Here's a new study comparing professionally trained service dogs with self-trained (owner-trained) service dogs.

It used self-reporting
retrospective question/answer style. Some insightful observations that may be helpful for people considering if or not training their own service dog might work for them. 

The research looked at:

  • different methods of training service dogs (professional vs owner-training)
  • different severities of human partners' disabilities 
  • different roles of service dogs 


Click on the link to read the study and see the references.
Professionally- and Self-Trained Service Dogs: Benefits and Challenges for Partners With Disabilities

If you are considering having your dog help you with mobility wheelchair transfers, this article will help you to understand the reasons why not to use your dog as a transfer tool. 

Let's look at what mobility transfers are, 5 bio-mechanical reasons not to have your service dog help you with them and how you can learn to do them yourself.

What are Mobility Transfers? 

Any movement involving a shift of weight by a person with limited mobility to move them from one surface to another surface.
Typically the person uses their hands and arms to take some pressure while other parts of their body are shifted.
The person needs at least a partial ability to stand. Transfers may be done by the person alone or with assistance from another person or sometimes 2 people.
Transfers can also be done mechanically with a manual or electric lift. 

Here are some examples.

  • bed to wheelchair  https://youtu.be/BWzcIl1SGgw
  • wheelchair to toilet
  • wheelchair to tub or shower
  • wheelchair to couch
  • wheelchair to car
  • ground to chair (after a fall)

The number of transfers per day adds up quickly.

The Primary Goal of a Successful Transfer
is to prevent falls and avoid injury (shoulders, arms, skin, bruising) of the transferring person.
A secondary goal is for the person to use the wheelchair independently.

Injury Among Human Helpers
Transferring a person from one surface to another is one of the highest causes of long-term injury for human helpers of wheelchair users.
Another is the rotation while pushing the chair (lower back compression).

The Same Can Be Said for Service Dogs
The goal of having a service dog is to help the handler to gain more independence but not by putting the dog at risk,
especially when there are other more effective and less harmful ways for a person to transfer themselves.
Service dogs can easily get injured during transfers and be rendered useless to the handler. The handler potentially loses not just independence, but their partner.

5 Biomechanical Reasons Why Not To Have Your Service Dog Help

1. Dogs are not designed to be weight-bearing, even large dogs.

Dogs don't have a collar bone like humans have, and the muscles do the work of holding the shoulders together. Pressure goes from the muscles to the dog's spine. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and spine can be injured with just a small amount of weight, even in big dogs. Soft tissue injuries take a long time to heal. Spine injuries can be chronic and disabling for a dog.

While some breeds of dogs are bred to pull carts, they can carry only a very small amount of weight. Pulling a maximum of ten percent of their body weight is generally recommended for dogs with a suitable bone structure and are appropriately muscled. This weight is spread over their body with proper harnesses and is a pulling forward motion. 

2. Humans have little ability to estimate the amount of actual pressure they put on their hands, especially while in motion.

Typically for transfers, handlers place their hand or hands on the dog’s shoulder. The recommended weight is 10% of the dog’s body weight, the same as for pulling except the pushing pressure is downward.
Say your mobility dog is 45Kg (100 lbs). Do you know how much pressure 4.5 kg (10 lbs) feels like?

Try this: Use a bathroom or kitchen scale and place your hand (fingers or knuckles) on the scale for 5 seconds and try to hold it at 4 Kg. Don’t look at the scale but have a friend or family member watch the scale to tell you the highest amount of weight you put on the scale after each trial. Repeat 10 times and write down each trial result. How accurate are you on average to put a maximum of 4 Kg on the scale?
I bet not very!
Now imagine you are trying to move your body to one side, balance it and estimate and control the amount of weight you put on your dog’s shoulder. Can you do it? Are you willing to risk her health? Using a stabilizing pole or transfer board that can take much more weight than what you can put on it makes more sense than using your dog.

