Fatigue is a common complaint among people with different kinds of disabilities. In some cases it may be a side effect to medication and in others it may be a symptom of the condition itself.
While training a dog is fun, it’s also tiring. Dog trainers supporting people with disabilities in training a dog for service work need to be prepared to implement strategies to mitigate fatigue. Two important points to be aware of:
- Fatigue is not one size fits all. The amount of fatigue varies greatly from person to person and even for the individual from day to day.
- People who do not have any medical limitations tend to underestimate what is tiring for a person with a disability. Consider that for someone with a severe pain condition or pulmonary impairment, one outside the home activity a day might be exhausting. Activities of daily living, like taking a shower or getting dressed, can be tiring for people with disabilities.
When working with someone who experiences fatigue, dog trainers should consider not just dog training strategies that can help make training easier but also facilitate dog husbandry and care:
- Training while seated or even while lying down
- Use of tools and strategies that reduce the need to move around such as tossing treats, shaping, use of a target stick or the Pet Tutor
- Training earlier in the day, or when energy level is higher
- Implementing thoughtful training plans and prioritizing essential training goals
- Emphasizing strong technical training skills, to allow owners to accomplish goals more quickly
- Incorporating training practice into daily routine as much as possible, such as asking for sit and eye contact at doorways
- Hiring a pet sitter to provide exercise or help with feeding
- Using food fill-able enrichment toys, lure toys and providing education on scent games and other activities that do not require a lot of energy and can help exercise and tire the dog
- Using board and train or day training if needed to more efficiently address training challenges
It is always important for anyone choosing a dog to consider energy levels when they select a dog. This is critical for a person who has a disability that causes fatigue – especially if pushing through fatigue runs a risk of worsening the disability. Most of the time, people with disabilities and pet owners alike over-estimate their energy levels and ability to meet the needs of an energetic dog significantly. People with disabilities need to consider their abilities and support systems on their worst health days when they choose a dog to owner-train.