Self-trained Service Dogs 2

Just a quick follow-up to my blog the other day. There are two wonderful books that can help you train your dog to perform specific tasks for you. They are called Teamwork I and Teamwork II.

The first book covers the basic Obedience training that your dog must be capable of in order to be a service dog. If you and your dog can’t truly master these tasks, unfortunately, self-training is probably not be the right path for you. It takes a special dog to be a service dog; it takes a lot of time, patience and effort to train your own. Be honest with yourself about your dog and your relationship with him/her, it will save you from heartache and embarrassment later! Most importantly, it will preserve the rights of the disabled to continue to take Service dogs into public areas.

The second book, Teamwork II shows in detail how real-life people creatively taught their dogs how to perform specific tasks. It was inspiring to read how a man with severe Cerebral Palsy, with the help of a friend, taught his dog to pick things up that he had dropped. If you have any interest in dog training, this one is an interesting read, just to see the trial, error and ultimate success.

Remember to always keep in the back of your mind: “how do my dog’s behavior in public and mine potentially effect the rights of those who have a more severe disability than mine?” Even if your dog can’t master the public obedience requirements, there is no reason why you can’t have him/her help you around the house. The mental stimulation of training these tasks is good for both of you!

Enjoy your dog(s)! Let them help you have some fun and enjoy life!



Collars, Leashes & Harnesses, Part III in a Series or How To Stop Your Dog From Pulling on the Leash

The point of this blog and my webstore is to educate you about how to make spending time with your dog more enjoyable so that you can get out with them and enjoy life! I don’t want you to go for a walk, then come home and be sore for two days, and think “Ugh, that was horrible, not worth it, I’m never going out again with that dog!” People and dogs both need exercise!

Even though it sometimes seems impossible, you can get your dog to stop pulling when you walk. As with all things “dog”, the younger they are when you teach them, the faster they learn it. But it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. (Hmmm, maybe I’ll start a 2nd blog about how to train from when you first bring a puppy home…What do you think?)

I had neck surgery and carpal tunnel surgery this past winter (11/2011 & 2/2012), this picture was taken in May 2012. Am I crazy walking 90lb Ranger and 65lb Rosie together on a leash with a coupler? Maybe – but I knew that they wouldn’t pull me, and yes I cheated with a pinch collar just in case. But they didn’t pull, so they never got pinched! Now that I’m more confident in my own rebuilt strength, I walk both of them without the pinch.


I know that pinch collars are a touchy, controversial subject in the dog training world. It’s not my job to judge what people do to control their dogs. I am trying to help people to understand how dogs think, how to let your dog be a partner in your healing, and to find some methods to let you work with your dog without giving you undue pain. So my perspective is this… Yes, pinch collars are meant to be a training tool and the dog should be weaned off of them as quickly as possible. Some dogs are gentle souls and never need them, others never seem to understand the whole leash concept. I’ve owned dogs on both ends of the spectrum. The other factor that comes into play is the strength and physical capabilities of the dog owner vs the strength and training of the dog. I had 2 German Shepherds that I bought when I was fully capable of handling them. When they were 1yr and 1 1/2 yr old is when I had my surgeries that were completely unexpected. They weren’t fully trained yet. Should I have given them back, or found tools to help me keep them? Believe me when I tell you that if you feel that you always need a pinch collar, I won’t judge you, sometimes it is the best choice!

So here is the “trick” to teaching your dog to stop pulling on the leash. Choose a leash that is comfortable in your hands, and feels good when you hold it. (That will be the subject of an upcoming blog when I’m done taking all of the educational pictures!) This is especially important if you have arthritis in your hands like I do.

Know your dog and what makes them respond. Are they thrilled just to hear you say “Good Job!”, or do they need a treat, or a chance to bite on their favorite toy? Whatever it is that works for you & your best friend, take it along when you go out, also bring a lot of patience.

The first part of this has nothing to do with walking. It’s all about developing attention.Your dog must know that he needs to always know where you are and what you are doing. He needs to understand that no matter what other exciting things are out there in the world, you are the bearer of the best things, and that he should stick with you. This exercise you can do from a park bench. If you are not strong enough (yet!) to hold your dog for a long period of time, tie the leash to the bench. Keep an eye on your dog, (you remembered your treat, toy or kind words – right?), every time he looks at you say. “Good Look!” or “Good Watch!”, treat him and then let him go back to watching the people or squirrels, or whatever is fascinating to him. Pretty soon, (it may take a few trips to the park, but what is so bad about that?) he will learn to look at you every so often, just to check in. When that is solid you can move to the next step, the actual walking part.

When you first try  to get your dog to walk without pulling, if at all possible, go to a place, or at a time when things are fairly calm, and your dog won’t be too distracted. This is just an extension of the exercise above, so fewer distractions means that you get more attention. You have to be sneaky and fake your dog out, they’re smart!

