Then take 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 worsk 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 mark 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!

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.

There are many tasks that can be trained to mitigate specific parts of these disabilities. Here is a list. If you have other ideas, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. so we can include them.

  • 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!

 

Alzheimer's Alert dogs are dogs that are trained to help the caregiver but also provide emotional support and companionship to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. In some cases, they can also lead a disoriented person home.

Some common tasks they are trained to do:

*Stay near the person with Alzheimer's Disease and interact with them for companionship.

*Alert the caregiver (usually a family member) when the person is on the move. For example, if the person gets out of their chair or out of bed, the dog goes and gets the caregiver to prevent wandering. The dogs are trained in the same way hearing alert dogs are. One specific sound the chair makes as the person stands up becomes the cue for the dog to run for help. It would be considered a 'one way alert' (one way alert video). If the dog needs to take the caregiver to the person, it would be called a 'two way alert' (two way alert video). If this occurs at night, the dog will also need to wake the sleeping caregiver.

For our sound alert video examples: replace the alarm clock sound with the chair squeaking the floor or the person's feet hitting the floor. The dog runs and finds the caregiver, gives the trained alert, and brings the caregiver back to the person with Alzheimer's disease.

*Since people with Alzheimer's also lose their sense of smell and do things that might cause them harm (such as burning food, overloading washing machines etc), the dog's nose can be used to alert the caregiver to these smells. Pair the scent of food burning in the microwave, or the burning rubber of a washing machine with the alert behavior and add distance from the caregiver. Train a two way alert so the caregiver knows where to go. Some dogs do these alerts naturally and their technique (alert behavior) can be refined.

*Push or nudge the person with Alzheimer's away from doors. If alarms are on the doors, go get the Caregiver.

*Remind the caregiver to help person with Alzheimer's take their medication.

*They can be trained to guide the person home if they become disoriented. Walking is a key way to decrease the need to wander. The "Home" cue has the dog lead the person safely home, navigating obstacles etc.

The temperament of an Alzheimer's Support/Alert Dog is key, as they must be very social and have high play drive, yet calm enough to lay for hours by the side of the Alzheimer's person. They must also be resilient to the rapid changes of mood displayed by some people with Alzheimer's.

I was recently asked how a person would go about finding a trainer that will help them to train their own service or assistance dog. Here is my answer.
 
The first assumption is that the trainer needs to be an experienced service dog trainer. While this is helpful, this is not necessarily true. The most important part of a service dog is that the dog can pass the public access test. Here's another link: IAADP 

This means the dog must behave appropriately (calmly, no barking etc) in public, be able to perform common cues (sit, down, wait, leave it etc) and not be fearful or aggressive towards people, animals and the wide array of situations s/he will be faced with when assisting their handler in public. This is the hardest (and often the longest) part of the training so choose a trainer that is going to set you and your dog up to succeed and you will look forward to working with them in the long-term. If they would like to talk to me about the process, learn about laws etc, have them book a consult with me to ask all their questions. You can find another trainer online who specializes in training the tasks once your dog is well on his way to being able to do public access or check out the task classes we offer.
 
1. Start by looking for a trainer that fits your personal training philosophy for both you and your dog. You will be working with this person or company for the next 2 years or more, so choose one who you get along with. Take a set of 4 classes with them before you commit to big amounts up front. That gives you both time to see if you get along. Consider both in-person and online trainers. If you live rurally, going to weekly classes may not be possible. You may live where you can't find a trainer you like. Online classes might be the best for you and your dog so you can learn the skills before you go to class and use it to reteach the behaviors in the presence of higher level distractions (other people and dogs).

a) Ask around (friends with dogs, dog clubs, veterinarian etc). Check the internet for trainers near you.
There are several directories to help:

Regional Training Associations such as:

Vancouver Island Animal Training Assoc (VIATA) in BC

I
nternational Training Organizations
CPDT-KA

Choosing a trainer that uses positive reinforcement allows you to build a strong bond and create a confident and eager worker willing to take risks during learning. A trainer who understands how to correctly apply the 'quadrants and principles of operant conditioning' will help to ensure they understand how to break behaviors into small enough steps so your dog will be successful at each step. Dogs that get frustrated or who are punished (corrected) typically shut down and do not offer the creative and intelligent behavior choices a service dog will need to offer during his/her career. Look for an "About" page on their website. It should outline their training philosophy and techniques, maybe even mentors. 
 
