Alzheimer’s Dog Training at Home
When I was holding down a job (well over 40 hours per week) I did not take vacations for many consecutive years. When I finally did take one I was astounded to personally find that it did make a difference in so many ways. Mainly I was refreshed and ready to go back. The same is true of your dogs, except they do not do well if you ship them by themselves to Hawaii for two weeks. Instead, make sure that you take time out of your daily schedule to do something with your dog. It is going to rejuvenate both of you. Dogs love to have their masters to themselves. It does not need to be for a long period but at least give it 15 minutes. You can do whatever you want together, but I caution you not to practice any obedience training. That would not be fair. This is down time for you both. Just enjoy each other, be in the moment. Sometimes, when I find that I am on overload status I simply take a break and seek my dog's company. Works every time. I distinctly hear my dog say "Thanks" and I answer "Ditto".
Just as you require down time during the day so does your canine partner. This is important for your dog too. Alzheimer's dogs, just like yourself, must submit themselves to the stress that dementia causes in the environment. Neither of you can get away from it unless you take a meaningful coffee break. You can grab your coffee cup and go into a sheltered area of the house by yourself. Your dog can escape out the dog door that leads to its own sheltered area, free of dementia where it can just be a dog. I always recommend that you need to be sure you have a fully enclosed, canine friendly area that is adjacent to the house with its own dog door usually installed in the people door. When you have this for your dog, it can let itself outside to let out energy, go to the bathroom, and just have some free down time away from its responsibilities and the overall stress of dementia. How wonderful that if you are in the middle of a chore you do not have to stop and let your dog outside, instead, the dog can let itself out. No hazzels. However, it does mean that you will have to make sure, on a daily basis, that this area is free of any harmful debris and that you are religiously picking up fecal material. Your dog thanks you.
Alzheimer's assistance dogs must be alert 24/7 since their work task is to help their chief caregiver control wandering in the patient. Dogs have extraordinary hearing and are generous in using that hearing for the benefit of keeping an Alzheimer's patient safe. Should the patient decide to get out of bed no matter what the reason, as soon as their feet hit the floor, that could become a wandering situation. Like us, dogs can not ascertain what the patient has in mind but they can be attentive always listening for their sound. They will self-start the minute they hear the feet hit the floor and go and check the patient to be sure it really is a potential wandering situation. In order for the dog to be good at its job it must have good hearing and listening skills, it has to be attentive to all of the sounds around it and pick out the correct sound that it has been trained to identify--feet hitting the floor. Further, it has to have retrieving instincts as well since the dog will be retrieving the caregiver to the patient after alerting the caregiver to the problem. But it all starts with the dog's ears. The dog's ears must always be listening and the dog must be paying attention.
An Alzheimer's dog must have enough energy to work 24/7. However, you do not want the dog to be so keyed up that it is a Tasmanian devil, or conversely too lethargic, always moving in slow motion. Neither extreme is good. Thankfully, you can temper a dog's energy level. Before you do anything have the dog checked by your veterinarian to make sure there is no physical reason for either extreme energy level. Correct any physical problems and then start training your dog in obedience. During obedience training you will cement the fact that you are boss, not your dog, and you will build a relationship. Obedience teaches manners, it instructs the dog on your expectations, your tolerance levels, your standards. Do not vacillate, remain consistent, and be astute for the canine that constantly tests the limits. You can teach your dog acceptable manners. Remember that the aloof and stubborn dog might turn out to be very sensitive, and that cute adorable canine might always be one step ahead of you. Respect your dog's feelings, don't be heavy handed in your reprimands. Do not squash your alpha dog's personality. Never manhandle, bully or physically force your dog into submission. That is unacceptable behavior from you. You are not there to intimidate, but rather to set limits and lovingly correct misbehavior. You want to reinforce your dog's good points and help restrain the negative ones. You can do this in a humane manner which will garner you your dog's respect and thus increase your dog's willingness to please.
Your dog is your pet and partner. It is your responsibility to keep your dog healthy. Address health issues when they first appear, not later. Its the humane thing to do and you can not expect a sick or injured partner to work well.
Be in tune to what is normal for your dog and be observant. If your dog is off its feed, it develops a cough, it's drinking copious amounts of water, it's stools are not normal in appearance and/or smell, if suddenly a limp appears, or the dog is constantly scratching--check it out. If you find nothing wrong but the symptoms continue, get your dog to the veterinarian.
Be sure you keep your dog on preventative medication for fleas/ticks and heart worm, up-to-date in routine inoculations, and have annual physical and dental work ups. Periodically check your dog for foreign materials that might have lodged in-between the pads of the paws, ears, eyes. Feel for any bumps, swellings, cuts, etc. Physically know what your dog looks like, smells like, and how it normally moves. Take note of your dog's moods. Your dog should not be lethargic, dejected, despondent, or anxious, jittery, etc. Know your dog so that if anything goes from routine/normal to out-of-the-ordinary/strange you will detect it quickly and able to address potential issues. On the other hand, do not be over anxious or zealous in keeping your dog in tip top shape. Neither extreme is good.
