue with our heel, easy walk, sit/stay AND I need to start focusing on Matthew's body language, trying to pick up his cue's when he's happy, stressed, that I can better interpret when he might need to be removed from a stressful "dog situation."

And that's that. I love my dog.

Do you take your dog to the dog park?? Does it make you anxious?

Training Thursday

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. Tongue Out 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 Smile


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. Undecided 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 ( 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??