Today brought me a lovely reminder about why I choose to work with owner trainers rather then place pretrained assistance dogs. While I do agree there is a time and a place that a pre-trained assistance dog may be more appropriate, I firmly believe that the bond that develops between a handler and their assistance dog when owner training can not be replicated in the same way with pre-trained assistance dogs.
Usually pre-trained dogs have been through a minimum of two home changes, first leaving their litter at the breeding facility to go live with a puppy raiser, then leaving the puppy raiser to come back in for intensive training, then of course changed again when placed with a handler. All this disrupts the bonding process and I won’t say dogs that have been though this process do not bond at all with their eventual handlers, I am sure they do, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence such as in say rescue dogs being placed in homes and bonding with their new families I would argue that the bond is not as effective as had the pup been raised and trained with its handler from 8 weeks of age.
The development of this bond and fostering the trust in both the dog and the handler that they can rely on each other delivers outstanding results – especially in the field of psychiatric assistance dogs. I consider it both a privilege and a responsibility to help foster this bond in every Capable K9s in-training team.
The moment today that made me want to share this blog post was a moment with my retired assistance dog Luigi who has developed cataracts at 11 years old.
I took the car for a wash, I decided to do the automatic wash, and I had both the boys with me. Luigi has not been in a car wash since he lost his vision, and the wash was so loud and scary and making the car vibrate, Luigi looked pretty concerned so I told him it was exciting, and bless his little cotton socks, he just took my word for it, he had blind faith in me and started wagging his tail like an idiot and tracking the noise as it swept up and down the car. I kind of went all mushy at how he couldn't see, and it did sound very scary and it was making the car shake and everything was telling him this was something to be scared of, yet as soon as I told him it was exciting - he brightened up. In that moment that he knew I wouldn't lead him astray, just as I have many times placed my faith in him that he wouldn't lead me astray.
All the training in the world cannot replicate this kind of bond. Don't overlook building this trust between you and your dog in the rush to become proficient and pass a Public Access Test.