Canine Assistants’ Teaching Methods, Explained
As a teenager newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Jennifer Arnold was told she would likely use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. But Jennifer’s father, a physician in Atlanta, gave her the idea that became her lifeline—and ultimately her life’s work.
Dr. Arnold had recently read about a woman who was training dogs to help people who used wheelchairs. Knowing how much Jennifer loved dogs, he contacted the woman and asked if she might consider Jennifer as a candidate for a service dog. Unfortunately, the only dogs being placed then were in California, far from Jennifer’s native Georgia. Dr. Arnold was undeterred. He suggested to his daughter that they begin training service dogs themselves. He thought this would provide Jennifer the help she needed and far more. It would give her a purpose, not in spite of her illness, but because of it. Jennifer was thrilled.
Sadly, just two weeks after the first planning session for the organization that would later become Canine Assistants, Dr. Arnold was killed by a drunk driver. But Jennifer refused to allow the dream of Canine Assistants to die with him. She and her mother worked tirelessly for the next 11 years to raise the funds to start the program. And in December 1991, Canine Assistants was incorporated.
While the organization began by using the force-based training techniques common in that day, Jennifer quickly came to believe that dogs needed, and deserved, a kinder approach. As the program began using more positive techniques, Jennifer saw the incredible influence a loving bond had on the dogs’ behaviors. According to Jennifer, “dogs aren’t loved because they’re ideally behaved, they’re ideally behaved because they’re loved.” This premise became the foundation for an entirely new approach to working with dogs that Jennifer named Bond-Based Choice Teaching®.
The 3 Primary Principles of Bond-Based Choice Teaching®
1. We should form a social relationship with our dogs.
Dogs, like people, are social animals. Social animals naturally conform to the standards set by their social group. By asking dogs to become part of our social group, we can easily influence their behavior and demeanor.
2. We should work to ensure that our dogs are securely attached to us.
Dogs, like pre-verbal children, form strong attachments to their primary caregivers. By ensuring this attachment is a secure one, we can give dogs the confidence and guidance they need to flourish in the human world.
3. We must teach our dogs to manage their own behavior, rather than merely training them to respond to our directives.
It’s far easier to live with a dog that understands what constitutes appropriate behavior in given circumstances than it is to live with a dog who must be constantly directed.
Canine Assistants’ dogs are taught using Bond-Based Choice Teaching®, and they learn to do more than retrieve dropped objects, turn lights on and off, and open doors. They learn to answer Yes and No questions. They learn to recognize vocabulary words including nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. They learn to count objects. But most importantly, the dogs learn to trust people and to trust themselves. Jennifer notes that it’s not just service dogs that can learn these remarkable things. Your dog can learn them too.
We’re proud to support Jennifer and the Canine Assistants staff and volunteers. They are great examples of educators who respect dogs for the intelligent and special beings they are. Upcoming, we’ll be featuring additional stories about the Canine Assistants crew, but if you want more insight into their innovative teaching tips check out their website.
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