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

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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.
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The Public Access Skills Method

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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.
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The Tasking Skills Method

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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.
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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 Trainier
81 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

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