"I discovered your amazing training methods while searching for " trained diabetes alert dogs."  I am new to all of this.  Our 4.5 year old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.   I have no idea where to begin.  Do you know of any reputable breeders and or trainers who will partially train diabetes alert dogs? I understand that much training will need to happen at home regardless, but just wondering what is available close to home."  Stephanie
 
What I would do is choose a breed (or mix) that suits your family and lifestyle. Look for sound health and temperament of the parents (health screens for any conditions that are typical of the breed), find a breeder that ensures the mother is not stressed during pregnancy, does Early Neurological Stimulation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G31N_gmUkE0 etc.
Look for breeders that raise their pups with the Puppy Culture or Avi Dog programs.

Your best bet is to find a breeder who keeps the dogs to at least 8.5 weeks of age and starts socialization with kids, adults, lots of environmental enhancement such as moving the rearing box to different rooms in the house, introduces different toys periodically, does early neurological stimulation that helps to create a more resilient adult etc, then continue the pup's socialization. The goal is to have all positive experiences in the first 16 weeks of the pup's life. Meet at least 100 different people, visit different indoor and outdoor locations, different surfaces, sounds, sights, modes of transport, meet other dogs that are properly socialized and friendly (even if the final vaccinations have not yet been done), plus expose the dog to any environments you anticipate s/he will be exposed to during her lifetime. etc After the 16 weeks, it is important to maintain all this but not as intensive.

You can start the basic training (sit, eye contact, leave it, nose targeting etc) as young as when you bring the pup home. Some clicker trainers start the pups at 4 weeks as soon as they can hear. But be careful to let your pup be a pup! Your dog is a dog first, family member second and service dog third. If you plan to do other things (like compete in sports), train those later if the service dog is the primary focus. Avoid asking too much of your dog as they can burn out. Working as a service dog for one person is a full-time job for most dogs. Some dogs, like diabetic and seizure alert dogs, are on 24/7 so make sure to give the dog time away from work on a regular basis.
 
The diabetic alert is the easy part to train (takes not many sessions for most dogs to get the hang of it. Generalizing it to other locations is the longer part.) The hardest part is getting the dog's behavior to a level suitable for public access (if you intend to certify) starting with Canine Good Neighbor or CLASS program by the APDT and continuing with a Public Access test. All service dogs need to be bombproof in many environments, with people, other dogs etc.

Know that no service dog is ready to work in public until after about 18 months of age. If someone is trying to sell you a "trained" service dog that is younger than that, especially a 12 to 16 week old pup, then run away! Pups of this age do not have the social, emotional or physical maturity or reliability to handle this job, even if they can already detect blood sugar highs and lows. They have not been trained to work in public. Plus it's not fair to the developing pup to put that level of responsibility on him or her.

You can adopt an adult dog and train it to be a medical detection dog. They do not need to be raised using their nose to learn the task. Dogs know how to use their nose and if they have a bond with you, they can easily learn how to do medical alerts of all kinds. Avoid short-nosed breeds for the job just because they often have health issues due to the short nose structure or heart issues.

Here is a FREE e-book that helps you to select a service dog from various sources.

 
In Home Tasks
If you are considering in-home work only, almost any healthy dog of suitable size for the task can be taught some simple tasks. Your dog can even be 'stubborn', fearful or even what you consider to be dumb if you use our methods! Once you both learn how to learn and work together, you can progress to more complex tasks. All it takes is a little time everyday and some understanding of how dogs learn.

Public Tasks
If you want your dog to also accompany you in public to mitigate your disabilities, (certified or not) your dog needs to have a sound temperament, be in good physical shape, and be an appropriate size for the tasks you are requesting. The dog MUST have been well-socialized to people, other dogs, animals and all environments you plan to go as a working dog. Basically, having solid behavior in public is the foundation of any dog used as a service dog for public access. The Canine Good Neighbor test run by the CKC or the CLASS program run by the APDT is a good way to determine if your dog might have the basic training needed to start working in public.