3. There is too high a risk that the weight may be placed in the wrong location.
People with physical disabilities are often told to put the pressure directly over the dog’s shoulders when using the dog for stability, rather than on the back or rear end. The idea is that the weight will get transferred to the ground rather than stressing the dog’s muscles or bone structure.
During transfers, it is not always possible to place your hands exactly where you want them since where the dog can stand may not be ideal for the transfer. The handler’s angle may also put the pressure in the wrong place on the dog.

4. It’s not just simple weight involved.
If your dog moves during the process (accidentally pushed by too much pressure form you, takes a step to the side, gets distracted etc.) she is adding shearing force to the transfer.
Shearing force is unaligned forces pushing one part of a body in one specific direction and another part of the body in the opposite direction. If the forces push together, this results in compression at the centre point (like spine compression).  If the forces push away from each other tearing results (like cruciate ligament tears). Neither is what we want for a service dog’s spine, tendons or ligaments.  

5. Depending on the handler’s level of disability, there may need to be many transfers each day. The more transfers, the more stress that is put on the dog’s body.
This comes out in the long-term wear of the dog’s skeletal system and the greater probability of injuring your dog.
This can shorten your dog’s working life and result in severe pain even if he never suffers an acute injury.

Learn How to do Transfers Without Your Service Dog’s Help,

Consult your physiotherapist or occupational therapist. He will show you how to use your body and tools in your environment to safely transfer yourself in and out of a wheelchair no matter where you are based on your specific abilities. Have your dog sit or lay down off to the side until you are safely transferred, then put her back to work.

Here is a partial list of tools to use instead of your service dog:

  • poles
  • grip bars
  • railings
  • armrests
  • transfer/sliding board
  • swivel cushions (that rotate easily such as for getting in and out of the car)
  • metro car handle to push up on-fits on U-bolt of door lock
  • ramps

Other suggestions:

  • raising beds and car seats in low cars or lowering beds and car seats in high vehicles helps to ease transfers from higher to lower
  • drive wheelchair directly into the car (including driver seat)
  • place leading hand -lower (pushing) or higher (pulling) are better than median such as on the steering wheel, which puts more torque on the shoulder and increases the chance of injury
  • etc.

 If you are training a mobility service dog, check out our new class Wheelchair Loose Leash Walking for Service dogs. 

It can be hard to find good treats to use for training. Here's simple recipe that you can adapt. 

Fast Dog Treats:


Mix together:

  • 4 large eggs 
  • half to 3/4 cup canned pumpkin
  • a splash of milk
  • 1/4 cup flour (rice, wheat or tapioca). 


Mix all to a pancake consistency (no lumps).
Spread in a silicon waffle tray.
Cook in a microwave for about 2 min.

Makes about 3 cups of non-crumbly treats suitable for 60 lb dogs. They freeze well. 

Use a silicon tray with smaller holes for smaller treats.

treats on a red silicon pan

Ever wonder how good trainers can teach their dog to walk nicely on leash without any correction tools? No matter if you are teaching your dog to heel or loose leash walk beside you, your wheelchair, walkers or crutches, the basis of the behaviour is the same! 

In order to help your dog understand where you want her to be, the key is to heavily reinforce her in that position in many, many situations so she gets a picture in her head of where she is in relation to you. Try These Tips:

Start Off Leash 
Surprised? Yes, by training your dog when she is free, she solves the puzzle of finding the desired position herself, with no help from you. This uses her brain rather than teaching her to rely on the leash.The leash should only be used as an emergency connection. The bonus is that you avoid developing bad habits of using the leash to guide your dog. You want her to understand where she needs to be without your help. This avoids having to correct her for positions you don't want. 

Have a Clear Picture of Where You Want Your Dog To Be 
This is your criterion. You will be rewarding her whenever she stays within that target position. Where is her nose in relation to your leg or the wheelchair? Exactly how far away will she be from your legs or the chair? Or perhaps it's easier to see where her shoulders are in relation to your knee or chair. Whatever way you can make it easy to measure it, use it. 

