On my personal Facebook page and in my Service Dog Training Institute group, I have shared many links about the concerns of using a ball to exercise your service dog. If you have a ball obsessed service dog, or if you have limited ability to exercise your dog, this blog post is for you!

What's the Problem with Throwing a Ball to Exercise Your Service Dog?

When you toss the ball it goes rolling away from the dog much like prey escaping. The dogs pounce on it. Because they roll, they can be hard to catch and this makes it much more exciting to chase. For dogs with any level of prey drive, this drives up their adrenaline levels. With repeated practice, the dog starts to require this adrenalized activity daily. It becomes an addiction.

Using arm extenders that allow the ball to be thrown further (like tennis rackets and Chuk it ball throwers) can add to the problem as it adds a higher level of speed with the distance. Dogs slide into grab the ball and injure themselves. On hard surfaces like pavement or asphalt, they skin the pads of their feet when they try to stop. I have talked to several orthopaedic veterinarians who have seen a huge increase in their services due to people using arm extenders. You don't want to risk having your dog removed from service due to an injury.

Over time you are also creating a better and better athlete that you have to keep up with.

Even just using a tennis ball with wool on the outside can cause health problems. It quickly wears a ball-obsessed dog's teeth down. The wool stores sand that acts as sandpaper. Take a look at any flyball dog's teeth: by 3 years of age, there is significant wear and shortening of the canines and side teeth. If you use a ball, make sure it has a non-wooly surface. A squash ball or orange Chuk it brand ball works well.

How Can I Modify the Ball Toss Game?

First, make sure to warm up and cool down your dog. A warm up is typical a less intense version of the actual activity. So in this case, roll the ball slowly or tow the ball on the ground in a giant circle with a flirt pole.

Rather than stopping cold turkey with your dog, try alternating the ball toss with other activities. One day ball toss, next day do something else. That way you can gradually shape your dog to enjoy other less arousing exercise activities. Over time decrease how often you use the ball and increase other activities. 

Buy a ball with a rope attached to it. This will stop the rolling when it hits the ground. 

Place the ball in a sock and toss it with that. This will limit the rolling and limit the distance it can be thrown.

Cut a cross in your ball and insert a scent. With your dog out of sight, hide the ball in long grass or on the forest floor, or even bury it lightly. Then release your dog to find it. Use a long line if your dog's recall or retrieve needs work. Over time you dog will learn to find that specific scent and you can transfer it to other objects you can hide. (Again an old sock is ideal for this.)

Try substituting a hunting bumper (canvas or plastic). They are made for hunting breeds, fit nicely in their mouth and stop dead when they hit the ground. That way your dog can stop before grabbing it and the final escape doesn't happen. If it happens to be tossed into long grass, your dog will hunt for it using his nose which uses mental energy, not just physical. Because they are an odd shape and size, the distance you can toss it is also limited. The dog won't build up as much speed when running. 

What Else Can I Do? 
There are plenty of other things you can do to exercise your dog. You must remember that your dog needs to use both physical and mental exercise. If you can combine the two, you will tire your dog out faster and with less effort on your part.

Ideally, long steady exercise periods at a moderate heart-raising pace is what you want to aim for. 

Hike with your dog. Or hire someone else to walk or hike with your dog two or three times a week.

Steady leashed walk.

Cycling with your dog, on leash or off. If on leash, then use an attachment or if your dog has a slower speed, teach him to jog beside the bike attaching the leash to the frame low on the bike so he can't pull you over. Do not hold the leash in your hand as it affects steering and balance. I prefer to teach them to keep the leash loose rather than pull the bike like a sled. Some people prefer bike-joring. Make sure to use proper harnesses for this (not a mobility harness).

Take your dog swimming. Use a bumper to retrieve. 

Find a natural area with a variety of natural features (long grass, trees, plants, etc). Put on a long line ( 10 feet or more) and cue your dog to "Go sniff" Let him lead the way! You can do this along a path if you are in a wheelchair. 

Set up a regular play date with a buddy. Playing with other dogs tires them faster than any other activity. 

Call your dog back and forth between two people.

Play hide and seek and add distance. Hide in the house, then take it on the road to a safe area. Add finding you to the call back and forth game.

Try dog parkour. Find a variety of objects in the environment that your dog can jump onto, jump over, crawl under etc. Even just jumping on and off a circle of large rocks can tire a dog quickly. (Don't worry that you might be teaching your dog to jump up on furniture and other objects. Just avoid using those in training. Once you put a cue to it, he will learn not to jump up unless you cue it. 

