The fastest growing sector of service dogs is the use for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Anxiety. Many non-profit organizations will train and supply dogs for veterans but there is a huge population who can also benefit from these dogs such as people who have suffered traumatic events in their life or others who have been emotionally abused. Some people group these under Psychiatric Service Dogs, or dogs for invisible disabilities.
- interrupt anxiety behaviors as soon as they start (such as picking, self-harm behaviors)
- interrupt absentee (disassociation) behaviors
- deep pressure therapy
- request that dog be removed from an anxiety-provoking situation
- lead person to the exit
- find the car
- providing a physical block between the handler and other people (in crowds or in a waiting line for example)
- provide tactile support for focus/grounding or interrupt sensory overload
- wake the handler from night terrors or to get out of bed in the morning
- go ahead of the handler into a room turn and lights on
- medication reminders
- carry medication
- get help
- provide balance on stairs for lightheadedness
- carry medical supplies
- alert to smoke alarm (if the handler is sedated)
- bring the phone when the handler is in a panicked state
- open front door for the handler when in panic (only if there is an outside storm door)
This month, we are offering a new online class for Anxiety Alerts. Take a look!
It depends what you understand each term to mean. Isn't it just semantics between words?
Unfortunately not. If you understand that dominance is a term that describes the personality of a dog and
assertive is a collection of behaviors that described how a dog is behaving them you are going to interpret the dog's actions differently and respond differently. And a dog's social structure, just like humans, is not that simple.
Many people associate the term dominance with a hierarchical social structure, one that relies on a vertical hiearchy. Their understanding is there is an "alpha" dog and a "beta" dog. The "alpha" dog is dominant over the "beta" dog for all things in life and so on down to an "omega" dog at the bottom of the hierarchy. The same way the human military is structured. General, Colonel, Captain down to Private. The lower ranks must abide by the rules of the higher ones, even if they are arbitrary, as the assumption is that the higher ranks know what is best for the entire group. Military structure exists in situations where one group of people band together to prevent others from taking something away, like during war.
With this way of thinking, the dog is always trying to rise up a social ladder and get control. And therefore you always have to be on guard because the dog is always trying to get a higher social standing than other dogs or their human. The tendency towards using violence in such a social structure is common due to high arousal. They have to be to be on guard at all times for the possible challenge from individuals lower down in the hierarchy.
War is a very extreme behavior among the same species and not normal behavior for animals at all. It occurs in less than 5% of normal social situations. Hence 95% of the time, the social mammals go out of their way to avoid conflict and have developed and learn from others very intricate behaviors to avoid damaging conflict.
Maintaining possession of a territory (piece of land) as an example is generally done is many subtle ways long before any physical interaction occurs.
The very regular presence of an animal in an area, using chemical communication like droppings and urine placed at regular intervals keeps other members of the same species from lingering. Even if they see each other at a distance, there is much posturing done.The posturing allows them to assess each other without risking injury. The less assertive animal can simply move away. As they get closer to each other or accidentally find themselves too close for comfort, there are more subtle behaviors that keep the peace and tell each other there is no need for alarm. "I am no threat." And during close social contact, there are still other behaviors that can help smooth over social fauxpauxs or misinterpretations.
Typically, when arousal level is high is when we see animals acting "dominant" in a situation over a resource. The arousal may be triggered by the fear of loss of the resource (or in humans feeling inferior, embarrassed and other emotions). It is often these very emotions and the chemicals triggered by them that can lead to aggressive behaviors and a loss of social self-control.
Demonstrations of dominance behavior and aggressive tendencies tend to be more common among non-social species who rarely interact with others of the same species. In general, they have higher overall levels of chemicals in their bodies related to aggression (vasopressin, testosterone) and lower levels of social calming chemicals (serotonin, and oxytocin etc).
During mating season is the most common place to see dominance behavior in mammals. The chemical communication draws in several males who find themselves in close proximity wanting the same resource. Arousal levels are high due to the potential for mating with the female. The female is a resource that needs to be protected by the male that is most capable of keeping the other males away. More chemical communication. Remember that mating occurs only once a year in most medium and larger wild mammals (with the exception of rodents, rabbits and some marsupials who can breed several times a year, providing the right conditions exist.)
The level of testosterone can affect how individuals relate to each other. We know that when we see the effect of steriods on weightlifters.