Heavily Reinforce the Desired Position While Stationary 
Feed your dog 10 times in a row (one treat at a time) for staying there. Reward her 10 times in a row, being careful of treat placement. Present the treat directly in her mouth so she doesn't have to move to get it. 
Change your position by rotating one quarter of a turn (90 degrees) and repeat. 
If your dog can't find the position while you are staying still, she won't be able to find it when you are moving!

"Play" With The Position by Rewarding Your Dog for Finding the Position 

Take one step to the side and see if she can find the position again. Reward heavily.
Turn left. Reward heavily.
Turn right. Reward heavily.

Keep Sessions Short
Count out 10 treats and dismiss your dog for a one minute break. This gives her time to think about it and build new neutral pathways.  This is essential for new learning!
Do a few only a few sessions. Most dogs do well with 3 sessions (3 sets of 10 repetitions). Some can focus for 5 sets. The key is always end the sessions with your dog wanting to do more. If she walks away, you've done too much. 

Add The Leash As a Separate Training Criterion
Put on your dog's collar or flat non-restrictive walking harness and attach the leash. This adds difficulty for you, not the dog.
You must figure out how to hold the leash, or where and how to attach it. Perhaps a waist or shoulder attachment might be better for you.
You need to develop the ability to deliver the treat to the same place you did when the dog was not wearing the leash. 

Gradually Increase Distraction Levels 
This is the most common error people make and then they resort to training collars and harnesses since they don't know what else to do. The sad thing is many people never remove them once they start using them. Training collars and harnesses are supposed to be like training wheels on a bicycle, to help the dog learn the skill, then remove them as quickly as possible. 
In order to mimic off leash conditions in areas that are not safe to work your dog off leash, use the professional tip of standing on the end of the leash or attaching the leash to a waist band. This gives your dog freedom to choose to move and be able to find the position without being restricted or tempting you to control her with the leash. At the same time, it gives you the peace of mind knowing she will safe safe if an unexpected distraction comes along. 

Each Time You Add or Change Equipment, It Changes The Picture of You To Your Dog 
With each new piece of equipment, restart teaching your dog the position. 

If you want more details complete with step by step videos, join our foundation skills classes to learn several ways to teach your dog the desired position, and loose leash walking classes to learn how to apply them in motion in different situations like stairs and locations or take our loose leash walking class specifically for wheelchairs. We offer classes for other skills as well! 

While the study was done specifically for seeing eye dogs, the finding applies to handlers with mobility/brace dogs.  This study which suggests rigid harnesses put more physical stress on a dog's body than flexible harnesses, especially on the lower right side of the chest.

One would think which side gets more pressure would vary depending on which side is the handler's dominant side and which side of the handler the dog is on. Our dog's physical health and safety is worth looking into.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140102112237.htm
 

Since many people have Golden Retrievers as their service dog, I thought I would include this study. Interestingly, my previous Golden Retriever was spayed at 7 mos and was definitely longer-legged than her siblings who were not (conformation dogs). She lived to 12.5 years with no health issues until the very end she had an undiagnosed tumour in one of her nails. We had the toe removed. She died of a multiple back to back heart attacks in a few hours a few months later.

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10498

If you remember back in history to the days of castrated male choir boys (called castrati), you may remember that in all the pictures, the boy were very tall and thin. This is because when the testosterone is removed at a young age before they have stopped growing, it is not present to tell the bones to stop growing at the normal age. Their bones ended up being longer and thinner than they would have otherwise been so they ended up being taller too. This also resulted in the rib bones being longer which meant a greater lung capacity. That was good for singers. Of course the lack of testosterone affected their voice box too so they had much higher voices for singing and their voices never deepened as a normal teens would. Altered dogs also show a noticeable increases (chest "drops") in the rib cage. 

