Displaying items by tag: assistance dogs
Smaller dogs have traditionally been used for hearing alerts. Recently, more people are choosing small dogs and toy breeds as their service dog for other disabilities. Owner-trainers are selecting them for diabetes, seizures, PTSD and Anxiety. The benefits are easy to observe but examining the concerns are also worthwhile to make sure dogs of the smaller size are actually a good fit for the handler, the family environment and their resources.
A dog's small size means they may:
- be cheaper to feed
- have less fur overall (but still have grooming requirements)
- be easier to transport
- be easier to tuck out of the way
- may need less exercise than a larger dog (but not always true)
- have different health issues as a group than larger dogs
patellar luxation (knee cap)
protruding eye balls (especially in short-nosed breeds)
hypoglycemia (small size/fast metabolism means they have to eat more frequently to maintain normal blood sugar levels)
tracheal collapse (means you will need to use a flat walking harness)
Legg Calve Perthes (hip joint issue)
chronic valvular disease (heart disease)
- tooth and jaw issues are standard among small dogs (which also means more dental care, and smaller food which is more expensive)
- may be harder to potty train as they can sneak through small holes to potty out of sight in the house or may not be able to hold their bladder as long as larger dogs
- small dogs tend to be over-represented in puppy mills. Rescues/shelters take in many puppy mill dogs. These are dogs with unknown genetic, medical, and behavioral histories and do not make good service dog candidates.
- tiny dogs are not likely to be as effective in performing physical interruption type tasks
- may not be able to retrieve/drag larger objects
- may not be able to access higher locations/steps without help
- terriers like Jack Russel and fox terriers may need more exercise than you think!
- terrier breeds can be very persistent and predatory (including the tiny Yorkshire terriers)
- do not adapt well to harsh environments -may get cold or hot quickly in harsh environments or on hard floors
- shiver more often (draws attention to your dog, may need a coat in indoor environments)
- vet bills cost the same for small dogs as medium dogs. Sometimes spaying/neutering and operations can cost more due to the skill/attention to detail needed for operating on smaller bodies. Dental surgery is expensive as it requires a specialist.
- fragile structure-falling, jumping or being dropped from even low heights can break bones
- may be too environmentally sensitive or over-reactive-smaller dogs have have a faster metabolism, their flicker fusion rate in the eyes of small dog are higher so they tend to see more motion than larger dogs, tend to move faster, be more fearful
- may be more prone to alarm barking (unwanted as a service dog and you can be asked to leave if you cannot control your dog)
- most small dogs do not tolerate or enjoy being handled by children
- not as easy to socialize with other dogs and animals due to size difference and predatory issues
- may be injured if children are handling the dog (stay with medium and larger dogs with more solid structure and temperament if the dog is intended to be a child's assistance dog)
- ears harder to clean due to size (make sure you have the dexterity to do so or can hire a groomer regularly)
- may trigger predatory behavior in larger dogs you encounter in public
- may get stepped on (and have to be carried more often as a result, you will need to bend over to pick up a small dog)
- may not be taken seriously by retailers or accommodation providers (may be mistaken for "fake" service dogs (dubious about effectiveness of small size, unfamiliar with your breed as a service dog, etc)
- may attract unwanted attention from public
- you will be bending over for the lifetime of the dog (to reward behaviors, do hand targets-sue a stick, lift it over high barriers, keep him from harm etc)
- you will be sitting or kneeling to train at times, or elevating the dog for training
- Avoid breeds that have been "bred down" from a larger standard
- Avoid the toy breeds (dogs smaller than 15 lbs)
- Choose lines that have a heavier (more sturdy) bone structure
- Choose a breeder than breeds on the large size of the standard or get a mix with a slightly larger (also suitable) breed
- Find out what health tests have been done on the dog
- Find out about the genetic history of teeth of at least 3 generations back
- Brush your dogs teeth daily and give him things to chew
- Have regular dental check ups
- feed adult dogs at least twice a day, carry extra food for long days
- Watch for irregularities in gait, like a skip off one leg or the other now and then when running (patella)
- Avoid putting your dog in a shopping cart, use a snuggle/huggie tyoe carrier instead if you must keep him off the floor
- teach him to be confident on his own and where to tuck himself out of the way to avoid injury
Small Breeds to Consider
- conformation line beagle (breed only for companionship for many generations) (avoid hunting lines as they are higher energy, high prey drive and nose -oriented)
- conformation bichon frise
- Moyen poodle
- Miniature poodle (avoid toy sized)
- and mixes with the above breeds in them
Carefully consider your disabilities, the tasks the dog will be performing for you, your lifestyle, exercise levels, personality and those living around you (family and caregivers and other members of your support team), costs and make sure that the individual dog you choose is right for you.
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
- heart problems
- Addison's Disease
- hip dysplasia
- elbow dysplasia
- von Willebrands disease (blood doesn't clot properly)
- in the minis: luxating patellas
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.
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!
Listen to the audio file.
