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Animal Training Tips for Use in AFT

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Adapting Your Dog’s Training for Therapy Work – The "Recall"

  • Get your dog used to responding to both verbal
    commands and gestures "to come";

    • Use lots of encouragement

    • Make gestures very obvious and enthusiastic
      in the beginning

  • Practice having your dog come to you while you
    are seated –insisting that they come close enough so that you can
    easily reach out to touch — use ‘treats’ as needed;

  • Do not allow the dog to jump on you. Have the
    animal sit when they approach you;

  • Work at different distances. Many dogs are not
    used to doing a recall with a person seated close to them;


  • Recruit someone to help with that person acting
    as "patient" so that the dog (and you) can get used to
    working with another person;

  • Help your dog to learn to respond to another.
    Have the "patient" give the initial command, then wait to
    give the dog a chance to respond. If the dog does not respond to the
    "patient", help out by giving a signal or ‘Backup’
    command, routing the dog over to the "patient";

  • Have the person who is playing "patient"
    praise the dog and give a treat (the ‘treats’ can be weaned as you

Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Retrieve in Therapy Sessions

  • Practice having your dog bring things to you
    while you are seated;
  • Insist that the animal bring objects directly to
    you and then hold them until the dog releases (remember that a
    patient may need extra time to grasp an object);
  • Get your dog accustomed to retrieving lots of
    different objects –objects of various texture, size, weight, color,
  • Place or throw the objects different distances
    away. Place some of them on chairs, boxes, etc. to get the animal
    used to retrieving from a variety of locations;
  • Do not allow the dog to get "mouthy"
    when bringing the object back — especially when you reach for it!
  • If you use a ball and the dog gets very excited
    with this game, it may be a good idea to substitute another object
    while they are learning to work with patients;
  • Ask the dog to "Wait!" while the
    patient gets ready to throw. Often a person may take extra time to
    throw or release a toy in a therapy situation;
  • Choose objects or toys that do not get too
    saturated from dog saliva — tennis balls, stuffed toys and some
    rubber toys are better than other objects. If necessary, have a
    towel handy. [Objects used in therapy sessions should be washed at
    least weekly. Most can go through a gentle wash cycle in the washer.
  • It is a good idea to remove the ‘squeakers’ from
    toys to two reasons. First, it may be distracting to the patient
    (especially if they persevere on making the noise). Second, it
    removes the danger of a dog accidentally swallowing;
  • Be careful that the dog does not ‘paw’ at a
    patient in playful excitement.

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Games You Can Teach For Use In A.F.T.

"Find the Ball (or other toy)"

  • Have the dog hide their eyes (use helper to take
    the dog out of site of where you are hiding the object or use a

    • {In a therapy situation, you would have the
      patient help decide where to hide the object};

  • If the dog is in another area while you hide the
    toy, have the person acting as patient call the animal back when

  • The "patient" can tell the dog to "find
    the ….(whatever)";

  • You then decide with the patient if the animal
    is ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ as it searches;

  • Encourage the patient to make a fuss over the
    dog when the object is found. If the dog is having trouble finding
    the hidden toy, get the patient to help.

The "Shell Game"

  • Use 3 or 4 brightly covered cups (Tupperware
    cups are ideal);

  • Have the patient choose which colored cup to
    place the treat under;

  • Have the dog hide their eyes (as described

  • Place the treat under one of the cups and move
    them around on the floor to place them in a random location – but
    within the view of the patient;

  • Have the patient call the dog back (if the dog
    was moved out of sight during set-up);

  • The patient instructs the animal to "Find
    the Treat";

  • {Few dogs have difficulty with this one}