Donna Hill

Donna Hill

Your approach to training can make or break your service dog's success! Everyone has skills in some areas and not in others. Knowing if you tend toward being a "recipe trainer" or a "concept trainer" can help you know what to focus on to improve your training.

Check out this chart to contrast the two approaches. Where do you fall on the continuum between the two types? 

Recipe Trainer Concept Trainer
is skills-based. They follow a lesson plan to teach specific skills only. is theory-based. They learn and understand the principles such as systematic desensitization, counter conditioning, operant conditioning, Premack's Principle, capturing, shaping and chaining.
is a procedural learner. They memorize but not understand what they are doing or why. They are great at following step by step directions from someone else and may vary it a bit but that’s it. It is very much like following a cooking recipe. You measure each part but are afraid to test the parameters as you might wreck the product. is principle learner. They can apply (generalize) the principles and concepts to teaching many behaviors and situations.

believes that one training plan can work for all dogs knows their dog's specific learning style and can choose training approaches and recipes that best suit that specific dog
has weak observation skills and poor interpretation of their dog's body language. Doesn't know or understand natural dog behavior.   has strong observation skills and can interpret their dog's body language and use that to change the course of a training session. Understands canine ethology.
focusses on short-term goals. Teaches only specific behaviors to pass a test such as those needed for the Public Access test for service dogs. keeps long term concepts in mind while teaching the smaller goals. Teaches the broader goals of being safe in public, being calm and reliable in public and working as part of a team. 
hopes the dog will figure out how to react appropriately in public prepares the dog for the unpredictability of real life in public using systematic desensitization, counter conditioning etc. as needed
limited ability to apply recipe to other behaviors applies principles, situations, tasks and to teach concepts. Teaches the dog many examples of the concept so she can learn it. An example is duration. If the dog is taught to hold her nose to a target, wait at a door, stay in a relaxed down, hold an object in her mouth and look at you, each calmly for a duration of time, the dog starts to understand that patience gets her what she wants. 
rarely reviews or evaluates what they have done and why it worked or didn't work regularly reflects on and analyzes training and situations and applies changes to current ones
tries to solve specific problems without seeing the bigger behavior patterns involved looks for patterns in behaviors and between behaviors. They use critical thinking skills and categorize and organize information using logic.
has hard time breaking behaviors into smaller steps when they haven't seen someone else do it first. understands the smaller pieces that make up behaviors. For example, a nose nudge is made up of three behaviors or a retrieve is at least 6 different behaviors. 
 follows what others have done  creative thinkers for behaviors and problem solving

Concept Training

In human and dog training, concept learning is key since there are so many different behaviors the handler and a service dog need. They also face so many different daily challenges. Learning to teach your dogs conceptually means that you can figure out how to teach any behavior or task you will need as your medical condition changes as well as being able to teach your own successor service dogs with less guidance. This will save you money and is also empowering and fun! Your dog will learn faster once you have put in the time to learn the theory upfront.

Problem Solving Examples
Conceptual learners are good problem solvers. They are creative in applying what they know. They seldom need help with teaching their dog new skills. They see the big picture while also seeing the immediate picture and how they fit together. Conceptual knowledge allows the trainer to break the steps down when they are teaching their dog. This is especially helpful for problem-solving since they can isolate the problem part of the behavior and reteach that.

Example 1.
A procedural learner would ask:
“How do I get my dog to ignore people while working?”
She would receive the list resources (such as a step by step approach, human helpers etc.) that was given to her, and then apply them so the dog would not engage with people.

In contrast, a conceptual learner would ask:
“What is the general approach I can take to help desensitize my dog to a trigger?”
And with a few general ideas from others, would be able to create a plan on her own, identify what resources are needed for the plan and carry it out. In addition, she would be able to recognize and apply the ideas to other situations that need desensitization such as overexcitement, fear of people, other dogs and animals, loud noises, etc.

Example 2.
When faced with a dog that has low interest in doing a specific behavior or task, a procedural learner would ask:
“How can I get my dog more excited about performing my medical task?”

In contrast, a conceptual learner would ask:
“What principle can I use to increase my dog's enthusiasm for the task?