Do be aware the term "positive" is applied in many ways, so just because a trainer calls themselves "positive" does not mean you will get one that uses primarily reinforcement-based training. "Balanced" trainers use a combination of both positive reinforcement and correction-based approaches (positive punishment). Dominance-based trainers tend to use force, physical manipulation and intimidation (such as invasion of the dog's personal space) to get behaviors, much emphasis is placed on verbal praise, and the use of food or toys is rare.
 
b) Since you are the other half of the service dog team, the trainer will need to be able to anticipate and accommodate your needs as well. How do they interact with you personally? Are you comfortable with them? What training have they done to learn how to train people? TAG teach (Teaching with Acoustic Guidance) is a good certification to have. Training as a teacher is handy. Training in ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) is a bonus as is a person with a Master's degree in Behavioral Psychology. Anyone that has worked with children or people with special needs or disabilities (and enjoyed it) may be a good choice as they understand how to adapt their training to your needs. What teaching experience have they had?  Choose someone that can provide structure, is organized, and can keep you on track since the process can take up to 18 months or more. 
 
2. Next, look at their dog training credentials. Is the trainer a current member of any recognized training associations? Do your research on the internet and find out the methods endorsed by these organizations.
Have they taken training or been certified by a recognized organization? Are they a tester or instructor for any? Which ones? Do they participate in regular (at least annual) professional development? (That is, keeping current on new ways to teach both you and the dog?) It might be in-person workshops or seminars, could be on-line learning or even purchasing books and DVD's, reading magazines etc. Are they a leader in their field and teach others?
 
3. Do they have an area of specialty? This will be one or two areas they have a greater knowledge of due to either a special interest or more experience (might be puppies, fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, working with children, service dogs, etc). Trainers that list many "specialities" are likely using them as keywords on their site to be found by search engines. They need not have a specialty for a specific type of service dogs as the foundation for all of them are the same. You can work with another trainer who has expertise in your specific disability when training the specific tasks you need. That can start down the road once your dog is comfortable working in public. Most tasks are comparatively easy to teach. The hard part if helping the dog learn to gneralize them (perfrom them in many different locations).
 
4. When you have narrowed your list to 2 or 3 possible trainers, ask them some questions. Talk to them in person, on the phone, or via video chat. E-mailing is usually too time-consuming. Make an appointment to ensure they have time to talk to you. Explain that you are doing research to find a suitable trainer to help you train you and your service dog for the behaviors in the Public Access Test.
 
a) Ask them who handles the dog. If at any time does someone other than you (dog's partner) handle the dog? In what situations? Are you comfortable with that?

b) What type of training equipment do they use (collars, harness, food, objects, people etc.) 
Some collars use force and punishment (prong, choke, e-collar) while others are designed to avoid that (head collars, front clip harnesses) but still give you more control over the dog's behavior. The use of a non-restrictive body harnesses is preferred. Head halters need to be specifically conditioned on the dog and they train you to use them properly, avoiding jerking or lifting in their use. A flat collar is used for tags. R+ trainers will not use choke chains, prong collars, electronic (shock) collars or harnesses that tighten on the dog like some front clip harnesses. Also watch how they use the tools. A leash can be used aversively by popping or jerking, or can be used as an emergency back-up only. The latter is what you want to aim for.

c) Where do they train with you? At your home? Their facility? Public places later on? 
 
d) If a dog doesn't do what they want, how do they respond? For example, if they ask the dog to sit and he doesn't. Answers will vary from 'make him', 'push his butt down', to 'start with where the dog is at (assess for understanding, distractions, stress level etc) and train from there'. The second answer is preferred.)
 
e) Can they list 5 calming signals given by dogs in a stressful situation? If they don't know what signals a dog uses to communicate stress (look away, whale eye, yawning, lip licks, sniffing, avoidance etc), this is not a good sign as they probably also don't understand thresholds.
 
f) Can they tell you when the various fear periods are in a dog's development? These will affect performance during training, especially during adolescence. (fear periods are 8-11 weeks, 4 to 8 months, 6 to 14 months)
 
g) Do they do an assessment of the abilities of you and your dog? It might a verbal or a practical or both.
 
h) Do they offer semi-private or private lessons if needed?

i) How do they deal with aggression and fear? Listen for methods to reveal their knowledge level as much as a general approach. Methods such as forcing a dog to endure something it is afraid of (called flooding) or correcting the dog for growling or barking (called positive punishment) etc is now recognized as being damaging to both the dog and the relationship. Adding distance between the trigger until the dog stops reacting and using food or play to change how the dog feels are accepted ways to deal with fear or aggression.

j) What teaching methods do they use to help you learn how to teach your dog? Verbal explanations, visual info (posters etc), demonstrations with their own dog, demo with your dog, mirrors, video recording of training sessions, written logs and /or journals, step by step videos, reading assignments, handouts? Is it okay if you write things down?

