One day I realized it was morally wrong to treat dogs any way other than with patience, understanding and kindness. I have come to appreciate that dogs are capable of deep feeling and that they have individual personalities and intellectual capacities, extraordinary at times, that can be clear guides as to how best to live with them… beyond all other species it is dogs who have evolved to be our partners, protectors, and helpmates.
-Jennifer Arnold, Through A Dog’s Eyes
How does Jennifer get dogs to do such complicated things when most of us have trouble with "fetch" and "stay?" At its core, her approach is as much about facilitating relationships and emotional connections between two species as it is about teaching dogs to perform tasks. Jennifer explores this philosophy in her book Through a Dog's Eyes, to be published by Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc., in September 2010.
Jennifer does not demand strict obedience and views herself as a teacher, not a trainer. She offers dogs a choice—a treat if they do what is asked, but no reward if they don't follow through. Her Choice Method encourages dogs to conceptualize, communicate, and think. It also encourages humans to watch and observe their canine partners.
In her twenty years with Canine Assistants, Jennifer has repeatedly observed that love and kindness motivate dogs to want to perform complex tasks—turning on light switches, opening doors, and fetching phones. These remarkable dogs act out of devotion for the people they care for, as opposed to feeling they must obey out of fear. The dogs help because they have learned to trust the people and the world around them.
The Canine Work Ethic
It is a dog's nature to cooperate. Jennifer's teaching methods succeed because she understands the science of how dogs think, solve problems, and bond with humans. According to researchers, domestication changed the dog's brain, hardwiring it to respond to humans. Although dogs have retained some characteristics of their wolf ancestors, they think and process information very differently.
Dogs are very good at reading our body language. Unlike wolves and chimps, dogs display an inborn ability to recognize and respond to humans' pointing gestures and eye movements. Their natural attentiveness enables Jennifer to teach them behaviors cued by eye signals alone.
It's doggie nature. We've always selected them for useful behaviors such as attentiveness, protectiveness, herding and, most importantly, displays of affection and loyalty. It's the perfect co-dependency; dogs are truly born to be our best friends.
Building the Perfect Partnership
Jennifer Arnold writes that "dogs are very emotional creatures and because of that they're very sensitive. The key is the relationship." Smart and eager to please, Canine Assistants' dogs easily learn to grasp the concept that the disabled person they've bonded with needs their help.
Many of the recipients of Canine Assistants have never even had a dog before. Yet, in just two weeks of Jennifer's coaching, recipients learn to act as benevolent leaders and view their dogs not only as helpers, but also as cherished companions and family members.
What about the average dog owner? Most have already taken the important first step of bonding with their dogs. Applying Jennifer's methods can improve the dog-human relationship, making sit, stay, and fetch achievable. Jennifer's philosophy frees both dogs and humans to realize their full potential as a team, and overcome physical, social, and emotional barriers in the process.