IT was a privilege and a great pleasure for photographer Kate Shemilt and I to spend a few hours at a Canine Partners puppy training class, seeing at firsthand the basic obedience these potential assistance dogs learn while they are living with their ‘puppy parents’.
The skills they learn here, and which the puppy parents diligently practise with them every day, provide the perfect foundation for the way these youngsters will go on to transform the lives of people with disabilities.
Once they have completed their advanced training, they will not only help their future disabled partners with all kinds of day-to-day tasks to give them greater and confidence, but also provide invaluable companionship.
Over the past few weeks we’ve followed their progress in mastering basic skills such as sit and wait, down and wait, recall, retrieve and door discipline.
This week, in the last of our step-by-step guides on how the Canine Partners experts deliver initial training, we’re looking at another of the essentials – learning to ignore the distraction of other dogs.
Future canine partners spend much of the time they are living with their puppy parents being taken out and about to encounter all kind of distractions they are likely to come across in their working lives. But being taught to ignore the distraction of other dogs is something they learn from a very early stage at their weekly training classes.
Towards the end of this week’s class, puppy trainer Elaine Potter asks the puppy parents to take their dogs and line up facing each other a few yards apart, three of them on one side, two on the other.
With their dogs on a loose lead, they start walking across to the far side of the hall, crossing the other dogs on the way, then turn round and walk back, again crossing the other dogs but not taking any notice of them.
As they walk, the puppy parents are constantly talking to and encouraging the youngsters.
“Keep your dog’s attention on you as you pass the other dogs,” Elaine calls out, and they all behave perfectly, padding straight ahead and with eyes only for their handlers. After several successful passes, Elaine then asks the puppy parents to take all the dogs into the middle of the training room and get them to sit down very close together. Again it all goes without any hitches, the pups focused entirely on their puppy parents and showing no interest in their nearby canine colleagues.
Then, all too soon for Kate and myself, it’s home time for the dogs and they make their way out. But we have one last treat in store – we’re heading for the advanced training section where we will get a glimpse of the amazing actions the wonderful Canine Partners dogs can perform once they are teamed up with a disabled partner.
We’ve loved the time we’ve spent with Russell, Toffee, Yogi, Bonny and Banksy – you can watch all these lovable and highly-intelligent pups in action on the videos on the Observer website.
To find out more about becoming a puppy parent, contact Elaine on 01730 716000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Canine Partners, visit www.caninepartners.co.uk.