Many people consider getting a Golden Doodle or other poodle mix. I recently discovered a great book approved by the Gold Doodle Association of North America. It is a fantastic book that provides a great overview of Golden Doodles! I recommend reading it BEFORE you line up a breeder or put a deposit down on a puppy.
 
It is clear that Golden Doodles and other poodle mixes are mixed breed dogs. They are not recognized as a "breed" by any organization. 
Any other breed mixed in can be called a Golden Doodle. 
They explain the F1, F2b etc.
Buying from a responsible breeder is key to getting the health, temperament and activity level that will best suit your lifestyle.
Check out breeders who are members or who follow the GANA code of ethics for breeding. They must do specific health tests on each parent. The parent dogs must be 2 years of age and not be bred after 7 years of age. 

That there are four coat types: flat, straight, wavy and curled.
Straight and Wavy are the most desirable. Flat are the same as Golden retrievers (shedding) and curly is like poodle but often heavier (and requires more work to maintain and mat often if not brushed out daily).

There are different sizes. They have different temperaments due to different sizes of poodles being used as the parent breed. (Standard, moyen, toy and mini)

There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. Hypo means "low" allergies, not "no" allergies.
People can be allergic to the proteins in the saliva, urine and/or on the dander of dogs.

There is a new test that can be done for the gene for an incorrect coat type (which is recessive). If breeders know if their dogs carry it they can breed accordingly to improve the probability of getting more of the desired non-shedding coats.

Doodles should not be washed any more often than once a month or the dog's skin may dry out and it triggers skin issues.

They are prone to many diseases common to both breeds, most of which can be tested for:

  • hip dysplasia
  • elbow dysplasia
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (2 kinds)
  • cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • entropian/ectotropian
  • Von Willibrands disease (blood doesn't clot properly)
  • Addison's Disease
  • in the minis: luxating patellas
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • congestive heart failure
  • subaortic stenois
  • heart murmurs
  • hypothyroid
  • seizures
  • bloat
  • allergies
  • ear infections ( may be related to allergies)
  • hot spots
  • interdigital cysts


Puppies should not go to their new homes until at least 8 weeks of age (This is written in state laws in most states).

Golden Doodles may vary in the amount of energy/drive and exercise they need depending on what lines the parent breeds are from. Generally, lines from hunting/sport may have more energy. Conformation/show lines may have less. (English lines may have lower energy needs than American sport lines.)

That positive reinforcement is best for training a doodle.

The book: (also available on Kindle as an e-book)
The GoldenDoodle Handbook Linda Whitwam 2016

GANA Member Breeders

There is also a Labradoodle club but the breeders ethics is optional to membership so do your due diligence when talking with the breeder to make sure to see the results of the health tests. Note that the temperament of the Labradoodle is different than a Goldendoodle due to the parent breeds being different breeds.

Additional Information 

What I took away from the book is that golden doodles vary widely and that is because many of them are first and second generation dogs. It is not usually until after about the 6th generation when most lines will be more consistent in the structure and fur of the puppies.

Any dog with the 'goldendoodle' in the name can be a mix of a poodle and any other breed. I know of students who thought they were getting a golden retriever/poodle mix and instead they got a Great Pyrenees mix. Golden retrievers and Great Pyrenees have very different temperament, size and build from each other. Make sure to ask what the foundation breeds are for your specific litter!

The amount you pay for a Golden Doodle is usually set by regional demand for the dogs. Never pay ridiculous prices for pups whose parents have not been health tested. Ask to see the test results. A simple veterinary check does NOT qualify as health testing. The actual DNA has to be examined by experts so blood samples need to be sent out. 

Note: They recommend that the breeders use the Volhard Puppy Aptitude test. Many research papers have found that such tests are not a predictor of the future temperament or personality of a dog but instead more of a reflection of what the breeder has already done with the individual pup.

