During its five year history, the service dog association TEODORS has trained eight guide dogs and one assistance dog, which, pursuant to Latvian legislation, are registered by the Agricultural Data Centre (ADC). Bearing in mind that a service dog’s skills deteriorate over time, it is vital to occasionally refresh and augment them. Since these dogs are entrusted with keeping a person safe and even alive, for more than a year now, the TEODORS organization in Latvia has been testing and certifying the skills of its service dogs.

Thus, from May 10-13 this year, a professional skills training camp was held for service dogs and their masters in Smiltene. It was attended by 12 participants with dogs. Three of these dogs took exams to become fully qualified guide dogs while another took its first steps in undergoing training in the performance of the duties of an assistance dog. Training at the camp was conducted by seven dog trainers from Latvia, Estonia and Finland, while exams and the certification of dogs were overseen and verified by Alan Aula, a professional judge responsible for assessing the working abilities of dogs.

Smiltene. All together

It should be noted that the training put Latvia’s service dogs and their masters under considerable pressure to receive enough points and the certification, and for them to pass the exam judged by Alan. Judging was strict; therefore each candidate received detailed feedback from the judge and recommendations as to how they could improve their skills.

Prior to the tests, the participants were assisted in their final preparations by two trainers from Finland Juha Herttuainen and Taina Ansela, as well as Zaiga Kļaviņa and Egīls Vinogradovs from Latvia. Meanwhile, three trainers from Estonia Natalja Stankevita, Aļona Gerassimova and Anu Lokke spent time working with the assistance dogs and their masters.

Smiltene. Obedience

The results of the training camp’s participants were pleasing, because all three young dogs passed their exams and received certificates entitling them to be registered with the ADC and to receive guide dog diplomas. Judging took place in two parts: during the first part, Alan judged the cooperation of the dog and its master along the route around the park and around town with irregular crossings and streets with and without curbs. In turn, during the second part, the obedience of the dogs was put to the test in situations in which the dog was instructed to lay down, given the commands to “stay” or “wait”, while, with the guidance of an assistant, its master disappeared from the dog’s range of vision. Five minutes later, the master would return to the dog, which did not leave its place and got up only when a command was issued.

When the overall results were collated, it was found that the exam candidates had finished in the following order:

  • Aleksejs Volkovs with Serena, 275 points (182 on the route + 93 for obedience) – 1st place
  • Inese Plūme with Anneken, 254 (191 + 63) – 2nd place
  • Erkki Virtanen with Resu, 251 (162 + 89) – 3rd place

As we can see from the results, Inese has to work on Anneken’s obedience, because she received the fewest points of all the camp participants for obedience.

In turn, certification was undertaken by six participants with dogs, who lined up in the following order:

  • Viktors Sergejevs with Neira
  • Solveiga Vildmane with Ulla
  • Andris Ošāns with Feja
  • Natalja Muravjova with Latte
  • Līga Ķikute with Rīga
  • Beāte Bringule with Zane

After the presentation of the certificates and diplomas, the organization’s kinologist Zaiga Kļaviņa nominated Viktors Sergejevs and Neira to take part in the international guide dog competition that will take place in Finland this autumn. A second competitor from Latvia will be nominated later on.

The organisation would like to thank all the camp participants for their stamina, efforts and positive attitude, which proved beneficial both to themselves and the camp organizers. We’re enormously proud of the three assistance dogs and their masters, who not only worked intensively with the trainers during their time in camp, but also shared their experience, thus demonstrating new cooperation abilities. Vital support was provided by Hildegunn Grønvold from Norway and her assistance dog Koni, who demonstrated various ways of engaging in active leisure, as well as a way of protecting a dog from overheating.

Training was also attended by Elīna Veinberga with her budding assistance dog Grace from England, who is only a year old. During the camp, trainer Zaiga tested Grace and found that the dog has considerable potential to become a service dog, naturally delighting Elīna, who is now determined to teach her dog everything that a service dog needs to know.

Smiltene. City tour

At the conclusion of the camp, the organization’s cooperation partner, the Latvian Library for the Blind had arranged an excursion around Smiltene. During the excursion, the participants were introduced to the history of Smiltene, visited the historical building of the Red Cross’s Smiltene Hospital, touched the monument to the “Fractured Family”, which is a dedicated to those deported to Siberia, learned about the history of Smiltene Lutheran Church, and touched the memorial stone that is dedicated to Krišjānis Barons, who visited Smiltene in 1895 during his trip from Tērbata to Dundaga. Everyone who took part in the excursion did so in the company of their guide dogs or assistance dogs, which proved to be a more time-consuming process than usual, because of the roads that had to be crossed. Therefore, we are very grateful to drivers for their patience and to the residents of Smiltene for respecting our request not to disturb or stroke the service dogs.

Smiltene. Pāreja

The key to the success of the training camp was its voluntary assistants, who included two foster mums of prospective service dogs: Liene Šternberga with Mango and Santa Aumeistere with Zuze. Equally important was the support of Vaira Štolcere, Managing Director of Brūzis Hotel, who provided everything necessary for the training camp, including funding the coffee breaks.

In conclusion, I would like to stress the importance of such camps not only to the masters of the service dogs themselves, but to society as a whole. Such activities improve dogs’ skills and teach society to co-exist, because it is ignorance and a lack of understanding that can cause conflicts when service dogs enter shops of cafés. During these training camps, information leaflets were distributed to local residents, while the participants themselves were offered audio recordings of information materials recorded in the audio recording studio at the Latvian Library for the Blind.

Smiltene. Zaiga

The positive results of the training camp were a wonderful gift to the TEODORS service dog association on the occasion of its fifth birthday, therefore it was a great joy to be part of this and to support it with my work. Thank you to the project sponsor: a/s “Latvijas Valsts meži” in the social assistance program, which is administered by the “Ziedot.lv” Foundation. And many thanks to the project cooperation partner: the Latvian Library for the Blind, which provided seminar participants with materials written in both Latin and Braille (for the blind) script.

Gunta Bite
Public Relations and Project Manager
Service Dog Association TEODORS

Photo: Liene Šternberga

Riga, May 2018

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