What is a Special Needs Class?
It all started a few years ago. A few dogs couldn't make it in our Basic Skills classes. They would bark, leap, pull, anything but learn. There were some that were afraid, some excited, many under socialized from a young age. But the one thing they had in common was a inability to learn in a group class and they dropped out.
They dropped out but they needed group instruction as much or more than any of the other dogs. So we started to pull out the dogs with problems and taught them in their own class. At first we used "gates" with blankets draped over them between dogs. That worked for most of the dogs. They couldn't see the dog next to them so they could work. but there were a few that knocked over the barriers and that led to barking and leaping and breaking the first rule of Special Needs class, DON'T PUT THE DOGS IN A POSITION TO PRACTICE THE BEHAVIORS WE ARE TRYING TO END.
So, the next version of the class used the students cars to separate the dogs. At this point the classes were only outdoors because some dogs had trouble with the confined space in the building so the cars were an easy solution. The first week or two the dogs can't see each other. But after a leash broke when a Rottweiler lunged in the same class where a Bullmastiff's (photo above) owner feared she would lose control, we added a 30-ft lunge line to each dog in addition to the leash.
The Bullmastiff never challenged the long line and behaved perfectly. But, more importantly, the owner was relaxed and confident that she had control.
The class is primarily about getting the dogs attention off of the thing that over excites him (usually other dogs) and on to the owner. This is done with 5 different skills/commands. But first, starting the week between orientation and week one, the owners say the dogs name and gives them a treat as many times a day as they can in a non distracting environment. This lays the ground work for the attention away from distraction.
They also hand feed their dogs most meals during that week. This lays the ground work for relationship repairs if needed. Many of these dogs have a poor perception of the human/canine order that we need if we are to live happily with the dogs in our homes and lives.
Back to Week One. Before anyone gets the dog out of their cars we attach the long line to the car and they are told to be "pro active." That means they see the dogs look in the direction of a possible distraction, ears go forward... say the name and "watch me" and reward. Incident prevented and we are off to a good start.
This same principle is applied to all distractions and "Leave it"," touch" and "come" are added. "Watch me" is also added to "heel position" for moving attention.
Along with the attention lessons, most of the basic commands are taught like sit, stay, down, heel. The reason is two fold. First, when the students move on to Basic Skills, I want the owners to be focusing on their dogs and be proactive, preventing outbursts. Since they have already taught their dog the exercise they can focus on their dog. Secondly, I want the dogs to feel comfortable and safe while working.
Special Needs has had some wonderful success stories and a few failures. But we believe that almost any dog, whose owner is willing to put in the time and effort, can be rehabilitated.
instructor, Special Needs