New Therapy Dog Program Requires Dogs to be Trained Without Force

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Therapy dogs provide comfort and companionship to people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, long term care facilities and reading programs for children. Up until now, there has been no industry-wide or organizational requirement for these dogs to be trained without force or for evaluators to demonstrate a commitment to force-free training or stress-free handling techniques. Canine Connection LLC in Dubuque, Iowa has set an international precedent by launching a new therapy dog program which requires therapy dog candidates to be trained without force and evaluators to demonstrate a commitment to force-free training and handling.

Canine Connection LLC, a professional dog training service in Dubuque, Iowa launched the first force-free therapy dog certification program this past March and certified its first therapy dog on April 1, 2012. Canine Connection Positively Trained Certified Therapy Dogs is raising the bar for therapy dog programs. Founder, Cindy Ludwig started the program because of a need to bring therapy dog training and testing into the 21st century with modern, force-free requirements.

The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior advise pet owners to avoid trainers who use shock, choke chains, pinch collars and other dominance-based or aversive methods and tools of training. Canine Connection LLC is committed to force-free training and behavior modification and adheres to the guidelines set forth by these and other professional organizations.

Ludwig, a registered nurse as well as professional dog trainer with a graduate degree in education believes that dogs that provide comfort and companionship to people who are ill or lonely deserve the same compassion as the people they serve.

Prior to becoming a full time professional dog trainer Ludwig worked for three decades in the medical field, first as a certified critical care nurse, home health care nurse and emergency nurse, and later in healthcare administration where she developed new and innovative programs in the areas of education and competency assessment, credentialing, quality improvement, compliance, safety and risk management. She has been teaching professionally for 40 years and has a master's degree in higher and adult education.

Ludwig founded the Canine Connection therapy dog program with a vision, not only for the force-free requirement but also with a more educational approach than has been the practice of therapy dog programs of the past.

Ludwig received her formal education in dog training from the highly respected Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior. The Karen Pryor Academy offers an intensive 6 month-long program for experienced dog trainers to learn the science and art of advanced dog training, commonly referred to as "clicker training." Clicker training is the force-free method of animal training used to teach marine mammals. It is also used in zoos, animal shelters, and veterinary offices across the country to facilitate animal husbandry. Clicker training, popularized by Karen Pryor and other force-free proponents in the early 90's, was first used by Keller Breland, a graduate student of the famous American psychologist, B.F. Skinner in the middle of the last century.

Since the 1990's clicker training has become increasingly popular as a highly effective and versatile method of animal training and behavior modification. It is based on the science of operant conditioning and the use of positive reinforcement without aversive punishment.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states, "Research shows that dogs do not need to be physically punished to learn how to behave, and there are significant risks associated with using punishment (such as inhibiting learning, increasing fear, and/or stimulating aggressive events). Therefore, trainers who routinely use choke collars, pinch collars, shock collars, and other methods of physical punishment as a primary training method should be avoided."

Ludwig says that although the standards for the new program are high for evaluators as well as dog candidates, she believes the higher standards with a fresh approach to training and testing will be beneficial to all involved - dogs and evaluators, as well as the people and places the dogs visit. "Dogs trained with positive reinforcement are happier and safer to be around," says Ludwig.


Canine Connection LLC is leading the way with force-free positive reinforcement training in the tri-state area of northeast Iowa, northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin. Owner, Cindy Ludwig is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner with graduate education in animal behavior. In addition to private and group lessons, Canine Connection offers pet sitting/dog walking services, behavior modification for fearful and aggressive dogs, service dog training and therapy dog testing and training with the company's new force-free therapy dog program.

For more information about the Canine Connection Positively Trained Certified Therapy Dog Program, visit or contact Cindy Ludwig at Canine Connection LLC at 563-451-9177.

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Cindy Ludwig, M.A., KPA-CTP
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