I began a training class with an individual that has brain trauma which results in a loss of memory. Because of this ailment, there requires a bit of flexibility to make the training work for this person. I was told of a few trainers they had brought in or had spoken to and when explaining their condition they were meet with almost hostility in some cases. This was very disconcerting to me, not only as a trainer but mostly as a human. As a human it should be our responsibility to help our fellow man. When training a service dog we are to help train the dog to meet the owners needs, not ours. Even if training just basics for a pet, it is your responsibility to train the dog but train it for the person who will be handling it.
The individual has to use words they will remember when it comes time to use their service dog. When teaching the dog to walk, the individual explained to the other trainers that they would not be able to use “Heel” when walking the dog as they would most likely forget what they needed to say. They would prefer to use “Let’s Go” as an alternate. Dog’s don’t speak English or German or any other human language, so to meet this persons concerns with disdain and absolute refusal to tweak your training program is, in my opinion, just wrong. You can start using the word yellow when walking, and the dog after repetition and consistency will associate the action with that word.
Needless to say, the person had become very discouraged after speaking and meeting with a few people, some of whom actually became nasty with them for even suggesting such a thing! Upon our initial evaluation, when they were telling me all of this, I was immediately apologetic to them for the way they had been treated. I was embarrassed as a dog trainer that people within our profession can be so small minded. Here is someone, in desperate need of a service dog and help getting that dog to be able to save their life one day and we are worried about changing up a couple words that will make life simpler for them? More so I was ashamed as a human. An individual with a need and desire to maintain as normal a life as possible is being condemned because they require something that goes against the grain.
Our first session began with the walk. Yes, admittedly it was a challenge for me to take years of doing it one way to remember and change the verbiage from “Heel” to “Let’s Go”. I had to really concentrate on what I was doing, which after doing this for so long is something I do as naturally as walking alone most times. But it is a good thing to challenge ourselves, to get outside that box and the normal, standard way of doing things. I just told myself think of how it would be more of a challenge for this individual if I was to be as stubborn and unwilling as others had been. It is no different from teaching a dog to walk on the right if the person has lost their left arm or had a stroke and can’t have the dog on the left. A little inconvenience on my end can make a world of difference for the person receiving the training and ultimately a trained service dog.
Don’t be so strong in your ways that you slight another. Be more open and willing to help your fellow man and at the end of the day trust me when I say you will feel better and also be a better person for it.