How to Train Golden Retrievers as Service Dogs

Hard
6-12 Months
Work

Introduction

If you’ve ever seen someone out and about with a dog at their side when there aren’t normally dogs allowed in the area, there is a good chance that you’re looking at a service dog hard at work! Service dogs act as tools and assistants for disabled people in order for them to function in their day to day lives. Service dogs are delegated to care for many different types of disabilities including things like PTSD, autism, blindness, or other issues which may cause a disabled person to struggle with certain tasks throughout their day. Whether the service dog works in the home or out in public, they are trained to be incredibly well-behaved, alert, and functional.

One of the more popular breeds for service dog work is the Golden Retriever. Known for their popularity in movies like Air Bud and Homeward Bound, these dogs give off a fabulous amount of loyalty, intelligence, and willingness to please. With the ability to work and play until their tails fall off, as well as lay around and cuddle with their loving families, these dogs almost always make great service dog candidates.

Defining Tasks

While service dogs may seem like their work is second nature, the truth is, a colossal amount of training goes into developing the skills necessary to care for their disabled handlers. These dogs are often hand-picked from puppyhood, temperament tested, and then go through some fairly rigorous obedience training throughout the first year of their lives. Training a service dog takes a large commitment and is not for first-time owners. While some rescue dogs may also be proficient at service work, it may be a bit of a gamble.

To train your Golden Retriever, you’ll need to begin as soon as possible. Beginning with a puppy is ideal, though the right adult candidate can also learn and work just as well. You’ll be dedicating at least six months to a year on service training, so be aware that it is lengthy, but with the right amount of research and determination, training your hard-working pal to be an essential helper will come in time.

Getting Started

The first step to choosing the right service dog is temperament testing. You’ll need to have a candidate that is not fearful, aggressive, or nervous. These dogs must be confident and easy-going. Once you determine whether or not your dog is right for the job, then you’ll want to get the necessary tools together including things like treats or toys for a reward, a leash for outdoor training and exercise, a vest that notes your dog is a service dog in training, and a plan of action for your training. When a plan is established, then you can begin your training.

The Bare Basics Method

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Step
1
Determine a reward system
Depending on what your dog is motivated by, figure out whether treats, toys, or a mix of both function well as rewards for good behavior and progression.
Step
2
Hammer out the essentials
Figure out how much basic obedience your retriever will need to lay down a solid foundation. These commands should include ‘sit’, ‘heel’, ‘come’, ‘down’, ‘stay’, ‘speak’, ‘fetch’, ‘leave it’, and an exceptional handle on housetraining.
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3
Focus on mastery
Working on each and every command until your dog has mastered it is usually a good method to take. You’ll want him to have a good grasp on each and every new command without confusing him.
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4
Put it in context
Have your dog perform these commands and tasks as you need them. Have him sit and stay at your side while you read a book, fetch an item like a bottle of water or your keys, or heel while off-leash indoors.
Step
5
Make it fun
Treat each command like a game and reward generously for good behavior. Obedience should be a fun activity for your dog at all times, as obedience is the crux of all service dog work.
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The Complex Task Method

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Step
1
Determine your needs
If you’re training your retriever for yourself or for someone you know, figure out what sort of needs should be filled. Do you need help picking things up off the floor? Do you need help turning on or off the lights? Does your dog need to know how to bark and go get help if you fall?
Step
2
Make a list
Write each and every task you can think of that may be necessary later on. While you can’t expect your dog to be able to do everything, narrowing it down to the essential tasks is important.
Step
3
Go one by one
Like your basic obedience training, you’ll want to focus on mastering each and every one of these tasks as you go along. Doing too much at once can be confusing and counterproductive, so don’t try to ask too much.
Step
4
Practice frequently
Practice a task every day. Service dogs are on duty for at least a few hours every day while they’re considered service dogs, so you should be preparing her for continuous tasks throughout the day. However, do remember to take some time for breaks in between for some relaxation and rest.
Step
5
Reinforce heavily
Always reward for progression in these stages in order to introduce your dog to the concept of a job well done. Being on-duty is exciting and fulfilling and presents opportunities to earn rewards, bond, and explore.
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The Public Access Method

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Step
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Socialize early and often
Start to bring your retriever around all sorts of people and dogs, including puppies, barking dogs, strangers, children, and vehicles like cars, skateboards, and bicycles. Reward heavily for positive interactions with all of these things.
Step
2
Adjust to different places
Take your dog to wherever he is allowed. Some states have protections for service dogs in training, while others don’t. Be sure to look up the law where you live and determine whether you can take your service dog in training into an establishment that does not normally allow dogs. Explore plenty of different locations.
Step
3
Introduce distractions
Start asking for tasks in a public setting. Reward for continuing obedience. Start with areas with little distraction and quiet surroundings, then ramp up the amount of noise and distractions around you as you progress.
Step
4
Practice for long resting periods
Sometimes your dog will need to simply lie down and be still for long periods of time such as when you’re in a restaurant, library, or classroom. Practice this often, allowing him to still be ‘on-duty’ and still aware of your needs and instructions while also resting.
Step
5
Put your dog to the test
Look for local obedience certificates such as the Good Canine Citizen certificate and switch out your dog’s vest to properly indicate that he is a service animal. The ADA does not require official certification for service dogs, but you may be asked to identify that he is a working animal and that he does perform tasks. Be good role models to others as you work in public and remember that your dog is still a dog and should be allowed to take breaks from work when you’re home.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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