Training & Public Access in a Lockdown
Updated: Feb 8
Depending on where you are, you may or may not still be in lockdown due to covid-19, but there are other reasons you could be in lockdown, whether it’s self-imposed or doctor-imposed. Getting a service dog (or any other dog) training and, especially, public access can be very difficult when in lockdown. It can even feel impossible! I want to give you a few tips to help you feel able to get some training and public access in, regardless of your circumstances.
I’ll start with training. You can get training inside your home, of course, but the two main problems can be if you get stuck in your training and/or that training only in your house doesn’t prepare your dog for other situations.
Getting past being stuck is much easier these days, as there are lots of YouTube channels, blogs, and other information out there that you can access from your home. You can even get personalized video training from dog trainers (local or not), which can help you pinpoint exactly where you’re struggling. Google can help a little bit, but I suggest finding a few good YouTubers and bloggers to follow and search their sites first when you’re struggling with learning a behavior.
When in a lockdown situation, one of the biggest problems for service dog handlers is that training at home is not at all the same as training and practicing outside of the home. Home is where relaxing occurs and, no matter the distractions, it tends to be much easier to train and practice when you’re on your home turf. So, the first step is to add distractions, whether that’s bouncing balls, dinner being ready, or another pet in the same room while you practice. Start with smaller distractions, of course, and work your way up, always setting your pup up for success.
When you’ve worked up on your distractions in the home, you can also practice outside, near your home (if possible), such as your front or back yard or even the hallway outside your apartment. If your dog is succeeding in those locations, you can add distractions in there. It’s never quite the same as being out of the house and in a public space, but it helps increase your dog’s focus and understanding of the behaviors to help them succeed once you’re able to go in public again.
That brings us to public access (PA) and how to practice when you’re in a lockdown. It does partially depend on how deep the lockdown is. One of the best ways you can practice PA is to go out to places such as parks, where you can have a lot of space from others while still practicing being around other people and dogs, even if it’s at a distance.
If you can’t go to a park, you can practice with various sounds and sights on your TV. It’s not perfect, but crowd sounds or dog sounds and the view of a crowd (or dog) can be at least marginally helpful for practice. If it’s just you who can’t leave (for one reason or another), having someone else take your dog to sit outside a grocery store or having a dog trainer take your dog for a training outing can be extremely helpful.
Regardless of what you can do during the lockdown, make sure that you give yourself and your dog plenty of breathing space when the lockdown ends. Expect that training will have regressed some and set yourselves up for success. If that means taking shorter outings at first, that’s okay. Give yourselves a break and don’t be harsh if there are some mistakes when you’re first able to go back out into the world.