Doing stationing approach during walks help. Stop and do some behaviors, move a short distance and practice others. Keep doing that along a short loop of a walk. There a many training benefits for a service dog of doing this too. Dogs learn to generalize behaviours more quickly. In August 2019, I will be teaching a Build the Bond: Relationship Walks class with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Tons of great ideas in there.

If You Are Limited to Where You Can Go, Try These:

Use the neighbourhood kids to come play agility in your yard with your dog while you supervise. They can mentally and physically tire your dog out for you. Our newspaper kids used to knock on our door and ask if our dogs could come out to play. They all enjoyed their weekly romps! And wen enjoyed the social interactions and break from exercise!

Do body awareness exercises like back end awareness. Those get your dog's body and mind working together. https://youtu.be/5O7mS4blCF8

Teach him to balance on a lower inflated yoga ball or to use an exercise peanut.

Teach him to run around an object and come back to you. Set up 2 cones or other objects, and stand in the middle and send him around those. Then set up 3, then 4 etc. Increase the distance between the cones.

Paw targeting works great to exercise your dog when you add distance. Make sure to do this on a soft surface once some distance is added. 

Teach pulling as a fun exercise and practice it regularly. Make sure to have a proper harness and appropriate weight for your specific dog. Even small dogs can learn to guide you short distances, even if you don't need it as a task.

At Home: 

Mental puzzle games like snuffle mats and food puzzles help. Stuff a Kong-type toy with some favourite treats, kibble etc, put it in a cup upside down, pour a liquid in it (yogurt or broth) and freeze it. Give it to your dog on his mat or in his crate. I use the flat bone-shaped rubber toys so they don't move around much while my dogs are eating. 

A snuffle mat is a mat with long fat "fingers" where you place kibble or food bits and your dog does the finding. Because it's limited to a specific location and piece of equipment, you don't have to worry that you are encouraging scavenging in your service dog. Dogs don't generalize well.

If your dog is an advanced shaper, try the "101 Things to do With a Box" activity. Vary the object. Use a chair laid upside down. Use a ladder on it's side etc. This helps a service dog gain confidence.

Be creative in how you exercise your dog! Think outside the box!

Yes, you read that correctly! I am comparing building a road to training a service dog. It follows the same process.

I was out walking my dog on a dead end road in our neighbourhood this morning. We have been watching as a new road has been built for a housing development. As I marvelled about the weekly changes, I was struck by the similarities of the overall process to training a service dog.  I will share my thoughts here: 

When a road is built, the contractors don't just flatten the trees and lay out the concrete or asphalt. There is a process. 

It Starts With a Plan
First a plan is made for the specific ground that will be developed.
Is the planned location a suitable one for a road? What is the slope of the land? Is the existing subsurface suitable to build on? Is it too wet? Or will too much material (rock) need to be blasted out? Are there obstacles that might be in the way that need to be planned around? Are there sensitive habitats that need to be protected or heritage trees or buildings?
How will the road be used? What types of vehicles will be travelling on this surface? Bicycles, private vehicles or large dump trucks? 

An Assessment is Done
An on-the-ground survey and assessment of what is actually there will need to be done. 

A Crew is Hired
A variety of people with the skills and equipment needed are identified and found.

The Practical Begins

Next, the practical begins. The vegetation, trees and large features like rocks or derelict houses are removed. 

Next, the topsoil is scraped away. The underlying ground is further assessed to make sure it matches the expectations. Is it rock? Gravel? Sand? Clay? That will determine what and how much needs to go on top in each section of the road to improve stability.

The Infrastructure for Future Services are Put in Place
Then trenches are dug for sewer, water and gas pipes. Those pipes are laid in place and the trenches covered over. These will later serve the houses and businesses that the road is being built to allow access to. 

A Strong Flexible Layered Foundation is Put in Place
Now comes the base layer for the road. Whether this is coarse rock like rip rap for wet areas to build up the height while allowing drainage, or coarse gravel or sand is determined by what they already found in the ground. They may need to build this layer up with several layers of gradually finer materials. Each layer gets packed down by large machinery to stabilize it.

Next, over that, they lay a coarse soil/gravel as a base for the asphalt. That gets packed down.

The Process is Done in Stages
The asphalt will be laid, in small patches, limited by how much asphalt each truck can carry and how much progress the workers can do each day. Each layer is rolled over with a heavy machine made for the job.

