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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Holly
Golden Retriever
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Holly
Golden Retriever
4 Months

My puppy was around food aggressive dogs for the first two weeks I had her, she learned that habit now whenever she’s around any other dogs and has become possessive with her food and other dogs bowls. How do I reverse this habit? She is now the only dog in the household but I want to fix that issue for when she’s around other dogs

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1125 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alexa, I would start by preventing the resource guarding from becoming an issues around humans too. Work on getting puppy used to touch and handling. Use puppy's daily meal kibble to do this. Gently touch an area of puppy's body while feeding a piece of food. Touch an ear and give a treat. Touch a paw and give a treat. Hold his collar and give a treat. Touch his tail gently and give a treat. Touch his belly, his other paws, his chest, shoulder, muzzle and every other area very gently and give a treat each time. Keep these times calm and fun for pup. Work on hand feeding, and also practice feeding him his meals in sections. Feed 1/4 of his meal, practice making him wait before digging in by holding onto the bowl, pulling it back whenever he tries to dive in (without letting go of it first), and calmly saying Wait, then after a few repetitions of this, when he hesitates and doesn't dive in while your hand is still on it, let go of the bowl and say "Okay!" in an excited tone of voice, and let him begin eating as a reward for waiting. As he eats, when he isn't growling, toss treats next to his bowl as you walk past him. Practice this from a few feet away until he begins to look forward to you approaching. As he improves, decrease the distance that you pass from. When he finishes the first serving, toss a treat behind him and pick up the bowl while he is distracted eating the treat. Give the next portion, have him practice waiting again, then do the treat tosses while he east again. Practice this until he has all of his meal kibble portions at that mealtime. Do this at every meal as often as you can. As he becomes relaxed and begins to like you approaching him during meals, get closer and closer, so that you are eventually placing treats into his bowl while he eats. Ease into this so that he stays relaxed during the process. When pup does great with your presence right by the bowl, you can give a gentle pet and feed a treat as you do so. Pet and feed a treat, then give space and go back to tossing the treats to avoid stressing him too much. Expect this progression to take weeks, not hours or days. Do NOT stick your hand in pup's food, take the food away while he is eating, or pet him while he is eating without making the experience fun for him also - via giving better rewards in exchange each time. Messing with a dog while they are eating without the right protocols and rewards to prevent stress around mealtimes, can actually cause food aggression, rather than prevent it. The goal is to build pup's trust with you when it comes to meals - so he doesn't feel the need to guard it, but learns that your approach and taking things like bones, results in something even better happening - like a treat or new bone. Only give treats when pup responds well - not while he is growling. If pup is growling still while you are doing all of this, you are probably being too rough or moving too fast, and there needs to be more space between you and pup while practicing at that point in the training. When pup is doing well with you and anticipates the feeding game being something pleasant with treats, then I would also add in another dog. Have a second person walk another dog past while you do the treat game with pup while eating. Start with a distance pup doesn't mind the other dog being at, and very gradually decrease distance the other dog is walked past pup while eating as pup relaxes and is tolerant. When not practicing this training, if there are any other dogs in the home or when you travel, then feed pup meals in a closed crate to decrease the stress of other dogs being around while pup eats to prevent the resource guarding from returning later too. Check out this free PDF e-book download for other puppy raising tips as well: www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Cooper
Golden Retriever
4 Years
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Question
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Cooper
Golden Retriever
4 Years

He is very much still a puppy. He is well potty trained does not cause any issues in following commands at home. He adjusts based on our availability and is ok if we do not take him twice for a long walk. But when he sees people or dogs outside he wants people to pet him and say hello to the dogs. He is not aggressive at all with other dogs but he does want to get attention. So he pulls on the leash and wants to run and jump on them.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1125 Dog owners recommended

Hello Padma, I would see if there is an Intermediate Obedience class or Canine Good Citizen class in your area, which should focus specifically on things like heeling past distractions. You can also recruit friends and family pup will want to say hi to, to practice the Passing Approach method with, and the heeling video and article I have linked below. Passing Approach - your goal isn't for pup to greet the dog in the end though, your goal is to practice the passes over and over again until pup calms down enough through the repetition, for you to be able to reward the focus on you and calmness. As pup improves, you can decrease the distance so that pup can stay calm even at close distances. I would only occasionally allow pup to actually greet them, so pup doesn't have the expectation to always greet someone, and when you do, give pup a command like "Say Hi" so pup learns that unless told Say Hi they should ignore others. https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Lucca
Golden Retriever
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Lucca
Golden Retriever
5 Months

I’m planning to travel with Lucca at the beginning of July, I want to take him with me on the cabin and for that he has to be trained as an emotional support dog. How long does it usually take to train him for this?

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

Hello, I am not sure of the length of time to train Lucca as an emotional support dog. I would contact an organization that deals with that. I found this site but am not sure if it is what you need: https://esadoctors.com/how-to-train-dog-emotional-support-animal/ and this article is very informative, too. https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/emotional-support-dog-requirements/. Best to contact them. Good luck!

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