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Leave it.

Achieving Boredom is Critical to Service Dog Training

These two dogs were told to “leave it”. The older dog on the right, Lilly, knows that those chicks are not her chew toys and so she’s bored with them. The younger pup on the left, Thumper, is learning self control under very close supervision. We value our chickens and would never allow a feather to be ruffled.

The process of having a pup become bored with chicks (or a pile of roast beef sandwiches) is a critical part of a dog’s education.

At Service Dog Project, we call that “achieving boredom” – at which point we can begin their more sophisticated training in harness. It’s impossible to teach a dog anything if their mind is somewhere else. Once that harness is on, they are to keep their mind on the job at hand. They may not think of the next treat, chasing a squirrel or stealing food off a table. Other common distractions are air brakes at bus stops, screaming children at playgrounds, and a growling dog in a car window.

It’s an ongoing debate at SDP, if you hand out treats for a specific exercise is the dog’s mind on the treats or learning the exercise? Has your dog taught you to feed him treats?

With our best dogs, they enjoy the challenge of thinking about what we are doing, and like the praise of being told they are the best dogs in the world. They then get a big bunch of treats some other time. It also means that when not in harness they are  regular dogs and will chase squirrels and steal food off the counter.

– Carlene White, founder of Service Dog Project in Ipswich, MA. The organization trains and places Great Danes with people who live with Multiple Sclerosis, Friedreich’s ataxia, and veterans with disabilities.

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