The conceptual answer would be: “You can apply Premack’s Principle to increase his enthusiasm for the task.” If the handler didn’t know what Premack’s principle was, they could research it and see some examples of how to apply it, then generalize those ideas to their specific situation.

Example 3.
A procedural learner asks: “How would I prepare my dog for going to a concert?”

A conceptual learner would ask: “What specific things would I need to desensitize my dog to to prepare him to attend an indoor concert with me.”

The first is looking for an a, then b, then c type answer. In other words, they want you to tell them how to do it step by step. The second is asking for ideas of specific criterion they need to train for that they might not have considered (especially if they have never been to an indoor concert before). They already have a broad plan in place (using desensitization) they are just looking for things they might have missed.

Look at Other People's Questions
Take a look in various dog training groups on social media and look for the types of questions people ask. From them, you can tell what kind of trainer they are and what types of answers that would be helpful for each. A recipe trainer wants a step by step answer, perhaps one that considers all the "What if's". A concept trainer only needs to be pointed to the principles that apply and they can figure out the rest of the process.

The good news is everyone can learn to improve their concept training! That will allow them to deal with any situation that arises and to train any behavior, skill or task their service dog may need. That will save money and hassles in the long run.

Improve Your Knowledge!
If you want to begin learning the theory and skills behind training your dog as a service dog, take a look at our online "Foundation Skills" self-paced classes. Then if you want to keep learning, check out our other classes such as Loose Leash Walking, Settle/Relax and Public Access Level 1 and 2 (Preparation for Public Access). Between the four classes, you will learn the major teaching Principles and how to apply them so can train your own service dog to be a safe, responsive partner for you in life.

Booking a one hour session or more with Donna can also help you pinpoint what principles you need to learn more about to improve your service dog training skills.

The ability of a service dog to generalize a behavior is an important skill. Generalization involves being able to quickly relearn and perform a known behavior in new environments.

There is a process an owner-trainer can do to help their dog to learn this concept. That is to reteach behaviors in each new environment that you take your dog to. On average most dogs start to figure out the concept of generalize behaviors after learning 5 or 6 behaviors in 5 to 6 new environments. As the dog learns more behaviors and performs them in more locations, generalization of each new behavior usually occurs faster.

What Does This Look Like in Real Life?
1. Teaching your dog 6 behaviors (often by capturing or shaping)
2. Adding distance, duration, elevation etc to the behavior
3. Adding a cue
4. Proofing each behavior
5. Bringing each behavior to stimulus control level in that environment
6. and reteaching each behavior from the start in at least 6 new environments

Repetition in Different Environments Helps a Dog Learn to Discriminate
The repetition in different environments helps the dog to look for (discriminate) the tiny details that are the same to tell him what behavior to do and when. He’s not only watching for cues in the environment, the equipment he wears, what equipment or props you are interacting with, what body, hand and verbal cues you are using, where you are looking, the tone you deliver the verbal cue with and so much more! All these tiny things can help a dog to figure out what behavior you are asking for in each new environment.

In order for a dog to generalize successfully, your dog needs to have:

  • a good understanding of the behavior
  • the behavior under stimulus control
  • a long reinforcement history for doing the behavior
  • a good memory for behaviors
  • ability to withstand distractions
  • no fear or reactivity to interfere with performance of the behaviors

Key to Success
The key to your dog’s success is your ability to choose the environments with a distraction level that is suitable for him at the stage of training he is at with each behavior. If the distraction level is too high, you are asking too much and that sets him up to fail. Learning to generalize in the house and yard isn’t usually an issue with most dogs as the distraction level tends to be low. While you should lay a solid foundation in 6 different locations at home, it’s when you go away from home that generalizing starts to be very challenging.

Specific Examples
Doing specific training sessions and integrating the training into regular outings can go a long way to help a dog generalize behaviors.

Here are some ideas of how to generalize specific behaviors in specific environments: 

Loose leash walking (llw): Choose a tree just after some cones or seeds have fallen. Hold the leash in one hand or attach the waist leash if that’s what you use. Hold a bag in your leash hand. Under one specific tree, can your dog keep the leash loose as you pick up 20 cones and put them in your bag? Make sure you move a few feet between cones and stop at each location to put them in your bag.

