Willing Partners Canine Education, Inc.
Willing Partners Canine Education, Inc.
When it comes to the training of Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs and companion dogs Willing Partners has a little different approach.
"I believe in telling the owners the truth," said Linda A. Krutsinger, founder/lead trainer at Willing Partners. "It's one thing to train pets, but it's another to train dogs that have the responsibility of someone's life. "In order to do that there has to be a level of honesty between the handler and trainer that, at times, can be hard."
One thing that makes it easier to train Service Dogs for veterans is that they come from a background of following orders.
"Having that mindset makes it so quick to communicate with the other veterans," Krutsinger, also a veteran said. "I make a promise to my guys, the veterans coming through our program to tell them the truth. It's a bond we have between us."
That promise isn't just for the many veterans enrolled in the Willing Partners Service Dog program. It extends to the Therapy Dogs and companion dogs.
"People bring their dog to a trainer because they need specialized training or because their dogs are out of control," she explained. "I want each dog to succeed. That's why I and our entire staff is up front with the people who come to us."
to Our Service Dog and Companion
Dog training is like any other profession, it is a customer driven profession. As such there are many ways for the trainer to interact with the owners of untrained, obnoxious and often spoiled little yappers in hairy suits.
Things Most Trainers Won't Tell You,
But We Will
1.) You are the problem. It's not your dog, it's you. Either you cannot follow directions as they are laid out or you are unable to enforce the training.
"I hear it all the time. 'My dog does it at home,' or 'He's a rescue and that's why he can't do it,'" Krutsinger said. "I think one of the most inventive excuse I've heard is that the dog could only perform a particular action at home because when it was a puppy the previous owner had taken it to a park and told the dog to sit or whatever and at the same time a loud air horn went off.
"It was just an excuse, but it was very inventive," she said.
The bottom line is that making excuses are just that, excuses. The fault lies with the handler. Either they are not presenting the lesson in a way the dog can understand or they are not doing their homework. Stop making excuses and your training will go easier."
Which brings us to an area where the dogs actions tell the truth.
2.) Failure to do homework will always show. "You are not going to succeed at any type of training if you don't go home and practice," explained Krutsinger. "Your dog will always tell on you." All veterans enrolled in the Service Dog program and the Therapy Dog program are required to keep detailed log sheets of their hours and what they did during those hours. "It's a great tool to use that will highlight the fact that a handler may be spending too much time on one lesson and too little on another," she said. "It's also a good tool to make sure the dog is getting out to locations with high distractions to work."
Being able to perform in places of high distractions is one of the major components of training Service and Therapy Dogs. "If a dog can't pay attention to the handler in a park or restaurant, then that's not just a training problem, it is a nuisance," Krutsinger said. "Handlers taking dogs places where they are not ready to go are no asset to anyone, least of all the dog. That's why we work so hard around different distractions. "No matter what, though, it is the handlers duty to prepare their dog to the highest level of obedience so that the dog can be a good working partner to their handler," she said.
3.) Find a good trainer. As in any profession there are good trainer and bad trainers. When it comes to Service Dogs for veterans it can be a crap shoot. "Since so many veterans have returned with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder there has been a huge jump in the number of trainers who train Service Dogs just to handle PTSD," Krutsinger said. "That's good and bad."
Krutsinger said that the awful truth of the matter is that there are people who have started to train PTSD service dogs in the hopes that the Veterans Administration will provide funding specifically to pay for these specialized dogs.
"There is always someone out there who wants to make a quick buck," explained Krutsinger. "What trainers and veterans alike have to do is make sure these trainers are exposed. If an organization says that they can train a PTSD Service Dog and it will be free to the veteran and then says that same veteran must present them with $25,000 in 'donations' then that company should be reported to the local VA so that other veterans will not be sucked into these irresponsible trainers. "I've heard of trainers wanting to be paid $10,000 for a 6-week-old puppy, with training to follow. It's outrageous," Krutsinger said.
4.) Following directions is another key ingredient to the making of a successful Service Dog. "I love it when someone is given homework, that they fail to do because their neighbor said that the way I outlined was not the right way to perform that skill," Krutsinger said. "I've got the advantage in that I have had my hands on lots of dogs, I've seen what works and what doesn't, the handler just has to trust that I know."
5.) Know when it is time to stop. "There have been times when I have told individuals that he dog they wanted to make a Service Dog isn't suited to the job," explained Krutsinger. "People don't usually take that too well. They are thinking with their hearts and not their heads. "It's hard, but we have to be honest with these people and tell them that it just isn't going to work," she said. "As trainers, we just have to let them know and be there to help them in any way we can. It's hard though."
Willing Partners has had few dogs wash out of the training program in it's seven years of training. "I have washed out handlers who didn't want to do the work though."
Dogs in the Willing Partners program are required to log in 120 hours of obedience, 120 hours of public access training and 120 hours of task training.
"We have always followed the guidelines outlined by Assistance Dogs International. The Veterans Administration has adopted their certification standards and those are the standards we meet," she said. "But all those hours don't mean anything if the dog can't perform the job. I don't care if someone has 1,000 hours logged in, if the dog can't do the job then they won't be certified by us."
6.) "One of the major things that can keep a dog our of the program is poor temperament," Krutsinger explained. "We can't be putting dogs into the community that are aggressive or are not socialized. "We go to great lengths to make sure the dogs graduating in our program are extremely social with great temperaments," she continued. "The only danger from one of our dogs is that they will lick you to death."
If a dog does not have the correct temperament for public work then they won't even be allowed into the Service Dog or Therapy Dog programs. "We will tell the handler right away so that the person knows and can either get a different dog or re-evaluate their training goals," she said.
It may not always be easy to tell a handler the truth, or for the handler to hear the truth, but it is important to Krutsinger and the rest of the staff that things are in the open and goals can be set and reached.
"For those who should happen to need it, we also have a designated hugger on staff," Krutsinger joked. "If I've hurt someone's feelings then I send them to my other trainer for a hug."