Behavior Evaluation and Intervention
Goal: A guide dog must be even tempered, confident, and comfortable in all environments. Sometimes, a pup might be displaying behavior that isn't desirable for guide dog training. Behavior evaluations can help us determine if the behavior can be intervened, supported, and resolved. There are several ways we might do behavior evaluations to set the dog up for success. It is not uncommon for a pup to display an undesirable behavior or have behavior issues-we're here to help!
Please refer to the Essential Behaviors and Behaviors that Need to be Reported for more insight into common behaviors.
Identification and Evaluation
Your advisor or area coordinator might ask for videos, pictures, or written information about the issue before seeing it in person if possible. Below are common questions that might be asked:
- What behavior are you concerned about?
- How frequently is it happening?
- Is this behavior only seen exclusively in public or at home?
- What are you currently doing to support the pup?
- Do you think the support you're currently providing helps the pup?
- Will the pup become more comfortable when you support the pup with talking, petting, or moving away?
- What body language is the pup displaying?
- Is the pup walking faster or slower than normal?
- Will the pup take food when they display this behavior?
- Can you easily redirect the pup?
From there, we might have the pup stay in the kennel so we can work with the pup, set up private lessons, or ask another raiser to work with the pup. Depending on the issue it might be best for a staff member or advanced puppy raiser to evaluate the behavior over several days. This step does not reflect poorly on you. Sometimes, intervention requires a foundation to be built that requires advanced training or support. It might take a different home environment or specific outings and training sessions for success.
Once we have identified the problem, the next step is intervention so we can work towards resolution. Resolution needs to be reached before the dog comes in for training. The earlier we identify the undesirable behavior and resolve it, the more comfortable the pup will be and the more enjoyable puppy raising will be for you!
It is very important to follow the plan set up by your advisor or area coordinator for intervention. By following the plan and time frame we can observe the dog's behavior and teach them the correct behavior if needed. As stated earlier, intervention might require the pup working with someone else for several weeks.
In some circumstances rehoming the puppy is the best option for their success. We will clearly communicate if this is being considered for the pup's success. It isn’t admitting fault or defeat, but every raiser has different skillsets and environments they will expose the puppy to while they’re raising. This is always a decision that is carefully thought out and done with the puppy’s best interest and success in mind. Even if the puppy is rehomed you may still be eligible to raise another puppy. This is a decision made on a case-by-case basis on whether you are a suitable household for puppy raising.
At first, intervention requires ongoing support from the handler to teach the correct behavior. Then, we will test the pup's understanding and see if they have improved. The goal of intervention is working towards a resolution with a desirable behavior in place of the undesirable behavior.
Resolution means the behavior is no longer occurring or lessened. Your advisor or area coordinator will provide a timeframe to work towards resolution. Some interventions take several months, while other might only take a couple private lessons and practice.
If the dog is unable to work through the issue towards resolution, career change might be the best option for the dog. It is unfair to force a dog to act or react a certain way if they cannot do so without your support. For example, a dog that has surface issues and does not like walking on grates and slick surfaces cannot be a guide dog. We might be able to get the dog comfortable walking on these surfaces with support through lowering to their level, food reward for their attempts, and verbal soothing. But, if they're still lowering their tail, panting, and reluctant to walk across without your prompting, they cannot be a guide dog.
We expect the issue to be resolved for at least three months before being considered for training. For example, if we didn't recognize and intervene with a pup that was barking and not showing self-control around other dogs until they were 10 months old. We worked on the issue for two months, but the dog cannot be considered for training until 15 months. That's why it's so important to intervene right when we notice the undesirable behavior. We want to teach the desirable behaviors as soon as possible so the dog can become successful and puppy raising is enjoyable for you!