Jump to section
A service dog is considered a working animal, not a pet. Service dogs must meet exacting criteria in order to obtain service dog registration. A service dog is not the same as a therapy dog, who goes into hospital settings with a handler to bring comfort to patients. Rather, a service dog serves a definable function to aid her owner in living with a disability. Service dogs can help people who are vision or hearing impaired, suffer from seizures or have trouble moving, or are in a wheelchair. Service dogs can also assist people who suffer from PTSD, severe anxiety or depression.
While most service dogs are labs or retrievers, very large breeds like the Great Dane or Pyrenees can help people who need a lot of physical assistance, are very tall or who simply prefer the character of these breeds.
While the Great Dane was originally bred to hunt boar, the breed has not been used for this purpose for a very long time. Instead, Great Danes act as loving companions to their family members. While the ferocious sounding bark and immense size of the Great Dane will certainly scare off any intruders, Danes are typically gentle and unconcerned with strangers when out and about, as long as the Dane is well socialized. If you are considering a Great Dane for service work you will need to make sure your Dane is well socialized and understands how to control her huge body in and outside of the home.
Not all dogs of any breed are suitable for service work. Your Great Dane should be mild tempered, focused on her handler, and calm in all situations to be eligible for service work. No matter what the disability, a disabled person must be able to rely completely on their service dog. A dog who is distractable, easily frightened, or who becomes bored of her work will not serve well. To assess your Great Dane, teach her simple obedience and then take her into a variety of situaions and ask for the obedience. If she is able to focus and do her work despite distractions, and if she remains mild mannered and good-tempered throughout, she may be a good fit for service work.
The Practice Sessions Method
Think about the behaviors that you will ask of your Dane. Break them into the simplest steps that you can, keeping in mind how you will build the training goal from the individual steps.
Find out what motivates your Great Dane and have a wide variety of rewards available. Keep training sessions short so that your Dane remains motivated as she grasps new concepts.
Build desired behaviors by demonstrating the need and asking for a simple behavior. If you want help standing up, ask your Dane to stay still in front of you. Reward her for standing still until she will stand steadily for some time before getting her reward.
As your Dane becomes more comfortable with being asked to stand, put more and more weight on her shoulders, rewarding her with each increase.
Practice in multiple settings
Practice the behaviors you need from your Dane, as well as behavior in public and outside, around other animals, etc. Be sure to practice being nervous with your Dane, as you will likely be nervous on test day.
The Model Dog Method
Learn how to meet needs
If you are getting a second service dog because yours is getting older, or otherwise have access to a dog trained to do what you need, your Great Dane can learn from this dog.
Pair the dogs
Let the dogs spend enough time together to get used to each other and form a bond. Encourage your Dane to mimic the other dog in everything, rewarding her anytime she does the same thing as the other dog.
Elicit the desired behavior from the trained dog. If your Dane shows interest, praise and reward her, even if she didn't demonstrate the behavior itself.
Practice until she repeats
Keep practicing until your Great Dane mimics the behavior of the trained dog. Reward her enthusiatically.
Alternate and practice alone
Alternate doing behaviors with both dogs until your Dane is doing the behavior reliably, then practice alone. Polish behavior and practice for the test before applying.
The Together Constantly Method
Assist through bonding
If you are able to be with your Great Dane constantly, you can train her continuously throughout your time together so she will learn what she needs to do to assist and be constantly aware
Learn what motivates your Dane
Does your Dane like fetching a toy or does she drool for a particular treat? Learn what motivates your Dane so you can reward and motivate her. Use daily food and chew toys as well as rewards.
As your Dane becomes deeply bonded to you, begin showing her your needs and how she can help to assist you. If you need help getting up, very slowly put weight on her shoulders, never her back.
Praise and reward
Praise your Great Dane as she works for you and reward her every time. While she won't always recieve rewards for every act of helping you, at the beginning praise and rewards teach her what is desired.
Study the certification test thoroughly and make sure your Great Dane is polished in all situations before beginning the certification process. Try to work with her in situations that make you nervous, like the test will, so that she is prepared for your emotional changes.
By Coral Drake
Published: 03/02/2018, edited: 01/08/2021