A new service dog partnership takes time to develop. And it takes time to become a team that dances as one. The relationship is not one to be rushed. But instead slowly developed over time.
If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that I had a nearly eight-year working career with Buffy. And fairly recently was partnered with Clint. My successor service dog. Change can be exciting. But can also be challenging.
Clint and I will be celebrating our six-month anniversary this week. So I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on these past six months. And the growth we have made as a team.
It is hard to go from the predictable and known of a long-time partner to the unknown of a new partnership. It takes time for the handler to transition to the new dog. And time for the new dog to adjust to a new handler.
For Clint, and previously for Buffy, they were with their respective puppy raisers for 18 months. And then went on to professional training. Buffy for nine months. And Clint for six months. Throughout this time there are many changes and transitions.
While in professional training, they learn the advanced skills to become service dogs. The training is intense. And the time spent with their trainer is all-consuming. During this time a relationship forms with their trainer. And a very special bond develops.
Clint with his trainer!
Clint knew his skills when working with his trainer. And the way she gave the cues, the subtle movements of her body. The words of encouragement and praise. And the expectations.
Even though Clint knew his skills, he didn’t know me. And I didn’t know him. Although my cues were the same ones the trainer used, my tone of voice was different. And my words of encouragement and the way I gave praise were not the same.
My handling was awkward. And my confidence was shattered. I began to question my abilities as a service dog handler. Because it all felt so different. I was feeling inadequate. Would we ever be a team who danced as one?
So I took a step back and reminded myself about the importance of time with a new service dig partnership. Since it seems I needed a reminder!
It takes time to get to know each other. To learn what the other wants and likes. And the best ways to meet each other’s needs.
It takes time to understand how best to communicate with each other. And find those subtle cues that reassure the other they are doing just fine.
Fostering a mutual love of working together takes time. It takes time for the learner to learn. And the teacher to teach. This is true for both members of the team. Because each one has things to teach and things to learn.
You can’t rush the skills you have to be a teacher to your new partner. Nor can you rush the execution of skills your dog knows when first being partnered with you. Even if you want to. Because it takes time!
The handler needs skills to support the dog as they adjust and learn the differences in handling styles. The dog needs skills with being able to generalize their known behaviors when working with their new partner.
Trust is an important part of a service dog partnership. Trust is gained as the team develops a relationship. And shows each other that they are there to give the support needed.
As a service dog handler, it takes time to trust that the dog will respond in predictable ways. Even though the skills are known.
And it takes time for the service dog to trust that their person will support them. And not ask for things beyond what they are capable of giving.
The teaching and learning process is built on the strengths of the relationship. The trust. And the understanding. Mutual love and respect.
A relationship and true partnership doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it may take weeks or even months. Which is okay. Since each team is unique. And progress at their own pace.
Working together as a team can be as graceful as dance partners floating around the dance floor. But it takes time to learn how to move together. And develop the connection needed for the team to dance as one.
We need to be patient with ourselves. And patient with our dogs. Because we each are on the timeline that works best for our own individual team.
We have to trust that time is a gift that will lead to a strong relationship. It is not a race. But instead a beautiful journey of learning and growing. And striving to become an amazing team!
During these past six months, Clint and I have worked on getting to know each other. We are building a relationship and bond that will be solid. One that is built on mutual understanding, respect, love, and trust.
In some ways, our growth as a team has been more challenging than when I was starting with Buffy. Which in turn has slowed the process for Clint and me to build trust in each other’s abilities.
The Covid-19 restrictions for being out in public have limited my ability to do the normal everyday types of outings. Like going out to eat, shopping at the mall, and wandering the hospital to practice various tasks. All things that would build confidence in each of us. But despite these limitations, we are growing as a team. And learning to dance together as one!
When I think of the skills I need and want in a service dog, Clint fulfills each and every one of them. He matches my love of learning and eagerness to train perfectly. He is enriching my life and enhancing my independence far beyond measure!