One of the fastest growing areas of service dogs are those being trained for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety or Panic Attacks. They are typically called Psychiatric service dogs. Most people associate PTSD with veterans, but it happens to a wide variety of people of a wide age range. People who have been raped, people who have been traumatized by their families as children, people who have lived with people with addictions (alcoholic, prescription or street drugs, gamblers, sex addicts etc.), people who have seen atrocious things done to other people or animals. Sadly PTSD affects a wide range of people from those with low education income to highly educated high income. No part of society is exempt.
My most recent video is dedicated to anyone who has suffered a traumatic event that affects their life and would like to train a service dog for others or their own dog to either alert them to an oncoming anxiety attack, or interrupt one as it is happening or interrupt them when they are doing harm to themselves as a result of the pain they are feeling.
Note: Before starting the process of training your own service dog for PTSD or anxiety, first make sure you have a dog that is suitable for these types of tasks. The dog must have a solid temperament, have excellent physical health, and be emotionally resilient. Both confidence and sensitivity are important characteristics as well. Ideally, start with an adult dog 18 months or older that has been raised in an emotionally stable (functional) environment so the dog has that normal baseline to draw from when interacting with you. Choose a dog that has an exercise level that matches yours. Allow your dog to be a dog before starting to train the tasks. 18 months would be the ideal age to start training.
You, the owner-trainer and handler, must be stable in your condition. If your condition is not stable, there is a real risk you will negatively and permanently affect your dog's ability to learn to help you and function in public since all of his needs may not be met. You need a team of many people to help you access resources, take care of and train your dog to become a functional helper. Talk to your health care professionals and a local trainer to see if they think you have the necessary skills, boundaries and abilities to train your own dog. It is not a project to start on a whim.
Your dog needs to be a dog first, family member second and service dog third.
If you meet these requirements, check out our self-paced online anxiety task class as well as our foundation another classes.
Registration and classes start the first Wednesday of each month. https://www.servicedogtraininginstitute.ca/course-catalogue
What Are the Standard Behaviors and Cues for a Service Dog?
I find it fascinating that I often get asked this question and many similar to it. People assume there are standard verbal cues and hand signals for behaviors that service dogs and assistance dogs do. I also find it interesting that they believe there is a standard approach to training.
There is No Standardization!
Most people are shocked to find that there is no standardization at all. Each organization, school or business has their own way of training and their own behaviors they teach and signals they commonly use. They may also use a specific set for a specific kind of service dog. It's what is familiar to them and what has worked in the past. Given that they often deal in larger numbers of dogs and have several staff, it is more efficient to have a common set of behaviors and cues all dogs are taught. Since owner-trained dogs breeds vary widely, there will even be differences in how different sized dogs carry out a behavior. A small dog might jump on the handler's head while they are sleeping if their blood sugar drops too low where a larger dog might nose nudge their neck to wake them up for example.
While there are some basic cues that all service dogs need, they are not all the same since the dog and handlers needs are all different. For example a person with mobility issues may prefer to use verbal cue "Here" to recall their service dog since they may have limited control of their hands for hand signals. For someone who has trouble speaking, extending a hand for a nose target can recall or reposition the dog. Each team has their own special abilities and focus.
Examples of Cues
A cue to a dog is just an event that triggers a known behavior. It can be something in the environment (a door open button), a body cue (person turning their head in a certain direction), hand signal (a lifted hand) or a spoken word. What that word or signal might be is up to what will work for the person the dog. Any cue can be taught to mean any behavior. Bringing a toy can be an alert for a diabetic low. A fist can be sit. Even lifting a symbol drawn on a laminated page can cue a dog to lay down.
If you are training your own service dog, you can choose what makes sense to you and is non-disruptive to the public when the dog is working. If you are training an assistance dog for someone else, you can help them to choose cues and behaviors that make sense to them.
Using Atypical Cues
Some people actually choose non-typical verbal cues or use a different language to prevent other people from distracting their dog. This may not work though as dogs usually respond to tone and take a guess when they don't understand the cue itself. It is better just to proof for extreme distractions.
The only caveat to keep in mind when choosing behaviors and cues, is that at some point your dog may need to be handled by other people if you are incapacitated (emergency personnel, family or friends). This puts your dog at risk if she doesn't understand or do what an "average" person handling a dog expects. The dog needs to either be trained to do behaviors by default (someone holding the leash means the dog walks on a loose leash or the person sitting down cues the dog to lay down and wait) or common verbal and hand cues need to be used at least for really common behaviors. Given the wide variety of training approaches out there, and if your dog 'refuses' to do a given cue (or command), and what the potential human reaction might be, it is wise to keep that in mind.
Wondering what behaviors are the foundation for service dog? Find out in my new class "Foundation Skills Level 1-3" (for both dog and human).
If you want to learn how to train a service dog like a professional, these classes will give you a great foundation!
Donna Hill B.Sc. B.Ed.
Founder/ Head Instructor