service dog walking training

Service Dog Column: The steps involved in walking training

by Carlene White

Puppies have a natural instinct to walk in front of you, which not only stops you but is annoying.

I see them do this many times in order to slow up their mother … so they can run around mommy’s front legs and get a quick swig of milk from one of the faucets. 

This instinct becomes a problem, even in later training, if they don’t like the direction you’re going in. They seem to know they can turn you around pretty well if they could just get a U-turn started.

There is only about a quarter of an inch difference — and who is in control of the situation? This was taught to me by an 1,800-pound mule, who was very simple to handle as long as her head was turned very slightly toward me when I was leading her.

If she got her head straight, then she would pull me around to the right, Then I was helpless, and she knew it. The difference is so minor it’s sometimes hard to peg. 

And that can become a habit with the dogs — darting off to the right — which means they go all the way around the back of the person and then up alongside their left-hand side again. This can be a dizzying circle.

The way we work out of it with the dogs is to use shopping carts (mostly at Costco), which prevent them from getting their head even slightly turned to the right. The other piece is the rear end swinging to the left, and that’s straightened out along the very straight freezer rows in Costco. It takes a few trips to either Costco or a place like Costco — maybe Home Depot.

When they have achieved boredom with that concept, it’s time to go ahead with our one-step. The one-step and stopping gets the dog concentrating on the feet and what those feet are doing. 

You cannot do this with a dog who’s still fascinated with everything else going on around him. They have to be bored with their surroundings in order to realize that they have a new project going, which is “whose feet are where?” So we do that in a quieter place with open area, like the hallways at the Ferncroft.

The hotel has some wonderful short stairways — three to five steps — and the one-step is a natural progression to that idea. Progressing from the Ferncroft’s three to five steps, we then go to Georgetown Town Hall, which has eight steps to a landing for U-turns, and another eight steps.

Once that’s managed, it’s off to Topsfield Town Hall, with a straight run of about 12 steps … and we are ready for falling down. 

To be continued …


Carlene White is founder and president of the non-profit Service Dog Project on Boxford Road in Ipswich. She trains and raises Great Danes to donate to the mobility impaired. Read more of her columns here.


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