Yes, you read that correctly! I am comparing building a road to training a service dog. It follows the same process.
I was out walking my dog on a dead end road in our neighbourhood this morning. We have been watching as a new road has been built for a housing development. As I marvelled about the weekly changes, I was struck by the similarities of the overall process to training a service dog. I will share my thoughts here:
When a road is built, the contractors don’t just flatten the trees and lay out the concrete or asphalt. There is a process.
It Starts With a Plan
First a plan is made for the specific ground that will be developed.
Is the planned location a suitable one for a road? What is the slope of the land? Is the existing subsurface suitable to build on? Is it too wet? Or will too much material (rock) need to be blasted out? Are there obstacles that might be in the way that need to be planned around? Are there sensitive habitats that need to be protected or heritage trees or buildings?
How will the road be used? What types of vehicles will be travelling on this surface? Bicycles, private vehicles or large dump trucks?
An Assessment is Done
An on-the-ground survey and assessment of what is actually there will need to be done.
A Crew is Hired
A variety of people with the skills and equipment needed are identified and found.
The Practical Begins
Next, the practical begins. The vegetation, trees and large features like rocks or derelict houses are removed.
Next, the topsoil is scraped away. The underlying ground is further assessed to make sure it matches the expectations. Is it rock? Gravel? Sand? Clay? That will determine what and how much needs to go on top in each section of the road to improve stability.
The Infrastructure for Future Services are Put in Place
Then trenches are dug for sewer, water and gas pipes. Those pipes are laid in place and the trenches covered over. These will later serve the houses and businesses that the road is being built to allow access to.
A Strong Flexible Layered Foundation is Put in Place
Now comes the base layer for the road. Whether this is coarse rock like rip rap for wet areas to build up the height while allowing drainage, or coarse gravel or sand is determined by what they already found in the ground. They may need to build this layer up with several layers of gradually finer materials. Each layer gets packed down by large machinery to stabilize it.
Next, over that, they lay a coarse soil/gravel as a base for the asphalt. That gets packed down.
The Process is Done in Stages
The asphalt will be laid, in small patches, limited by how much asphalt each truck can carry and how much progress the workers can do each day. Each layer is rolled over with a heavy machine made for the job.
The New Road is Given Time to Settle
That asphalt is allowed to cool and a second and third layer may be put down.
Specific Parts of the Process Must be Done only at the Right Time and Under the Right Conditions
The process must be done at the right time of year, during the right weather and care must be taken to do the job correctly, or the road will soon degrade and be un-usable. Only vehicles that the road has been prepared for are allowed on that road or it will be damaged or age prematurely.
Regular Use and Maintenance Must be Done
Roads that are seldom used and maintained will also fall apart for different reasons than overuse. Roots of large trees break up the asphalt. The edges crumble and erode as high water gushes over it. The painted centre lines fade in the sun.
In addition, as the road ages, patches may need to be made. If enough pot holes appear or the road shows cracks or heaving, whole sections of the road may need to be repaved. This is ongoing maintenance.
Do you See the Parallels with Training Your Own Service Dog?
It’s a carefully planned, incremental process that starts with the right dog. Your dog must be prepared for each next step by making sure each previous step is done well.
If the foundations have not been laid, you will need to go back and fix them. This often takes more time than doing the job properly the first time. Or may result in needing to remove the dog from specific training until he’s ready for it.
Paying attention to the details as you socialize, environmentally enrich, train, proof and generalize skills will pay off. Asking just the right amount from your dog will help him gain confidence to move forward. Taking regular breaks (short breaks between training sessions, weekends off etc) helps the learning cement in his mind. Breaks that are too long will slow the process. Asking for too much can overwhelm him. Asking him to do tasks for you before he’s mature enough (emotionally or physically) can harm the process and risk washing your dog out.
There is ongoing maintenance training for the life of the dog. In some regions, certification needs to be renewed every year or two.
So think about the process your dog needs to go through the next time you see a road being built or repaired! Will your process measure up and stand the test of use and time?