Azul loves children and pretty much always has, yet I still needed to approach interactions with youth by training smarter!
Azul was born into a house with 4 young girls and with me he has had lots of experience with my grandkids. This has helped build his desire to interact with kids. As a Service Dog, I frequently need Azul to go into public spaces where kids will be present. And as a Therapy Dog, we often visit places where there are larger groups of children that all want to see him. Not all dogs will enjoy doing educational presentations with large groups of children or enjoy laying in the library while youth read to them. For this blog, I'm going to describe the slow approach I took to help Azul increase his love for interacting with children of all ages.
Azul at 4 months interacting with 2 girls on the library stairs while a concert was taking place across the street. We were sitting at a safe distance far away from the music with just a few people coming and going on the library stairs. These girls played the Pick One game with Azul!
By watching from a distance at parks and community events Azul learned to be calm around larger groups of people with kids running around playing nearby.
Azul learned to watch my grandkids playing with a wide variety of toys inside and outside the house.
Azul learned the cues for when to interact with kids, when to give his focus to the kids, and when he was free to play with this those kids by working with friends and family members on walks, while camping, and during training sessions.
Spending the day at a quiet park with my kids & grandkids. Azul had time to play on the playground equipment with my adult children and relaxed on the bench with me while the kids played.
Then we practiced some pre-public access training skills at an ice cream shop with the grandkids. Azul had previously practiced at quiet, outdoor patios. But when we were ready to add in more distractions we were able to practice his under my seat tuck with family. A few months later we were on vacation and had a meal at a picnic area with 18 family members for Azul to ignore. I allow him to visit with family freely during non-meal time. However at meal time, even in outdoor environments such as the campground we practice his Service Dog skills of laying under my seat or on a mat beside me.
Azul learned to ignore over 22 family members during meal time while we were camping before we went with these same family members into a restaurant as a Service Dog. This was as much training for the family as it was for Azul. He had already done quiet restaurant training with 1-2 friends and family members. But taking this time during a family camp allowed us to set the boundaries of petting and play with all our friends when it was not meal time and totally ignoring everyone (and everyone else not trying to interact with Azul) during meal time.
As an adolescent Azul needed to go back to the park and other outdoor settings to remind him when to interact with people and when to ignore people. By the time he was 2, Azul had generalized this to pretty much all environments. This led us to be able to do one of our latest adventures....The Kid's Play Area during a birthday party!
This environment was far more stimulating then anything we had done before. At 2.5 Azul is pretty much ready for anything or anywhere I need to go. He handled this environment far better then I did. Our next adventure is going to be the aquarium!
I hope you enjoyed this photo blog about building up interactions and the ability to ignore children by starting in low distraction environments and slowly building up. This is extremely important for training Service Dogs! If we move too quickly, putting them in environments they have not built up to yet, we run the risk of making them fearful around kids or in those environments.
It's way more beneficial to Train Smarter, Not Harder!
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