5 Ways to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

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During National Service Dog Month, we’ve invited a few of the canine contributors at Dell to share their insights with us on Direct2Dell – as told to their humans. Today we hear from Maggie who shared with her human Travis Peterson tips for teaching an old dog new tricks.

Dell employee and his service dog at the office

Hey, who are you calling old!?

I’m in my early thirties, thank you very much! Well, I’m just a little over four years old in your human years. So be careful who you call old!

Let’s start over. My name is Maggie. I am a service dog for my human, Travis. We’ve been a team for a year and a half now, but I know we were always meant to be together. Travis says it best:

“The first day we met I was having an exceedingly rough day, the lowest levels of depression that comes with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I was in a room with others when Maggie came in. I looked up and she walked right to me, looked me in the eyes, ignoring all the others in the room. Immediately I felt a release. Just like that, Maggie helped me relax, and I felt a calm come over me.”

So that’s what I do – I help Travis cope with his heightened anxiety levels that came from his years in the military. When I sense him getting upset, I come right up to him for a snuggle, acting as a barrier between him and whatever is causing his angst. And I have to say, I’m pretty darn good at my job. In fact, Travis hasn’t needed medication for his PTSD since I came into his life. Now that’s an accomplishment!

I wasn’t always a service dog, though. In my younger years, I was actually in charge of keeping cattle in line. Things got a little hairy on that job. In fact, right before Travis and I became partners, a piece of cattle tag was found in my belly. What can I say? That cow needed to learn a lesson.

So I guess you can teach a not so old dog new tricks. I went from cattle herding to being a coping partner for Travis. Have you ever considered changing careers? Moving from one industry to another? It can be a bit daunting, so as an expert dog, let me give you some advice on how to teach an old dog new tricks:

1. Build on your skills and passions

Your resume may not be a laundry list of experiences within your newly chosen field, but that doesn’t mean you lack the skills to be hired and to be successful. My breed alone made me a good fit for my job as a service dog. I offer intelligence from my Labrador Retriever side and fearlessness from my Great Pyrenees side. I came into my new role knowing that I would be a good fit due to my temperament and willingness to learn. Beyond that, I just love people and I’m thrilled to have a job centered around my passion.

2. Be humble

Like I said, I was eager to learn, but I was also willing to be taught. You may have the passion it takes to enter your new career path, but are you willing to learn, to listen, to observe? I had to go back to school in order to land my current job with Travis. You may have been top dog in your old career, but with your new path, you may have to be a bit humble and start from the beginning.

3. Ask for help

Learning a new trick is overwhelming at times. When I was in school, there was so much I had to learn about humans and how to understand their feelings. They are a lot different from cows, that much I can tell you! However, when I didn’t understand, I asked for help. And I learned that people really like to help other people, but they can’t sense your feelings like I can. You have to actually ask for the help.

4. Be patient

The ideal job may not fall in your lap right away. You may have to sniff around at different opportunities before you find that perfect fit for the next step in your career. This is a big step; be patient, don’t rush into it.

5. Take the first step

It is a big step, but you are ready for it! All it takes to get started is that first step. Put yourself out there, reach out and open doors. Or, if you lack opposable thumbs like me, scratch at the door and make yourself heard and seen!

Dell service dog Maggie Maggie is a 110 pound Labrador Retriever/Great Pyrenees mix.  She was rescued off the streets of Austin, Texas, in June 2015 and quickly deemed fit to be trained as a service dog due to her calm demeanor and intelligence.  Her favorite pastimes are sleeping, eating and saying hello to everyone she meets.

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