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!