Some breeders also will have the pups spayed or neutered prior to going home with their families. Others will ask for proof of spay or neuter at one year of age. If you plan to use the dog as a your service dog, males should be kept intact until at least one year or age and females 18 mos. This is to prevent the full normal bone development to occur before the hormones are removed. Removing the hormones (especially testosterone in males) can result in longer thinner bone structure, increased risk of cancer, hypothyroid diseases etc. In females spaying reduces the incidence of mammary cancer and pyometra but increases risk of cancer, low bone density issues the same as males etc. See our other blog posts on this. Extensive research has been done on both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds on the juvenile spay or neuter topic. Neutering a fearful dog before maturation can increase a male dog's fearfulness.

If your dog has a "doggy" odor, check for fungal and yeast growth. They may grow in moist areas like between the foot pads and in the ears. Washing more often will not help. You will need to get a fungal or yeast treatment from your veterinarian. Washing their bedding will though if you treat the dog at the same time.

Curly coats that have a heavy texture can be very difficult to maintain and groom. They are more prone to matting that other coat types.

Many people consider getting a Golden Doodle or other poodle mix. I recently discovered a great book approved by the Gold Doodle Association of North America. It is a fantastic book that provides a great overview of Golden Doodles! I recommend reading it BEFORE you line up a breeder or put a deposit down on a puppy.
 
It is clear that Golden Doodles and other poodle mixes are mixed breed dogs. They are not recognized as a "breed" by any organization. 
Any other breed mixed in can be called a Golden Doodle. 
They explain the F1, F2b etc.
Buying from a responsible breeder is key to getting the health, temperament and activity level that will best suit your lifestyle.
Check out breeders who are members or who follow the GANA code of ethics for breeding. They must do specific health tests on each parent. The parent dogs must be 2 years of age and not be bred after 7 years of age. 

That there are four coat types: flat, straight, wavy and curled.
Straight and Wavy are the most desirable. Flat are the same as Golden retrievers (shedding) and curly is like poodle but often heavier (and requires more work to maintain and mat often if not brushed out daily).

There are different sizes. They have different temperaments due to different sizes of poodles being used as the parent breed. (Standard, moyen, toy and mini)

There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. Hypo means "low" allergies, not "no" allergies.
People can be allergic to the proteins in the saliva, urine and/or on the dander of dogs.

There is a new test that can be done for the gene for an incorrect coat type (which is recessive). If breeders know if their dogs carry it they can breed accordingly to improve the probability of getting more of the desired non-shedding coats.

Doodles should not be washed any more often than once a month or the dog's skin may dry out and it triggers skin issues.

They are prone to many diseases common to both breeds, most of which can be tested for:

  • progressive retinal atrophy
  • hereditary cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • heart problems
  • Addison's Disease
  • hip dysplasia
  • elbow dysplasia
  • eyes
  • von Willebrands disease (blood doesn't clot properly)
  • in the minis: luxating patellas
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • hypothyroid
  • seizures
  • bloat
  • allergies


Puppies should not go to their new homes until at least 8 weeks of age (This is written in state laws in most states).

Golden Doodles may vary in the amount of energy/drive and exercise they need depending on what lines the parent breeds are from. Generally, lines from hunting/sport may have more energy. Conformation/show lines may have less. (English lines may have lower energy needs than American sport lines.)

That positive reinforcement is best for training a doodle.

The book: (also available on Kindle as an e-book)
The GoldenDoodle Handbook Linda Whitwam 2016

GANA Member Breeders

There is also a Labradoodle club but the breeders ethics is optional to membership so do your due diligence when talking with the breeder to make sure to see the results of the health tests. Note that the temperament of the Labradoodle is different than a Goldendoodle due to the parent breeds being different breeds.

Note: They recommend that the breeders use the Volhard Puppy Aptitude test. Many research papers have found that such tests are not a predictor of the future temperament or personality of a dog but instead more of a reflection of what the breeder has already done with the individual pup.

