Going Back into Public
As restrictions are easing in many jurisdictions, we want to remind you to take a planned approach to exposing your dog to distractions.
Even if you have been keeping up your service dog’s training and skills at home (which is great!), you need to remember that the dogs can easily get overwhelmed if they are not exposed to distractions regularly.
What this might look like for your dog:
-inability to focus on you or tasks
-inability to relax
-pulling on leash
-staring at moving objects or sounds
-barking at other people or other dogs
-fear of changes in the environment
-sniffing the ground, merchandise or the air
What You Can Do:
Go back to the beginning and do training at your dog’s pace. Start at home, in the yard, then at the edge of the yard, then on the sidewalk.
If you must drive to the training location, even the car ride might be very exciting for your dog.
Create a gradual desensitization plan to gradually expose your dog to things he had been exposed to in the past.
Use acclimation. Acclimation is standing still (you anchored to a spot that you think your dog can quickly adapt to the distraction level) giving your dog a limited area to explore (such as the length of the leash) and letting her explore the environment by looking, listening and sniffing in that specific space. Wait until until she is calm and focussed enough to offer default behaviours like an un-cued look at you. Capture as many of those as you need to until your dog shows you she wants to train.
Next, try some simple nose targets, sits and downs to see if she can respond and how calmly she responds. Only when her focus is 90% on you, can you take a step towards a more distracting location and repeat.
If she is hanging on the end of the leash, let her look, listen and sniff again until she defaults back to you. Repeat taking one step at a time closer to noise, movement or scents that interest your dog.
If she reacts with anything other than general interest (gets overexcited, whines barks or pulls), that means you have chosen a location that has too high of a distraction. Move to a lower distraction location and try again.
Keep sessions short (5 minutes) at first, and do only a few a day. Later you can increase the length of the sessions and the the number of them separately. It may take several weeks for your dog to get back to ignoring distractions as she did before COVID 19. Carefully choose your training destinations to gradually increase the distraction level. This sets your dog up for success!
If you need help, remember that both Jenn and Donna are available for one hour web cam sessions to help you plan and start reintegration and offer 3x 30 min weekly sessions to help you implement it.