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Free Work: A Structured Enrichment Method for Educating Dogs

Free Work was developed by Sarah Fisher, inspired by a dog named Henry who disliked physical contact. It evolved from Tellington Touch training methods.

Dog enrichment activities. Free Work is a form of enrichment activity developed by Sarah Fisher as an integral part of the Animal Centred Education in Bath, UK. It is a structured method for educating and supporting dogs of all ages, providing a safe and rewarding foundation to build further learning.

How Free Work came about

Free Work takes its cue from Telhgnton touch training, a widespread practice commonly called T-touch. This type of teaching designed for pets is based on tactile stimulation and proprioception, i.e., the perception of one’s own body without sight.

The theory behind these techniques originated in the 1970s and was devised by Canadian trainer Linda Tellington-Jones. When T-Touch Training for pets was first developed, working with dogs on leashes was a new concept. This type of practice has many advantages and can highlight postural difficulties and offer ways to modify various behaviours and improve gait and balance.

The wide variety of textures/surfaces used today were not originally part of the basis of T-Touch. Various surfaces and other sensory objects were inspired by the ‘dogs at the ‘Battersea‘ centre almost two decades ago, as many disliked physical contact, i.e., body contact.

Allowing dogs to interact with various surfaces has improved and saved the lives of those uncomfortable or reluctant to contact humans.

Key benefits include mental stimulation, increasing confidence, allowing natural behaviors, creating positive associations, and identifying physical issues.
To set up Free Work, you need spaces with different surfaces, heights, foraging areas, rewards, toys, and water. Start simple right in your home.

It is at Sarah Fisher’s centre that, thanks to a brilliant young Buil Breed mix named Henry (a shelter dog who still lives on the farm), Free Work has become a structured method for educating and supporting dogs (and other animals) of all ages. Providing a safe and rewarding foundation makes it possible to build new experiences further and teach the dog how to approach the world or overcome its fears safely.

Although many T-Touch practitioners include the first steps of Free Work in their sessions, Free Work and detailed observations are not considered part of T-Touch. Hence, the two disciplines split, and Animal Centred Education (ACE for short) was born in October 2018.

The advantages of Free Work

  • Allows your dog to be a dog!
  • Mentally stimulating.
  • Increases confidence. – Low-impact activity.
  • Allows your dogs to engage in natural foraging and hunting behaviours.
  • Encourage your dog to explore.
  • Creates independent thinking.
  • Allows your dog to relax without tasks or expectations of what they should or should not do.
  • Promotes problem-solving skills.
  • Creates positive associations with new environments for anxious dogs if the session is set up correctly.
  • It can be used to identify physical problems.

What do you need to get started with free Work?

  • A small space to set up your free work area. It does not need to be bigger than your kitchen, living room or garden.
  • Different surfaces include towels, bath mats, whiteboards, cloths, blankets, bubble wrap, and car mats.
  • Different heights, e.g., boxes, plastic steps, inverted pots.
  • Different foraging areas, e.g., buckets with torn newspapers, mats to lick, large plastic bowls with different types of clothes or cloth, rippled surfaces to lick, boxes with toilet roll tubes, etc.
  • Different rewards, e.g. soft/wet (e.g. spreadable cheese, peanut butter, wet food), as licking helps produce endorphins. Or more intricate shapes such as kibble, hard chews such as deer antler, coffee wood, ox sinew, etc. (chewing can help the animal to feel more comfortable). (chewing can help decompress the jaw and help with relaxation). Different tastes will keep the area attractive for the dog while allowing you to identify his preferences. Spreading treats on the ground around the area also serves to encourage foraging.
  • Different dog toys. A selection of other toys (hard and soft) around the area will allow play and investigation.

Tips before starting

Randomly place objects, rewards, water bowls. Bring in dog off-leash, observe behaviors and body positions as they investigate and engage.
Essential tips – do Free Work “naked” without restraints, provide ample water, work with one dog at a time, and don’t rush the dog or have expectations.
  1. Free Work is best done ‘naked’. Remove the lead, collar, harness and any clothing from the dog before taking him to the free work area so that there are no restrictions or outside influences. Only do this if it is safe, and if it is necessary to keep the dog on a leash, try to keep it unrestrained so that no restraint is applied.
  2. Always keep water available for the dog during Work. Ideally, several bowls, one inside and one outside the free working area, in case it is not comfortable enough to use the one in the training area. Eating, chewing and licking will increase thirst.
  3. If you have several dogs, doing this activity with one at a time is good. It will allow the individual to relax without any outside influence. This can also avoid any conflict or tension between the likes.
  4. Do not rush the dog. He must do this in his own time and can come and go as he pleases. Remember, there should be no expectations, so give your dog ample time to get the full benefits.

How to set up the Free-Work area

It’s as simple as that! Choose your training space. Select and collect your chosen ‘equipment’ items (objects to create a mixture of different surfaces, heights and foraging activities).

Place the objects and rewards randomly in the training space.

Place a water bowl on the outer edge of the free-working area and one between the objects. Bring the dog into the training area (preferably ‘naked’ if possible) and let him be himself! He will naturally begin to sniff and investigate. Observe and note any path difficulties or unusual positions of the dog’s body. This type of activity may make the dog very tired, primarily if he is not used to doing it, so do not worry if the dog decides to go and rest at the end of the training.

Contact an accredited educator who can support the dog and owner in this fantastic activity to learn more about Free Work.

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Your reading contribution was significant to us.

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The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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Written by Frenchie Breed

The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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