Last week we discussed the basics to get us started with training a dog to work with the wheelchair. Let’s go ahead and wrap things up.
Now that the dog knows the feel of the equipment, I work the wheelchair and move into the task training. When I first attach the dog to the chair, I so so in a controlled environment. For me that means I am in my training room or my office, where I know who and what the dog will encounter. If you are doing this at home I would use just one room and shut the doors so you can control who comes in and limits the space for the dog. I would never start this in public as there could be too many things you can’t control during the training. Eventually you will move into larger areas and public settings. Another suggestion of places to train would be if you have a garage, move out the car go in the garage shut all the doors and just move freely in the open space.
First I sit in the wheelchair and attach the dog with the bungee leash on the D-ring of the harness. The bungee is also attached to the chair. Attaching the dog to the bungee leash should position the dog alongside the chair. I attach the dog to the left side of the chair because I normally work the dog on my left side. There is an exception that the dog is working for a disabled person who must have the dog work on their right, and then I would work the dog also on the right side of the chair.
I then just roll around a few paces not asking anything of the dog. I may say “good boy/girl” giving the dog the signal that this is all ok. You will do this slowly so the dog learns to step with its feet away from the wheelchair. I am watching at the same time anticipating where the wheels are moving so I don’t run over the dog’s feet. If you just move around slowly you can see how the dog is anticipating the wheels of the chair moving. I will roll forward, start turns, etc. The dog will quickly learn to move with the chair.
I can now start to train the dog specific words such as pull, slow, stop, back, turn, go ahead, stay. I have to laugh thinking of some of these commands and trust me you will want to learn the word “stop” as one of the first commands. Once the dog learns to “pull” it can be a fast chariot ride down a shiny floor hallway. There is a specific task associated with each of these necessary commands. A command, followed by an action will mark the task and the dog will understand the training better to know what you want of it. If you already have the dog’s obedience in place then the dog has learned how to learn and you will use the same methods of training for these commands. Training for the wheelchair is just different equipment and a new experience you are working with. After these tasks are taught to the dog then there is another training associated with the wheel chair which is bringing objects back to the chair. This may or may not be useful to the disabled handler who will be working with the dog. To be specific, to tell you how to train each of these commands as well as what they accomplish would be like writing a book. So we’ll save that for another time.
To recap: Two pieces of equipment I use and recommend are the two girth strap harness 707593 – Wheelchair Pulling Harness and the two snap bungee leash 707592 – Double Snap Bungee Leash. Get the dog used to the equipment and move slowly into the training to get the dog comfortable and familiar with the wheelchair before task training begins. Begin training one command at a time, don’t over pressure the dog and expect too much too fast. Conditioning works best when training, end the training on a successful task before you move on to harder tasks.