First, it is the team, not just the dog that is certified.

If you live in British Columbia, Alberta or Nova Scotia, you need to contact the regulating bodies that will test you and your dog in person, make sure you are both ready to take the assessment test, fill out the forms, have the designated medical provider and veterinarian fill out the forms, and pay the fees. Be prepared to cover your own travel and accommodation costs unless you are on social assistance. Each province also requires an annual or biannual renewal.

If you live in any of the other provinces that do not offer this option, you have two options:

1. Contact each of the 3 provinces who certify owner-trainers and ask if they certify out-of-province teams. Find out if they will accept forms filled out by medical provider and veterinarian from another province. If so, then arrange for the test. Be prepared to cover your own travel and accommodation costs unless you are on social assistance. Each province also requires an annual or biannual renewal.

2. Contact organizations accredited by Assistance Dogs International and and find out if any of them will certify owner-trained teams. They may require you to train with them for a period of time so they are comfortable that your team will not be a liability issue for them. Make sure they have the same training philosophy as you do before committing to working with them. Ask what equipment and tools they use on their dogs and make sure you are comfortable with that as well. You will have to travel to them and likely provide your own testing, training, travel and accommodation costs etc.

All legitimate tests are done in-person and issued either by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or a body appointed by the provincial government. None of them will issue a certificate without meeting you and your dog together in-person.
 

"Fading" is the term many trainers use when they want you to gradually decrease the use of reinforcers or prompts to reduce your dog needing them to perform a behaviour or series of behaviours. 

This is done by breaking down the steps for your dog so the removal of the reinforcer or prompt is not very noticeable. Most dogs need this to be a gradual change to be able understand what you are asking them to do. Most dogs at least 3 or 4 steps in the process.

Removing reinforcers or prompts too quickly (making the fading steps too large) makes learning hard for your dog, can cause your dog to be frustrated about what you are asking, or to even give up trying, especially early in the training process. 

Here are some examples of fading below.

Fading Reinforcers

During the learning phase of any behaviour, we want to use one reinforcer for one behaviour to to keep our dog interested in learning a new behaviour.

After our dog has learned a specific behaviour, we want to reduce the reinforcers so we don't have to give a treat, toy, or massage after each time our dog does that behaviour. 

We can fade them by:

A. Changing to intermittent reinforcement. This is when we choose only the best examples of the behavior and reward only those. Typically we start with the best 8 out of 10 behaviours to mark and reinforce. 

B. Next, we can ask for a series of behaviours. We can gradually increase how many behaviours in a row we ask for before we deliver a reward. For loose leash walking, we can start asking for moving forward two steps with us, then 4, 6, 8, 10 etc, gradually building to more.

C. Then we can gradually replace one reinforcer with an alternative one. We can use other behaviours our dog has learned and enjoys performing for just our praise such as retrieving a leash. We can also use rewards that occur naturally in the environment such as going out a doorway, getting into a car, sniffing, greeting people or dogs etc. Most dogs thinks these things are enjoyable or at the very least, exciting.

Adding duration to any behaviour can also be seen as fading reinforcers since more is asked of the dog for the same amount of reinforcer.

Fading Prompts

Here are examples of different kinds of prompts and how you might fade them.

A. Hand Signal:
If you are using an arm signal to send your dog around a cone, to fade it, you would start with a full wide arm sweep (arm extended and parallel to the ground). Then you will tuck your elbow against your side and sweep forward with just your hand and forearm. To fade it further, you might just flick your wrist. Eventually you might just crook your finger to tell your dog that he need to move around the cone (or other object).

B. Prop such as a paw target: 
When you are using a visible paw target such as a 8 inch ice cream bucket lid, you would gradually cut the size down by an inch or so each training session until it is about 2 inches in diameter.

C. Platform:
When you use a platform to teach a behaviour, it will need to be faded as well. For example, if you are teaching your dog to stand stay, you might start with the dog on the platform, then use a lower platform of the same size and shape to practice the behaviour. Next you might put a mat on the floor, then remove the mat. You dog should be able to perform the stand stay behaviour without the platform.

D. Barrier
If you are starting with the dog in another room from a distraction (say a cat in a crate), you can bring the dog into the room but have a low visual barrier between them. Let's use the example of  an Xpen with a blanket laid over it. Next you might make the blanket narrower by folding it over, then remove it entirely.  The dog can now see the cat in the crate. 

Being able to break down the steps to fade reinforcements and prompts is an important step to helping your dog learn to perform behaviours in public. What other prompts can you think of for training a service dog need to be "faded"? 