Settle: Choose a walking trail that has several benches or logs short distance apart. Llw between benches and sit at each one for 5 minutes with your dog in a relaxed settle then move on. Fiddle with your mobile device or otherwise engage yourself to keep your focus off your dog. Don’t ignore him but also don’t make constant eye contact. Be ready to recue the settle.

Leave it: Find a location with a variety of distractions that you don’t want your dog to interact with. Make sure you have previously taught him to ignore each distraction unless cued to interact with them (people, other dogs, scents, garbage cans etc). Just before you approach each distraction, cue leave it and keep on moving past. A great example is to go out on garbage day and walk around the block. Cue leave it as needed for any interest in the garbage cans.

Potty on Cue: This one is further generalization of leave it. Choose a location where it would be inappropriate for your dog to urinate but where other dogs have. Along the wall of a building or on a paved walkway where other dogs have peed are examples. Before you start, find an appropriate place for her to go potty (grass, dirt or other surface) and cue your dog to urinate. Do not start the walk until she has emptied herself. This will make it easier for her to stop peeing midstream if she makes a mistake. As you walk along and your dog shows interest in sniffing or starts to lift a leg to pee, give your leave it cue and walk on. Find locations along the path after about 5 leave it cues where it is appropriate for the dog to urinate. Take her off the path and cue her to potty there. Continue your walk repeating the same process.

Always remember to reward your dog for making the correct choice. Rewards can be food, play, massage, praise, or interaction with something the environment. Use the reinforcer that makes most sense for your environment.

Be good to your dog! If you need help teaching your dog to generalize behaviors, book a webcam session with Donna or Jenn.

Going Back to Training in Public

Whether to are starting out with your pup in public places or resuming training after a break (such as due to COVID 19), we want to remind you to take a planned approach to exposing your dog to distractions. 

Even if you have been keeping up your service dog’s training and skills at home (which is great!), you need to remember that the dogs can easily get overwhelmed if they are not exposed to distractions regularly. Basically, he may have been sensitized to distractions by not being exposed as regularly as before.

What this might look like for your dog:
-inability to focus on you or tasks
-inability to relax
-pulling on leash
-staring at moving objects or sounds
-barking at other people or other dogs
-fear of changes in the environment
-sniffing the ground, merchandise or the air

What You Can Do:

Go back to the beginning and do training at your dog’s pace. Start at home, in the yard, then at the edge of the yard, then on the sidewalk. 

If you must drive to the training location, even the car ride might be very exciting for your dog. 

Create a gradual desensitization plan to gradually expose your dog to things he had been exposed to in the past. 

Use acclimation. Acclimation is standing still (you anchored to a spot that you think your dog can quickly adapt to the distraction level) giving your dog a limited area to explore (such as the length of the leash) and letting her explore the environment by looking, listening and sniffing in that specific space. Wait until until she is calm and focussed enough to offer default behaviours like an un-cued look at you. Capture as many of those as you need to until your dog shows you she wants to train. 

Next, try some simple nose targets, sits and downs to see if she can respond and how calmly she responds. Only when her focus is 90% on you, can you take a step towards a more distracting location and repeat. 

If she is hanging on the end of the leash, let her look, listen and sniff again until she defaults back to you. Repeat taking one step at a time closer to noise, movement or scents that interest your dog.

If she reacts with anything other than general interest (gets overexcited, whines barks or pulls), that means you have chosen a location that has too high of a distraction. Move to a lower distraction location and try again. 

Keep sessions short (5 minutes) at first, and do only a few a day. Later you can increase the length of the sessions and the the number of them separately. It may take several weeks for your dog to get back to ignoring distractions as she did before COVID 19. Carefully choose your training destinations to gradually increase the distraction level. This sets your dog up for success!

If you need help, remember that both Jenn and Donna are available for private web cam sessions to help you plan and start reintegration and offer 3 x 30 min weekly sessions to help you implement it.

Friday, 20 March 2020 11:53

Solving Behavior "Problems" in SDit

Service Dogs in Training are dogs first. Their behavior tends to be more closely scrutinized as they will be working in public where other people will be exposed to and judge the dog's behavior. As a result owner trainers may be worried about behaviors that they consider a problem.

