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— April 15, 2014 —

“Train the dog you have in front of you.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

A friend of mine is fond on this saying. What does it mean?

Canine Therapy Corps is an organization that provides therapy dogs to hospitals, retirement facilities and rehab facilities. My dog Jelly volunteers with CTC (she volunteers, I’m just the driver). The director, Callie is a good friend and we’ve worked together on various things for over a decade.

I have only brought Jelly to therapy work with Callie for about the last year, and I have heard her say “train the dog you have in front of you” a few times. It was a cool saying at first and I like it. So much, in fact, that stole it.

I got a reminder of this tonight. I took in a new puppy for training and she demonstrated exactly what I’m talking about. I had a great time playing with Bella, a husky/bull terrier mix. She sat nicely and gave me good focus, she took a few treats and gave me a few sits. It didn’t last very long. We worked as long as she would perform, then I put her up.

Every week, I have a dog that shows me this concept, the idea of training the dog I have in front of me. Olive, a 1 year old basset mix is another example. She is going for her Canine Therapy Corps certification and is actually a fantastic candidate. The problem, however, is that she doesn’t have a tremendous amount of focus or endurance. She works very well, but has not made it through the entire test in practice yet. She just gets too tired. Since our training program includes daycare, she is usually too tired by the time her mom picks her up. To counter this, I’m actually asking her mom to leave her home until lunchtime, then run her over so she isn’t in daycare all day. Hopefully she will be less exhausted and be able to complete the entire test.

Train the dog you have in front of you, right? Even if it means leaving her home to rest so we can get through the entire test??? You bet. If that’s what it takes, we’ll do it.

Dogs are just like us. Sometimes they are “switched on.” Sometimes, not so much. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes their bad days are on a day when we reeeaallly needed them to perform, like at a therapy dog test. Unfortunately, our dogs don’t always realize that today is “special.” So we plan for the next event and train accorndingly.

Harvey, a mix breed is another dog who is usually a great student (he’s another CTC candidate, in fact). A couple of weeks ago, he was just off. We tried and he stopped. We cajoled and he laid down. No matter what we tried, he was not interested. He didn’t want treats and he didn’t care for pets. It was a fluke. Since then, he has participated in his lessons and made real improvement. Such is the nature of training dogs.

If we keep at our training and give the dog time to learn, I really do believe that if we rush the dog, the end result will suffer. Sometimes it’s best to take a break, both for you and your dog.

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