The New Road is Given Time to Settle
That asphalt is allowed to cool and a second and third layer may be put down. 

Specific Parts of the Process Must be Done only at the Right Time and Under the Right Conditions
The process must be done at the right time of year, during the right weather and care must be taken to do the job correctly, or the road will soon degrade and be un-usable. Only vehicles that the road has been prepared for are allowed on that road or it will be damaged or age prematurely.

Regular Use and Maintenance Must be Done
Roads that are seldom used and maintained will also fall apart for different reasons than overuse. Roots of large trees break up the asphalt. The edges crumble and erode as high water gushes over it. The painted centre lines fade in the sun.

In addition, as the road ages, patches may need to be made. If enough pot holes appear or the road shows cracks or heaving, whole sections of the road may need to be repaved. This is ongoing maintenance. 

Do you See the Parallels with Training Your Own Service Dog? 

It's a carefully planned, incremental process that starts with the right dog. Your dog must be prepared for each next step by making sure each previous step is done well.

If the foundations have not been laid, you will need to go back and fix them. This often takes more time than doing the job properly the first time. Or may result in needing to remove the dog from specific training until he's ready for it. 

Paying attention to the details as you socialize, environmentally enrich, train, proof and generalize skills will pay off. Asking just the right amount from your dog will help him gain confidence to move forward. Taking regular breaks (short breaks between training sessions, weekends off etc) helps the learning cement in his mind. Breaks that are too long will slow the process. Asking for too much can overwhelm him. Asking him to do tasks for you before he's mature enough (emotionally or physically) can harm the process and risk washing your dog out. 

There is ongoing maintenance training for the life of the dog. In some regions, certification needs to be renewed every year or two. 

So think about the process your dog needs to go through the next time you see a road being built or repaired! Will your process measure up and stand the test of use and time?

A vest for cue working mode is added the same way all other cues are added.

When you can reliably predict your dog will be in working mode in a public place (and are willing to be $100 that he will go into work mode), then you add the cue of the vest or bandana or special harness. Put the vest or harness on just before going into a public place where the team will be working. 

Then, your dog will start to associate putting on the vest or special harness as the cue to work. It's based on classical conditioning or pairing of the new cue with the behavior the dog already does. The fact that the equipment feels different than what the dog usually wears will help her understand this job is different. 

You can certainly help him to be comfortable in the vest at home but if you want it to mean something, then wait to add it to 'work' situations.

Read this post on vests

Many parents struggle whether to get dog for their child who is on the autism spectrum. Should that dog be a family pet (acting as a personal therapy dog) or an actual service dog that can go into public places? Here are some points on both sides of the decision from research, parents and our trainers' experience. Parents/guardians must consider both the child and the dog's needs as the parent is legally responsible for the welfare of any pet cared for by children 16 years and under.

"Benefits (of autism service dogs) were found in 88% of families, and were overwhelmingly social and cognitive, with additional physical and medical benefits for the pediatric client. However, risks, including behavioral, financial, and time/cost issues were significant, becoming a burden in 53% of families." source

In all cases, consult a professional trainer who uses positive methods to help you evaluate a potential dog and help guide you in the training process if you think this might be what you want to do. Better yet, sign up for a web cam session to talk to a service dog trainer who has worked with families with autism and dogs before you start the process! It's the best investment you can make and will save you time, money, effort and heart ache in long run no matter which option you choose!