Dogs are complex biological and social beings. Asking the right questions can help you determine what is going on in a specific situation. Here are many things to consider when sleuthing out a behavior you have observed in your dog and you have decided that it's unwanted or even a problem you want to change. 

Questions to Ask
There are several questions that can be asked to help you determine the background of a behavior that you have decided you are not comfortable with. Some of them may not be relevant while some you think aren't relevant may be. It is important to consider all of the questions to give you the most useful information to figure out what is happening for your dog.

These are general questions to get you thinking about the behavior and the context they occur in. They may lead you to ask other questions that will help you understand your dog's situation better and come up with a different more effective solution than you otherwise might. If you are getting professional help, it is helpful to have the answers ready to these questions. They are not arranged in any particular order.

Does the behavior fall in the realm of normal for the species?

Is the behavior new or an established one?

Is it a medical issue or a behavior issue?

Is the behavior dangerous to you, another person or dog? If it is, get help from a professional training coach who uses positive reinforcement right away! Avoid letting the dog practice the behavior in the meantime.

Is it appropriate for the context it is being done in?

What has changed recently in your house or to the dog's daily environment or schedule?

Could the behavior be due to a developmental stage? Adolescence see our 3 blog posts on the topic.

Does the behavior fill a biological/physiological need?

Does the behavior meet a social need?

Is it a behavior that you want to change? If so, why?

Is it a patterned behavior?

Has it been learned from another dog?

Where is it happening? In the house only? In your yard? Everywhere? 

Is this the only place it happens?

Who else is around when it happens? (Other people, dogs etc)

Who else has been around before it happens?

Could the behavior be a sign of stress? (Watch for low level communication from your dog such as lip licking, yawning or looking away before the behavior. This can escalate to a dog that hesitates, slows down, stops or even backs away. The dog may bark at you as well. These all can be signs of stress.)

Could the behavior be a form of communication to you or other dogs? All sorts of subtle and obvious behaviors are a form of communication.

If you had to guess, what emotion is your dog demonstrating in the moment of doing the undesired behavior?
This is an important part of identifying an appropriate course of action for behaviors like barking, low or high arousal, refusal to do behavior etc.

What are the physical and social environment the behavior occurs in? Context can include emotional pressures as well.
Spatial pressure (handler stepping into the dog's personal space) and social pressure (such as handler dropping their tone of voice when giving a cue) are two things most people forget about. They can be important in some space-sensitive breeds such as herding dogs and individuals of other breeds.

What did the dog do before and after the behavior?
We can often predict what a dog is going to do because dogs may naturally do chains of behaviors (like rituals) that can help us predict that the dog is going to do the behavior.

Is there a pattern in when the behavior occurs? 
A pattern is a reliable repeated sample (of behavior in this case). We do that by carefully documenting what we see each time we see it. Then over time we can see how predictable the behavior is occurring and what might be causing or contributing to it. It might take us 3 or 20 repeats to figure out what's going on depending on the behavior, the context and how good we are at observing.

Does the behavior happen with other behaviors or appear to be impulsive.
Patterns might also involve mild to extreme obsessive/compulsive disorders. Does the dog appear to not have control over doing the behavior? This occurs more in some breeds than others. German Shepherd Dogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and other herding breeds can exhibit this.

What do you intuitively think is going on?
Ignore what you have heard trainers on TV say. Go with your gut. You know your dog, the situation he lives in, yourself and the behavior patterns that are normal for your dog. List the top 3 impacts on your dog and why he might be doing the behavior.

Obviously, if the behavior is of concern to the dog or to others (where the dog is showing fear or aggression), we don't want the dog to practice the unwanted behavior, so management to prevent the behavior from occurring is needed until you can get professional help.

Use the questions above to figure out what might be going on for our dog. This will help you and/or your dog professional to determine the best approach to changing the dog's behavior. 

Sample Application
Here is a sample behavior to apply the questions to. I received a brief email that stated the following:

"12 week old, border collie, urinates outside, after finishing walks a few paces & pees (very little) again. Not a UTI, is this a form of mark?”

The information provided is a starting point but let's apply the above questions to help the handler ask some useful questions to figure out what might be going on for their dog.

Does the behavior fall in the realm of normal for the species?

Is the behavior new or an established one?
We don't know as the information wasn't provided.

