As I mentioned earlier, I hosted a pack walk for my business. It was an awesome turnout! I met some of my clients and their dogs, as well as met a few new faces! I also met some people who aren’t my clients, but I know from our local pets page, and from our social class on Saturdays. Wasatch Canine Camp hosts this class, and many of these people are her clients. So, I tread lightly, as I don’t want to step on toes, or seem like I’m ‘poaching’.
Anyway, back to my pack walk. It was AWESOME!!! Total of 17 dogs came, and I arranged them according to how well they were behaving on the leash. I put the strong, well-leashed trained dogs in the front, and the excitable, un-leash trained dogs in the back. In the middle were all the dogs in between. I didn’t have to do much, as many of these dogs were behaving well on their own.
It was a success! By the end of the pack walk, 80% of the dogs were behaving well on the leash. There were a select few who will need some work, but that’s what this class is for!
The weather was beautiful, the people were awesome, and I successfully put my name out there again! I’m moving up in the world! Well… I like to think so…
Now, on Saturday, I attended an all-day workshop about therapy dogs. I went through a society called Therapy Animals Of Utah (TAU, formerly called the Delta society). The goal was to get handler certified, and then have you and your dog be certified as a full working, therapy team. Meaning my dog and I are never separated when we are helping patients. We are a team.
The course was from 9am – 5pm. I gave up my only day off to come to this course, so my dog and I could be certified as a therapy team. Since I have been studying canine psychology for the last year, I knew about 85% of what was taught, and had my own opinions about the training methods used, along with the equipment I was allowed to use. I disagreed with some of their methods, and also with the equipment they said was ‘inappropriate’. They didn’t want you even training with certain equipment, which I thought was silly.
For example, any type of chain was unacceptable along with eCollar training. I disagree with this. Now, I think the prong collar should not be used on every single dog, nor does every single dog need it, but I have used this tool in my training in the past. I prefer a head collar, like the Halti (but never Gentle Leader.. not impressed) and just like any tool – a trainer should help you learn how to use it correctly. Their reasoning behind not using prong collars, eCollars, or choke chains was that it could hurt the dog or a person. I was stunned.. such an uneducated way of saying this. Prong collars are a great tool if used correctly. Of course someone can get hurt if it used incorrectly on the dog. ANY TOOL can hurt a person or a dog if used incorrectly.
They wanted you to use a back-clip harness, flat collar and a leash combination, or a martingale collar. Yes, these are all great, but I still really prefer the head collar. They said you can use it, but it is often mistaken as a muzzle, so you will have to explain yourself all the time with this. No shit.
Obviously, I’m starting to get irritated now. It’s like they were treating me like I didn’t know anything. However, I took deep breaths, and realized that everyone there (except me) weren’t trainers, and didn’t study the different equipment, or psychology. So… I listened, and just said ‘ok.’ Every once in a while when I had an educated question like ‘Why don’t you allow front-clip harnesses? I ask because a back-clip harness is promoting the dog to pull, and that’s the opposite of what we want, right?’
Anyway, back to the course. Right before lunchtime, we were broken up into workshops, and I was stationed at the grooming section. We were discussing proper dental care, and I asked a question, “I take a more holistic approach in raising my animals, and I would rather not put my dog under for anesthesia for a dental cleaning ever 6 months. I have moved to a raw diet and I give marrow bones to keep teeth clean, and I believe it does a much better job. I also use a frankincense/oil blend to clean ears because I won’t use anything that isn’t organic on my dog.” So, after I asked my educated question, and explained my reasoning, the instructor said, “Actually, a dog that eats raw cannot be certified as a therapy animal. The bacteria in the raw meat that may be left behind on the animal’s mouth, lips, paws, etc is a risk to people who have a weakened immune system. Like people who are pregnant, sick, cancer patients, infants, or elderly people.”
I was shocked… and my heart dropped, I could hardly speak. I was at a loss. I ended up saying how ridiculous I thought that was, and how if a 3 year old who was sick touched another person in the hospital, it was more dangerous than my dog getting someone sick with ‘raw meat residue’ on the mouth. Which, I might point out – with proper grooming techniques, especially within a hospital environment, is improbable.
So, I went back to my place at the table and sat down… by myself… and proceeded to tear up like a baby while lunch was getting ready. I have been preparing for 8 months for this course, and to be evaluated. Napoleon is ready. I have managed his adrenaline levels, and every aspect of the course, he would ace with flying colors. This one little thing – this thing I wasn’t aware of until now – has completely thrown me off, and we have been disqualified. I was so upset that no one told me. I was upset that it felt like I wasted my time on Saturday – my only day off. And didn’t learn hardly anything. I was upset that I have put 8 months worth of work into my dog to make him a therapy dog, and now, we can’t qualify.
So, I took a walk really quickly, and then came back, and attended the last ½ of the course. I realized I also disagreed with some of the training methods they were using the rest of the day. For example, the dog would show signs of stress management (lip licking, yawning, whale eyes, turning body or head away, furrowed brow, etc) and it was the trainer’s responsibility to ‘assure’ the dog by giving praise and positive reinforcement for this behavior to make the dog feel safe. In my opinion, by giving the dog positive reinforcement when it is stressed, you are reinforcing this behavior, thus I don’t agree. The way I would handle this would be to get the dog out of the situation, and then introduce slower and keep the dog beneath the threshold entirely. As soon as you start seeing signs of coping (again the stress management), I would back off, and slow down. I would also keep sessions between 10-20 minutes, even if the session is going well. You want to end on a good note. The instructors here also didn’t believe this, and just want to ‘manage’ the stressors and see signs of when the dog is finally done (tail between legs, shaking, whining, etc). In my opinion (again), I wouldn’t let it get this far. At this point, you can no longer train, the dog has shut down. It’s too late to use this opportunity to learn, and you might have pushed the dog too far. This creates a negative memory about therapy work, location, situation, smell, etc – whatever the ‘trigger’ maybe next time, and now you have to worry about ‘fixing’ it instead of ‘management’, which is a lot harder.
Overall, I disagree with the restriction on raw, and I disagree with the core training methods used with this organization, and it’s probably a good thing that we won’t quality. I will need to find another organization that I agree with the training methods, and can happily volunteer for. It is unfortunate I lost a whole day, but at the same time, I am so happy that I did because I know what to look for in other therapy organizations now.
I feel I have cleansed myself of that seething anger I felt initially, and replaced it with acceptance and peace. I’m ok.
By the way, you will be hearing less of me in the coming few weeks because I am studying my canine theriogeneology course, and I have enrolled in an obedience course with Napoleon. I need some time for me, and I won’t be on to update all the time, so when I do have time, my posts might be longer (like this one) than normal.