It also depends on what tasks you want your dog to do.
A hearing dog, for example, needs to be alert to sounds and active enough that he is willing to jump up from a sound sleep to let you know someone is knocking on your door or that your morning alarm is sounding. On the other hand, a mobility dog does better if they have a calm enough temperament that they can lay under your chair until you ask him/her to help you. A corgi would not be suitable to help you brace yourself as you stand because it would put too much strain on his back, and it would be hard for a large mastiff to retrieve small dropped objects without mouthing them.
It’s really about having a good match between the dog, person, situation, lifestyle, and tasks required.

Other Characteristics
To see if your dog might have potential for public access or if you are considering selecting a dog for service work, choose for temperament, health, size, exercise and grooming requirements, not by breed (mixed breeds can do very well). Even within a particular breed, individual temperament (avoid pups with fearful or aggressive parents), health and exercise needs vary.
 
Assessments
To get a good idea of if a specific dog is suitable for service dog work, SDTI does in-person assessments in the Nanaimo BC area and also can help you assess a dog via webcam if you take your hand-held device with you and have bandwidth or wifi on site where the dog or puppies are. Dogs over 18 months are the better choice if you are choosing an adult dog as their temperament is consistent after that point, unless the dog experiences trauma or illness.

For puppies, it pays to look closely at the parents, grandparents and what the breeder does with the pups in the first 8 weeks of life. Their experience in that time can help to start their life off as a service dog. Look for breeders that raise their pups with the Puppy Culture or Avi Dog programs.

Research shows that temperament tests are a better indication of what the breeder has or hasn't done with the pups, much more than predicting what the pup's future temperament will be since life experience and the environment a pup lives in has a large effect on each pup and their genes. 

More than 50% of assistance dogs trained by organizations are removed from the program before graduating. Fearful dogs are among the first to be declined. Health issues, aggression, over-friendliness and too high drive are other reasons dogs fail as service dogs. 

See all other posts numbered 3 for more information on selecting a good candidate. 
 

Toys and games can be a very useful tools to help train a service dog. Different kinds of toys can be used for different functions.

There are two kinds of toys: active toys are objects that allow interaction between you and your dog. Tug toys, balls, toys with squeakers fit this definition.  Passive toys that your dog can play calmly with by herself like a food-filled rubber toy that doesn't roll around, chew bones or stuffed toys can be useful when conditioning calmer behaviours like a settle or stay on your mat.  

Active Toys and Games

Active toys and games can be used to motivate a dog for behaviors that require a higher energy level (like tugging doors open) and for alternating with behaviors that are stationary after they have been trained. They are useful to release stress and give the dog a break when taken outdoors between periods of work. It helps when indoors if the toy can be controlled by you. So a ball on a rope or a brings attached to the dogs harness is ideal. The toy will not be able to mover so the dog won't go chasing down a slippery hallway to get it in public. In general, during the training phase for behaviours and tasks, active toys are best used at home or in the training rooms and outdoors. Once the dog dog has the desired enthusiasm and can do the behaviour or task, then you can train them in public without the use of toys. 

Passive Toys
Passive toys can be used to teach the dog to entertain herself (add duration) while in a settle. They can help calm a dog down or self-soothe after an active behaviour or task such as finding a helper, actively detecting a scent or walking quickly for a long distance. The activity of chewing and licking helps most dogs calm down.

It is important that you carefully choose which games to pair with which behaviors and situations. For example, rough or rousing toy play, tossing treats or hide and seek is not appropriate in a retail store (unless you are training your dog to find a person as a task).

Pairing Active Games with Calm Games

How you use the active toys and games is important. When pairing active toys and games with calm activities make sure the active games come first. Always end on a calm activity.  This ensures classical conditioning is working in your favour to teach the dog to calm down after activity. This order prevents inadvertently conditioning your dog to be hyped when doing the calm behavior. The anticipation of toy or game after a settled behaviour for example, causes the dog to be ready to play during the calm period. This can cause whining, muscle tightness and other undesired behaviours while waiting for the play to happen. 

You can use the choice of toy you use to help your dog understand that some environments require calm behavior while others can be playful. Outdoors use active toys and play, and indoors, especially in quiet places, use passive toys. If your dog is resting under your chair at work, or settling for long periods at school, taking frequent breaks to do active play outside is a great use of it. 