A dog that is perceived as assertive displays a collection of behaviors that show he is standing up for his own welfare without being aggressive with other dogs. He is only responding to a real threat and tends not to respond to all potential loss of a resource. For example, a dog that allows another smaller or younger dog to eat food out of his dish but who could easily win during a conflict between the two. Dogs that are confident in themselves do not need to show threatening displays (like a high tail or chin over shoulder) to get what they want. They use calm body language and respond to other's communication. They are often seen as the amicable ones.
Recent science has highlighted that dominance exists but occurs when one dog values one resource more than another dog and is willing to take risks to keep that resource. So for example, a dog that guards his food from another dog highly values that food and is willing to risk injury to keep it. A dog that protects his sleeping space is being dominant in that situation. The interesting thing is that functional well-socialized dogs have fluid social structure where they try to avoid conflict because conflict is dangerous at a biological level. They may start out resource guarding against another dog, but when they learn to trust that the other dog doesn't want the food as much as they do and are willing to respect the first dog's need for the food (and will have their needs taken care by their humans) then they no longer feel the need to protect it against that dog.
Dogs that exhibit true dominance are actually worried about losing something. If you have a dog that is demonstrating he is willing to take a risk in getting hurt for many things, you actually have an insecure dog, poorly socialized dog or a traumatized dog. Dogs with these characteristics do not make good service or assistance dogs.
I am in agreement with the breeder/trainer/rescue."I am writing to inquire it be ideal to train two young pups as service dogs together. There are two members of my family who could each benefit one. The breeder/trainer/rescue involved suggested we wait to get a second pup, rather than taking two home at once."
Secondly, having two pups close together in age can create problems with bonding issues with their people unless there is a significant effort to train separately. Typically it’s called “littermate syndrome” where they get so bonded that the humans get squeezed out of the equation. Separation anxiety from the other dog, as well as not being able to train without the other dog present, or relying on the other dog for guidance are all common issues seen. I myself always have gotten dogs that were about 14-18 mos apart. By that time the older dog has a strong bond with their person or people and the pup sees that and usually chooses to bond with the other person. It also helps you to choose a temperament that suits the first dog so they get along. For example, Jessie was very careful about the dogs she plays with and Lucy is perfect in that she always gives Jessie the space and time she needs and goes out of her way to avoid conflict.
Thirdly, If you or your family member get sick or are unable to continue the socialization during critical periods or can't afford to hire someone else to continue the process, then you have only one dog to do catch up with, not two.
So there are many valid reasons to wait to get the second service dog candidate pup!
C. Not Having a Support System for Themselves to Help Meet the Dog's Daily Needs and Training
A key point is that any person who is helping you with your service dog must have the same approach to training that you do, or at least agree to handle your dog in the same way you do. If for example, you use positive reinforcement, and a helper handles your dog in a stress environment, they will not have the skills that you do and may set your dog way back in training by using methods or tools that you have not agreed to. This applies to groomers, dog walkers, veterinarians, the handlers caregivers and any other people involved in your dog's care. It is best to have more people on your team since at times, not all of them will be available. Always have a back-up!
You will need:
1. Someone to make sure the dog's daily needs are met if you are not able to do this or become incapacitated for more than a day or so: feeding, pottying, exercise, play, social etc. This may cost extra money.
2. Someone who will be a training helper and create distractions while proofing training.
3. Transportation provider to move you and the dog where you need to go both for daily living and for training purposes.
4. People you can borrow training props form or who can make you training props.
5. Veterinarian (your dog's health care provider)
6. Groomer (if needed)
7. Your mental and physical health care providers (who are they and what role will they play?)
Did you make any of these mistakes? It's time to fix them!
Click Here to See Part A
B. Choosing the Wrong Dog for the Job
Owner-trainers need to start out with a dog with the most solid temperament and health that they can find. Starting with anything less decreases their chance of success.
1. Choose a dog with a known genetic and behavioral history. Find a quality breeder for a pup or for an adult dog that has been returned to a breeder or a retired conformation dog the breeder is looking to retire.
Behavior issues related to temperament are the most common reason a dog is removed from training for public access. Look for a dog with friendly, biddable and bombproof parents. Look for a dog that was raised in a home environment with attention to socialization with people of all ages and other friendly known dogs. Environmental enrichment for the puppies to grow the little brains before you start working with them. Health tests on the parents.
2. Health issues. When adopting an adult dog, have that dog screened for health issues common to the breed at 2 years of age. That way there won't be surprises down the road where you have to retire the dog early. If you are getting a pup, make sure the parents have been screened and passed for the same health tests by recognized bodies, not just any veterinarian taking a passing look at the dog.
