Donna Hill

Donna Hill

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

Many people embark on a dream to train their own service dog. Along the way they get bogged down, tired, life happens or their medical issues flare up and all contribute to them taking a longer than planned break from training.

What can you do to stay motivated?

Reinforce and Reward Yourself!

Before you scoff at this idea...
When you go to work, you get paid, right? Why shouldn't you get paid to train your dog as well? If your boss offered you the opportunity to do your job without getting paid, you would do it right? Wrong! So why are you asking yourself to do another job without payment? Payment comes in many forms. We'll get into external motivation versus internal motivation in a minute, so bear with me.

The first thing we need to address is that we humans need both reinforcement and rewards to start and keep up behaviors just like our dogs do. Training is one such behavior that can be reinforced and rewarded. Explained simply, reinforcers occur immediately after a specific behavior has occurred. They increase the possibility of the behavior happening again. Rewards occur after a series of behaviors have been completed and reward the whole process, rather than one specific act. A hug given immediately after someone is assertive on behalf of someone else, is a reinforcer. A $200 bonus received at Christmas time is a reward.

What is Reinforcing and Rewarding to You?
Just like we would for our dog, we need to make a list of what foods, things, activities, people and events are reinforcing to you. Make sure to include some from each group. Include some of small value, medium value and high value. The low and medium items are used as reinforcers. The high value ones will be reserved as rewards for bigger accomplishments. Prioritize them least to greatest value to you in their separate groups.

Next, make an overall training plan for your dog. Start with today's date and end with your goal date in the future when your dog will be ready to help you as a service dog. If your area needs the dog to be certified, that would be your end date. If you want to use the public access test as your end date, use that!  Click here to see a more detailed post on creating a training plan.

Go ahead and reinforce your self for taking the first step of making the plan! Have a special coffee, eat a piece of chocolate. There, doesn't that feel better? Reinforcement is delivered as soon as the desired behavior is done. Finish writing down the first step of your plan, eat your chocolate.

Take the Next Step
Identify the foundation skills your dog needs to be able to do both at home then in public no matter the distraction? List those.

Here's a few:

behavior

at home

in public

sit

 

 

down

 

 

recall

 

 

leave it

 

 

nose target

 

 

loose leash walking

 

 

settle/relax

 

 

be handled by a stranger

 

 

ignore other dogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks does your dog need to do to mitigate your disability? List those.

task

at home

in public

alert you to a doorbell ringing

 

 

pick up a dropped item

 

 

 

do deep pressure therapy to you

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks or behaviors are not needed but you think might be fun to train? List those.

task or behavior

at home

in public

pivoting from in front of you

 

 

backing up

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

There's a good start on a reward plan for yourself!

 

To incorporate reinforcement into the plan, break down each of those behaviors into their smaller training steps and choose reinforcers for each one. Even if your dog isn't as successful as you like, reinforce yourself for doing the training that day! Be kind to yourself (use a higher rate of reinforcement on yourself when you start losing motivation for a specific behavior) and motivation will come!

Behavior: settle/relax

relaxes on dog bed or mat voluntarily

 

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

 

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

 

settles on mat until released by cue

 

relaxes on mat on cue

 

settles on mat on cue near chair in new room

 

settles on mat near chair in yard

 

 

 

 

Another way you can apply Premack principle is to do a training session of one behavior you enjoy less to train, and alternate that with a behavior you enjoy training. It works! 

What other creative ways can use use Premack Principle on yourself?

External Motivation vs Internal Motivation

Back to this. The difference between these two is interesting. They have a relationship. External reinforcers and rewards can be things, objects, games, activities, travel, interaction with people, another person's approval etc. Internal motivators are feelings that you get from inside yourself when a step, task, job is completed or your dog figures something out on his own.


When you start out using external motivators, then apply them to yourself intermittently (ask for more of the same behavior to earn a reinforcement (called two-fers and three-fers in dog training) , the activity that you are being reinforced for becomes reinforcing with application of the external reinforcers. When you start to see a change in your dog's behaviors in specific situations, you feel good about it. Those feelings, caused by your dog's change of behavior, lead you to be more motivated to train your dog as you want to see more behavior change and feel better about the fact that "Yes! you CAN do this! "

This process is explained by the application of the Premack Principle that is the most powerful tool in a trainer's toolbox. Premack Principle says that if you pair a lower likelihood behavior with a higher likelihood behavior, over time the lower level behavior will increase in value to the learner. Sometimes becoming equal in value to the higher value behavior.  So pairing a lower likelihood activity (training in public) with a higher value activity (going out for coffee with a friend afterward), you increase your enjoyment of training.

 

 

Ultimately, the process of doing the activity becomes internally reinforcing. Internal reinforcement is when we do specific activities for the satisfaction or pleasure of doing them. No external rewards are necessary to do them. Over time, little things become internal reinforcers. The fast that your dog CAN do a specific behavior that he was having trouble figuring out. That your dog CAN do the same behavior in a pubic place! Voluntary eye contact from your dog. that makes you feel good! The feeling of pride when your dog helps you for the first time in public as a service dog in training learning public access. Many, many such things will become reinforcers to keep you motivated if you start incorporating external reinforcers into your training plan. 

 

For me, in writing these posts, I am reinforced by the feeling of satisfaction that I get when I hit the "Post" button on the blog. It is one step in being able to help others. I then Premack myself by having lunch of something I enjoy eating.  I get rewarded when someone lets me know that the post was helpful to them!

Watch for Part 2 for more ways to keep yourself motivated to train your service dog.

Sunday, 02 December 2018 13:48

Never Have a Night Crying Puppy Again!

As a person training your own service dogs, the last thing you need a is a puppy that cries all night. It stresses you out and it stresses the pup out. And it's not a great start on bonding. So…read this article!

I have slept with all my puppies, then phase them out by transitioning them to a crate. Crates are handy for travelling. A tip for small breeds is to roll up a towel or fleece and make a ring. That will prevent you from laying on your pup while you sleep. You can also use it to help your pup learn to sleep in the crate as it smells familiar.

