New Year’s resolutions are a time-honored tradition but we’re all familiar with how difficult it is to keep up with them. If you’re like many Service Dog and working K-9 handlers, you may have a couple dog-related items on your list, like “train more” or “socialize” or “learn new things.” In order to help you and your Service Dog learning, growing and bonding all year long, we’re proud to announce the 2014 Service Dog Challenge!
The 2014 Service Dog Challenge is a fun, Service Dog-oriented way to make sure you and your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training (SDiT) do something every week to grow, learn, develop and bond as a team. Every week, we’ll post a “Challenge,” which is an easy, fun checklist of things to do that week with or for your Service Dog or SDiT. Some challenges will focus on your canine partner, some challenges will center on you, the handler, owner or trainer, and some challenges will revolve around the pair of you as a team. Each Challenge will have a specific purpose and goal and will be suitable for all teams, regardless of ability, current level of training or Service Dog type.
There’s no prize for participating, no one checking in on you and if or how you play the Challenge is completely up to you. You can use the weekly Service Dog Challenge as a guide, follow it to the letter or ignore it completely. You may play one week a month, not at all or complete each Challenge and track them in your Service Dog’s training log. However you want to use the Challenges is completely up to you – their only purpose is to provide an easy way to keep you and your partner actively progressing as a Service Dog team and ambassador.
At the end of 2014, we want you to be able to look back and definitively say, “My Service Dog is ending this year more skilled than he began it, and I am a far better handler,” and have the 2014 Service Dog Challenge results to prove it.
2014 Service Dog Challenge: How to Participate
Participation details are up to you and your partner! Each week, a new Challenge will be posted. Read over it, ask any questions you may have by commenting on the Challenge post or on Facebook and then jump right on in! Modify the Service Dog Challenge of the week for you and your pup’s needs, goals and abilities and most importantly of all, make sure you’re both having fun! There’s no test, final exam or stress necessary and the only thing that matters is spending quality time with your Service Dog in a way that’ll both of you be better.
Ask questions and post about your Challenge journey here at Anything Pawsable and over on our Facebook page. There’s a thriving community of experienced Service Dog handlers, owners and trainers in both places able to help you with questions, provide support and to serve as cheerleaders.
We’d suggest getting a notebook, binder or other way of documenting your 2014 Challenge participation and results. Using an online file or program, like Google Drive or Evernote, is also great option for keeping track of you and your partner’s progress and growth.
2014 Service Dog Challenge: Week One
This week’s Challenge will serve as an introduction to the 2014 Service Dog Challenge and will provide a launching point for future Challenges.
Week One Goal: Identify areas in which you and your Service Dog or SDiT could grow or improve, both individually and as a team.
Week One Focus: You, your Service Dog and your partnership
Week One Instructions and Checklist:
- Reflect on your and your Service Dog’s current partnership. Think about where you stand in regards to training, behavior, public access, manners, skills, task work, being an ambassador, record keeping or anything else involved in having/training a Service Dog.
- Make a list of 10 areas you could improve as a handler or trainer. These should be personalized to you, specific and defined. Some examples might be, “Learn more about various training styles and methods,” “keep better training and socialization records,” “discover new ways to bond or play with my partner” or “groom my dog every week.” Anything is fair game, as long as it’s directly related to YOU and not something your dog has to do.
- Make a list of 10 areas your Service Dog could improve in. Don’t make a list of specific tasks or commands you want your partner to learn. Instead, focus on the bigger picture. For my current Service Dog in Training, some of the items on her list are, “Improve handler focus around other dogs,” “work towards precise, accurate reactions to verbal and silent cues in all environments,” “create instinctive eye contact/handler focus response when faced with distraction” and “proof leave it and emergency obedience skills.”
- Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes and either write down or dictate to someone anything and everything that comes to mind regarding your goals, wishes, ideals, dreams, hopes and needs for your canine partner and yourself as a handler. Don’t edit your thoughts; let them flow stream-of-consciousness style. Anything that comes to mind, write it down, type it or say it. This exercise will help you figure out where you want to be as a Service Dog handler and owner and what you’d like for your dog.
- Review your brainstorm results once the timer goes off and group them into similar elements. For example, you may have a cluster of “health” goals (like offering paws for nail trims happily, doing a weekly body check/exam, getting a vet check or learning about canine nutrition), a section of “training” goals (learn this or that command/task/behavior, obtain titles, finish PAT, or attending an agility class) and a group of “education” goals (like read or watch one training/behavior/dog book or DVD a month, check in with a dog trainer at least twice a year, or learn all about my Service Dog’s breed or mix).
- Label your and your Service Dog’s lists of areas to improve with “Week One Challenge” and “Areas to be Improved,” and label your brainstorming results and the organized, grouped list of goals with “Week One Challenge” and “Goals for Our Partnership.”
No one else’s lists will look like yours as each Service Dog team is unique. There’s no need to compare yourself or your dog to anyone else. Your only goals should be to end each Challenge better than you were the week prior.File your lists and brainstorms away in your 2014 Service Dog Challenge notebook, binder, computer document or file and prepare yourself for an amazing year of learning, growing and maximizing your and your Service Dog’s potential as a team.
Got questions, comments, concerns, thoughts or ideas? Chime in with a comment and let us know! Here’s to 2014 being the best year yet, and Happy New Year from all of us at Anything Pawsable and the United States Service Dog Registry.