Is it a medical issue or a behavior issue?
The handler appears to have preliminarily ruled out Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). This is a great starting point. Other medical things could still be be happening.

Is the behavior dangerous to you, another person or dog?
No, unless it is a contagious medical isue. 

Is it appropriate for the context it is being done in?
Not normally. This is likely why the handler is worried about it.

What has changed recently in your house or to the dog's daily environment?

Could the behavior be due to a developmental stage?
Possibly. The dog could be in a fear period.

Does the behavior meet a biological/physiological need?
Maybe. Urination is an important behavior for living. Could the dog be emptying her bladder like a male human does? After emptying most of it, she could be trying again to get the last bit out.

Does the behavior meet a social need?
Maybe. Is the second urination an attempt to spread the urine further to leave a message to other dogs? This would be the 'marking' the writer mentions.
Have other dogs marked the spot? The pup might be marking over a spot where another dog peed.

Is it a behavior that you want to change? If so, why?
Unknown. We can speculate here that as a service dog, the dog will be cued to potty and have one chance only to eliminate. Possibly they are concerned the dog is marking and this may be a future predictor of other "problem" behaviors.

Is it a patterned behavior?
Unknown. We may speculate that since the handler has asked the question, it is likely that they have noticed a pattern of this "pee and pee again" behavior whenever she takes the pup out to urinate.

Has it been learned from another dog?
Maybe but we don't know if the pup is around or has been around other dogs. They can learn from a single observation of other dogs.

Where is it happening?
I think we can assume it is outdoors in a potty area.

Is this the only place it happens?
We don't know.

Who else is around when it happens?
We don't know. If there other dogs around when it happens, could it be a response to their behavior?

Who else was around before it happened?
We don't know.

Could the behavior be a sign of stress?
Frequent urination can be a sign of stress. When cortisol levels are higher than normal, the body produces more urine. Does this qualify as frequent urination?

Could the behavior be a form of communication to you or other dogs?
It might be.

If you had to guess, what emotion is your dog demonstrating in the moment of doing the undesired behavior?
The writer didn't speculate.

What is the context (physical and social environment, emotional pressures, etc).
We don't know anything about the context.

What did the dog do before and after the behavior?
We aren't provided with any information.

Is there a pattern in when the behavior occurs?
We don't know if this is a pattern. The way it's written implies that the behavior is, but we do not know.

Does the behavior happen with other behaviors or appear to be impulsive?
We don't know.

What do you intuitively think is going on?
We don't know what the handler thinks, though she does mention marking as a possibility.

This list of questions gives the handler many more insights to her dog's behavior and will help her to figure out what her dog is doing and perhaps why. This is the first step to changing the behavior.


Monday, 02 March 2020 21:07

Keeping Training a Service Dog Simple

Keeping Training a Service Dog Simple

Training your own service dog seems like a complicated long term and in depth process, and it is! Keeping the process simple is the key to being able to follow through! 
Here is an Overview:
Identify Qualities
you would like your dog to have.
Some Examples of Qualities:
A calm dog in many different environments
A dog that desires interaction with you or to be in close proximity with you.
A dog that is confident no matter where he is working.
A dog that is able to really relax in different environments.
A dog that is comfortable with strangers.
A dog that has body awareness.
Generalize Behaviours
Identify a few basic behaviours that are key to starting getting those qualities. Generalize those behaviours.
Identify what concepts your dog needs to know.
Generalize those concepts to different locations. 
Make the base behaviours a habit.
Some Examples of Behaviours:
A dog that looks at you.
A dog that can lay down on a mat near you.
A dog that can leave objects alone (not sniff, pick up or  or eat objects).
A dog that can nose target objects.
A dog that can step over a series of rungs without knocking them over.
Generalize Concepts
Identify a few basic concepts you would like your dog to generalize well.
Some Examples of Concepts:
A dog can do a variety of behaviours at a distance from the handler
A dog that can do a behaviour for a long period of time (duration).
A dog that moves at the same speed as the handler.
A dog that can nose target any indicated object anywhere.
A dog that is careful with where his body is in space no matter what situation he is in.
A dog that can be walked away from the handler by a stranger without a verbal cue or hand signal.
A dog that chooses to do an appropriate default behaviour when not specifically cued to do a behaviour in a specific environment (such as leave it for scents, food, other people, other dogs etc. 
Fear Periods 
Take into account that fear periods occur and when they might occur. 
If they erupt, take a few steps back and reinforce base behaviours in familiar places and move forward  in incrementally new locations.
Train the Dog in Front of You. 
This means assessing each training session where your dog is at and what he might be able to do in that moment. Do this in each session no matter if you have trained in that spot only once or a hundred times before. 
Keep your eye on the bigger goal and try not to get bogged down in the details. It you find you are getting mired in the mud, get an outside perspective. You may also need help to use creativity to problem solve. 

