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A Day in the Life of a Demo Dog

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

When I started my apprenticeship at my first dog training job my mentor had this lovely five year old black lab named Birdie. I'm generally not a huge fan of labs. I work with them often and know how to train and motivate them, but they'll never be what I would choose for a personal dog. Except for Birdie. She was the nicest, sweetest dog in the world. She would follow my mentor around or lay at her feet if left out, curl up happily in her xpen for the day, or work tirelessly. Whenever we had a nervous or unsure or reactive dog, Birdie is who we would grab to work with that dog. My mentor would tell me to go grab her and take her to class so I would have a dog to practice with. I brought her into the room almost daily when we needed a neutral dog for a leash reactive dog. I honestly idolized that dog. She is absolutely the epitome of what a trainer's demo dog should be. When my mentor retired six months later it was the hardest thing to no longer get to see that incredible duo again.

I brought Anubi home at about the same time that I started my apprenticeship. He went through the Puppy Kinderplay daycare program and then their regular Daycare until he got too old (since he was intact) and then through the program for small group play and walks. We took eight classes that year and he went through our three week training daily training program. When all that was said and done, he was phenomenally well trained and mannered, but I would still look to Birdie and admire (and somewhat covet) the work she was doing. My mentor told me to be patient,and sometime over the last three years, Anubi fell into fulfilling that role just like Birdie did. And Amidi and Amalu are doing a fantastic job learning the ropes from him.

I talk about how I use my dogs for demo and neutral dog work all the time, but I don't think people really realize the incredible amount of work that is for a trainer's dog. Demo dogs are the unsung heroes of the training world and I am grateful to my dogs every single day for the work they do and I want to share that with you. Without them, I wouldn't be able to be nearly as effective as I am at my job.

Here is a typical day for my dogs from when I was at the training center.

10am- get up, I'd worked until 9pm the last night, so it's a later start than most jobs. Take the dogs out and give them a brief walk.

11am- do some training with my personal dogs. If it's nice out do some tracking or agility. If it's not maybe some flyball or rally or scentwork. When I'm done, load up the dogs in the car.

12:30pm- get to work, settle in. Put the dogs in their xpen, prep my treat pouch, check out my schedule for the day.

1:00pm- I have puppy class. It's all routine, teaching focus and bonding and handling skills, but today we're doing sitting politely as a neutral dog approaches. This is work that Amidi can handle since everyone is leashed, so I have the new apprentice go grab her while I continue to teach. They come back and I take Ami's leash. I demonstrate the procedure and then we go about practicing. I pair Ami with each puppy and they all eventually manage to accomplish it correctly, albeit after some pulling and jumping at the new dog.

2:00pm- a private lesson with an anxiety ridden, fearful puppy. He's terrified of other dogs so do the training in a quiet room first, then go bring Anubi in and put him in a Stand/Stay in the corner of the big training room, far away from the sheltie pup. Keep the puppy back so he's comfortable enough not to bark. If he barks, we move the puppy away while Anubi holds his stay. At the end of the session, we take leashes off and I release Anubi. He tenatively goes up to the puppy, turned sideways, bowing to invite interaction. The puppy bows and barks and then hides behind his owner's legs, terribly conflicted. Anubi ignores the puppy and we started to walk around the room. The shelties grows curious and starts to follow us both, sniffing at Anu as long as he's not looking. It's good progress from when the puppy couldn't stop backing.

3:00pm- I have a very dog selective Sharpei, whose owners would like her to be more dog neutral. They know she's not every going to be friendly, they'd settle for neutral. I do on-leash work around my coworkers' dogs and then end the session with a social. I bring down Amalu, still a puppy, but with excellent dog manners. This is the second time she's met this Sharpei. She bows and play barks and runs in circles around the Sharpei who stands their awkwardly and then sits down. Amalu gives up for a moment and then follows me around. The Sharpei joins us and again Amalu begins to bow and invite the other dog to chase. Finally, for the first time ever, the Sharpei awkwardly bows and begins to chase Amalu. We end that session there.

3:30pm- I'm working with a reactive Berger Blanc Suisse. The area is quiet with no dogs around, so I have the apprentice go grab Anubi from the xpen in the office. She brings him out and while I work with the BBS, the apprentice walks Anubi in the distance, making sure to stay far enough away that the dog I'm working stays under threshold. Anubi doesn't react when the BBS starts barking and pulling toward him when I make a mistake and he goes over threshold.

4:00pm- I have a consultation with a young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. He's been kicked out of Daycare at a different facility and the owners are worried that he's aggressive. It turns out, with little guidance from the Daycare staff, the puppy was too pushy for other dogs. While I firmly believe that it's the human's job and manage and intervene preemptively, it was very clear this CKCS puppy had just never had a dog tell him no. I go and grab Argos from the office. He's about the same size as the puppy and I am 100% certain he will tell the puppy off appropriately (something that is so hard to find in other dogs). As expected, the puppy paws him and mounts him and Argos puts up with surprisingly more than I expected until the pup pushes him too far. He vocalizes at the pup who backs off and immediately lays down next to Argos. The two dogs then proceed to bow and chase each other around the room. The owners are shocked and amazed.

5:00pm- a break for my demo dogs while I work with the Sharpei and Berger Blanc Suisse on other training.

6:00pm- lunch time for me. I eat and then let the dogs run in the big training room. At the end of the hour, Anubi and Amidi do some interior Scentwork searches.

7:00pm- Canine Good Citizen prep class time. Anubi hangs out on his bed in the classroom and then when we need a neutral dog for one of the exercises, I put him on leash and run him through the exercise. Even when a Doberman lunges at him from a foot away, he remains calm and collected and completely aloof form the other dog.

8:00pm- Control Unleashed class. Anubi hangs out on his bed and when I need him to demo, I have him get up. Typically he will demo something on leash, while leash dragging, and then without a leash to demonstrate that the behaviors shouldn't change just because you're holding the leash. Often he works off leash the entire class however. Every now and then a dog loses focus and runs up to him. He calmly ignores them or jumps up on a low platform to remove himself from the situation.

These days, with COVID and training independently, things look a little different, but I cannot begin to describe how difficult my job would be without solid dogs to rely on. Out of all my dogs' accomplishments, honestly solid demo and neutral dog work are some of the biggest.

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Nusrat jahan
Nusrat jahan

Fascinating insight into the life of a demo dog! It's incredible to see the hard work and dedication these dogs put into their jobs every day. Thank you for sharing this information and for educating us about the role of demo dogs in the public eye.

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