Some breeders also will have the pups spayed or neutered prior to going home with their families. Others will ask for proof of spay or neuter at one year of age. If you plan to use the dog as a your service dog, males should be kept intact until at least one year or age and female s 18 mos. This is to prevent the full normal bone development to occur before the hormones are removed. Removing the hormones (especially testosterone in males) can result in longer thinner bone structure, increased risk of cancer and hypothyroid diseases etc. See our other blog posts on this. Extensive research has been done on both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds on the juvenile spay or neuter topic. 


Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start training a dog to pull you in a harness or brace you while walking.

How old is your dog? Make sure she is at least 18 mos to 2 years (for the giant breeds) before you start training her to pull/brace for real. Joints can be permanently affected if training starts too young (before the growth plates have closed), the dog gets injured, or if the pulling/bracing is too strenuous or prolonged during this stage.

Is your dog physically large enough to do the required pulling? Take into consideration the weight of both the wheelchair and yourself. The height and stockiness of the dog may affect her pulling capacity. A shorter stocky wide dog may do better than a tall lanky finer-boned dog for the same breed. On the other hand, if you also need the dog for bracing, taller broader dogs do better as they have the height and width to be more stable for bracing.

Has your dog had her elbows and hips checked (OFA ratings or radiologist readings) to make sure she is structurally sound? Heart, lungs, spine, legs are all impacted as well. 

What will she be pulling and how much weight? There is no magic height or weight ratio for pulling. It depends on their dog's bone structure and amount of weight. Lightly-built (fine-boned or low muscle weight) dogs should not be pulling at all.

How much of the time will she be pulling a chair? (occasionally or quite often will help you determine the right harness).  
To balance the weight evenly and most efficiently a dog should be pulling forward, not on an angle. Pulling from the side puts undue stress on the shoulders results in uneven muscle build up, tendon damage, early arthritis and other health issues. These dogs are typically retired quite young due to this. Using a proper pulling harness (think a sled dog harness) reduces the amount of pressure to a more acceptable level and balances muscle development.

Take time to build up your dog's endurance for pulling. Just like a sport, there needs to be a careful plan for building up your dog's ability to pull weight both the amount of weight and endurance. 

Harnesses that go around under the belly and around in front of the chest are designed only for very occasional use and not for heavy pulling such as up inclines.  

Harnesses that are have a band between the front legs (sometimes in the shape of a Y) and multiple contact points to the body to spread the pressure and are usually quite stiff to give her body support for longer term and heavy duty pulling. 

If the dog is required to pull much of the time, you may need to consider an electric chair as pulling can be very hard on the dog's body.

If you have a giant breed, are harnesses made large enough or will you have to get a custom job? That will add to your cost.

Before you buy, check out several options, try them on if possible and do your research on the requirements of the pulling/bracing job and impacts on the dog.

Contact a dog sport expert or physiotherapist to have your dog assessed for pulling and to create a detailed training plan. Also do regular follow ups (6 mos) to check your dog's physical and structural health.

Since many people have Golden Retrievers as their service dog, I thought I would include this study. Interestingly, my previous Golden was spayed at 7 mos and was definitely longer-legged than her siblings who were not (conformation dogs). She lived to 12.5 years with no health issues until the very end she had an undiagnosed tumour in one of her nails. We had the toe removed. She died of a multiple back to back heart attacks a few months later.

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10498

If you remember back in history to the days of castrated male choir boys (called castrati), you may remember that in all the pictures, the boy were very tall and thin. This is because when the testosterone is removed at a young age before they have stopped growing, it is not present to tell the bones to stop growing at the normal age. Their bones ended up being longer and thinner than they would have otherwise been so they ended up being taller too. This also resulted in the rib bones being longer which meant a greater lung capacity. That was good for singers. Of course the lack of testosterone affected their voice box too so they had much higher voices for singing and their voices never deepened as a normal teens would. 

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