When you walk your dog, watch them very carefully. When they get almost to the end of the line, but before they start to pull – STOP in your tracks. Your dog will get a little tug. They may: 1. walk back over to you, 2. look at you in surprise, or 3. try to pull you. Any reaction is ok. If you get the 1st reaction, it will be fairly easy to teach your dog to stop pulling on the leash. Tell him how good he is and reward him, then start to walk again. Repeat, over and over! If you get the 2nd response, call her over to you, tell her she’s a good dog, reward her and start to walk again. Repeat over and over! If you get the 3rd reaction, your life will be a bit more difficult, but there is hope! It’s all up to you, and you can do it! DO NOT let your dog pull you forward. If you are not strong enough to do this, try to find someone to help you. They hold they leash, you get to give the rewards! Eventually your dog will look back to you. Tell her “Good Look!”, reward her and when there is no tension on the leash walk again. Repeat over and over… (Reminds me of the awful joke from 3rd or 4th grade: Pete & Repeat are on a boat, Pete jumps out. Who is left? Repeat. Pete & Repeat are on a boat, Pete jumps out, who is left…?) Keep the first few tries at this short, or you will both get tired and frustrated – keep it fun and upbeat.

If you are feeling really good, or are fortunate enough to have recovered from whatever illness slowed you down, or have a friend or family member to help, there is another more difficult exercise that also reinforces this. Take a very thin leash and put some rocks, pylons or other markers in a straight row, about 2 feet apart. Keep the dog close, and move very quickly around the obstacles. You can also just walk in a random fashion, changing directions quickly. The idea is that the dog has to stay with you and pay attention to you in order to move forward. This is difficult and can be tiring at first. Don’t try it if you’re not up to it. It’s like putting the extra trim on a nice car. It looks good, and finishes things off, but not completely necessary if you can’t afford it.

Eventually your dog will understand that pulling means stopping, being near you on a loose leash means being allowed to walk. As the two of you turn this into a more solid behavior, try walking in busier places or at busier times of day. Eventually it will gel, and both you and your dog will be happier! More walks = more exercise =  a healthier you + a calmer dog in the house – it’s all good! Patience and consistency are the keys – you can learn them. If I did, anyone can! Sometimes it’s easy, others it is not, but the time and effort are always worth it.

Go have fun – enjoy your dog!

Socialize Your Dog and the Neighbor Kids!

I have 2 German Shepherds, and some people tend to be afraid of them and walk out of our path simply because of their breed. Other people love them and approach us to pet them, again because of the breed. Either reason is a great one to socialize your dog.This can happen with any breed of dog, I’m just picking on GSDs, because I have them!  We strive to make both Rosie and Ranger good ambassadors for dogs in general, and for the GSD breed in particular.

We live in a wonderful neighborhood where people are friendly and accepting. Even my neighbors that really don’t like dogs have admitted that, “as dogs go, these two are really good.” I consider that an accomplishment! There are also a lot of young children that will run up to the dogs to pet them. Ranger is 100 lbs, and Rosie is a petite 65lbs, but if either one of them jumped on the 40lb, 5yr old, boy that lives down the street, even to say Hello! and give kisses, they could hurt and scare him badly. I think it is my responsibility to teach the kids and the dogs how to behave around one another.

So sometimes we train obedience and socialization at the same time. I teach the kids that dogs have their own “manners” just like people do. When kids are young, their parents teach them to say, please & thank you, hello & good bye, nice to meet you and things like that. When dogs are young, their parents teach them that it is rude and aggressive to run right up to another dog’s face. If you want to be a polite puppy and make a new friend, you approach slowly, from the side, maybe even stop a few times on the way over, make sure that the new dog knows that you don’t want to hurt them. I show them how to hold their hand out for the dog to sniff, and I explain that we learn a lot by looking at things, dogs don’t really see as well as we do, they learn by smellling. Then I tell the kids that Rosie and Ranger really like kids, but that dogs show excitement by jumping on each other, and I don’t want them to jump on anyone and hurt them by accident. So the kids learn to approach slowly, from the side, and hold thier hand out. That way everybody is safe and happy!

Once they’ve mastered that, I ask them to help me train my dog. That always gets a great response! I have a long lead, or sometimes we walk to the enclosed tennis courts that are close, and lots of string cheese, which is Rosie’s favorite. Like I’ve said before, you figure out what works for you and your dog, I’m here to make suggestions, no judgment! I give each of the kids some broken up cheese, and have them stand in a circle. I stand in the middle holding the lead and some cheese. Here are the rules of the game:

  1.  Oldest child calls “Rosie – Come!”
  2. When she gets there, he gives her a small piece of cheese. (Dropping it in front of her is legal – she has big teeth!)
  3. As soon as she gets her cheese, I call her “Rosie – Come!”
  4. I give her a small piece of cheese.
  5. The next oldest calls her and treats her.
  6. Repeat! until everyonehas had a turn, or 2 or 3 or until the dog seems bored.
  7. Thank the children for being such great helpers and teaching your dog to behave and to like kids!

What this does, is teach the dog that children are wonderful! They play games and have cheese! Yeah!    It also teaches the children that dogs can be friendly, but they have to be treated with nice “dog manners” and they need to be trained. 

So there you have a nice afternoon out, playing with kids and dogs. Off the couch, forgetting about your arthritis, or RA, or Lupus, or migraines, or whatever is getting you down. The kids and the dogs do most of the work, and learning. You get to enjoy the interaction. It’s all good! 

Enjoy your dogs!


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