 

 

When people start training their dogs a service dog or assistance dog candidate, I recommend that they start early on with two behaviours that are essential for every service dog. These behaviours are often confused for two similar, but different behaviours. Let's take look at the difference. 

Down Stay vs Settle/Relax

Most pet dog classes teach a formal down and stay behavior. This is because the origins of older dog training comes from the military where they had strict adherence to formal obedience and dogs were drilled on the behaviours. This is a formal behaviour that involves the dog laying in a sphinx position (dog staying very still with front feet extended and rear feet tucked under the body and the head up). Formal down stays take much focus and energy to maintain. Even the best-trained dogs cannot hold the down stay position for very long. Formal competition obedience only requires a 3 minute down stay.  Pet dogs and service dogs don't actually need a formal down stay.

What both pet and service dogs DO need is a settle or relax behaviour. A settle/relax allows the dog to get comfortable on the ground. That's it. The dog can determine what is comfortable. If that is laying with their one hip rolled under them, laying on their side or laying on their chest like a frog or bear rug, that works.

The difference is that a settle/relax can be done for long periods because the dog is comfortable and can move around. Most service dogs work 4-8 hours a day or more away from home, often more at home. Like us when sleeping, our dogs move around. It is not reasonable for a handler to expect a pet or working dog to maintain a down stay for periods. The dog can stay relaxed yet still be alert for doing his job, or he can fall asleep but is still nearby. In a settle/relax, the dog can shift around on the spot, as long as he stays low on the ground. Many handlers use a towel or yoga mat to let the dog know the space that he has to move around on.

Some handlers train a 'park' cue that means the dog can get up and turn around as long as he stays on the designated spot (mat). More movement is allowed for a 'park' than a settle/relax. 

The only time a settle/relax might not work is if the dog needs to curl up into a small ball to avoid being stepped on or if placed in small spaces like under a seat in a plane. Then they are also taught 'under' and 'curl'. Two more useful behaviours. 

It is a great compliment when someone observes a handler leaving a restaurant and exclaims "I didn't even know there was a dog here until you got up to leave!" A settle/relax allows an assistance dog to be out of sight. 

Heeling vs Loose Leash Walking

Another often taught behaviour in pet classes is the formal heel. It too has the same history as the down stay. Heeling involves the dog staying very close to (a few inches a way) or in physical contact with the handlers leg or wheelchair. In some styles of heeling, the dog also holds his head upright rather than looking forward. This is very hard on the dog's neck. Turns (left and right) are controlled with cues. 


Heeling, like the down stay, is also a very difficult behaviour for a dog to sustain for long periods. Even highly trained competition dogs only do a formal heel for 5 minute periods. Heeling is only used with service dogs in specific situations such as when moving through narrow areas with many people (crowds or aisles in a store) then the dog is released to go back to loose leash walking after the obstacle or group is passed. 

In loose leash walking, the dog can move within 24 inches of the handler and turns with the handler without cueing or leash tension or direction. The dog may be in front of, beside or even behind the handler, as long as they stay with 24 inches of the handler's leg or wheelchair. Quite frankly, we would not want a dog to heel very close to a chair or other medical device as they risk getting their feet run over or getting knocked into it. The extra distance from the handler allows the dog to safely navigate around storm drains, curbs, posts without affecting the handler's direction or movement in space. The dog can also move to the end of the leash to retrieve dropped objects for the handler as they move along.

Service Dog Training Institute offers classes on both Settle/Relax and Loose Leash Walking because they are important enough to do so.  Check the catalogue page for registration information.

Is your dog overly friendly to everyone? A great way to teach your dog to stop jumping on visitors in general is to start teaching him at home. 

Doorways are exciting places for dogs since people come and go. New scents, motion, sound and lots of love and attention happens near the door.

There are several different strategies you can use to teach your dog to keep his feet and mouth off visitors.