Pros Cons
Pet Dog  
If your child is high functioning, a puppy could be a good learning and bonding experience. Starting with a puppy is a lot of work. It's like having a baby in the house for upto 2 years. Caring and commitment required. 
Getting an adult dog might be the best choice so you know what you are getting and you skip the puppy and adolescent stage. Both pups and adults can bond to new families. Finding a dog can be a lot of work. Choice of individual dog is critical. Healthy, calm temperament with low to medium exercise needs. Resilient temperament is critical. Larger breeds to consider are labrador retrievers, golden retrievers. Smaller breeds are bichon frises or beagle. All from show (conformation) lines with thicker bone structure. Home-raised litter or dog with kids and parents health-tested. Avoid dogs who show anxiety, or fear. Must appeal to your child. 
  If the parents have not cared for a dog before, there is often welfare issues for the dog. The dog's physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs must be met.
Higher functioning and older children/teens may be able to train their own dog. They learn the skills and knowledge of training they can apply to life. Find a positive trainer who has dealt with autism.  Hiring a good trainer to guide you to a good family pet costs money. Group classes may present a challenge. Private sessions or family tutoring cost more.
An experienced positive trainer can break down the training into bite-sized pieces so you, your child and your dog all succeed.  Poor choice of trainer, such as one who uses punishment, correction or social pressure can teach a child unwanted  habits and social skills. 
Dog may become a social lubricant promoting interaction between your child and other people. Child may feel he's in competition with dog. And parent may feel that way at times too! 
Child focusses on dog and has a topic to discuss with others. May improve your child's communication skills and social awareness. If the child is not bonded the dog, may ignore the dog.
Potential decrease in behaviour problems from your child. Less aggression to self or others. More compliance with parent requests/direction. Potential increase in behaviour problems or different behaviour problems especially in younger, lower functioning children.
Child may smile more often.  
Presence of dog may facilitate motor development as he is motivated to move with the dog.  Smaller dogs are at risk of injury. 
  If child is too physical during meltdowns, a dog may not be an option as it puts the dog's safety at risk.
  Parent may have more conflict management to do.
If child is higher functioning and able to care for dog, dog typically bonds with child. Ideal age to add a dog to a family is 8 years or older, depending on level on autism spectrum. If child is younger or lower functioning, dog typically bonds with primary caregiver (parent).
  Child may show higher level of interest in dog at first, then interest declines.
Child may improve communication at first, then drop back, though to a level higher than before he had the dog. Child may look at dog and talk to dog about his day.  
  More hand flapping another excitement-related behaviours may be seen at first. 
Dog needs a daily schedule (feed, train, exercise, play etc.). This can help to regulate a higher-functioning teen or child's day.  
Improved adaptability of child.  
Child learns about emotions through the dog's point of view. Train can help teach family how to read dog body language.  
There are more benefits if the child has previous or concurrently done horse therapy.   
  Travelling is more challenging with a dog in tow.
  Parent may try to force the situation (make it work) when it isn't. Whether they be lack of bonding, behaviour issues by the child or the dog, time, money or emotional energy, sometimes a dog isn't a good option for each situation.
 Service Dog  
Same benefits as pet dog above. Finding the right dog with a resilient temperament can be a challenge as for pet dog. Large dogs cost more to feed.
  Attracts more attention than you want at times. Because you have a dog with you in places where dogs are not allowed, they are interesting. Some people love them, others hate them. 
Dog can perform tasks that help to mitigate autism such as deep pressure therapy to ground the child, interrupting anxiety tasks, interrupting self-harm, retrieving weighted blanket, etc.  
Learning how to train your own tasks can be empowering.  Learning the theory and application of training a service dog to the point of public access is time-consuming and challenging. Needs the ability to commit to the dog while caring for your child.
 You can train new tasks as they are needed. Hiring a trainer and classes can be costly. Plan on $3000-$6000 from puppy to working adult. Add on about $1000 per year to feed, vet and other supplies. More if the dog needs to be professionally groomed.
  Buying a trained dog can be risky. You need to make sure you know what you are getting before you put any money down. Only place a deposit on the dog. Visit the location. See other dogs produced and meet your dog before paying the final deposit. Look for signs of stress from the dogs and find out is aversive equipment has been used on them. Do not accept a dog under 18 months of age as they are not mature enough to do the job (physically, social or emotionally).
  Getting a trained dog from a non-profit program can take 2 years or more, if they are accepting applications and your family qualifies. They may require you to do some fundraising and ideally will do regular follow up maintenance training for the lifetime of the dog.
  Time/focus issues.
Public may be more respectful/understanding of a child with a service dog.  
Parent often feels more competent about managing a child with a dog.  
  Family may be confronted by retailers, schools, restaurants, transportation providers, hotels etc if or not dog can accompany family.  
Service dogs are allowed anywhere a member of the public can go-if they do not cause a disturbance and are house-trained. Service Dogs may not be allowed in private establishments like private homes and schools, private churches, food preparation areas, operating theatres, some sections of zoos etc. They may be asked to be removed if they cause a disturbance (bark or bother other people) or pee or poop.
  There will be places you want to avoid taking your serviced to protect him or her such as fenced off leash dog parks.
  Common welfare issues for the dog are: Lack of recovery time for dog, unintentional maltreatment. Lack of predictable daily schedule for the dog. Not enough recreation time for the dog. These can lead to serious negative impacts on the dog's behaviour, performance, and welfare and parental satisfaction of the dog.
  Dogs behaviour and tasks tend to decline over time if not maintained. You will need to do monthly then bi-yearly refresher training and/or courses to keep your dog up to date.
  Some regions require yearly or every 1-3 year certification renewals for public access. (BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia in Canada for example)

Test how familiar you are with service dog terms.  Enjoy our crossword puzzle! 
An extra hint: 29 down is an UNdesirable behavior in a service dog.

