Every dog has a unique skill

Another wonderful and challenging experience while training in Houston! Service Dog training, while I consider it, for me, to be the best job in the world, has many ups and downs – and you learn, especially with each down, something new. Having done this for so long, I have the battle wounds to remind me of the downs – which I actually consider learning experiences. I have so many scars – bit marks, severe scratches, a broken hand, broken fingers – you name it – but each one has served as a learning lesson to me. With this particular loving, gentle client, Marissa, who has severe Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) at such a young age, her painful nerve condition leaves her living every day in constant pain. Marissa also has anxiety issues, which is understandable because when she goes out in public, which isn’t often due to her unstable gait, she uses either a cane, walker, or wheelchair.

When I arrived at Marissa’s house, I was greeted by the most beautiful, massive dog, and Marissa in her wheelchair. The dog started barking at me, and Melissa didn’t know why. She was literally dumbfounded, and said “Titan” had never barked like that at anyone. I hadn’t even entered the house. I peered into the house and saw a very young toddler crawling on the floor about 15 feet behind us – her family was there visiting from close by – and remembered an “incident” I had had years ago with a normally passive German Shepherd. I said to Marissa, “Just close the door, I’ll stay here, and put the baby in another room or have the mom take the baby out of the house. The family decided to leave so we could work in peace, out came the mom and baby, and after they left, I rang the doorbell again. This time, “Titan” had nothing but kisses and hugs and licks and rolling onto his back in a submissive position instantly. It was like a completely different dog. That’s the protective nature of the Cane Corso, and although we want Titan to be protective, he had to learn when it was appropriate and when it was inappropriate.

That being said, Marissa and I talked about many techniques to correct this behavior so that is Marissa gives the command to Titan that whoever is at the front door is fine, he must immediately be welcoming. It will take a lot of reinforcement and practice for Marissa, and she will have to engage many others to help her in this process of ringing the doorbell, creating a space between the front door and the inside of the house that Titan CANNOT overstep, and overall working on creating boundaries both mentally and physically for Titan so that he is not punished for his natural well-meaning tendencies, but reining them in so that they are used appropriately.

For example, Titan knows all the Public Access Commands. This is a brilliant breed and he is a brilliant dog. We spent about 4 hours in the house making sure he could do all of that, and worked on bracing and covering for Marissa due to her disability. Titan was super. However, I received an email from Marissa the other day saying that Titan had gotten too good at covering – and although she definitely needed him to be able to do the command when out in public or in the house, he would cover standing with his body stock still in front of her, touching her legs (appropriate and needed for dogs that cover for emotional disabilities), but the touch of his body on her legs caused her nerve pain. So we went over a modified cover, where the dog is still in front of her, but at a slight distance away.

It’s truly amazing to see how different disabilities require such important but easy “tweeking” of commands and helpful behaviors. We always have to remember that every single client is different, even if the “disability” is the same – and every dog has a unique skill set that can be used for good or bad. Of course, after the long training session was over, Titan and I were snuggling and gently wrestling on the floor between drool drops (not from me!), but it was such an eye-opening experience for both Marissa and Titan, I hope. Marissa has since reported that Titan is doing perfectly in public, heeling, walking beside her wheelchair, adjusting to her gait without the wheelchair, and acting as the perfect Service Dog he will very soon be!!!!

Marissa has a never-give-up kind of spirit that is just outstanding. She has a 1 year-old Cane Corso as her mobility and anxiety SDIT. A member of the Mastiff family, the Cane Corso The Cane Corso is not recommended for novice dog owners. As a puppy, it requires strong leadership and consistent training. Its natural instinct is to be suspicious of strangers and for this reason it is highly encouraged to begin socialization as soon as possible. Ideally, the Cane Corso should be indifferent when approached and should only react in a protective manner when a real threat is present. Otherwise, the breed is highly intelligent, and easily trained. As a large and athletic breed, they need a lot of exercise. They are affectionate and extremely loyal to their owner, and bond closely with children and family.

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