1. Prevent the Dog from Practicing Jumping on People
While we desensitize your dog to the excitement of the doorway and train a different behaviour, we need to prevent him from practicing the unwanted uncued jumping. The more practice he gets, the better he gets at jumping and the more he associates it with the doorway location. 

a. Cue the dog to go into a crate, keep him behind a barrier or tether him to a heavy piece of furniture. 
With the crate, he needs to know how to go to crate first on cue. 
Next, teach him to go from a distance. 
Next, add some planned distractions.
Then try the process at the door with a helper posing as the visitor.
Start with placing the crate near the door and gradually move it further away to where you want it to be placed. 

b. If you have an indoor doorway close to the outside door, then a barrier might make more sense. Place the dog behind the barrier and let your visitor come in. Wait until your dog has calmed down before letting them interact. You might have to be creative with an X pen if you don't have an indoor doorway nearby. Set the pen up as a U-shape around the outside door to create an 'airlock' and have your dog on the house side of the barrier. Your visitor comes into the airlock and waits until the dog calms down. 

c. If you have a heavy piece of furniture and a dog that is small enough not to pull it, tethering your dog by a leash and harness might work. This option is not an ideal one for enthusiastic jumpers or dogs with low tolerance to frustration though, since being held back may trigger oppositional behaviours (opposition reflex). 

2. Desensitize Dog to Arrivals

a. Drop treats on the floor at the visitor's feet to direct your dog's attention downward. 
Start with delivering them one at a time fast and furious and then slow the rate down as your dog calms down. Mark and treat your dog for keeping himself on the ground (4 feet on the floor).

b. Block eye contact with your hand.
If your dog has already been taught how to nose target, he should catch on quickly to what you are doing. Practice this before your visitor comes over.
Start by walking with your dog toward the visitor and cover your dog's eyes with one hand as he moves around. 
Teach your visitors to present their hand in front of them to block the dog's eyes.
Fade that once the dog calms down. This also has the benefit of teaching the dog that hand contact is better than eye contact. If your dog enjoys back or hip rubs, then direct them to do that. This is calming to most dogs. 

c. Use Premack's Principle to recall your dog away from the person.
You must have a reliable recall with distractions for this to work.
You can start with your dog on leash if you need to help your dog turn back to you. 

Practice sending your dog to the door and recalling before a visitor comes. 
Send your dog to the door when the visitor is still outside and call him away.
Then send your dog to the visitor once she comes in. At first let your dog just get to the person, then call him away.
Each time you send your dog, his excitement should decline. If that happens, let him interact a little longer each time. Try to call before he has a chance to jump.
By pairing the greeting visitor with the recall, you strengthen the recall. Sending multiple times with each person also desensitizes your dog to the people. This calms the dog down as well.

d. Have the visitor come further into the house. 
Moving the visitor away from the doorway reduces the excitement for everyone. This calms the situation down.
Have the visitor avoid eye contact. It's best if everyone has something else to look at, like an object of interest (computer or book). That takes the focus off the dog. 

3. Train an Incompatible behaviour.
This means think of something you want the dog to do that interferes with the jumping. 

a. Some examples are to ask the dog to run to her bed and lay down. She can't lay down and jump at the same time. 
Like before, the dog needs to know the behaviour well and with distractions before starting to use this near the doorway. 
Practice sending your dog to his bed when you knock or ring the bell. 
Have a helper practice knowing or ringing the bell. Send him to his bed. 
Then practice opening the door. 
The first few times with a real helper visitor, you may need another helper to stay with the dog and reward frequently until he is released from the mat (or you can do that too if the visitor outside can hear your instructions to come in when you are ready). 

b. For dogs that get mouthy, like golden retrievers and labradors, put a toy in their mouth. This fills the need to grab and hold something. That way, they won't ned to jump up and grab visitors hands or wrists. 
Keep a few toys near the door for this purpose. After several practices of this, most dogs will start looking for their toy when they hear the knock to doorbell. They will learn to greet people with a toy in their mouth.

c. Teach your dog to "Go Say Hi".
Ask your visitor to put out his hand palm forward and cue your dog to nose target it and come back to you. Reward when he comes back to you. This keep meetings brief while the dog calms down. (similar to Premark Recalls above) Your dog can't nose target a lowered hand and jump at the same time. 

4. Put the Jumping on Cue
Teach your dog to jump up on cue. Whether he jumps all 4 feet in the air or leans front paws on the visitor, this can work. 
It gives the dog an outlet to do the behaviour, then you can phase out when you cue it. Combining this with the person moving into the house works well to calm the dog quickly. 
The jumping behaviour needs to be under good stimulus control before you start using it with visitors so it is considered an advanced approach. 
Check out my two 'stimulus control' videos.

5. Elevate Your Dog
Near the doorway but far enough away that your dog cannot touch the visitor, place your dog on a raised platform like the top of a crate or grooming table, or even a stable stool.
This fills the need to be closer to the visitor's face for greeting. Because the distance is so far, he will naturally stop jumping. 
Once your dog is focussed on you, he may also start to offer other behaviours like a sit or down.
At the beginning, feed a high rate of reinforcement to focus your dog on you. Once the person is in the house, cue your dog to jump off and 'go say hi', calling away as necessary.