3. It can take screening as many as 400 shelter or rescue dogs to find one that has suitable health and temperament for a service dog. These usually have an unknown gestation and health history. Avoid adding a rehabilitation project to your list of jobs and costs.
4. Be especially careful to choose an emotionally sound dog that is emotionally resilient or physically insensitive if you are training your dog for anxiety or PTSD. For these, it is recommended to start with a dog that is at least 18 mos of age so you can see the dog's temperament.
Alternatively, consider asking a friend or family to raise a puppy to that age for you. Pups exposed at a young age to people with anxiety tend to either become supersensitized or learn to ignore the anxiety or PTSD unless (and sometimes even if) they have a bombproof temperament. Herding breeds tend towards sound sensitivity. That's why the three most common assistance dog breeds are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and standard poodles. As a breed, they tend to be emotionally and sound insensitive and physically robust and resilient. They are also the most commonly available breeds so you have the best chance to find Lgood example of the breed.
There are three mistakes that owner-trainers of assistance dogs commonly make when training their own service dogs for public access.
A. Not Setting Aside or Fundraising Enough Money before they start the process.
While owner training can be cheaper than program trained dogs, especially if you happen to be a professional trainer, the training ends up costing more that the person thinks. It is a good idea to have $3000-$6000 set aside before you start so you are not under the pressure which causes you stress or have to delay training while you fundraise more money. The lower end would be for starting with an adult dog, the higher end with a puppy.
Parts of Training Not Often Considered that Cost Money:
1. Time to make a realistic plan with the guidance of a knowledgeable service dog trainer, tailered for their specific needs.
2. Owner-trainers are not likely to have the knowledge of training dogs to take the dog to a high enough level to be reliable for public access. That costs money to learn whether it's online or inperson coaching.
3. Getting guidance from a trainer privately or even in semi-private sesssions isn't cheap. Rates vary from $40 to $150 per hour, depending on where they are.
4. Group classes help the dog to learn to work with them despite the distraction of other people and dogs. Plan for at least 4 setsof 6 classes over 2 years for a pup.
5. Testing for progress. Tests such as the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test, the Urban Citizen Dog etc are great indicators of what you need to work on. They typically cost $25 each.
6. Speciaized training such as scent training for diabetic alerts, gluton alerts, and other task training.
7. Access to locations and transportation for specialized public access training. Costs for arranging and reserving use of specialized services need to be covered by the owners.
8. Serious behavioral problems arise that the owner need professional help to solve. This can cost much money!
9. Independent testing for public access is key to prove that your dog demonstrates the required safe controlled behavior in public. Some juridictions require standardized testing provided by province or country. This may cost $200 plus transportation to the tester or to bring the tester to you.
10. Purchase price of the dog.
When the handler runs out of money, the training stalls and the dog is left in limbo. This may happen during critical socialization and fear periods, in adolescence and during public access and task training. This will set the dog back in training and can signicantly slow the training process.
Click here to see Part B
A local service dog training organization has calculated the value of a certified service dog at CDN$80,000. Another in The US states US$55,000. That is more than the value of most people's vehicles!
Can you imagine a person letting their child run up to and jump in your car and demand a ride? You would be pretty upset if they did and probably tell the child off, or at the very least demand that the parent remove the child.
That is a pretty good analogy of what is happening when a child asks to pet a service dog. Unlike the car analogy, the result might be more disastrous than just delaying the driver a few minutes. The child is interfering with the dog's ability to medically assist the handler. That is the dog's job. All it takes is a momentary distraction for the dog to miss a medical alert, not be available to support their handler or not be there to block the person from moving forward.
That is why there are laws that protect service dogs from being interfered with by the public.
What A Member of the Public Can Do:
1. Talk to and look at the handler, not the dog. It's great to be friendly to people with disabilities!
2. Start up a conversation with them. Let them know you think their dog is pretty or quiet or doing a good job. Or that the weather has been nice recently.
They may be in a hurry or may have already greeted several other people that day so be ready for them to just thank you and move away.
3. Look at the handler while you ask if you can interact with the dog. Be prepared for them to say "No". They may also ask if you can help them train their dog by interacting with the dog in a specific way. It is good to practice with your child that the handler might say no and you need to keep moving or smile and look away.
The service dog may be in training and greeting you, your child or your dog at that moment may set the dog back in that training. Ensure your child stays out of the dog's space and keeps his hands at his side. If you have a dog with you, keep your dog close to you on leash and well out of contact range of the service dog team if he is showing too much interest in the service dog.