Contact SDTI to do a web cam consult with either Jenn Hauta or Donna Hill.

When I take my adult dog out to the yard, and lead him around on a long line, he will sniff for a half hour before going potty. As my mobility decreases, I need him to potty sooner and of course, i don't want to stand out in the rain or snow either. How can I change this? 

It sounds like he has learned to withhold his potty events until he's ready to go in. This is common when the outdoor time is not reliant on him pottying first. In other words, he needs to potty first and go sniff outside after after as the reward.

To change this, you will need to choose a new potty location in your yard. For example a 15 foot square defined area in your front yard rather than the back yard where he has been previous doing this behavior sniffing. (Changing the environment changes the behavior expectations). Don't worry this physical location change is only temporary until he understands the new way to do the behavior.

Starting first thing in the morning when you know he has to go pee, get dressed as if you are going for a walk, take him out on a leash (not a long line) and stand in the middle of the defined area and wait until he goes. Let him move and sniff around only in the defined area. It helps to anchor yourself on the spot. You can turn around on the spot but not step away.  A six foot leash actually give him about a 15 foot radius which is plenty of space to explore to potty.

As soon as you get out there, set your phone timer or watch for 5 minutes. If he does not go in 5 minutes, then bring him back in and confine him to a small area in the house (X-pen or crate for example). Take him out again in an hour and repeat. Repeat for as many times as it takes for him to go in that 5 minute period. When he does, wait until he's done, then mark and praise him and take him for a long sniffy walk - at least his 30 minutes. If you repeat this each time you take him out (at least 4 times each day for most dogs-after meals, after training, play or sleeping, and before bed), he will start to understand that he must go potty first, then the play and walk comes afterward.

Once he is reliably going potty right away in the new location (10 times in a row), then you can start to take him back towards the previous location where he was pottying. The same rules apply in all locations of your yard now, including the the old location once you get there. Take him out, if he doesn't go in 5 minutes, back in the house and try again in an hour in the same location. If he does go, he gets a walk or playtime afterward. Later you can phase this into a yard or in-house training session if he enjoys those. What comes after the potty must be rewarding for him. Over time, you can shorten the activity or only go for a walk once or twice a day. 

Since you are already out there with him, you can also add a cue to the potty and teach him to potty under "stimulus control" so later, you can cue him to go whenever and wherever you need him to.

While you train, make sure he is getting enough mental and physical stimulation each day. Do indoor training sessions, or ask a friend or hire a dog walker to supplement his walks 3 times a week. Good luck!

Tuesday, 20 November 2018 12:12

Free Service Dog Selection Class!

Did you know that Service Dog Training Institute offers a WHOLE class on selecting a service dog or assistance dog candidate?

It so important to start with the right dog that: 

1. We created a whole class looking at how to determine your needs, puppy or adult, finding a breeder or rescue. Also included is key information about life stages of a dog (so you know and can prepare for each).

Here's an overview:

  • Introduction to Choosing Your Service Dog Candidate!
  • Lecture 1 General Points
  • Lecture 2 Basic Biological Development of a Puppy
  • Lecture 3 Social Development of Puppies
  • Lecture 4 What Do You Need in an Assistance Dog?
  • Service Dog Selection Homework 1
  • Lecture 5 Selecting a Reputable Breeder and Puppy Buyer Etiquette
  • Service Dog Selection Homework 2
  • Lecture 6 Selecting an Adult Service Dog Candidate
  • Service Dog Selection Homework 3
  • Lecture 7 Preparation for Puppy Arrival
  • References and Resources

