Ten things it’s really useful or fun for you or your dog to know, even if you aren’t an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) team
- Teach your dog to switch from your left to your right (or right to left) when walking. It can get you both out of trouble.
- “Paws up.” It puts the dog’s head where it’s easy to pet, and it always rates a “wow.” (Well, unless someone doesn’t want the dog that close, but you’d ask first, right?)
- “Find it.” Kids love hiding things in corners and then following the dog as he goes searching.
- OVER! or OUT! Being able to get your dog “away” in a hurry is a good idea. It will help when a glass gets broken, or you need to move your dog quickly.
- Being able to get your dog to move to a spot you indicate is useful. This way you can get the dog next to a wheelchair, or away from a wall or in whatever spot is convenient.
- If you can figure out a discipline word to substitute for “NO,” you will avoid startling people or making them feel you are yelling at them (an issue around fragile people). Pick a foreign word or something benign (BEANS!), and use your deep serious voice. You should probably avoid swear words:) This is important. Having your dog dive for someone’s dropped hearing aid or pills will lose you friends very quickly, and a loud “No!” in such a situation can make it worse.
- Tricks (for the dog). Shake hands, “Gimme five,” balance a treat on the nose, go to sleep, pray, speak, sing. Teach her to carry something, or get something for you (your keys, handkerchief). It works best if you don’t need many props.
- Do your level best to teach your dog to take a treat gently all the time; not just when you say so. If it’s impossible, avoid having others treat your dog or make sure they offer a treat on a flat hand.
- It’s nice to teach the dogs “working manners.” Certain cleaning behaviors are inappropriate in public. Teach them to stop when you say “working manners,” or whatever.
- If you are going to work with a special population, it’s helpful to learn what you can about their special needs. Those with Alzheimer’s, attention deficits, learning disabilities, and the like can present real challenges if we go in blind. You don’t need a class, but a good article or two can make a difference in our expectations and preparations.