4. Keep your own opinions about the level of disability of the handler. Many disabilities are invisible. Examples of invisible disabilities are seizures, diabetes, anaphylactic allergies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety.
5. If you see that a service dog is causing a disturbance in public, move away and notify the manager of the store. Let them deal with it. They should ask the handler to control the dog. If after being given a chance to do so and they are not able to or make no attempt to control the service dog, then the manager can ask them to remove the dog. Members of the public cannot ask a service dog to leave. That would be considered interference with a service dog team.
Did you know that in BC, Canada there is up to a $3000 fine for anyone interfering with a service dog team? Or that a record and jail time is possible for doing so? There are similar laws all over the world. Please respect a service dog team!
Caroline Mitter has kindly allowed me to share this post with you about the process of becomming a team with her dog.
"I've been thinking about Cricket, including our recent outings and the status of the minor issues we've been working on, and I've made a decision that is largely symbolic in CA but emotionally important.
Look, ma, no training tags!
Like Rani Aguirre, he's in the owner-trained service dog graduating class of summer 2017. I have sometimes referred to him as my service dog before now and he has met the ADA requirements for some time, but I've kept an "in training" patch on his work harness because I felt that there were some minor things that we needed to iron out and I wanted to be able to use the "in training" tags to remind everyone, especially myself, that he wasn't perfect.
He's still not perfect, he sometimes loses track of his neuron in group class, and we're still adding more tasks. However, he has really matured over the last few months and shown me that he is on point when it really matters. He can work without any reward besides my attention, pick up his leash and hand it to me instead of taking advantage under distracting conditions, and switch from play mode to work mode at the park if I need him. Despite his playfulness while off duty, he has been barked at and even charged by another dog in public with no reaction. He has worked some LONG days and nights in stressful situations, such as the UCDMC ER, and handled himself with aplomb on a recent trip to a friend's farm, complete with goats, chickens, and an overly friendly pony.
He and I have gotten better at communicating with each other and I understand now that when he's restless, it's not a lack of training, it's that he has a need that hasn't been met or he's trying to tell me that *I* need to take care of myself. I've gotten to where I hesitate to leave the house without him. We'll keep working on keeping track of that neuron in group class and adding more tasks. Now that the weather is getting more reasonable outside and I have a bit more energy, I'm hoping to work more on tracking and preparation for other dog sports.
It's been a bit over 3 years since I first brought up the idea of getting a service dog with my mentors and family, which started with researching programs, deciding I would train a dog myself, and finding a breeder who was having a litter, then 2 years of puppy raising and training. It's not been a fast, cheap, or easy process by any means. I'm incredibly grateful to all those who have supported us along the way and who continue support our growth and development as a team - Linda Barter as matchmaker and puppy raising mentor; Kim Wurster as breeder of the best dog ever; Nancy Haverstock Abplanalp and Donna Hill as our primary professional training support; Sandra Walther as public access training buddy; Christy Corp-Minamiji and clan as second family who gave him stability when I was in the hospital for weeks; the UCD vet behavior team (I think Michelle Borchardt was the first one who told me I could do it); my online training mentors in crime, I mean, um, um (Patty Aguirre, Cheryl Bloom, Karen Johnson Lawrence, Jo Butler, Carol Hall, Micha Michlewicz, Lynn Shrove and many more); my family, who financially backed this questionable startup and took him on countless walks and dog park trips; all of the local people who helped socialize and puppy sit him; and of course his entire online fan club, who made me laugh and supported me when I was feeling down about training and life in general.
What Are the Best Learning Environments for Your Puppy?
Start in a familiar environment (at home with familiar people). Choose the basic skills you need your puppy to know. Don't flood him with too many behaviors.
One person teaches him one skill at a time.
Teach the basic behavior (either by capturing, luring or shaping). Wait to add the hand cue until the puppy is clear on what the final behavior is.
Take him to at least 4 more rooms in the house and reteach the behavior from the start. This helps him to learn exactly what the behavior is and what cues you use for him to know what you are asking (they might be your body position relative to him, a prop you might use, a hand signal, and lastly the verbal cues you might use.) Most dogs learn body language easiest as that is how they communicate with other dogs. Each room will have different distractions. The more behaviors you teach and the more locations, the faster the pup will relearn them. This is calling 'learning to generalize".
