The "Walkabout Dogs"
by Leslie Rappaport, Kings Valley Collies
“Walkabout Dogs” make first contact with prospective service dog clients. They give each person the chance to feel the security and independence that partnership with a Mobility Dog provides. These special dogs are fully trained and skilled in all aspects of Mobility Dog life and work and are chosen for their outstanding presentation of the program. Unlike Mobility Dogs they are not partnered with just one person. Instead their lives are spent maintaining their skills, their accuracy and their enthusiasm for the work as they meet, greet, and walk with a series of new acquaintances; all of whom live with balance and mobility challenges.
Unfailingly, “Walkabout Dogs” apply their training on the go as they adapt to each new person’s unique stride. With patience and care, the skilled “Walkabout Dog” ensures that every walk is a fun, safe, exciting adventure and for many a life-changing experience!
To see a Walkabout Dog in action, click here
A day in the life with Sammy and Karen:
I teach the service dogs that they will ALWAYS be rewarded for taking the initiative. With this knowledge comes the ability to keep their disabled partners safe. Like the time Sammy stopped Karen in the middle of a sidewalk on a cool fall day. There wasn’t anyone around, no obstacle visible, no barrier blocking their path. Still, Sammy stopped. Karen praised him. She knew he had his reasons for stopping her. She stood wondering what to do next. She trusted her dog and honored his judgement. But what was the problem? Why had he stopped her so decisively?
Pondering the situation, she realized the only place she couldn’t see was the sidewalk. Firmly, she gripped the handle of the harness and leaned on Sammy for support as she carefully lifted one foot to brush the thick bed of leaves aside. There, under the leaves, was a dip where a break in the cement caused a sharp rise in the sidewalk just ahead of her. Sammy felt it, knew it and stopped Karen so she wouldn’t stumble and fall. Sammy had taken the initiative and kept Karen safe!
I want all my dogs to take the initiative this way . . . so I searched for new ways to train – ways that inspire free thinking and initiative. Gone are the old leash, choker, jerking, and luring, antiquated methods of the past!
A day in the life with Johnny:
I’m excited. Finally it’s Johnny’s turn in training. Soon he’ll step into the role of Walkabout Dog and nine-year-old Laddie will retire. My training program has evolved tremendously in the past 7 years. During that time I’ve trained five or six service dogs for other people. Now it’s Johnny’s turn to learn – and I am eager to apply my new training methods to a dog I love and will keep and work with myself for years to come.
I’m teaching Johnny to find working positions around my body as I stand perfectly still, motionless and silent. I’m thrilled that he is animated, engaged, happy and enthusiastically volunteering the behaviors I want. How does this happen you ask? How does he know what to do even though I’m silent and still, not luring him with tempting treats at his nose, or guiding him with a leash?
Have you ever seen lions and tigers in a circus - jumping up on raised platforms and holding their position there? The platforms are the key and the same system works with dogs! Platforms combined with use of the clicker and high value treats are the key tools in SHAPING behavior!
I’m thrilled that he is animated, engaged, happy and enthusiastically volunteering the behaviors I want. How does this happen you ask?
Johnny is learning to “find” working positions of his own initiative. Joyfully, he bounds into the training room, bouncing and wagging and jumping onto the platform with all four feet, even before I can set it on the floor! With my body as a target, perfectly still, straight and unmoving, his eyes meet mine and CLICK! Smiling up at me he gobbles up the morsel I offer him. As he’s chewing and swallowing I walk to the other end of the platform. Johnny instantly turns his body and moves to match mine. Now he’s smiling up at me from the left side working position. Again CLICK! and the tender morsel is offered. He is thrilled with himself! As he chews I move again, this time in the other direction. Without a word from me Johnny instantly turns again, this time in the opposite direction, lining up perfectly in the right side working position. Again, the CLICK and treat mark and reward his correct decision and behavior. Next time he swallowed his treat, I showed him the next treat and tossed it away from the platform. WOW, this was easy and fun! Quickly, Johnny ran to pick up the yummy, but tiny treat. I waited.
Walkabout Dogs give prospective clients "a day in the life
experience" of partnership with a Mobility Dog.
As I watched in the mirror, I saw him running up behind me to the platform and mount it eagerly, as he lifted his fourth foot up onto the platform I CLICKED and offered him a jackpot of treats in my open palm. He was thrilled as he happily stood at my left side. Again I tossed a treat away, this time in a different direction from where I stood. Again Johnny repeated his response. Quickly, he gobbled up the tiny morsel and this time as his back was turned I moved to the other side of the platform. As he turned back to me, he ran to the platform with confidence and joy. This time he mounted the platform on my right side. His eyes met mine and I marked that great effort with a CLICK and another jackpot of treats! Thus a great training session came to an end with both of us eagerly looking forward to our next session!
The platform defines the ideal position for Johnny in relation to my body. The clicker and treats allow me to “mark” and reward HIS choices. The criteria of what earns a click and treat continually changes as he progresses through the training process; but his joy and mine never diminish. We love working together in this positive way.
When Johnny is finding left and right side working positions from any location around me, I’ll label the positions, teach him the words and remove the platforms. Then we’ll be free to work anywhere. Johnny will find and maintain working positions beside me when I move in any direction, at any pace, forward or backward, left, or right or even turning in place . . . It feels amazing! This is the foundation from which all other training develops, including harness training in the city. But that’s another story…
Platform training credit to Michele Pouliot