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How to Train Your Dog to Become a Service Dog

How to Train Your Dog to Become a Service Dog
Hard difficulty iconHard
Time icon12-24 Months
Work training category iconWork

Introduction

A service dog is a dog that is specially trained to assist someone with a disability, by performing a task or tasks for or with them. When we think of a service dog, most of us think of a guide dog, a dog that assists a vision-impaired person to navigate their environment, but service dogs can be utilized to help a host of people with different disabilities by performing specific tasks to assist people with hearing impairment, paralysis, and neurological disorders. Because service dogs must accompany their handlers in public places where dogs are not usually permitted, such as in restaurants, movie theaters, shopping centers, and libraries, service dogs must exhibit a range of behaviors in addition to the task for which they are specifically trained to aide their handler.

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Defining Tasks

Service dogs are specially trained to perform a task or work that a disabled individual needs in order to assist them and allow them access and independence. Service dogs may help visually, hearing, or mobility-impaired individuals or individuals with medical conditions such as seizures, low blood sugar, neurological disorders, and psychiatric conditions, which require service dogs to perform a variety of tasks to meet their owner's needs. Because service dogs need to accompany their owners in a wide variety of public settings, their temperament, socialization, training, and manners needed to accommodate the requirements of accompanying their owners on their daily activities. Service dogs need to be quiet, calm, focused, socialized, and obedient. A range of training and behaviors are required of all service dogs, in addition to their special work.

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Getting Started

Not all dogs have the temperament to become service dogs. While all breeds are acceptable, some are more prevalent as service dogs because of their natural temperament and abilities. Making sure your dog is in good health and of an appropriate natural disposition is important before initiating service dog training. Service dogs should be spayed or neutered. Your dog will need to be well socialized, so you will need to establish experiences with a variety of people and places, to ensure appropriate socialization. Using a leash and treats to conduct basic obedience commands, and leash manners will also be required.

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The Socialize Method

Most Recommended

4 Votes

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Most Recommended

4 Votes

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1

Expose

Take your dog on lots of walks and excursions. Interact with other people and dogs. Expose your dog to potentially frightening situations, crowds, noise, unexpected activity.

2

People

Visit friends and neighbors with children. Have your dog play with children, who may not always have impeccable manners and make loud noises and unexpected movements. Ensure your dog is comfortable in this situation. Visit friends with seniors in the home. Take your dog to homes with lots of people around, or invite lots of friends to your home so your dog is used to being in a crowded room full of people, noise and activity.

3

Ignore others

Teach your dog to ignore attention from other people, and to focus on his handler. Reward the ‘look at me’ command. Have assistants provide a distraction, and if the dog attends the other person, have them stop and ignore him, When your dog's attention returns to you, reward. Teach your dog that ignoring others and paying attention to the handler is rewarded.

4

Off duty

Teach your dog when he is “off duty”. Provide your dog a command for ‘play’ or ‘relax’ and reward him for playing with another person. Teach him to distinguish between being on duty and off.

5

Bomb proof

Teach your dog to be calm and non-agressive in a variety of strange, irritating, and possibly frightening situations. Do not overwhelm the dog. Introduce scenarios one at a time, reward calm behavior, and ignore or correct agitation or anxiety.

The Tasking Skills Method

Effective

3 Votes

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Effective

3 Votes

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1

Identify task

Determine what task will be required. A variety of skills, from guiding to alerting to noises, seizure, low blood sugar, or anxiety may need to be taught.

2

Break it down

Break the task down into small steps, use clicker training to cue the first step: e.g. approach keys, provide treats.

3

Shape

Shape the task further, add on the next step in the sequence for the task: e.g. pick up keys in mouth, provide treats.

4

Complete

Teach your dog the remaining steps of the task. For example, click for bring keys and reward, click for drop keys and reward, etc., until the taks is completely shaped.

