Alzheimer’s Dog Training at Home
Complicating Alzheimer's dog's work task is the fact that Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, with unexpected behaviors that create ongoing stress for the dog. Just like its human counterpart, the dog can stress out too. Without relief, the dog can become depressed, physically ill, and even not work up to its potential.
Relieve Stress for Your Dog With a Break Away from the Patient
You can help relieve stress for your dog simply by providing a safe, secured, fenced area adjacent to the house, complete with a dog door, for the canine to toilet, exercise, and take a break in, without the caregiver having to personally let the dog in/out. It keeps the dog's stress level at a minimum by granting the dog freedom to let off some energy and minimize aggravation caused by the dementia. You take coffee breaks; the dog needs time away to rejuvenate, too. The dog can decide when it needs to "get away"--go in/out by itself--not creating a hardship for the already overworked caregiver. Remember to keep this area clean, free of fecal matter and all dangerous material that could hurt the dog.
Take free time with your dog each day--only the two of you together.
Know and Understand the Unique Qualities of an Assistance Dog
Assistance dogs are specially trained, and when you're looking for their unique qualities, it's important to be able to know what you're looking for in that special animal.
A Self-Starting Dog
Usually dogs are trained to respond to a human voice--a person gives the dog a verbal command and the dog responds appropriately. However, Alzheimer's dogs must know when to go to work without the aid of a human command. Alzheimer's dogs are taught to recognize the sound of the patient getting up and their feet hitting the floor--an imminent wandering situation. The dogs learn all the sequential nine steps to succeed in their job of "wandering control". Alzheimer's dogs are self-starting dogs, going to work the minute they hear and identify their sound.
Working for More Than One Person
This is the first time anyone has asked an assistance dog to work for more than one person; one blind individual and one guide dog; one deaf person and one hearing dog. Alzheimer's dog must work with a minimum of one caregiver and one patient. The dog is one member of a triad not just the canine half of a two-way partnership. The triad is a three-pronged working unit consisting of caregiver, patient, and dog.
Unexpected Behaviors from the Patient
Complicating the Alzheimer's dog's work task is the progressive disease Alzheimer's, with unexpected behaviors that create ongoing stress for everyone, including the dog.
Dealing with Relief Caregivers
An Alzheimer's assistance dog must be trained to work with all of the patient's caregivers. It is important that all caregivers are educated to the dog's job and how they fit into the picture. They must exhibit uniform behavior, in order to give the dog the consistency needed to successfully perform its work. It's critical that everyone does and says the same thing.
Committment: The chief caregiver/trainer must be committed to their dog and know that they are going to practice twice a day (approximately 15 minutes each session), five days (two days off) each week, for at least eight months. Caregivers enjoy working with their dogs and vice-versa. Make the sessions into fun times for both of you.
Communication: The chief caregiver/trainer must be tuned into their dog for the rest of the dog's life--similar to parents with their children. The chief caregiver/trainer must learn how to "talk to" and "read" their dog. Canines have a wonderful language, each voice unique--as is yours to them.
Goal Setting: The chief caregiver/trainer must be able to establish goals, be consistent and persistent. They must explore their own motives, be honest with themselves and dedicated.
Goal Evaluation: The chief caregiver/trainer must be able to review their goals to see if they are on target or not. If not, then why not? If goals are obtainable then keep going. Don't loose your sense of humor and don't give up. Take an alternate route if you must but continue onto your goal.
Rather than selecting any dog why not stack the deck for success and choose the dog that has the most qualities that it will need to learn its job? There is a testing process during which you should write down what you observed and your "gut" feelings. You are trying to find the best possible candidate. Remember that it is wrong to ask a dog to do something it cannot do, as opposed to will not do. Big difference. After testing several canines you will begin to see the differences in each dog. These dissimilarities and each dog's unique characteristics will become evident during the testing situation. Tests are not fool-proof; they have their limitations but they lead your thinking in the right direction. You are not going to find a dog that has all the traits you want in it. Some dogs you will like others your won't. Why? Further, an Alzheimer's dog needs "heart", a willingness to please. If a dog has just about everything going for it but does not have a willingness to please, it may not be the dog you want to work with.
"Sound awareness" training means exactly what it says--training the dog to listen for, be aware of, and identify one specific sound from all other sounds. Once the dog can identify this sound it will then be taught to "self-start"--to begin its job--and what its working pattern will be in order to complete the entire job. The dog's special sound occurs when the patient's feet hit the floor, which could develop into a wandering situation. The dog's work task begins with the dog always listening for its patient's feet to hit the floor. The dog has to know what to listen for and then when it hears that special sound to "self-start", going into action to first confirm wandering and then racing for the caregiver to alert them to the potential dangerous situation.
