What is Public Access Training?
Public access training is a process where a service dog in training is gradually exposed to public places and then is asked to perfrom basic behaviors, then more advanced and finally service dog tasks. Duration of training time is added incrementally.
Public Access Training is a Gradual Process
Training for public access shouldn't be an all or nothing process. Gradually integrate your SDit's training into public places.
1. Start with acclimation to the new environment, using distance from distractions as needed.
2. Wait for your dog to offer you default attention.
3. Reshape known behaviors and tasks from the beginning (without a verbal cue).
4. Try simple cued behaviors, then more complex ones over many sessions.
5. Add duration and distance to the behaviors as the environment allows. For example: adding time in the settle/relax position and distance of loose leash walking between settles. Then add duration to overall public training sessions.
6. Specifically proof behaviors and tasks and add distractions in the environment.
When is a Dog Ready to Start Public Access Training?
A dog may be ready when:
- generalized house training (potty on cue in a variety of places)
- good focus on handler despite high-level distractions
- is able to generalize foundation behaviors to several places
- your dog is able to ignore other members of the public and other dogs
- has successfully completed the canine good neighbor (or canine good neighbor) test
- is comfortable wearing a vest or working harness or other identification (if you choose to have your dog wear it)
- can perform at least one task on cue that mitigates the handler's disability
SDit May Not Have Public Access Rights
As owner-trainers, your local laws may or may not allow you public access with a SDit. If they do not, identify public locations where pet dogs are allowed that will be useful but not too busy (avoid the big box pet stores until later in training). Get written permission to access other locations where pet dogs are not allowed.
How to Start Public Access (PAT) Training?
Start with carefully planning each session.
Identify specific situations where your dog may have challenges. Have a look at the US public access test criterion or your regional test requirements for ideas. Here is the test that Service Dog Teams in British Columbia take.
Start with one challenge and plan a set of 10 sessions to train for it.
Start with short training visits and give your dog frequent breaks from training.
Evaluate after each session and then at session 5 and at the end of 10 sessions. Modify what you are training as the dog needs it. The plan may not go as you think it might.
Isolate each challenge and train them individually in the same way.
Practice a standard polite way to refuse interaction with your dog. This is in case you need to quickly leave the situation. Two key pieces are to get the dog to face you and to say a brief verbal explanation.
Integrate the various challenges just a few at a time.
Remember That The Public Access Test (PAT) is Only the Beginning
You and your dog will face situations and distractions in real life that are far greater than the test. For example, a child may run up and greet your dog by throwing her arms around his neck or a man may kick at your dog or other dogs may be allowed to come up and interact with your dog without permission. Train beyond this test requirements. The key reason for the public access test is to make sure your dog does not present a public safety hazard.
Here is a link to the IAADP's explanation of what needs to be covered during public access training.
British Columbia's Guide and Service Dog Assessment Test is useful as they break down the behaviors into smaller easier-to-measure steps.
Take your time and set you and your dog up for success. It's an ongoing process!