5

Practice

Repeat the task in a variety of environments and with distractions. Keep training sessions short, about 5-10 minutes long, multiple times per day, until the series of behaviors to complete the task are accomplished.

The Public Access Skills Method

Least Recommended

1 Vote

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Least Recommended

1 Vote

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1

Access

Teach your dog to get in and out of vehicles and to enter and exit buildings.

2

Heel

Teach your dog to heel, walking next to the handler without pulling, matching the stride or speed of the handler.

3

Off leash

Teach your dog to come when called and basic off-leash control, including ‘sit/stay’ and ‘down/stay’ commands.

4

Leave it

Teach your dog to ignore environmental distractions, such as food, garbage, small animals, etc.

5

Potty on command

Teach your dog to go potty on command, so that he can relieve himself at an appropriate time. Reward your dog for going pee or poop when given the appropriate command. Monitor your dog's bathroom schedule, and be attentive so you can catch him when he needs to go and provide the command. Repeat over a number of weeks.

Written by Amy Caldwell

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/08/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Freddy Sammy and Pablo

Dog breed icon

Jack Russell Terrier

Dog age icon

Eight Years

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Question

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I have three male dogs that need to be trained at the same time and their ages are two four year olds and a 8 year old and they're all boys and my boys need to learn how to be quiet and not to go pee and poop in the house

Jan. 18, 2023

Freddy Sammy and Pablo's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, How you address the barking depends a lot on the type and times pups bark. Check out the article and video series I have linked below. I would teach the Quiet command from the Quiet method either way. I suspect their is some desensitization or boredom barking that also needs addressing; the additional videos and methods in the article will address those types of barking too. Barking article and Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Barking Video series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a As far as potty training, I recommend crate training each dog and using the Crate Training method from the article I have linked below. Since they are adults, and the article was written for puppies, you can add 1-2 hours, 1 hour at first, to the times listen in the article. For example, instead of taking pups potty every hour, you can take pup potty every 2-3 hours. Instead of crating pup if they don't go potty then trying again in 30 minutes, crate pup and try again after its been 1.5 hours. Crate Training method - this method mentions a large breed but the method also works for smaller breeds. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside If pups are not used to the crate yet, they need to get used to one anyway if they will be doing some service work. Use the Surprise method from the article I have also linked below to get them used to the crate. Surprise method: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 18, 2023

Dog nametag icon

Robin

Dog breed icon

Chihuahua lab mix

Dog age icon

1 Year

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Question

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He's reactive when it comes to men but he does fine around anyone else. He knows some advanced commands but mostly basic, he pulls whenever he sees an animal or someone ride a bike, scooter, skateboard, etc... He's not fixed so I think that's part of the reason he's reactive and aggressive. I'm still trying my best on obedience training him but he really only listens to me when were in pet stores, not in big crowds at the park, and in small crowds. He doesn't really like the outdoors as much as he likes the indoors, he listens so much better when indoors anywhere.

April 17, 2022

Robin's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Auriah, The reactivity to men is my main concern. Often, obedience training can be improved with a lot of work, but the reactivity alone disqualifies public access. Are you just starting out with pup and wondering if they could become a service dog, or have you been working toward this goal with pup for a while? If you are assessing pup, trying to decide whether to begin training pup, I would let pup be a pet and start fresh with a new young dog you can do more early socialization with, mainly because of the reactivity toward men. If you have been working with pup for a while and seeing improvement but are stuck, I would find a training group that has multiple trainers where you can work on counter conditioning around men with the training staff's help. I would either go through a private intermediate obedience course with that same group, or just join an intermediate obedience class (a class will save money over private training, but the reactivity needs to be addressed through private training first). I would also connect with other owner trainers on social media like instagram and facebook to learn from others who are doing what you are doing and have a little bit more of a support group if you plan to train primarily on your own. Sometimes you can even find others in your city who have already do this and regularly practice training things like tasks or public access together. Obviously be careful meeting up with anyone you don't know yet though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

April 18, 2022


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