Here is a video that shows you the 5 strategies. 

I don't tend to cue a dog to sit or down near a visitor unless he is facing the handler. I find that most dogs while facing the visitor will use the sit or down to launch themselves at the visitor. 

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 2

It is important to try to identify the parts of the training that you aren't enjoying.
What exactly is slowing you down, tiring you out or turning you off?

Once you have done that, you can tackle each part, change what you need to make it work for you and move beyond each. Talk to others to get ideas. Ask on Facebook or dog trainers. Even ask a friend. We all go through it and have different ways to cope that you can try.

What I don't like:

How I can change it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Here are some other ideas to stay motivated: 

  1. Take regular days off. Just like us and other work, we need to take 2 days off each week to give ourselves time down to recharge. Training every day takes the fun out of it. Training doesn't have to be done every day and in fact, giving our dogs time off between lets them think about a behavior and progress faster. They and we are eager to get back to training. Burn out is huge among owner-trained service dogs.

  2. Find a friend to train with once a week. Working together with someone else helps keeps you committed to scheduled days at different locations.
  3. Vary the behaviors you train. Come back a month later and retrain from the beginning but progress further than before.

  4. Randomly draw from a list of behaviors you need to train and train that behavior for several sessions. Draw a new one and train that. Work your way through all of those and repeat until you get to your progress goal for each behavior. When you finish one, add another in to take it's place. The somewhat unpredictable nature of the process keeps you interested.

  5. Teach someone else (whether by explaining or writing it down or making a video) how to train a behavior you aren't enjoying or are having a challenge with. This will help you think form another's perspective and you may even come up with a solution or a new way to teach it.

  6. Train one aspect of the behavior that you enjoy then leave it for a bit. Come back to it later.

  7. Break behaviors or tasks into smaller steps. Identify your specific challenges and break those down into 4 steps, the again another 2 each.

  8. Research other ways to teach a behavior or generalize or proof it. Do those as they may be more fun! 

  9. Make a training plan and tick off or fill in the steps you have accomplished. This gives you a quick visual reinforcer that you are making progress!

  10. Add what you are training to your computer calendar for the next week or month. Then you get reminders the day before and you can mull it over in your mind. This allows you to adjust it as you go along. 

  11. Do a simple version of the task. Come back at later date and teach more complex version.

  12. Use a 'snakes and ladders' approach on ourselves. Train to your goal for a few days, then do a shorter training day. Go back to a longer day. This way you get mini breaks but still move towards your goals.

  13. Work on concepts rather than behaviors. It's a bigger picture approach. Once your dog understands the concept, she can learn new applications of it much faster.
    For example: teaching distance as a concept
    If you teach the distance aspect of several different behaviors all at once, the dog will understand it faster. Each of these behaviors have a distance element: nose target, paw, sit, down, crate, mat, jump, retrieve. If you train each behavior to 10 feet, your dog will solidly be able to do a behavior at that distance. Train each one to 15 feet. etc.

  14. For public access training, start with what is doable for you. 
    Maybe one day a week is fine. Even when you are doing mostly public access training, do only a maximum of 3 days each week. Adding transportation to and from the pubic site adds stress. You need to account for that. You will be more relaxed and so will your dog if you give yourself time to recharge between by staying closer to home. Plan the further location like field trips. Pack a lunch.

  15. For public access training, invite a friend to be a helper. They can run interference from people and dogs, taking the focus off you so you can focus on training.
  1. Collect and store all equipment as close as possible to where you train at home or stored in a trunk when you do public access training. Have to carry and set up equipment every time can be very demotivating. You may need to be creative and store some equipment in unusual places. Get permission and focus on training those behaviors in a short period, then remove the equipment and go on to other behaviors.
  2. Prepare treats in bulk once a week. Bake, cut up and freeze them into training session sized portion. Sandwich bags work well. If treat preparation gets you down, splurge and purchase good quality pre-cut treats once in awhile. Search out easy to make recipes. Or easy to make treats. My dogs works for cut up vegetables like cooked carrots and yam, raw cucumbers and zuchini, frozen peas. Partly thawed slow-cooked kidney beans. They also enjoy Cheerios, squares of beef fat (instead of cheese), yogurt, thick pea soup and gravy placed in tubes. 

What other things do you do to keep yourself motivated to train?  

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.

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/

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.

 

 

 

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