k) As they explain what they do, listen very closely to the language they use. "The dog MUST Do...", "We use only praise", "You push the dog's bum down",  "The dog is being dominant" or "Your dog is part of your pack" rings alarm bells in a handler looking for a positive reinforcement approach. A trainer who recognizes that a dog (and their human) always has a choice in the behaviors they do during learning is one who may understand how a dog learns. One of those choices is to say "No." Words like "luring", "capturing" and "shaping" are good ways to get behavior.
 
l) What will they do if your dog develops fears or aggression? What setups they use to retrain this? Do they use controlled situations (lots of distance, or visual barriers, use fake dogs or dolls for children (called decoys) to start the dog well below fear threshold. Do they use muzzles if necessary?

m) Can they tell you what under threshold, counter conditioning, systematic desensitization, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT), Look at That (LAT) mean? 

n) Ask them names of authors and other dog trainers they emulate. Research them to see how positive they are. Some names (in no particular order): Paul Owens, Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Patricia McConnell, Denise Fenzi, Grisha Stewart, Kathy Sdao, Nando Brown, Coppinger's, Steve White, Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, Emma Parsons, Sue Ailsby, Pamela Dennison, Victoria Stillwell, Leslie McDevitt, Silvia Trkman, Emily Larlham, Eva Bertilsson, Melissa Alexander, Steve Dale.

o) How knowledgeable/open are they to using additional approaches such as Tellington Touch (TTouch), body wraps, massage, recorded sounds, flower essences, etc.

p) Ask what they believe the social structure of dogs is. The most current research indicates dogs have a very loose social structure based on avoidance of confrontation and maintaining social peace. They DO NOT live in a dominance hierarchy, nor in packs. The most recent understanding of dominance is that it occurs in specific situations between two dogs over a single resource. It is not a personality trait. Typically trainers who believe in social hierarchies will also use force and correction during training. Research also indicates the use of both positive reinforcement and correction/positive punishment together is very confusing to dogs and results in less learning.
 
5. Go back and review the info you have gathered about each trainer. Which might be a good fit for you? Find out by watching classes at different levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) to see what both dogs and handlers can do). The trainer should allow you to watch for free to help you decide if you like their teaching approach to dogs and people. Ensure that the trainer you watch is the one you will be working with. Take notes so you can compare them later. Record things you like as well as concerns you have. The trainer should be able to address to your satisfaction any concerns that may affect your service team's experience. Note things like, do they talk with each person? Can s/he recognize that a student is having trouble and help them to be successful in that lesson? Are the lessons structured for a group or individuals? Did the trainer do a demonstration with a dog first? Did the trainer use visuals or props? Did she talk the class through each step?
 
6. While at the class, evaluate their training location for your needs. Look for wheelchair accessible washrooms, ramps, acoustics, temperature, lighting, windows etc.  What specific things will you need that aren't there? Is the trainer willing to make alterations? Will the facility work long-term for you and your dog?  Think about the colder seasons too.

7. How big are the classes? Smaller is better. Classes of 4-6 dogs are ideal to start. Larger can be chaotic, even if there is more than one instructor. If they have 12 or more dogs in a large space, even with a second trainer, it probably isn't the class for you as you won't get enough personal interaction with the trainers and it is harder to see and hear and understand in larger classes with the instructor standing far away especially with poor acoustics. If this is the only option, start with private classes so you and your dog already know the behaviors before taking group classes. That way, you can work on using the class to add distractions, rather than having them work against you while learning new behaviors.
 
8. Get references and ask previous clients questions about the training process, effectiveness of the trainer, ability to adapt training to the person or family's special needs etc.
 
9. Use all of what you found and how you feel about the trainer to decide if s/he is a good match for you and your dog.
 
10. Book several classes and see how they go. Re-evaluate after the sessions are over. What progress did you and your dog make? How did you feel about the sessions?  Can you work with this trainer in the long run?
 
11. Keep your research records as you may need one trainer to help with the basics, another to help with the specific service tasks and still another to help as specific challenges crop up. If you learn to trust them, this gives you a support system to draw from.
 
Recently, I had an email question that I thought would be helpful for others to read that answer to. 

"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."
I am in agreement with the breeder/trainer/rescue.
Firstly, two pups together can be a crazy-making situation! With any pup, the socialization with other people, dogs and environments is key. Toting two growing pups and their equipment around is more than double the workload of one, especially if there is only one person able to do the training! If one or both of you have disabilities, that adds too much on top of the already challenging situation you are dealing with. 

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. 

There are other benefits as well. Once you have learned to train the first dog, training the second one comes easier and the handler/family makes fewer mistakes so general training tends to go faster. Of course, each dog has their own challenges. You learn how to create and what daily structure/environment works for all of you. Puppies tend to fit into those quickly when there are older dogs in the house.The older dog often models the behaviors you want the puppy to do as well (assuming he doesn’t have too many unwanted behaviors. LOL!)

So there are many valid reasons to wait to get the second service dog candidate pup!