The bond that is created when you sleep with your pup is very strong and that is needed for service dogs. A bonus is that you wake up when the pup starts moving around and this makes night-time house training so easy.

Thanks to Jill Breitner of www.dogdecoder.com for the article.
http://www.dogdecoder.com/theres-puppy-pile-cute/

T
his TedX Talk by Jaak Panksepp reveals some important information about physical connection and emotion and the importance of this connection in mammals and birds.

Spay or Not and At What Age?

You'll hear many things about whether or not and what age to alter a dog. You need to do your research before you decide what is appropriate for you, your dog and your situation. This is an especially important consideration for service dogs since certification depends the behavioral and physical abilities of the dog. Spaying and neutering too early results in health and behavioral issues in many dogs.

Why & When Is Altering Done?

Spaying and neutering is typically done as a prevention for population explosion/unwanted dogs and to prevent health issues such as cancers (experts are now question the validity of this belief.). A common practice in some regions has been to alter the puppies as young as 8 weeks before they go to their new homes (This is seen most commonly in dogs from shelters and rescue organizations and some breeders) Recent long-term studies have shown juvenile altering is not a good idea.

What is Done to the Dogs?

Spaying and Neutering a dog removes the sex organs and hormones associated with them. In females the uterus is removed (as in human hysterectomy) and the ovaries. In neutering (also known as castration) the male's testicles are removed. 

Long term Effects of Spaying Too Early

Dogs spayed or neutered as juveniles (less than 6 mos old) show many undesirable long-term effects. What occurs is that the hormones normally emitted by the sex glands are not present and this affects both the temperament and physical development of the dogs in question. In females, fearfulness, overly long leg bones, low bone density issues, hip dysplasia, ACL tears and increased risks of cancer have been identified. In males, all of the above except fearful nature is replaced by aggression.

Two long-term studies of a large number of dogs show behavioral and physical effects are a real possibility. 

*In 1998 and 1999, 1444 Golden Retrievers by the Golden Retriever Club of America

*German Shepherd Dogs

Overall Summary of Studies done on animals altered at a juvenile age. http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html

What Age Is ideal?

If you are going to spay/neuter you service dog, a minimum age is just at the time the dog reaches physical maturity. At least 1 year for small breeds, 18 mos for middle size dogs and about 2 years for giant breeds. This way, physical development (especially the bone plates which is among the last to mature) has been completed. The ideal age may also be affected by sex. (Im HH, Yeon SC, Houpt KA, et al. Effects of ovariohysterectomy on reactivity in German shepherd dogs. Vet J 2006;172(1):154-159.)

Guide Dog programs typically spay females after their first heat and males at about 8 months of age. Could this partly explain the high failure rate of dogs due to behavioural issues (some as high as 50%)?

Is Spaying/Neutering Necessary?

Do you need to alter your animal at all? That depends on the laws of the your region, the breeder, the program you belong to and the individual dog in question. 

Does altering males actually decrease or prevent aggression issues? Studies show that if the altering is done at the time of puberty, it decreases the hormonal levels and usually results in calmer behaviour such as less wandering. If the altering is done after puberty, there may be no behavioral improvement.

Here is a link to a summary of studies on spaying and neutering risks and benefits of dogs at all ages.

http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/longtermhealtheffectsofspayneuterindogs.pdf

Alternative Approaches

If your situation allows you to choose not to spay or neuter you dog, be a responsible owner and do not allow your animal to reproduce, unless you are knowledgeable and experienced in the area of breeding.

One way to do this without spaying or neutering is ask your vet to do a vasectomy on your male dog or perform a tubal ligation in your female dog. This stops all possibility of reproducing without altering the natural hormone levels in the dog. Do be warned, though, these operations, while actually easier to perform are not common and the vets may not want to do them. You may need to educate your vet or find one who is willing to do it. Only you can decide if the benefits are worth the extra effort.

Of course the common sense method of preventing your female from breeding is to protect her from male dogs (with solid fences etc) when in heat and keep your male dog with you at all times.

http://www.caninesports.com/SNBehaviorBoneDataSnapShot.pdf

There are many resources that you will need to access if you are considering adding training service dogs and their handlers to your business offerings. 

Teaching People

One of the most important things is that you need to be great working with people and knowledgeable about disabilities and how they affect your client’s life. To date, there is little, if any, resources to specifically train the human part of the service dog training team. Since that is who you will actually be training, that makes it more challenging!

Obtaining some sort of teaching certificate or degree: (6 months to 4 year programs available)

  • provincial or state instructor’s diploma
  • adult education
  • general education

Volunteering with people with disabilities is another. There are physical disabilities (paraplegia, arthritis, hearing impaired, blindness), mental disabilities (memory issues, learning, dizziness), emotional disabilities (anxiety, PTSD, autism) and medical disabilities (allergies, chemical sensitivities, diabetes, seizures) and many others.
Counselling experience would be an asset since we spend much of our time counselling the people as well as teaching about dog training.

Teaching Resources (books)

Dr. Rise Van Fleet

Human Half of Dog Training Collaborating with Clients to get Results

Terri Ryan

Coaching People to Train Their Dogs

Gamify Your Training

Service Dog Associations 

Note: There is no official government body that oversees dog training and who offers certification or classes.

There are however, two key organizations that are internationally recognized for service dogs.

Assistance Dogs International ADI
Offers to accreditation to non-profit service dog organizations

International Association for Assistance Dogs  Partners IAADP
Offer Affiliate memberships 

Service Dog Laws

It is important to learn about the laws related to service and assistance dogs.

In general, most countries have human rights laws and disability laws that protect the rights of the individual who has the service dog.

For the USA,
The Americans with Disabilities Act ADA

ADA FAQ

In Canada, each province has their own laws regarding guide and service dogs.
British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia now have a certification process for owner-trained teams.