2. We offer it for FREE!

Yes, choosing the right dog is key to success! While there are stories about miracle dogs rescued from bad situations becoming successful service dogs, those are celebrated by the media and such dogs are few and far between. The reality is that you need to start with a healthy dog with a great temperament that has been socialized from birth and living in a home environment. Those can be hard to find in today's world! Even in litters that are specifically bred for assistance work, only 3/7 successfully make it to the working stage. Even then, some of those dogs are retired early due to health issues that appear, temperament issues that occur later or trauma that occurs on the job. A well-bred dog shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Many of the mixed breed dogs of unknown parentage do cost an arm and a leg (up to $3500!) and may result in high medical bills and a very low success rate as a service dog. If you go in educated you can avoid the costs and heartache involved in a failed service dog.

Here's the link. No gimmicks, no signing up for email lists!
Access it as often as you like! Share it with friends, family and colleagues.

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)
  • may have higher incidence of cryptorchoidism (undescended testicles) than larger dogs
  • 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. 


When considering what alert behavior you want to train, here are some things to keep in mind:

*Alerts should be passive alerts. That is the dog finds the scent and indicates where it is without disturbing it. This is ideal for allergens as the handler does not want the dog to bring particles of the allergen back to them.

*Alerts should be a behavior you will clearly recognize as an indication the dog has found a sample of the allergen. If you choose a behavior that your dog commonly does, you may miss the alert. Choosing a down for a dog that lies down when waiting may not be a good choice. You could add on a specific behavior to the common behavior such as a paw cross if that behavior would be better for the environments you need the alert in. On the other hand, choosing a really showy behavior may draw unwanted attention to you and the dog.

*The behavior must be simple enough that you can figure out how to teach it to your dog. Having a long chain of behaviors (several behaviors in a row) as an alert can make it harder to train. Capturing a slightly unusual behavior your dog does can be an easy way to train and make it a more natural behavior for your dog.

*You must decide if you want the dog to alert the allergen at it source or come back to your side and then alert.

*For an allergic alert, the dog must not interact with the scent as you don't want her accidentally bringing it back on her paws or fur. If you dog tends towards using her paws, avoid paw-reated indications and the default behavior could easily return to pawing the scent. 

*How precise of a location alert do you need? Does the behavior allow the dog to indicate in a precise way or is a general presence/absence alert more what you need (as in allergens that travel in the air). Traces of allergens can be anywhere in the room from on the floor, on people, on door knobs and handrails, elevator buttons and even in the air (as in an airborne allergy).

*Choose a behavior that is not going to stress your dog's body if it will be repeated over and over (as it will be during training sessions). Your dog could easily do 80 to 100 repetitions (or more) in a day. 3 sessions of 30 repetitions= 90.

Here is a list of passive (allergy) alert behavior ideas: 

  • sit
  • sit and paw lift
  • down
  • down and paw cross
  • nose nudge leg (or hand)
  • nose touch and hold on leg or hand (target spot must be accessible to dog at all times standing, sitting and laying down)
  • dog grabs "bringsel" (a thin bumper attached to his collar) and holds it in his mouth
  • stand and scratch floor with paw (near but not on allergen)
  • stand and paw lift (point)
  • quiet talk (more of a conversational woo, woo-not barking)
  • beg (sit up pretty)
  • tipping head up (yes nod) or sideways (no)
  • chin on floor or chair holding still towards scent 
  • nose touch held in place without the physical contact
  • spin once
  • back leg lift/stretch
  • kicking with back legs (like after a defecation)
  • rear up and paw (ends up more of a dance where she places paws on my arm)
  • back away from allergen
  • bow and scooting back away from allergen
  • grab wrist/sleeve and lead you away
  • tug on a toy attached to your waist and lead you away
  • physically block you from allergen (stand stay crosswise in front of you that resists your forward movement)

Here are 4 videos that give an overview of the realities and needs of self-training your own service dog. 

Part 1 The Need (3.43 min)

Part 2 Resources and Laws (5.21 min)

Part 3 The Dog (3.03 min)

Part 4 Training and Common Situations Handlers Deal with (5.25 min)

Please feel free to share this link with anyone you know who is thinking about Do it Yourself DIY training or just starting to train their own service dog or assistance dog! 

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