Statistics state that 70% of all Alzheimer's patients will eventually begin to wander. Wandering makes the caregiver's job much harder. However, with a specially trained canine, the caregiver has a help-mate, an ally. Your "sound awareness" training sessions are key to teaching your dog to become a successful Alzheimer's assistance dog--your partner--and molding both of you into one viable team.
Before you start your sound awareness training there are prerequisites you need to address.
1. Prepare your home for the dog's arrival.
2. Select a veterinarian and make an appointment.
3. Select two support groups: a dog friendly group and a dementia awareness group.
4. Familiarize your dog with your home and your routine.
5. Housebreak your dog.
6. Crate train your dog.
7. Select a surrogate patient.
8. Select a place in your home to train.
9. Keep a logbook.
Each of the above are important and must be completed before you even think about starting to train your dog. I want you to win in this undertaking and I know from experience how necessary it is to set yourself and your dog up to win. Just like in baseball, you can not make a scoring run unless you have touched all bases in sequence. The same is true now. You can not start by jumping into the middle of training and you have to complete things in a specified order. Otherwise, you will not have a happy, well-adjusted, working team (you and your dog) as the end result. By taking your time and accomplishing each part of the whole in logical sequence you will be successful in training your dog. You will be a working team.
Define An Alzheimer’s Assistance Dog
An Alzheimer’s dog lives at home with an Alzheimer’s patient, their caregiver(s) and other family members. This is an inside dog as opposed to those unfortunate canines that are regulated to spending their lives physically apart from their family units, residing outside of the home, receiving minimal human love and contact.
The Alzheimer’s dog is trained to watch over the patient, especially at night, and alert the chief caregiver if the patient gets up. The dog is trained to identify an imminent “wandering” situation, alert the caregiver by making physical contact with them, lead the caregiver to the location of the patient, and to then go into a “down/sit stay” position in order to act as a distraction to the patient.
Help for the Caregiver and the Patient
The dog is a warm, fuzzy partner, helping the caregiver give the best possible care to the Alzheimer’s patient. With wandering under control, the patient can often remain within the family; the caregiver gets an ally and a night’s rest. Home usually provides a more positive environment than that found in an institution; whether a group or nursing home.
Financially, it is much more feasible to keep an Alzheimer’s patient in their home. Therapeutically, the home environment is usually more positive for the patient than living elsewhere.
Training a Dog to Help A Caregiver
A friend of mine asked me to attend a fair on aging. She was the primary caregiver for her elderly mother who had Alzheimer's. She knew that I was training hearing assistance dogs for the deaf and hard of hearing and earlier had asked if I could train a dog for her to help her take care of her mom.
They recently had to put down their old family dog and they really missed the dog, especially her mom. My friend wondered why she couldn’t have a dog that would be a companion to them both but also an animal that would help her fulfill her caregiver responsibilities. She didn't know what she expected the dog to do, and I didn't know if I could train a dog to be a caregiver's unique partner. I did know that I could not turn her down without investigating her request further.
As I learned more about her daily world, I realized that I had no concept of what a complex world an Alzheimer's caregiver functioned in. Together we began sharing information and to define the ways in which a dog could become a viable partner for her. As an ice breaker, we decided to attend the "aging fair" to see what light it could shine on us. It seemed logical to me that if I was going to be successful with the Alzheimer's dog prototype, I would have to rely on my hearing dog training techniques and my common sense while simultaneously incorporating dementia and caregiving data from my friend.
Relief for Dedicated Caregivers
There was no doubt in my mind that dedicated caregivers needed relief, but could it possibly come in the form of a specially trained dog? Was I way off base to even think that a dog could be trained to help a caregiver? And what made me think that I could do it?
I did know that there was no way I was going to tell my friend that she should just settle for a companion dog--not without challenging myself first. I would not know anything if I didn’t try, and I was a person who hated "what ifs."
Alzheimer’s Assistance Dog Training Concept is Born
The more I thought about it the more excited I became at the prospect of developing an Alzheimer's assistance dog--whatever it turned out to be. I was ready. I was excited. The fair on aging would be the starting point.
I envisioned the ending as a working team comprised of a human caregiver and a specially trained Alzheimer's assistance dog. Together they would be able to give the best care possible to their loved one while keeping the loved one at home. What an idea! Could it be done? I was determined it could!