Learn More About the Training Process
and Becoming a Training Coach for Service Dogs and Assistance Dogs:


Here are some resources I trust to help start you off.

Check out Service Dog Training Institute SDTI’s classes:
These online self-paced classes help you to work though the process of training owners to train their own service dog. Not only training behaviors and tasks, but lectures and tips on the specifics for service dogs are woven throughout.

A General Introduction to Training Service Dog Teams:
Sharon Washer offers a series of webinars.
Webinar 1  
Webinar 2
Webinar 3 

Online Classes:
Barbara Handelman has a 3 Tier Service Dog Course that she offers online.

Veronica Sanchez has an overview class as well as a 12 week coaching certificate

In-person Classes:
West Virginia University offers classes about training service dogs and uses positive reinforcement.
Hearts of Gold

Web-based Consults
If you want more detail about the ins and outs of teaching people to teach their dog and teaching dogs, please contact me for a private 1 hour webcam session.  

Is Owner-Training a Service Dog a Good Fit for You?   Audio file of the text.

Over the years, we have worked with people who have tried to owner-train a dog to become public access assistance dogs for themselves or a family member and were not successful for a number of reasons unrelated to training the dog.

If you tend to be overly optimistic or unrealistic about your ability to choose the right dog, create the right environment, and your ability to follow through for the 2-3 year or more process then you will want to consider this list. The risk of failure is very real among owner-trained service dogs and assistance dogs. Having a dog fail can set you back emotionally, socially and financially. Your health and emotional stakes are high! Read the information below before you start the process!

Here are 5 categories that have been barriers to success for owner-trainers: 

1. Medical condition

Unstable Medical or Psychological condition:
Your focus will be on your changing situation rather than on training the dog. The training process may be put on hold due to your condition.  If you have been newly diagnosed, you will be busy learning out how to live with the condition for the first while, setting up your support system etc. A dog can come later.

2. Dog

Unsuitable dog: Starting with a puppy or adult that does not meet the solid temperament and great health needed by a service dog to withstand the daily stress of working. A service dog candidate needs to be raised in a stable indoor home environment, have good genetics and parents/grandparents with good health, ideally from health-tested tested adults.

If you are starting with an adult dog, the same applies. The dog must be even-tempered towards people and other animals. Adaptability and resiliency are key. The dog needs to have the size and physical ability to do the tasks required. Choose a dog that has daily exercise requirements that you can realistically live with. If you live in an area with a small dog population, then you will need to look further afield for a candidate which will involve travel.

3. Environment

The physical and emotional environment a dog lives in affects his behavior in a good way and a bad way, just like it does you. Consider the amount of space, the suitability of that space, the location where you are living and how safe it is for a dog. If you live in a rural area, you will have to add distance to go to socialize your dog and do public access training. 

Consider who else you are living with as well as paid caregivers, their beliefs and knowledge about dogs and how to interact with them. A living environment that puts you or your dog at risk for physical or emotional abuse is not conducive for creating a successful service dog. 

Do you have an unstable or overly busy family life? Too many things going on, whether it’s a busy family with many kids and many pets, a farm to care for or a caregiver/trainer with their own health issues divides your attention. Training your own service dog is like raising a baby. You need focus, time and energy to do it long term.

Do you have a support system? Raising and maintaining a service dog or assistance dog takes a community. From family/housemates, canine professionals like trainers, vets and groomers, professional healthcare to open-minded retailers, everyone is involved in successfully raising and training a service dog to the point of public access. Do you live in isolation? This will be problematic.

Rental or Strata housing don’t recognize a service dog in training in most jurisdictions. The landlord/manager’s perception of the dog or breed you choose can create difficulties. They can change their mind and revoke permission at any time. They can manufacture a reason to revoke permission for the dog. Managers/landlords and Strata councils change.

School or workplace acceptance: Make sure your school or workplace is supportive of you training your own service dog and will allow the dog access during training and later once the dog is ready to accompany you. These places may not be covered by public access laws. 

4. Required Finances

Raising and training a Service Dog requires money, even if you owner train. You will need to learn how to train your dog to professional standards. Even if you are already a professional trainer, you will still need to consult other dog training professionals for group classes, problem solving and to get an outside perspective. If the dog experiences trauma, a certified veterinary behaviorist may need to be contacted. These are very expensive.

Every dog has basic needs that need to be met. They need to be fed, housed, have veterinary contact and grooming fees. They get sick and injured and need immediate treatment. Heath testing and neutering are done when the dog is an adult. It’s mandatory to raise a good chunk of the money upfront, ideally all of it, before you start like organizations providing the dogs do. Otherwise, you will be fundraising while training and that takes your focus away from training and adds a level of stress into the process. Plan on Canadian$3000-$6000 depending on what age and training level the dog is starting at.

What if you run out of money before the dog’s training is completed? There will be ongoing maintenance training and also upgrades to training if your medical conditions change. 

5. Personal Skills/Characteristics

There is a long list of skills and characteristics needed for a handler to successfully train their own service dog. If these are lacking, they can become insurmountable hurdles.

  • No previous experience in sole care of a dog.  You need to understand what is realistic to expect a dog to do and not do at the different stages of life and how to make sure the dog’s needs as a biological being and keep the dog healthy and fit for working in public.
  • If you are unable to focus on training in the moment (short-term focus) or create a long-term training plan (big-picture goals) this will make training very difficult for you.  
  • An inability to adjust your expectations to match what the dog is capable of in the moment or being easily overwhelmed work against your success.
  • If you are unable to generalize learning from one behavior to another then you will require step by step plans laid out with all possible options.  This requires the help of a personal life coach or daily support person.
  • You will need the ability to keep detailed records and daily journaling about the process.
  • Inability to go into public places regularly to train the dog. This may be due to a medical condition (agoraphobia, anxiety, severe environmental allergies etc) or lack of dog-friendly transportation to get you there.
  • Dis-interest or too stressed or anxious to learn how to train effectively, especially in new environments.
  • Lacking self-evaluation skills (of yourself as well as the dog.)
  • Lacking coping strategies when things don’t go well, or people confront you about your dog in public etc. 
  • Needing excessive amount of support for decision-making and action-oriented tasks

Check out this blog post on what characteristics professional service dog trainers require. 