Take care of your partner and he/she will take care of you and your patient.
Most breeds of dogs have a special trait that is a characteristic of their breed. For example: huskies love to forge ahead--to pull. Man has used that skill to his advantage. But that particular trait is not desired in an Alzheimer's dog because it is not needed to complete the work task. On the other hand, herding dogs are prized for their skill in herding/retrieving. It is critical that the Alzheimer's dog "retrieve" the caregiver to the location of the patient. In selecting a canine candidate for Alzheimer's training it would be feasible to choose the herding dog over the husky.
You need to know exactly what the Alzheimer's dog has to do to successfully perform its job. Then you will recognize what canine traits are necessary for the dog to learn. Alzheimer's dog will have to listen for its special sound, identify it, verify that the patient is indeed up, alert the caregiver that the patient is on the move, and then retrieve the caregiver to the patient's location......... listening and retrieving skills are top priority. The dog must naturally use its ears more than its nose. You do not need a dog that is always "following its nose for scent", but rather the canine that is sharp and focused upon sounds. Key to Alzheimer's dog is using its ears to hear if the patient is getting up and then retrieving the caregiver to the patient's location.
Bad habits are not acceptable in a dog that you are relying upon to be your partner. Catch the negative behavior early and replace with a good habit. This means you must be ever vigilant. You expect your children to have good manners, likewise for your dog. You do not have the time nor money to be constantly cleaning up canine messes or worse replacing items that the dog has destroyed. Bad manners are not conducive to promoting a healthy human/animal partnership. Being ashamed of your canine's bad behavior is not going to help you, or others, to want to have your dog around. Conversely, a dog that understands and is contented to obey your rules is the dog that you will be happy to have by your side. Remember your dog craves your love so be sure to let it know when it has pleased you.
Don't let negative habits develop in the first place. I'm not advocating that you aggressively thrash your dog but let it know when its behavior is not acceptable. You must be observant and consistent in reinforcing your expectations. If you allow your "cute little dogie" to get away with things then it will become a monster and its your fault. In a humane manner let your dog know what you will allow and be prepared to reinforce your rules. The better manners and obedience your dog has, the better it will perform its work task. There is a definite correlation. So keep your dog focused and sharp in manners and it will willingly give you its best work performance.
You have trained your Alzheimer's assistance dog to take its sound-awareness job seriously. It knows that it must be on duty 24/7. Non-neutered males certainly have only one thing on their minds when a bitch is in season and within smelling distance. There is no way that he is going to give his sound work job top priority over (dare I say it?) sex. A female in season will also be distracted from her work. Sex again. Once she has her pups "motherhood" will be her biggest concern. You can not expect your dog, either male or female, to not be diverted by Mother Nature. Sound awareness will come in second place every time. Neither you nor your dog need this major, repeated distraction. The best thing you can do is eliminate it entirely. Have your dog spayed/neutered. Now, you can expect your dog to target its sound at all times. It does not matter if the dog is eating, sleeping, playing, investigating whatevers, it should always be listening for its special sound. And, by the way, your dog is expecting you to play your role every time it alerts you, without exception. Together, no matter what each of you may be doing, you need to successfully fullfill your respective parts. You are a team.
People perform best when they feel good and are not coping with physical ailments. The same is true for your dog. Do not expect your dog to be at the top of its game if it does not feel well.
Know your dog’s habits and if it deviates, investigate.
If the hair coat is dull and loosing hair, get to a vet.
Brush the coat daily checking for fleas, wounds and odors. Check under arms, around the eyes, and genitalia where fleas reside.
Any dog “flop-butting” (scraping its rear end along the ground), or licking the anus more than usual? Could be a piece of fecal material stuck in the hair, impacted anal glands, or worms? If suspect, get to a vet.
Bathe your dog but not too often because you could damage the coat.
Trim your dog’s nails regularly. No animal should have to endure long nails.
Brush your dog’s teeth daily using toothpaste and its own toothbrush.
Runny eyes? Take a clean tissue, tear in half, moisten with water, gently wipe away excess matter. Don't use the same tissue on both eyes. It could spread an infection. Suspect foreign matter in eye? Get to a vet.
Know what your dog’s ears look, smell and feel like when they are healthy. Ears are critical to “sound awareness dogs.” If the ears(s) deviate get to a vet.
When in doubt get to a vet.
There are two support groups that will help you in your roles as chief caregiver and trainer.
1. A dog friendly support group
2. A dementia awareness support group
Set yourself up to win in your duel role as chief caregiver and canine trainer. It will be a comfort to you to have people in your life that are dog savvy and others that are aware of and knowledgeable about dementia. Knowing that you are not alone, that others are facing similar challenges is comforting, smart, and practical. Look into your own life and see the rich resources that are already there. Your veterinarian, dog trainers, animal shelters, friends who have dogs, your Church, your local Alzheimer's chapter, both public and professional individuals in your patient's life, friends, family members that are not in denial, doctors, nurses, caseworkers, your state's resources in aging, and day care centers for adults. These and many more resources are there for you. You should be taping into them. Seek them out and make contact.