I think we can all acknowledge how hard the last two years has been with Covid-19 impacting our lives on every level. Globally we are all struggling, and this has continued for much longer than many of us had expected. It truly is a trying time for us all, especially those of us working to train an assistance animal.
I have had to constantly change and adapt my clients training plans to try to keep up with the current lockdown situation in their area and keep them moving forward. As I service clients all over Australia and New Zealand it is hard to keep up with what is permissible in each area. Dealing with the constant changes and the unknowns is making it impossible to plan in advance and what was possible today as a training plan is suddenly not possible tomorrow. Some of my clients are starting to reach a point in their training where we have done as much foundation work and task training as we can, yet they can not graduate because due to lockdowns their dogs have not had sufficient public access training yet. It is hard to keep the motivation up in these circumstances. Just as they get in the flow of things another lockdown strikes and everything grinds to a halt again. Lockdowns have greatly reduced our opportunities to socialise and desensitise our animals to the wider world and I have also noticed that many of my clients, and myself included, are reaching a point of pandemic fatigue.
My advice is keep working on those foundation skills, after all solid foundations will set you up for success when we can go out again. This can also be a good time to have a think about if there are any new tasks you can add to your assistance animal’s skill set. If you would like to discuss your disability and symptoms with me, I am happy to see if I can suggest extra tasks that you may find useful. Some clients I’m starting to set up with optional trick training just to keep them and their dogs in the swing of learning.
When the world does finally open again, be aware that its possible that your assistance animal may need a bit of refresher training, this is not a reflection on your training done to date, but as with any skill that isn’t used regularly it can get a bit rusty. Just take a step back in your training and reduce your expectations for the first month. Remember the three D’s (Distance, Duration and Distraction) for the last 2 years there have likely been a lot less distractions when you have been out in public so its reasonable that when things return to being more normal that you may need to brush up on proofing your assistance animal around those distractions – especially if you have not had your assistance animal working before the pandemic started.
All we can do is hang in there, we are all in this together and I hold hope that one day not too far away we will find a new post-covid normal. Be kind to each other, get vaccinated as soon as your able and keep up the training you can do at home, on walks and those rare times in between lockdowns. Stay Safe!