Therapy Dog Journey Part 5: CGC Step 5 Walking Through a Crowd
Does your dog have trouble walking through a crowd? Does he seem to forget all his nice, loose-leash walking manners? And try to greet everyone you pass by jumping on them?
Most often, our therapy dogs have difficulty walking through crowds because they get excited by the number of people. Your dog may forget all about his Loose-Leash Walking skills when presented with a crowd of new people and he thinks he must greet everyone!
Canine Good Citizen Test Step 5: Loose Leash Walking Through a Crowd
Often, dogs struggle to walk through crowds for two reasons. First, the number of people and the confined space overwhelms them either in fear or excitement. Or second, they want to see and jump on every person in sight because they are super social dogs. Both of these reasons for struggle can be addressed, and appropriate behaviors taught, with the follow exercises.
Nova Gets Comfortable in A Crowd
To get started, Nova is asked to focus on her owner in an empty room. When she is successful, Nova is released and rewarded. Her owner has recruited three friends to come into the room one at a time as she works with Nova. Now the first friend comes in and Nova is again asked to focus on her owner. After she can successfully focus multiple times, Nova is encouraged to greet the helper.
One at a time, Nova’s owner asks the other helpers into the room, repeating the focusing and greeting process. This method allows Nova time to adjust to the number of people in the room increasing and also helps her to make a good association with them. Sometimes when she greets the friends, she is presented with a high-value treat or a favorite toy and encouraged to play with the friend.
Nova’s owner grows the crowd by inviting new people. The puppy also practices meeting small groups of new people in new places. She and her owner visit many pet-friendly locations at times when the crowds will be small and find quiet corners where Nova can acclimate to the noise and busyness.
Sit Greeting Level One
The next thing Nova learns is to sit when she greets people. Now, Nova would much prefer to jump on each person who gets excited to pet her cute puppy-self. However, this could be a frightening or dangerous experience for children, the elderly, and hospital patients – all groups of people she will regularly visit once her training is complete.
To teach Nova to sit for greetings, her owner recruits the help of another person (a family member, friend, willing stranger in the pet store, or a pet store employee). The helper is asked to only quietly pass by the puppy at a distance of about twenty steps.
Nova is asked to sit, and the helper begins to walk by, but Nova gets excited to see him, so she breaks her sit and tries to pull her way over. Her owner responds with a simple “No” marker word and stands still until Nova stops pulling, and the helper walks away. When Nova’s attention returns to her owner, they back up another ten paces and try the sitting-pass again. This time Nova holds her sit beautifully. They continue to practice at thirty steps away from the helper for a few days until her owner can feel that Nova is entirely relaxed and focused.
Sit Greeting Level Two
Gradually, two or three steps at a time, the helper walks closer to Nova as she maintains her sit. Finally, Nova can hold her sit willingly while the helper walks all around her just a step away. Now Nova is ready to be greeted while still sitting. As long as Nova can remain sitting until released with a cue such as “All Done,” she will be greeted by the helper who will also present her with a tasty treat.
Some days Nova has a harder time and struggles to hold her sit. On these days, her owner backs up a step and asks anyone who wants to pet Nova to first walk around her a few steps away so that she can calmly sit for them to pet her. This consistent training pays off visibly as Nova begins to offer a prompt sit when people walk up to her for petting!
TIP: The method described above has been explained in full detail because we believe it is an effective method for most puppies and dogs. There are other ways to teach a dog or puppy to sit or at least remain on all four paws for greetings. If your dog is struggling with this method or isn’t much of a jumper, feel free to try speeding the process up or use a different approach.
The Crowd Jumper
Does your dog try to jump on everyone he sees when in a crowd? This is the case for many dogs, especially puppies. Their eagerness and friendliness are exhibited by instinctively trying to greet people at face-level.
While we are glad that many dogs are so people-oriented, such greetings are hardly acceptable or welcomed in therapy dogs. So we must teach them not only how to greet people by sitting (described above) but also when not to greet someone. For this purpose, therapy dogs can be taught two commands to help them know when to interact with a person.
This command lets Nova know when she is allowed to interact with someone. It can also be a synonym for “Sit” since she has been taught to greet people by sitting politely. This command can be introduced when Nova is learning to stay seated for greetings as described above.
Alternately, Nova will also learn that “Say Hi!” means she is allowed to approach someone, and as long as her feet stay on the ground, she can continue interacting with that person. Anytime her feet begin to leave the ground, she is first given a corrective command, “Sit!” and if she cannot obey, she will be moved away. Or the person will be asked to back up for a minute to let the dog regain her self-control – this is where the owner must use her knowledge of the dog’s capabilities.
This cue tells Nova to keep walking without interacting with the people. Whether the reason is that the person is afraid of dogs or doesn’t like them, or whether the therapy team cannot stop to greet someone at the moment, this command is a must-have for some therapy dogs.
To teach the “Move On” cue to Nova, her owner gathers a circle of friends. She walks Nova around the ring, stopping at the first friend and allowing Nova to “Say, Hi!” When they approach the next friend, Nova’s owner tells her, “Move on,” and if Nova complies, she thanks her, rewards Nova, and allows her to greet the next friend in line.
However, sometimes, Nova breaks the rules. She wants to say hi when she’s told to move on. So when she tries to greet the wrong person, her owner says “No” and stands still so that Nova cannot reach the person (who should be ignoring her completely). When Nova realizes she’s not getting anywhere with her behavior, she returns to her owner to try something else. Nova is promptly rewarded and again asked to “Move on” with a lure to guide her in the correct direction.
Nova is also asked to practice both “Say, Hi” and “Move On” when she visits pet-friendly parks and stores. Her owner takes her during the quieter hours so there are only a few people to act as distractions for Nova. This real-life practice comes after Nova understands the commands at home but really prepares her for real-life work as a therapy dog.
The next Canine Good Citizen steps we will be talking about are Step 8: Reaction to Another Dog and Step 9: Reaction to Distraction. These two steps prove that therapy dogs are friendly with other dogs and do not exhibit aggression and that they are not overly fearful or reactive when startled by a loud noise.
We’ll look at some standards in a therapy dog’s dog-to-dog interactions, some socialization tips for older puppies and dogs, and some ways to desensitize your dog to startling sounds they might experience on therapy visits.
– Cassy & Caliber
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