Next add some distractions like you clapping hands, turning around, placing treats on a nearby surface, and cue him to do the behavior. Start with low-level distractions and progress to higher level distractions. Progress to doing jumping jacks, jogging by him as you cue him etc. Get family members to help add distractions incrementally. Give them specific instructions of what you want them to do,
Next, start generalizing the behaviors to other slightly more distracting environments out of the home: the deck, back yard, front yard, driveway, sidewalk, park etc. Before you start each session though, give your puppy time to explore the new space. That will help him get the sniffies out of his system and to get comfortable in the environment before you start reteaching him.
Now it's time to think about adding the presence of strangers, other known dogs, swings swinging etc. Ask neighbors and friends to come over for puppy training sessions. Retrain the behaviors with them watching, then adding mild distractions.
Now the pup is ready for puppy class. Choose one that has a clear structure and does not offer free-for-all play sessions. The point of classes is to teach your puppy to work with you in the presence of the distractions. Get permission from the instructor to bring your puppy into the environment to sniff around before the other puppies arrive. That way he will be comfortable in the environment before the other puppies arrive. This is called "acclimating".
Take the class and participate with your puppy as she can do. You will find that she is already far ahead of other pups in class as the foundation for learning has been laid.
Once the classes are over, continue training more complex behaviors at home, then away from home as before.
Then sign up for adolescent classes and advanced distraction classes. Each time, your pup will be exposed to new dogs and people in class. Ideally, find different location to take classes.
Then start to work on behaviors in more public places where you have previously taken the puppy when you were socializing her as a small pup (up to 16 weeks). This lays the foundation for public access later on.
How to Use the Clicker to Shape my Dog's Behavior
Your job is to find out what food or toy rewards are meaningful enough to your dog to make him want to play the game with you. And training really is a game to the dogs and you too!
Psychologist Skinner called the tiny steps in developing a new behavior “successive approximation” and he was right! If you reward really simple behaviors that are part of a more complex behavior, you can get the dog to change that behavior little by little into the more complex final behavior. The dog is “approximating” a behavior at first. Today we call this "'shaping".
Shaping a Behavior
If we first asked your dog to shut the door and just waited for the behavior to happen, we would be waiting a long time. So that method doesn’t work for this complex behavior. But by asking the dog to do a tiny bit of the behavior (touching the nose to the door), we now have the dog doing something that will lead to closing the door.
Next, we ask for a harder touch (as this will be needed to shut the door). Next, we can open the door a crack and ask him to push it closed. If he does not, we can get the dog to increase the behavior by simply waiting. Your dog will likely offer another touch, giving an extra hard push (as if to say, “Hey! Did you see that?”) and you click as he does so. If you reward him with a couple of treats, most dogs remember this and are more likely to do that same harder push again.
Practice at that level for a few clicks, then ask for a little more by opening the door slightly wider. And so on until the behavior is complete.
Have a look at the video to see how shaping is used to teach a dog to close a door.
A Written Plan
It is very helpful if you have a written plan of what the shaping might look like before you start training a task. Start by brainstorming: at the bottom of the page, write down the final behavior you want, then at the top, write down the first behavior you would think your dog might offer you. Most behaviors start with a sniff or a look in the right direction, the progress to a nose touch, paw or other foot movement etc.
Try to figure out what the steps would look like in between to get you there. Number them if it helps. You dog may not follow your plan, but at least you will have an idea of where to go with what he does offer you. If you get stuck, break each step down into 4 more micro steps. Make it as easy for him to take each small step as you can as this is how you can quickly progress to the more complex final behavior.
Jessie learned the basic idea of how to close a door in about 30 minutes of actual training time when she was about a year old. We had not done much shaping before this so it was new to her. I was cooking her treats on the BBQ and needed to take frequent breaks to check the meat. This was perfect as it gave her a chance to wander off and sniff, then she was eager to come back and try again. Perhaps she was processing the information she was learning.
For some dogs, shaping occurs quite quickly, while for others (especially the first few shaping exercises you do) each step may need to be broken down even simpler. The more experience a dog has with shaping, the more quickly the final behavior is offered. Now at almost 2 years, Jessie can move through a shaped exercise quite quickly and has the final behavior accomplished in record time (for her).
For practice before trying to teach your dog to shut the door, try shaping a firm nose touch to a piece of tape on your hand. Then try moving the tape to the door. Your pointing finger becomes a target to help the dog to learn that you him/her to touch the tape.
What Else Can I Do with Shaping?
Now that you know how to shape, the world is your oyster! You can train your dog to do anything! Start with simple behaviors and progress to more complex ones. Starting with Object-based shaping where your dog interacts with a physical object such as a target, book, chair, box etc is much easier than non-object based shaping like swinging into a heel position or giving you eye contact in distracting environments.