Aren’t you amazed when you see a Guide Dog in public! They have to be some of the most well-behaved dogs I’ve ever seen. A guide dog has to ignore all the distractions going on around him and concentrate on his job of leading his handler safely to his destination. Have you ever asked yourself: How does a Guide Dog become so well behaved? I have, and that’s one of the many reasons I decided to volunteer as a Guide Dog puppy raiser.
I’m always looking for tips and pointers on how to better train my dogs and puppies. Recently while browsing Google Reader I came across an article that could have been written specifically for the Puppy In Training blog. Here’s the full article: To train your dog, take a lesson from guide dogs.
It’s a great article and has 3 main tips on how to train your dog like a guide dog. That’s basically what we’re doing here at Puppy In Training. That is giving you points on how a guide dog puppy raiser raises his puppy.
Here are the 3 main tips I got out of the article:
Socialization starts with volunteer puppy raisers who make sure that puppies become accustomed to a wide range of situations in and out of the home. Constant contact with people teaches puppies “that their life revolves around a human,” which is critical to a successful dog-handler team.
As a puppy raiser this is one of the most important parts of our job. I usually mention that as puppy raisers we give our puppies socialization and basic obedience before our puppies begin formal training. For me, socialization is one of my favorite parts. We get to take our puppies in to restaurants, movie theaters, malls, grocery stores, the public beach (GDA puppies aren’t allowed on the dog beach), basically anywhere the public goes our dogs go to. Of course this helps the puppies get accustomed to many different situations they might encounter as a working guide dog.
It’s important to note that if you have a small puppy then certain situations may not be age appropriate. Very young puppies are much more sensitive and may get extremely scared when introduced into a potentially scary (for the puppy) situation. An example for a guide dog puppy raiser would be bringing your puppy to Disneyland. This can be a very stressful trip for your puppy as there are many people and lots of noises and smells that could be scary for a puppy.
Not everyone has the luxury of raising a guide dog puppy. You can still socialize and expose your puppies to many different situations. When I started Linus (he was an adopted shelter puppy) on his puppy training we were told to make sure we socialize him with different people — adults, children, elderly, different ethnicities. We were also told to bring him into different situations — outside the grocery store, at the park, parking lots, walks around the neighborhood, different homes, outdoor malls etc.
When I was raising Linus we were told to try taking him to the front of a grocery store and ask people walking in and out to give him treat. The idea was to make his outings a positive experience. And that will bring us to our next tip…
2. Positive Reinforcement
For training specific behaviors, food rewards are now standard. It’s the clearest way to communicate to a dog that he’s done the right thing.
We train our GDA puppies through positive reinforcement. However, food rewards are not an option for a Guide Dogs of America puppy in training. GDA puppies get extreme amounts of praise for their reward.
Why don’t we use food rewards for praise? It can be a distraction for a working Guide Dog. As I mentioned earlier a Guide Dog will be with their handler in almost every situation and cannot be distracted. If a Guide Dog is in a restaurant the dog must not be distracted by the food in the restaurant. Using food as a reward can make it much more difficult for a guide dog to ignore the food in situations such as restaurants.
3. Training = Lifelong Learning
…it’s crucial to remember that training a dog isn’t like programming a machine; you don’t just do it once and it’s done.
I’ve always had the mindset of lifelong learning for my dogs and myself. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have enough hours in my day, but when I take my dogs on a walk I always work on a few training exercises. Stetson and Derby still waits for his bowl of food until I say “OK”. Linus, Stetson, and Derby all have to follow a command before receiving any kind of treat. The list goes on and on for their lifelong learning.
My routine with Stetson (first GDA puppy) and now Derby (GDA puppy #2) is to work on training 3 times a day during my work day. It’s great because it gives me a break to walk around and get some fresh air.
These dogs have to make decisions on their own, which can easily escalate into thinking they don’t have to listen. So it’s strongly recommended that handlers do a few minutes every day of basic obedience commands with their dog, to remind them who’s in charge – a good idea for all of us whose dogs don’t always listen.
As I mentioned earlier this is a wonderful article bringing up three important points when raising your dog or puppy. Check out the entire article…it also talks about “Intelligent Disobedience” which is a very important behavior a Guide Dog must learn. Here’s the full article: To train your dog, take a lesson from guide dogs.