Conclusion:
If you find that you are missing several of the key skills and characteristics, then you will want to seriously consider not training your own service or assistance dog.

Some Alternatives:
If you still think you could benefit from a service dog and be able to take care of one:

Find an ADI accredited program to get a trained dog from. Each have their own application process, screen potential handlers and often have requirements for fundraising to be done upfront.

Find a training company who will sell you a trained dog. Do your research. There are several scammers who will make unbelievable claims (like saying a 12 week old puppy is a fully-trained service dog, or make guarantees they can’t follow through with etc. ) Check the better business bureau, do a Google search, and look for Facebook complaint groups to see if anything concerning comes up. Get references and talk to clients who have had a dog from them for at least a year.

 

 

 

Saturday, 22 September 2018 11:38

"I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!"

"I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!"
I hear this comment occasionally when I get new service dog clients. For the vast majority, we are able to figure out why the dog does not want to work for the food they are being offered. Below are some of the most common reasons. 
 
Why Do We Want to be Able to Use Food?
Having a dog that enjoys working for food helps to speed the learning process as well as offer an alternative to using toys or interaction (like massage, play etc). In the training phase, a dog needs to know she is doing well and food reinforcements are a good way to communicate that quickly and eaisly. Food is something that has intrinsic value to a dog unless he has learned to not enjoy it. Eating is a basic survival need.
In the early stages of training, reinforcement rates need to be high to keep a dog engaged in learning (about 3 to 4 seconds per behavior repetition-Yes you read that correctly! One reinforcer every 3 to 4 seconds!) Giving your dog a toy to play with may slow the repetitions to 1 per 20 seconds or much more. Food is the fastest reinforcer there is. A dog can eat a piece of food in less than 2 seconds and be doing the next repetition soon after. This helps her to do more repetitions in a shorter period of time so she can learn the behavior more quickly than using other types of reinforcement.  It also helps to give you another tool to combine when dealing with high level distractions. Using food, toys and interaction together is a jackpot reinforcement gives you an edge for the highest level distractions!
Not to worry about using food forever, though. Once the dog has grasp of the basic behaviors, toys, play, massage and even other learned behaviors can become reinforcers for behaviors and service dog tasks. Eventually, once the dog fully understands the behavior and can generalize the to many public locations,  the use of the food can be faded except for special occasions. Over time, the value of working with you will build and the relationship and communication between you and your service dog will grow. At that point, you can then reliably use your relationship to reinforce trained behaviors for more dogs. 
 
There are several common reasons why a dog might not work for food: 
Handler's Philosophy
Probably the most common reason food may not work for a dog is the handler's own philosophy on what is appropriate to use as a reward. Some people believe that a dog should not be paid using food. They believe that the relationship they have with their dog is enough. That verbal praise combined with an ear scritch is motivation enough. 
While that may work for a few dogs, unfortunately, dogs that offer undying devotion for your love without you having to earn it are few and far between. For the vast majority of dogs, until you have taken the time to build a positive working relationship with her, you'll need to use other things in addition to your relationship to motivate her. 
Dogs, like humans, initially do what gets them what they want. Then over time as they learn to master behaviors and skills, they begin to enjoy the activity and interaction itself. In the meantime, food is an easy choice for most service handlers because the vast majority of dogs enjoy eating. Let's not overlook the fact that they need food to survive. 
Some handlers unconsciously undermine their success with food. They don't use the food correctly, or they skimp on the amount. In the early stages of training, it must come fast and be high enough value that the dogs deems it worthy to work for. There is a skill to using food for training. It pays to take time to learn it so you and your dog can succeed together.

Some people think they have to carry food around with them for the rest of the dog's life. Not so. If food is used correctly, it is used to train a behavior, then other types of reinforcers are substituted. Anything from toys and play with the handler to real life reinforcers are introduced to maintain the behavior. They might be as simple as getting to go through a door, going for a car ride, greeting someone and some of the trained behaviors can become fun or rewarding for the dog to do. Of course every dog, even well-trained ones, appreciate the occasional food reinforcer.
Unfortunately, there are some in society who say "Training with food is cheating." It becomes a voice that triggers doubts in your success. Whether that voice is from another person, or comes from within, if you want to change it, you are the only one who can.
Repeat after me: "Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
 
Free Feeding Practice
One commonly overlooked practice that people do to lower a dog's value of food is to free feed. Free feeding involves placing a full food dish on the ground and letting the dog eat what she wants when she wants how often she wants. While this is convenient for the handler, it removes the dog's motivation to eat and ultimately earn it.  That's why the dish sits there full for most of the day. The food becomes meaningless to the dog and the dog is eating and doing nothing in exchange for it. The food is available at all times. 
A tip to help with food motivation as well as potty issues in a dog of any age is to put the food bowl down twice a day. If the dog doesn't eat after 10 minutes, pick it up and try again at the second feeding of the day. By placing it down just twice a day, it builds scarcity for the dog so he will eat when it becomes available. Suddenly the food has more value. Do this for at least a week before you try the next step below. 
Next, measure out the dog's total daily ration of food. Remove the amount you need for training, and divide the remainder into two. So, if you plan to do 50 repetitions over 2 training sessions, take out 50 kibble and set those aside in a treat pouch.  Then twice a day, place the rest of the food into food puzzles and let your dog work for it. Getting dogs to work for their food builds value for it too. It also helps by giving the dog a job to do and burning off mental energy so you don't have to spend hours physical exercising her. Since most dogs enjoy having a job, this gives eating some meaning.
 
Using Food That is Too Low Value
Often people infer that their dog will not work for food because they use food that is too low of value for the distraction level of the environment they are training in or the level of difficulty or the length of time they are asking from their dog. Using hard or dried commercially made treats away from home usually isn't enough. If the task is too hard or the distraction level is too high, most dogs will  disengage. Use real meats like beef (cooked heart is very high value for most dogs, fresh or canned  tripe too (stinky but high in demand), pork, and lamb. Chicken and turkey work well but do fall apart in bits.
Adding sardine juice or beef gravy stock to other foods increase the value. Squares of hard cheese, cooked omelette squares are enjoyed by most dogs. Dogs with lactose intolerance is actually not as common as it is made out to be and fermented milk products like cheese and yogurt are more easily tolerated. Mashed potatoes or yam, yogurt, thick pea soup, and meaty baby food can all be put into a food tube for easy lickable delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes). Even just adding garlic powder or mixing other smelly foods into a bag of kibble can increase their value enough to motivate a dog to work for it.
 
Dog will Only Eat "Human Food"
I am talking about dogs who won't eat their kibble but gobble it down if you add leftovers from your meals. Part of this involves your philosophy of not feeding dogs "people food". Let's look at this a little closer. The better "dog foods" are made from food that is leftover from processing human food. The soft portions of a chicken carcasses are removed from the bone and boiled. The fat is melted down. Leftover grain from processing cereal and other human foods is cooked and vitamins, coloring and preservatives are added back in to the mix. The food is then put into a machine, pushed out a hole and cut to make the kibble shape. Then it is cooked and dried. In reality dog food is IS refined people food,  but is it not as fresh or palatable and so often has lower value to the dog.
If your dog is refusing to eat it, she may be bored with the same food day in and out. Giving her a variety of food not only flavors but texture, moisture levels and shapes may help. Dogs developed as scavengers over the last 14,000+ years, eating whatever refuse they could find around human settlement. That involved variety. Like in human diets, it is the variety that gives us the breadth of nutrients we need to thrive. Check out other feeding options for your dog. There is commercial kibble, canned food, moist food, food rolls, raw food, cooked food and there is also the homemade option. All of these may be higher value to your dog an she will be willing to work for them. Do your research no matter what choice you make to ensure your dog is getting what she needs to maintain physical and mental fitness to work as your service dog. Note that not all veterinarians support all kinds of food.
If the refusal to work for kibble is new, check the food out for the best before date and take a sniff of the bag and look at a handful of kibble. Kibble can go moldy in a moist environment and dogs detect pathogens that make them sick. This causes them to refuse to eat. Trust your dog and return it to the retailer with the receipt. If that's not the issue, a vet check is in order. 
 
Allergies
Dogs who have food allergies may not enjoy eating since their intestinal tract is upset. They have connected eating to feeling bad and may refuse to eat. In addition, handlers may find it hard to find food of high enough value for training due to the severe limitations of what the dog can eat. If this is the case, the handler must be creative. Perhaps moistening a dry food with water or real meat juices or other real flavoring that the dog is not allergic to. Or if the dog is eating only soft food, it can be placed in a food tube for delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes.)  Try dehydrating soft food to make a hard treat that can be tossed.
 
Inadvertent Pressure While Eating
This is one that a handler may not be aware they are doing. It can come in several forms. 
1. They are in a hurry to do something and after they put the food down, they put social pressure on the dog to eat. "Hurry up." And then get angry, drop the tone of their voice to tell the dog to hurry. Or, similarly, if the dog drops food on the ground, he is verbally admonished for it. Eating becomes a punished behavior. 
2.  During training, the handler gives small inadvertent punishers as they are delivering the food so the dog quits eating. The dog does what was asked, then is either too slow, or does something that the handler sees as undesirable (like jumping up and grabbing an object during training the retrieve) and then gives a verbal reprimand or pushes the dog out of their space. For sensitive dogs, the handler may not even be aware of the level of impact on the dog. In this case, the dog is connecting the punisher to the trained behavior, or even eating of the food, not her behavior at the end of the training session. The result is a dog that looks like she doesn't want to work for food or can't focus on any training activity very long.

A good test to see if your dog is afraid to eat with you nearby is to have a neutral person (ideally a good positive reinforcement trainer) try training the dog with food. The dog is usually more than happy to train with the neutral person as there is no history of positive punishment. They may also appear less subdued (happier) than with their usual handler. 
 
Building Value for Toys until Dog is Toy Obsessed
Toys and games are a great thing to have as part of your training reinforcement strategy. Using toys for training can inject enthusiasm, speed and joy into a less motivated dog.  But, some dogs will reject food when in the presence of toys while others can't think when they are within reach. 
Ideally, you want to build value for both so you have many options to choose from when training different behaviors. Some behaviors lend themselves to toys better than food and vice versa. Food can be used to calm an over-aroused dog in training.  Toys can put a dog with low impulse control into over-arousal (excitement level where they lose control).
After training is complete and the behaviors have been proofed, toys, like the food, need to faded.  They can be used when your dog is not working and during breaks in work for your service dog.
 
Stress
If you find that your service dog in training suddenly stops eating in some locations but will happily focus and work and eat in others, consider her stress level as a cause. Stress can be good or bad (distress or eustress). Arousal level may also contribute to not eating.

At a biological level, if a dog who can eat normally while training away from home, suddenly stops eating, this can be an indication of severe stress. In order to prepare for flight or fight, the stomach shuts down and the blood flows to muscles for running away or fighting. A dog that can't eat is a stressed dog.

Stop training and take the dog out of that environment or, at the very least, give her time to adjust before asking her to do anything. After a few minutes in a safe environment, she should want to eat again. If she can't, you will want to figure out if it is caused by fear or arousal and the impact this is going to have on her as a  service dog. If she cannot function, she will be of no help to you. There are options available (such as desensitization and counter conditioning processes) but consult a profession positive reinforcement trainer for help in creating and carrying out a plan to help your dog overcome the fear or stress.
 

Are you a dog trainer? Have you considered becoming a service dog training coach?  It's great that you want to help others! Consider carefully if this lifestyle is for you, and if you have or can get the training and skills needed to do this successfully.

Here are some questions to get you started:

Do you want to work for an organization?
Or do you want to work in your own business?

Do you enjoy working with groups of people and dogs?
Or do you prefer working one on one?
Would you prefer to training the dogs, then spend a short time with the people to transition the dog to the new handler who has the disability?
Do you have your own training facility? Have local facilities that can be rented locally? Or do you work in client’s homes?
Does your state or country require you to be certified?
Do you want to be an accredited organization?
Do you want to create a non-profit business?

Here is a basic list of training, skills, knowledge and characteristics you will need to start adding service dog training to your list of services: 

Training in:

Teaching Humans (of different ages)
Specialized training in the disabilities you are specifically interested in
Teaching Dogs (to a high level of performance in public)


Recommended Skills:
Counselling
Fundraising
Ability to Assess people for suitability of owner-training.
Ability to assess dogs for suitability as a service dog candidate.
Observation skills (for humans and dogs)

Knowledge
Regional/State Disability laws
National Disability Laws
Learning theory and practice how it applies to humans and dogs
Psychology of humans
Ethology of dogs (behavior)


Personal Characteristics:
Mentally and emotionally stable
Ability to set clear work vs personal boundaries
Lifelong learner
Creative
Resourceful
Empathetic
Strong self-care skills (ability to detach)
Ability to define what are your own reinforcers for doing a job are.
Resilience to bounce back between punishing situations
Have or can create a support system for yourself
A Sense of Volunteerism
Have a support system

If you want more detail about what I have learned about teaching people to teach their service dog candidates, please contact me for a private webcam session



Thursday, 28 December 2017 10:04

Do I Need to Certify my Dog?

Do I Need to Certify my Dog?
The answer is, it depends in what environments you want to use your dog's skills and where you live.
If you are only going to use your dog at home, and take him only to places that any pet dog can go, the answer is no certification is needed.

At Work
In some circumstances where your work environment is suitable and safe, the employer and other employees are okay with it, you may also not need to be certified to take your assistance dog to work with you. Some places of work welcome dogs generally, and others may be open to your assistance dog if it is proposed to them. If there is a dog or pet policy in writing, get a copy of it. Otherwise, we suggest asking for permission in writing to protect yourself and your dog. Of course, it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is well-behaved and welcomed in the place of work.

It will also depend where you work if your dog has access at all. In food preparation areas or operating theatres or other places where the public is not allowed, even a certified dog may not be allowed. Check your local laws and talk to your employer. An employer cannot discriminate against you for having a service dog but they may be able to limit access where you can take the dog. Talk to a disability laywer for the exact details of your situation.

In Public Places
If you are planning on having your dog assist you in public places such as restaurants, stores, and on public transportation etc, the answer varies. 
If you need to take your dog in public places where pet dogs are not allowed, yes, certification by the provincial body in some provinces of Canada (BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia (soon) is recommended and will make your life easier if challenged by a retailer or accommodation provider. In the UK, Yes. In the USA, no as residents are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Here. Each country has its own laws.

Note: Even if your dog is certified, anytime your service dog causes a disturbance (barking, whining etc), shows aggression or fear, or has a housetraining mistake, you can be asked to leave the premises if you have been asked to remedy the situation and do not or cannot. 

Are "Service Dogs in Training' (SDit)  Protected for public access? 
It depends on where you live. Some states protect them it, some do not. For example, in BC, the handler must work or volunteer for an Assistance Dog International (ADI) accredited organization. Owner-trainers are not protected. 

What Does The Certification Process Look Like?
Before you apply to a certifying body (government or ADI accredited organization) for certification to use your dog as an Assistance dog or service dog, you will need to collect proof of your dog’s training and use.

Any documentation you can provide helps the certifying body to evaluate your dog as a service dog such as:
*Proof of the vet visits, vaccinations, etc. needed to keep the dog in good health, recovery from injury or illness etc.
*Proof of spay or neuter.
*Canine Good Neighbor Certificate
*Public Access Test completed and passed
*A prescription for a service/assistance dog from your doctor, nurse practitioner, or other health care provider (varies depending on the certifying body)
*A list of the tasks (suggest at least 3 that specifically address your disability in public places- providing comfort does not qualify as a task)
*Documentation of the amount of time in specific training your dog has had for each task. (Keeping a journal that you can summarize is a key point)
*Outside or supervised training that has been done  A written letter documenting what training they have overseen and your success rate as a team. Make sure to provide the name of the training company Or companies you worked with.
*Employer’s letter of how your dog operates in your workplace (if your dog has been allowed to work with you).
*Letters from friends and family documenting the past dog’s behavior in their homes, in public etc.
*A concise letter detailing the difference your service dog makes in your life.
*Other documentation that may support your application.

The government or organization will then refer you to a person who is authorized to test your dog in person and submit the results to them.  Note: If someone claims they will certify you and your dog without seeing you work together in public, then they are a scam and a waste of your money. There are thousands of these online so buyer beware.

How Long Does it Take to get a Dog Ready for Certification?
It depends. Some dogs started as puppies and trained professionally can be ready by 18 months to 2 years. Dogs trained by owners usually take longer as they have lives to lead and they are not professional trainers who are training every day. How old the dog is and how much previous training s/he has had before you start also affects the duration. It depends on the dog and how willing and interested s/he is to learn, how dedicated you are as a trainer, how good your training skills are, your specific tasks and many other factors like your health while you train.
Remember that not all dogs that start training will be suitable in the end to be certified to assist you in public places. Be prepared to remove your dog from training and find another. Plan what will happen to the dog. Will you rehome him? Will you keep him?

Education is an Important Role of the Handler
Much of having an assistance dog is about taking the time to educate the public about the laws. 

Having your service dog in training identified with a training vest is one way to show you are serious about training, but is not required by law. 


What Identification Does my Dog Need Once s/he is certified?
Once your dog is certified, s/he will wear the identification provided issued by the certifying body. In BC and Alberta, retailers can only ask if your dog is a certified service dog and to ask to see that collar tag/certification. Make sure you can produce it at all times in public. If the dog is not wearing a certification tag or you do not have it, the establishment may choose to prevent access. They can also ask for the certification number from the tag and call to verify that your dog is registered with the province. If you or your dog create a disturbance, they can ask for your dog's tag number and make a complaint to the Ministry of Justice.
In the US, retailers, transportation and accommodation providers can only ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks the dog performs for you. 

What about Fakers?
If your dog is not certified and you claim s/he is, that is fraudulent representation and you may be subject up to a $3000-$6000  fine depending where you are located. If you live where your dog does not need to be certified, s/he does need to have specific training both for public access (120 hours) and for tasks that specifically mitigate your disability to qualify for public access as a service dog. This is where the documentation and proof of training can help you prove your dog is legitimate.

Can We Get Certified Online?

No. Going online to get your dog certified is a waste of money as none of them are legitimate. 

A couple of simple criteria to rule out bogus tests:

1. All legitimate assessment/certification tests for owner-trained teams are done in person. The testers need to see you and your dog working together in person and they will make sure you know how to take care of your dog and know your rights and responsibilities. Public safety is the number on concern for certifying bodies. The application process may be online, but there will always be an in-person part of the test.

2. The organizations doing the certification in North America will be accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation or a state or provincial body or an organization that has been contracted by the state or province to assess the team in person.

If the certifyer doesn't meet these two criterion, then it will not be a legitimate one in North America.

Goal Setting:
Here is an example of a fictional Training Plan so you can create your own.

Create it however you feel comfortable whether it's in a spiral notebook, on an excel spreadsheet or on your phone! AirTable or Evernote are great programs for this!

The simple plan below is for a young dog with little basic obedience behaviors. Adapt it to your own dog and situation as needed. You can add in as much detail as you want. You can include other tasks and paperwork needed to be done for formal certification as well (see blog post on Certification).

We recommend that you review this plan each month and record where you are at, and adjust the plan to reflect this.

Each month, assess areas of weakness (in dog, human and team) and add it to your training plan. This might include specific fears, reactivity, over-excitability or over-interest you need to work on. Your plan will change and evolve as you work through it. 
My Long Term Assistance Dog Training Plan
Date: Oct 16, 2009

1. Set up a journal for recording training data Oct 2009. Use video to record key sessions for self-evaluation as well as documentation.
Identify tasks dog will do for the handler.

2. Set Preliminary Goal: 
Complete Foundation Skills Class Level 1, 2 and 3 by the end of Feb 2010
Behaviors are taught in: family room, bedroom, garage, backyard, front yard, local park.

Eye Contact
Leave it (Zen) 
Nose Target
Chin target
Paw target 
Recall 
Working at a Distance
Go around objects
Adding duration 
Sit
Down
Go mat/Bed
Paws on Target
Back end Pivot
Take and Tug
Handling
Potty on cue
Wait
Beginning of loose leash walking
Switch sides

On the Road (pass previous level in strange location)

3. Loose Leash Walking Level 1 & 2 and Settle/Relax Level 1 online Classes complete April 2010 

4. APDT C.L.A.S.S. Bachelor Evaluation training (generalize behaviours)
(doorway, leave it, greet a stranger, recall from 10 feet, wait for food bowl, stay, settle, give and take)
 
OR 

Canine Good Citizen (US) or Canine Good Neighbor (Canada) Training Preparation June 2010

(doorways, separation from handler, ignoring crowds, greeting stranger, ignoring other dogs, recall, loose leash walking, stay, sit, down)
Begin training for in-home service tasks.


5. Loose Leash Walking Level 3 and Settle Level 2


6. C.L.A.S.S. Bachelor level test or Canine Good Neighbor test Aug 2010

7. Get written prescription for service dog from Doctor or Nurse Practitioner (or other health care provider as appropriate)
Sept 2010

8. Practice general behaviors in different retail locations for Sept 2010
C.L.A.S.S. Master's Level training
(wait in car, pass other dog, wait at the door, come and leash up, sit down, stand,handling, loose leash, stay)
 
9.  CLASS Master's level test for Nov. 2010
C.L.A.S.S. PhD Level training
OR

CKC Urban Dog training

10. CLASS PhD testing  or Urban Dog testing Jan. 2011

11. Begin formal work on training and consolidating Assistance Tasks Jan. 2011  
Online task training classes available.


Out of Home Assistance Tasks:
A. Retrieve objects when in chair
B . Use target stick to retrieve an indicated item off low shelves in stores
C. Open and close doors while in chair
D. Put forepaws in lap of wheelchair user, hold that upright position so wheelchair user can access medication or cell phone or other items in the backpack
E . Bring Emergency phone during crisis
F. Go get a family member/neighbor/workmate on command in a crisis.
G. Nudge handler during freezing behavior to rouse handler from a disassociation state or fear paralysis.

12. Take all of the behaviors and tasks "On the Road" to generalize them to many different locations and environments.
Identify at least 10 different public places near home to train that are accessible to my dog. 


13. Begin training for Public Access Test Dec 2010

14. If formal certification is desired (if you live in the U.S., it is optional) search out organizations that will test and certify you and your dog as a service dog. In BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia, certification is recommended to use your dog as a service/assistance animal. May 2011

15. Do a Practice Access test with an independent person. Video it so you can watch back.
Get dog spayed or neutered if required by your state or province prior to certification. Get a letter or fill out a form from vet certifying dog has been spayed or neutered. June, 2011

16. Practice Tasks in Public, Fine tune any holes (distractions, minor fears etc)


17. Take Public Access test or make video recording of entire final test Sept. 2011
Graduate dog to "Service Dog" patches (remove "in training" patch). 


18. Ongoing maintenance training for tasks, public access and adding new tasks as needed.



*This plan is for example purposes only. You and your dog will progress more quickly or more slowly than what the plan indicates. Most owner-trained dogs take 2 to 3 years in training from puppy to adult. Most common Service Dog breeds to not mature socially, emotionally or physically until 2.5 to 3 years. ADI suggests a minimum of 120 hours training for public access. Much more is usually needed.

Then take the challenge of taking corrections (punishment) off the table!

It's a simple as that!

Why would you do that? Because the vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors.

Reread that last sentence and digest it.


"The vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors."  
This is sad but true. If you videotape yourself training, you will find that anytime your dog makes a mistake (assuming he has actually learned the behavior) it is because of a mistake you made or something you overlooked in the environment. Rather than correct the dog's behavior, look at it as a way to improve your own training. What is it that you have missed in his training that set him up for failure?

Here is a list of the 11 most common parts of training that are missed by handlers training their own service dogs:

Handler's lack of ability to read their dog's communication. 
A stressed dog cannot think about his behavior. Happily, there are a series of early behaviors that give the handler an idea of the stress level of their dog. Learn what those are and change the training environment so your dog's stress level is reduced. Stress can be both good (excitement) and bad (worry) as well as emotional (scared) and physical (tired). Join the Facebook Observations Skills group to learn more. 

Not explaining the behavior in enough different ways so your dog can understand what you want.
Like humans, dogs learn in different ways. Some learn by watching another dog do a behavior. Some learn by watching their human do a behavior. Some dogs love shaping. Almost all can learn by capturing a behavior as he does it naturally. Luring works too but fade the lure as quickly as you can or the dog can become reliant on it as part of the cue.

Using the wrong motivator.
We all need some sort of motivation to learn and perform a behavior. Would you still go to work if your boss didn't pay you? Find out what it is that your dog loves and use that! Food, toys, playing with you can all work well. Just make sure it is something your dog really wants. Also, adjust the motivator for the level of difficulty of the behavior and the environment you are training in. Lower value for easier behaviors, known behavior or training in low distraction locations. Medium for middle of the road challenges and higher value for the more difficult/distracting locations.


Failure to teach the behavior at a distance.
While most dogs learn to do a behavior close to you, they have no idea they can do a behavior at a distance. That must be trained incrementally. If you haven't done that, then your dog's failure is your mistake, not his.

Failure to teach the behavior with duration.
How long the dog can do a behavior also takes specific training. Duration can be hard for puppies, adolescents and for impulsive dogs. When you play games, think of the ones you give up on. Those are the ones where the game just gets longer (boring) and does not allow you many successes. So vary the length of what you ask, always making sure to do some easier ones so the behavior isn't always getting harder. It also helps to pair stationary activities with active ones.

Increasing the level of distractions too quickly. 
Dogs can learn to ignore distractions quickly, but you do need to vary their level too. Be creative with the type of distractions  Do you know the days you crawl out of bed and are sensitive to sounds? Perhaps you are feeling a little "off" today? Dogs have those days too! Particularly in adolescence when hormonal changes vary day to day. If he have had too many stressors the day before, he might need a day of lower distractions to recover. Realize that there will be some situations when your dog is distracted from the start and won't be able to succeed. On those days, lower the distraction level or change your training location. It might mean moving just a few feet to one side or going somewhere else altogether. 


Failure to teach cue discrimination.
Dogs as social learners typically learn physical cue (like body and hand signals) very easily. However, they may find verbal cues much harder. Take the time to teach your dog that different hand signals and different words mean different behaviors. Be aware that many words share the same starting consonant or the same vowel sounds. That is very confusing. "Slow" and "Go" can be hard to tell apart. "Sit" and "Stand" may as well.
Plan what verbal cues you will use. It helps to keep a running list of both hand and verbal cues so you can see where movement and sounds might overlap. It happens much more often than people think, especially once your dog has learned many behaviors! Additionally, handlers often use a hand signal at the same time as a verbal cue. If the hand signal and verbal cue differ, almost all dogs will choose to follow the hand signal.


Insufficient change of position.
Dogs are discriminators by nature, which means they look for the small details, not the larger patterns. So you must proof behaviors for position changes (both the dog and you). Can your dog do a cued behavior with you sitting on the ground? Laying on a bed?  Can the dog do the behavior (say holding an object) when sitting, standing, laying down, turning around, changing from one position to another etc? If you haven't already taught him that he can do a behavior with each of these changes, then you are punishing him for your lack of training. No fair!

Not giving your dog a chance to acclimate to a new environment.
Acclimation is giving your dog a chance to assess the environment he is in. When you go to a party (or any new location), do you march right in and start talking? Probably not. Think of the first few times you went a party. You felt awkward and worried. You probably stopped near the entrance and looked around, noting where the bathroom was, where the food was, the music and chairs and if there was another exit. That allowed you to know where you could move to depending on how you are feeling. Dogs need to do the same. Give your dog a chance to look (and sniff if appropriate) in a limited area (such as the length of the leash) before starting to focus on you. Capture any focus he chooses to give you and you will find you will get more. Giving him time to acclimate will build his confidence in new places and he can focus on you.

Not enough generalization.
Since dogs are discriminators, they do look for the details. So if your dog learned to nose nudge your leg beside the refrigerator, the refrigerator might be something he looks for a clue to what behavior you want. If it is not present, he has to then start guessing. Your dog needs you to give him enough practice in many different environments so he can learn what the key points to watch for (environmental, hand signal, verbal cue?) to tell him what behavior you want from him. Start teaching each behavior from the beginning in each new environment and you will find he relearns the behavior faster and faster in each new location. Eventually, he will be able to walk in and perform that behavior with just the cue, no retraining.

No maintenance of trained behaviors.
Just like humans, if they don't use behaviors, they forget them. Maintenance involves reviewing and even retraining a behavior periodically to put and keep it in long-term memory. Plan to practice new behaviors at least once every two weeks to a month in the beginning, then once every couple of months after that.

If you take correction (punishment) off the table, then you will learn so much more about how to best teach your dog.

Want to learn more? Check out our Foundation Skills classes. The classes are for the handler are much as they are for the dog!

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