How to Train Your Dog to Become a Service Dog

Hard
12-24 Months
Work

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.

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.

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.

The Socialize Method

Most Recommended
4 Votes
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Tasking Skills Method

Effective
3 Votes
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Public Access Skills Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Access
Teach your dog to get in and out of vehicles and to enter and exit buildings.
Step
2
Heel
Teach your dog to heel, walking next to the handler without pulling, matching the stride or speed of the handler.
Step
3
Off leash
Teach your dog to come when called and basic off-leash control, including ‘sit/stay’ and ‘down/stay’ commands.
Step
4
Leave it
Teach your dog to ignore environmental distractions, such as food, garbage, small animals, etc.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Apollo
Miniature Pinscher
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Apollo
Miniature Pinscher
8 Years

My dog gets very distracted easily and I wanted to know if there are anything I can do make him listen more

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
917 Dog owners recommended

Hi Olivia, There are definitely a few things that you can do to help him build his focus. First you can encourage him to respond to his name really well. This is quite simple. With him in front of you say his name and give him a treat. Do this for several sessions throughout the week, then after you have done that, when he is slightly distracted randomly say his name throughout the day and whenever he looks at you or comes to you give him a treat. As he improves increase the amount of distractions, slowly working up to very distracting things like new people, dogs, and smells. Second, you can practice teaching him obedience commands regularly for thirty minutes a day or several ten minute sessions whenever you get the time. If he already knows basic obedience then move onto intermediate obedience, or advanced if he is ready. Practicing obedience regularly can build his respect and trust of you, and it also increases his mental skills as he constantly learns new things, practices focusing, and receives rewards to motivate him, including life rewards like doing a sit before he is fed, having to heel in order to more forward on a walk, or doing a down before you pet him. Lastly, this one might be obvious, but be consistent. If you tell him to do something be prepared to make him do it. An example would be, if you call him to come and you know that he has heard and he understands the meaning of the command, but he is choosing to ignore you, go get him! When you go get him, attach a twenty, thirty, or fifty foot leash and then release him again. When he becomes distracted smelling that bush again, repeat telling him to come. If he comes, then make a big deal over it with lots of praise and possibly a treat, and then repeat the exercise four or five more times, until he remembers to come every time and is several times in a row. If he does not come, even with the long leash on, gently but quickly reel him in on the leash, have him sit, and then release him again. Do not scold him while he is in front of you though. Any discipline that happens needs to happen while he is being disobedient, not when he is in front of you obeying, even if you made him obey by reeling him in. After he sits, release him again, and then repeat the process several times, until he has come willingly four or five times in a row. When he comes willingly praise him and reward him. If it was forced by reeling him in, just quietly tell him "Good boy" when he gets there, then have him do a sit ,and a release him. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Apollo's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Amora
German Shepherd/Siberian Husky
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Amora
German Shepherd/Siberian Husky
1 Year

I'm training my service dog and I was wondering how to train her to brace and how to train her to catch me when I fall. Thank you so much.
Haelie

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Thank you for the question. Amora looks super alert and keen to learn - she's a beauty. I am sorry that I cannot help you with the brace and catch commands as I have never trained a service dog. I did find this site though, which is a service dog certifications site and perhaps you can contact them. They should have the information needed to get you on the right track for training and getting Amora her service dog qualifications. https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/ada-service-dog-laws/ The blog has tons of articles and you may find information there, too: https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/blog/ All the best to you and have fun with the training!

Add a comment to Amora's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Marco
Standard Poodle
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Marco
Standard Poodle
2 Years

I live in a apartment complex. I recently adopted Marco. How do I get him from barking at every little noise he may hear especially if I have the windows open on a nice day/night?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
917 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jill, Check out the Desensitize and Quiet methods from the article I have linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Also, check out this video series on barking for more specific examples of desensitizing dogs to various specific things that they bark at. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Marco's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Rover
Corgi Pit
7 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Rover
Corgi Pit
7 Weeks

I want to train my dog to be a Service Dog for my sever depression and anxiety. I want to train him to get my meds, do dpt, bring me water, alert for anxiety, interrupt self destructive behaviors, and more but I don't know how or when to start training.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
917 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kila, The first year of pup's life I would work on pup gaining fantastic socialization and manners, since pup will need to do wonderfully in public around all types of distractions to qualify. The public access part of training can actually be the hardest part, so start by just raising pup this year to be a fantastic, well socialized, mannerly dog in general. You can either do all the training yourself or utilize some classes and do most of the training yourself, hire a private trainer to guide your own training, or have someone else train in a board and train program. If you have the financial means, I would enroll pup in a quality puppy class before six months of age for the socialization benefit and to start basic obedience. When pup graduates that and is old enough for an intermediate class, I would pursue that or a Canine Good Citizen class, or both. Classes tend to be around $200 each depending on your area. So for six weeks of classes, classes are your most affordable paid option. Once you get into task training, I would find a trainer with service dog training experience to do occasional private training sessions with. Private training is close to $100 per session depending on the trainer and area, but you get to set the pace, what you want taught, ect... So I would save this option for doing the service dog training yourself, but having someone who can give you homework to practice with pup to train yourself, to evaluate how you are doing and offer guidance as you get stuck, and generally be able to consult as needed. If you plan to do the training completely on your own, or even partially on your own, there is a decent community of owner trainers on places like Instagram and facebook. I would connect with other owners who are doing what you want to do to be able to ask questions along the way and get resources from. Some of them may even live in your city to meet up with and practice in person with. Youtube has some channels where you can watch others doing the task training. That can be a good place to learn how to train those things on your own. I find videos are often needed for that type of training, so you can see how its being done when you don't have someone showing you in person. If you live in the USA, there is no official test or certification pup must have to qualify as a service dog, it's based on your medical need, per your doctor's note, pup's behavior being good enough for public access, and pup knowing at least one specialized task that directly helps with your medical need - in your case DPT and many if not all of the tasks you already listed would qualify. I would however have a service dog vest for pup, carry a laminated copy of ADA law concerning service dogs and what's required (and not required), pup's vaccination record, and your doctor's note (mostly for airlines and landlords), just so you are given access more easily to places, or if an issue comes up. Any point six months and beyond I would start the task training, but that training can wait until adulthood without causing issues in most cases. Most service dogs in official programs start that part of the training at one year. The public access and socialization should be your main focus during puppihood since those things are time sensitive, especially socialization. If you have additional time to train, task training can be started earlier. It doesn't have to be though. Check out the free PDF e-book After You Get Your Puppy, that can be downloaded at the link below. Especially the parts on socialization for an adaptable adult dog in the future. www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Rover's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd