How accessible are your family dog classes to persons with disabilities? When we think of Family Dog classes we tend to picture Mom, Dad and 2.5 kids. I often wonder how many senior citizens don’t attend class because the classes are at night and they can no longer drive at night since their cataract surgery or the potential clients that thinks they can’t hear well enough for group classes .
Along with all the doggy questions on your class registration forms is there a place for questions about potential disabilities the handler might have that would effect training both for the handler and the dog?
Another concern may be the accessibility of the training center. Is it in fact accessible to wheelchairs or walker? If the building is accessible are the bathrooms also accessible? What is the flooring? Does it stay slick even after accidents are cleaned up? What type and how bright is the lighting? Flickering fluorescent light can induce seizures in a susceptible client. Are the acoustics good enough for clients to hear directions?
As an instructor have you tried to train a dog while using a cane or wheelchair? Have you tried to put a gentle leader on a dog using only one hand?
We as trainers take so much for granted when we train and instruct. We talk about timing and generosity of rewards and we make it all look so easy. But a person with a disability might not see well enough to mark the moment of correct behavior. A person who is hearing impaired might feel slow and stupid when they can’t follow directions. Dispensing treats can be challenging for a client who is also using a walker or wheelchair.
Assistants in a class can help to relieve the burden for both the instructor or client. The assistant can click or otherwise mark the behavior for a visually impaired person while they give the reward. A chair can be pushed leaving the client’s hands free to train.
As an instructor we need to be creative when working with clients with disabilities. We need to explore their abilities and adapt training accordingly. The advent of operant conditioning and reinforcement training has really leveled the playing field.
Small dogs can present challenges to persons who have difficulty bending over. Incorporate physical prompts such as putting the dog up on a crate or table. You can teach downs and leash walking for small dogs on a picnic table. You can teach a small dog to target a stick so that the dog will follow the stick to teach heeling and the finish. The ideas are limitless.
Don’t forget your handouts. The print should be big enough to read without your bifocals. Then those who are visual impaired can use their magnifiers.
Family Dog Classes should be open to all who wish to attend. You as an instructor can make that happen .