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!

Click Here to see Part B

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

 

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.

Click here to see Part C after Nov 26, 2017

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


 

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!

       puppy cricket      cricket 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 BloomKaren Johnson LawrenceJo ButlerCarol HallMicha 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.