Summertime in Alaska–Paddleboarding as a training opportunity
Therapeutic benefits of the outdoors and physical activity
Alaska’s unique climate and seasonal patterns provide the Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) service dogs-in-training based in Fairbanks, Alaska a different set of socialization experiences than other PPH sites around the country. While Alaskan winters are long and comprised of mostly dark, snow-filled days, which allow for fun activities such as skijoring and snowshoeing, Alaskan summers bring many opportunities for service dogs-in-training and their trainers to learn new skills and practice service dog commands in various situations. At PPH Northwest Regional Headquarters in Alaska, there is a short window of time when the ground is not covered in snow and the water is not solid ice.
Combine the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors in the sunshine with physical activity, add a couple of dogs, and you’ve got a win! Paws for Purple Hearts dogs not only serve the Warrior with whom they are placed, but the dogs provide therapy to Warriors throughout their entire 2 years of training to become service dogs, from Puppy Petting to Social Therapy and Canine Assisted Warrior Therapy. Water sports like swimming, flyfishing, stand-up paddleboarding, and boating, as well as biking, music festivals, and parades are all examples of exciting activities that PPH dogs will participate in this summer in Alaska.
Training can be fun
The PPH Alaska dogs are learning to ride on the stand-up paddleboard during our Canine Assisted Warrior Therapy sessions. Just as in learning any new skill, the dogs are introduced to the paddleboard bit by bit. At first, the Warrior participants praise and reward the dogs for approaching the paddleboard. As the dog becomes comfortable putting four paws on the paddleboard on land, the Warrior participants decrease the stability of the board by gradually pulling the paddleboard into the water while praising the dogs for success. Starting with short trips around the calm waters, the dogs can learn to love being on the paddleboard. Not only does paddleboarding increase confidence, increase the canine-human bond, build muscle strength, and increase balance, but it is also a great way to generalize service dog commands to new situations!
Service dog commands that we work on during paddleboarding:
- “jump on” directs the dog to put all four paws up onto a surface
- “turn” directs the dog to turn its body 90 or 180 degrees
- “here” (index finger point) directs the dog to stand in a particular place
- “stand”, “sit” or “down” & “stay” instructs the dog to remain still in a specific position
- “wait” requests that the dog remain in the general area, allowing movement
- “off” directs the dog to take all four paws off the surface onto the ground (or into the water)