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Service Dog Training Guide – The Basics

07 December, 2017
service dog guide

Service dogs can be of great help to people with disabilities. However, in order to get the most from these loyal companions, they need to go through extensive service dog training.

Just to give you an overview of requirements, the dog needs to be able to perform a disability-related task for their handler/owner. In addition, you must be familiar with acceptable training techniques and be educated about canine care and health. Furthermore, understanding of local public access laws and proper behavior is a must.

Other than just being your living medical device, these dogs will also become your best pals. They will take care of you, but they will also depend on you to provide food and shelter. You can build an incredible bond with your service dog and make both your lives better.

Basic rules about service dogs

Service dogs are recognized by the law as trained working dogs that perform tasks for persons with disabilities. Disabilities can include both physical and mental impairment. It’s critical that the dog can perform specific tasks that directly relate to owner’s disability. This can include anything from opening doors for people in wheelchairs to warning the owner of an impending seizure.

They are not considered pets and must be desensitized to distractions. Service dogs need to focus solely on their owners and ignore all distractions such as traffic, children, etc.

Although training is essential for service dogs, that doesn’t mean that you can’t train the dog yourself. Many people choose to train their service dog themselves because professional service dog training can be a long and expensive process. And in the end, even professional trainers can’t guarantee that your dog will be able to become your service dog.

Service dog training can take up to two years and these dogs usually wear a vest in public for easy identification. Any dog can enter service dog training, regardless of breed or age. However, unless they have a certain set of characteristics, they might not do well.

Service dogs need to be:

  • Willing to please
  • Ready to follow owners everywhere
  • Calm and friendly
  • Alert
  • Socialized
  • Nonreactive to public and strangers
  • Quick to learn
  • Able to retain information

Guide dogs

Guide dogs go through specific service dog training to help people with a visual impairment. These dogs bring a new sense of freedom and safety to their owners by:

  • Helping avoid obstacles and moving vehicles
  • Signaling changes in elevation levels
  • Locating persons or objects on command
  • Retrieving and carrying objects

Hearing dogs

Hearing dogs assist people with hearing impairments by:

  • Alerting to sounds or presence of other people
  • Retrieving dropped objects
  • Carrying messages
  • Warning people to approaching vehicles

Service dogs

As stated before, service dog training enables these loyal animals to perform a variety of tasks. Depending on the owner’s disability and needs, service dogs can undergo training for mobility assistance and medical assistance. Medical assistance can also include autism assistance and psychiatric assistance.

What these superhero canines can do for their owners is amazing and it’s all achievable through training.

Check out a list of service dog tasks and services below:

  • Open and close doors, drawers, and cabinets
  • Turn lights on and off
  • Help people get dressed or undressed
  • Assist persons to an upright position
  • Move feet and arms onto wheelchair footrests and armrests
  • Prevent falls and provide stability
  • Call 911 in case of emergency
  • Identify and alert to symptoms
  • Bark or find help on command
  • Find places, vehicles, or their owner when disoriented and bring to safety
  • Assess owner’s safety and guide away from stressful situations
  • Help with insomnia and interrupt nightmares
  • Interrupt flashbacks and prevent self-harming behaviors using tactile stimulation
  • Detect allergens, low and high blood sugar levels
  • Provide deep pressure therapy

General service dog training

As you can see, some of these behaviors are pretty complex for a canine (such as calling 911 in case of emergency). And some of these behaviors are something that even humans couldn’t do (sense and alert owner to seizure or diabetes attack).

For those reasons, service dogs require extensive and complex training. Even then, there’s no guarantee that a dog will be able to become a full-time service animal.

As for the US, there are no specific regulations regarding service dog training. However, international standards prescribe at least 120 hours of training over six months. Out of this quota, a minimum of 30 hours should include public access skills. Sometimes, service dog training can last up to two years as all dogs are different. Some canines need more time to learn to heel while some have a problem with handling distraction. In addition, learning specific complex tasks can be extremely time-consuming.

If you want to train the animal yourself, an ideal service dog training guide would include a few things.

First, you should assess whether your dog is fit for the position. Secondly, it’s important to establish a sequence for training. Less complex tasks and commands should be taught first.

This means the fundamentals include standard Service Dog commands such as “come“,“sit“,“stay“,“lie down“ and “heel“. Then, you should test the dog’s obedience in different environments and ensure that he follows commands no matter where you are and what’s going on around you. Finally, you can start teaching the dog specific tasks you want him to perform.

Arm yourself with lots of patience if you decide to go down this path rather than getting a trained service dog. If you get stuck, ask a professional trainer for help.

Disability-related service dog training

If your dog behaves well, is eager to please and intelligent, he’s a good candidate for service dog training. Focusing on their handler at all times and performing disability-related tasks is not all service dogs do. Other than these, they need to perform a number of other tasks on command. In order for the dog to pass a test, he must respond to handler’s first command 90% of the time, regardless of the environment.

This even includes potty on command. Yes, you heard that right. Instead of staying outside forever, when you give the order to go, the dog must do his deed. Sounds like every owner’s dream, right?

Public access skills are another requisite and you need to train the dog in a variety of different settings. This part of training is called desensitization. It’s basically teaching your dog to ignore all distractions and to focus on his handler and tasks.

As for the specific disabilities that can benefit from service dogs, they include a number of conditions. These conditions can be either physical or mental, obvious or not obvious.

Here’s a list of common tasks service dogs perform for their handlers:

  • Guiding the blind
  • Alerting the deaf to noises
  • Pulling a wheelchair
  • Retrieving items
  • Alerting to seizures or diabetes attacks
  • Reminding persons to take prescribed medication
  • Calming people with PTSD during anxiety attacks

Keep in mind that if you have a service dog, you can access all public areas with your companion. In addition, people can’t ask you about specifics regarding your disability. All they can ask you is whether your dog is a service animal and what tasks he can perform for you. You don’t need to answer any other questions or show them what the dog does for you.

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8 comments

  1. Keith Lamoureux says: February 21, 2019
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