Some people only use play at home if their dog is easily aroused during active games. Others avoid uses toys while the dog is vested and at work.  

Active toy play and games is also great for building a bond with a dog that loves activity.

 

Leslie McDevitt has put together a comprehensive 7-10 week training program to help you teach your dog how to relax, focus on you and the task while in exciting and stressful environments. Always working under your dog’s threshold and using counter conditioning and desensitization, this program is a Godsend for anyone with a dog that has any over the top reaction (positive or negative) to any person, animal or situation. Her methods use these triggers to teach your dog to focus on you, which of course is what a service dog needs to do. The methods are easily adaptable for anyone with physical or other limitations.

The foundation of the program is a series of games that are enjoyable for both you and your dog. They become tools you can use for life with your dog anytime you are in a stressful or exciting environment.

Leslie offers some surprising approaches to retraining dogs (such as if your dog wants to sniff, encourage it and put it on cue. Not only does this decrease his desire to sniff, the sniffing becomes a reward for him!) and they become amazingly effective tools. She offers sound advice using a variety of techniques from learning your dog’s body language to massage and even using your own breathing that helps to calm your dog! Originally marketed for the agility crowd with over-drive dogs, this book will benefit anyone who wants to become better partners with their service dog.

A DVD has recently been released where you can see her dogs as well as clients’ dogs in the process of training. She shows you subtle behaviors to watch and reinforce that change how the dog is feeling. If you are expecting to see reactive dogs, you won’t see them since the program is all about working your dog under threshold and changing the way he feels about his trigger(s) and teaching him to use you as his focus point.

This is one book that everyone should have in their library, no matter how awesome their dog is, to head off potential problems. All you need is a basic understanding of operant conditioning (or willingness to learn) and an openness to new ideas to get all of the benefits from this book. This book is one we will be reading over and over again as we get more ideas each time we read it!

Here are a couple of video clips from the DVD.

Playing the ‘Look at That’ game with a motion reactive dog

Playing the ‘Look at That’ game with a toy reactive dog

Also check out her videos with her own dogs on Youtube!

And a summary of the book or DVD (see table of contents, book covers etc)
(type 'Control Unleashed' in the search)
 

Years ago, we added a new canine member to our family who was 22 mos. While she appeared to be a gentle soul, she was never been taught to be gentle with her teeth (called bite inhibition or control), especially when she was highly aroused around toys and desirable food.

It was a fairly quick process to teach her how to handle her mouth, but then she's very responsive and wants to please. I think in the past, she didn't know how to communicate with her people (preteens, teens and adults) but now that she does, she's happy to oblige.

I believe it helped as I was explaining to her many different ways that she needed to learn how to use her mouth and control how much pressure and when it was not appropriate to put teeth on the human flesh. If the item is linked, there is more information or a video available.

If you dog takes food hard while training, it may help to offer food on a flat palm, like you do to feed a horse, while you are in the training process.

Here are some ideas I tried:
1. Teach her to nose target my hand. 
2. Teach her to nose target the end of a stick.
3. Teach her to nose to target several different objects (not dog toys). 
4. Use a metal spoon for delivering treats (to protect my fingers but it seemed to make her more careful)
5. Taught her how to follow a food lure (she used to just bite at it). (Hide food between your fingers and shape her only getting it when she progressively takes it more and more gently. )
6. Worked on food zen. (I plan to apply it to toy zen as well). 
7. Used a clicker to get her to release toy and either rewarded with low level food (cheerio) or a throw of same toy as reward.
8. I taught her to do a finger retrieve to show how much pressure she uses.
9. We will be working on fine-tuning her object delivery as in dropping a coin into a bottle or penny bank. This will help her to learn to use her tongue and front teeth and help her realize she can control her mouth to a very fine degree.
10. Teach her how to take and give objects, including a 'pick' or 'nibble' cue that uses only her front teeth.
11. Keep arousal levels low so she is not grabbing because of excitement. (Short training sessions that stop before she gets aroused help).

Do have other ideas of how to train a softer mouth/greater teeth awareness? Please pass them along and I will add them.