Thursday, April 28, 2016

Training Cora, the seizure assist service dog

Ryan is a husband and the father of two beautiful little girls. Seven years ago he had his first grand mal seizure. The severity of his seizure disorder is best explained by his wife:
"He suffers from numerous types of seizures but the grand-mal seizures are most debilitating. When he suffers from this type of seizure he often ends up in the emergency room because he always seems to be standing. When he falls, as the seizure begins, his head breaks his fall. He has had stitches, staples, concussions, and even a second neck surgery due to the falls."
Since there are dogs who can alert a person prior to a seizure, Ryan decided that if one could provide him with enough notice so he could sit or lay down before a seizure, he wanted in.

When Ryan contacted me to talk about training a puppy, I explained that we start the process by finding a pup with the right temperament. What does that mean? It means we're looking for a pup who has no anxiety, fear or aggression. It means a pup with moderate energy. We don't want a high energy pup who's always in motion or a lackadaisical one. It means a pup who loves people and is cool with other dogs. It means a pup who is curious and with any luck at all, food driven. Great play drive is a bonus. All of this usually translates into a dog who is very trainable, ultimately bulletproof, and with a little luck, an independent thinker and problem solver.

Ryan found his puppy. Her name is Cora. First training session: 4/8/2016.

All puppies, whether future working dogs or family pets, start the same way in their new homes. Week 1 is all about getting to know their new family and learning house manners ("no, you can't eat the rug, jump on people, or pee in the house"). Done right, potty and crate training can be accomplished that first week. Then there's tethering - the magic answer to creating a well mannered puppy, fast. Keeping a puppy on leash (attached to an adult human being) most of the time IN the house prevents things like: eliminating off in a corner somewhere, engaging inappropriately with the cat, cruising the dirty laundry for edibles, trash can diving, etc. Tethering also teaches the puppy about being on leash and collar - something she never experienced before. She learns that you weigh more than her so she's not going far when attached to you. She learns to get out of your way or she'll get stepped on. She learns that when you stop moving, she stops moving. And the human-canine bond gets off to a big, positive start. One last thing. She learns that a simple "sit" makes cool stuff happen. She gets petted, fed, played with - all kinds of positive attention. All she has to do is sit.

Ryan is doing all this and more. Every day he works with Cora. Every day the bond between them strengthens. Every day Cora provides the kind of comfort only a dog can. The first seizure Ryan had after he got the puppy was the week of April 18. She'd been with him a couple of weeks. He was home alone. When he regained consciousness after the grand mol, Cora was laying on him. That's nice, right? Oh but it's way more than that. It means that the puppy wasn't afraid of Ryan's seizure. Many dogs would have been. It's also key that she stayed with him rather than wandering off to play unattended in the house. This response by a very young puppy to a grand mol seizure is just exactly what I want to see in a dog who we hope will grow to understand Ryan's seizures so well, she'll react to them before they happen. You go, little girl!

Public access training at the mall

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Public access training at Home Depot

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Ryan teaching Cora the "under" and "down"

It is with Ryan's permission that I share his story. I hope it will help others understand the process of training one's own service. Stay tuned. We've only just begun!

1 comment:

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