Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 13

TEST 13: SUPERVISED SEPARATION

This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain its training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.

This test is very easy for some dogs and VERY difficult for others. You will definitely have to practice this to make sure it’s something your dog can handle, as a lot of dogs worry when their handlers go out of sight. One thing you don’t want to do is over stress a dog with this exercise by asking for too much duration too early.

First of all, it’s kind of like leaving your kids with a babysitter in that you don’t want to make a big deal about your departure, nor a big deal about your return. Both should be non-events. I suggest that the handler say something like “I’ll be back” to the dog, so he knows you’re leaving. I think it’s better than just disappearing.

Step one — start in a room with a doorway to another room. Have a friend take a seat where they can see the doorway, but they’re to one side of it, so it’s not too easy to see you when you exit or return through the doorway. Give your dog to your seated friend and tell your dog “I’ll be back”. Head for the doorway, go about 2/3 of the way out of the door (but your dog can still see you). Assuming your dog is calm you will use your marker just as you take one step back toward your dog (you are now returning to your dog). You are the reward! You can also praise & give your dog a treat when you reach him, but don’t make a big deal about it. If that went well, repeat. If your dog started getting a little nervous give your friend a few treats to help occupy your dog when you leave the next time.

Step two — Once you have successfully completed step one a couple of times you’re ready to completely disappear from sight when you go into the next room. You will only be out of sight for a count of 5 and then return, using your marker just before your dog can see you come back into the room he’s waiting in. Again, if your dog starts to get excited upon your leaving ask your friend to quietly offer a few tasty treats and see if that helps calm him down.

Step three — You will gradually add duration, in 15 second increments, making certain your dog remains calm as you add to the length of separation. You also will need to gradually have your friend stop feeding treats while you are out of sight, since there are NO treats allowed during any portion of the TDI testing.

Once your dog’s pretty solid on this exercise consider practicing with separations lasting 4 to 4-1/2 minutes, so that when you are in the testing your dog will easily be able to handle the 3 minute requirement. Once your dog is handling the separation well in familiar environments see if you can meet up with some friends in some different places and see how your dog accepts you leaving him in those circumstances. Remember, you don’t want to stress your dog, so start out slowly, and give your friends a few tasty treats to feed, just in case. If your dog does well with your friends you might try taking your dog to a local pet friendly pet store, at an off hour and see if one of the employees would be willing to hold your dog while you do a little “shopping”.

I think it’s also helpful to point out that there are practical applications for this test. I had a student (a nurse) who was walking her dog in the park when someone had a medical emergency.  She had to ask someone to hold her dog while she tended to the other person and waited for an ambulance. Fortunately her dog had undergone this training prior to that day!

Good luck 🙂

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