Can I Train My Own Service Dog?
If you’re wondering if you can train your own service dog, the answer is, “Yes!” Training your dog is the most cost-effective way of getting a service dog. However, it’s also the most time-consuming. Here are some pros and cons of training your own service dog.
Pros For Self-Training Your Service Dog
Trainers who are also owners become better handlers for their service dogs. Owners have their own quirks and personalities, as do dogs! There’s a period of adjustment after owners receive program-trained service dogs.
When you train your own service dog, you and your dog are already accustomed to each other.
The training is personalized with both of you in mind. If problems arise, the trainer-owner is better equipped to problem solve than an owner who didn’t do the training.
Trainer-owners don’t have to spend time untraining behaviors they don’t need. Program-trained dogs are often taught according to a predetermined list of behaviors. Because each owner is different, what works for one owner may be counterintuitive to another. When training your service dog yourself, you can focus on the tasks most important for your needs.
There’s no wait time for trainer-owned dogs. When dogs are trained through programs, the wait time can take years. When you train your own dog, however, you can enjoy the emotional benefits of having a dog while you train. Also, some states recognize service dogs-in-training as actual service dogs.
Cons For Self-Training Your Service Dog
Service dogs that come from formal programs are bred to be service dogs. Their personality, disposition, even their size are bred to fulfill specific services. When training your own service dog, you have to find these traits yourself. Finding a calm, smart, and eager-to-please dog is more challenging than most people realize.
Training a service dog is time-consuming, demanding work. According to the International Association of Assistance Dog Partnerships, 120 hours of training over six months is the gold standard. Not only is that a tremendous amount of time for a dog—but it’s almost a part-time job for trainers.
Trainer-owners have to have the time and energy to put in the work.
After all the time and effort put into training your service dog, it may not be successful. Some dogs just don’t take well to specific tasks. They may not respond to commands at a satisfactory rate. Trainer-owners must be ready to concede if this occurs.
How to Train Your Service Dog
Now that you understand the pros and cons of training your service dog, you can decide the best path to take. If you choose to become a trainer-owner, there are a variety of sources you can use to help you with the task.
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP)
The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) is a non-profit organization that helps people with service dogs, guide dogs, psychiatric service dogs, and dogs for the hearing impaired. The IAADP offers service dog training references and guides to make training easier.
The American Dog Trainer’s Network
The American Dog Trainers Network offers a comprehensive set of resources from clicker training to becoming a professional dog trainer.
Karen Pryor: Clicker Training
Karen Pryor is the top expert on the use of clicker training for dogs. Her website features clicker training videos, guides, and training topics to help owners train their dogs.
Finding the Right Service Dog to Train is Key
The chihuahua you’ve had for seven years may be the love of your life, but he may not have the temperament or drive to fulfill the tasks you need. If your mobility issues require a dog to help keep you from suddenly falling, a small chihuahua is not the right sized dog for you.
Finding an intelligent, patient, and trainable dog isn’t easy. The dog you choose must respond quickly, not be aggressive or dominant, and not be overly protective. Keep in mind that a service dog will be allowed in many public spaces; therefore, you must always keep the public’s safety in mind. Finding an intelligent but docile dog can be challenging. However, it’s key to having a successful service dog.
Many dog owners believe that the dog they currently have as a family pet will make a satisfactory service dog. That’s ideal, but it’s usually not the case. A family dog already has relationship dynamics that can make it difficult for it to be docile and non-aggressive at all times in public.
Keep in mind that a service dog is much more than a pet. It provides affection and warmth, but must also fulfill specific tasks at every command, which is very difficult for typical pets. Once you find the right dog, you’ll have a much better chance of training your service dog successfully.