Scroll down for the clues and further down for the answer key. 

Feel free to print off the puzzle for personal use.



 Answer Key

For anyone who uses websites to get information, one of the key skills they can have is learning how to read them quickly and efficiently.

Scan Headings and Bolded Hyper Links

Most websites contain answers to commonly asked questions about the organization, it's products and services.
The first thing to do on any webpage is to look at the headings across the top, then do a quick scan for hyper linked headings on the page itself.

Choose a link that looks like it might be what you looking for, click on it and scroll down to read only the headings.

Read FAQ
This is particularly important for any frequently asked questions (FAQ) page.

When something of interest catches your eye, you can quickly read groups of three words to get the main idea of the content.

Use the Search Function
If there is a search function on the website, use it! Type in specific key words that describe what you are looking for. Some sites have a search for the entire site while others only function on that page. If not, use the Google search function on the specific webpage. First type your keywords then site:and the website name you want to search.

So if you want to search all of our site for the keyword "stress"  you would type this in the Google search bar:

stress site: servicedogtraininginstitute.ca

Any page on our site that has that word on it will show up in the list. Note the spacing is important. There needs to be a space between your keyword and the word "site" and a a space between the colon and the website address.

To do a search on a site on Yahoo, simply fill out the Yahoo Advanced search form. 
Note: there are ads above and below the list. Look for the thin line separating the two.

Use Search Function that Comes with Your Computer 
Most computers have a simple function you can use to search a specific page for specific words, sometimes called "find and replace". For example, in Apple computers, you can hit "Command" and "f" at the same time, fill in your key word in the search box that pops up and it will find all samples of the word on that page. 

Found it!
If that is the information you want, then you can reread it in detail.

If it is not the information you want, then you can continue reading headings or search other words to find for what you're looking for.

Read Before You Email for More Information

Make sure you have done the above process before contacting an organization or business for more information. You will get the information much faster finding it yourself than asking them to reply.

If the information is available on their website, they may ignore your email or refer you back to the FAQ as it takes time and resources to answer every email. Or if the information is not on the site, they may add it. 

How to Ask for Information
While it is great to request more detail about their services, you need to do your part too. Be very specific with your question and be sure to provide relevant information about yourself (such as your location, experience with the product etc) to prevent the need for back and forth emails which slow the process.

Anticipate what they may ask you but keep it brief. Short sentences work best.

Separate paragraphs with spaces to make it easier to quickly read. 

Consider What Information You are Asking 
If the company provides information as part of their service, consider what you are asking. Is it something that they typically charge for? You may need to book a webcam, or phone session with them or pay for a book, online class or webinar that contains the information you want.

Follow Up
If they do answer your email, etiquette suggests that you send them a simple thank you. Too many requests with no acknowledgement may get your email ignored.

When self-training a service dog, does my dog need to wear a vest to identify him as a service dog (in training)?

Maybe! It depends on the age and training level of your dog, your local laws, where you live, your comfort level interacting with people and where you train with him in public. 

Unfortunately, vests may attract attention rather than keep people at a distance. People are curious when they see a dog wearing a vest and may come over to ask questions or pet the dog. A vest may not solve solve the very problem you are hoping to prevent.

Putting a vest on a young pup means you will have to purchase others as the pup grows, and most pups will chew on them until they are past the chewing stage at about a year of age.

A vest is only needed when your dog is ready to do formal pubic access. Click here to read a list of behaviours your dog needs to be able to do in public places where pet dogs are allowed before stating formal "public access."

Check your local laws to see if Service Dogs in training (SDit) are protected for public access or not. If they are, and you feel comfortable, then you may want to have your dog wear a vest for public access training. In areas where SDit have no legal protection, only dogs with accredited service dog programs are allowed in public places with their trainer (where pet dogs are not allowed). Most of these typically will wear a vest that identifies the training organization.

If owner-trained dogs are not protected by law in your area, then stick to training your dog in places where pet dogs are allowed. There are many big box stores such as Rona, Home Depot, Michael's, Chapters, Canadian Tire etc who allow pets. Check at the entry for signs or ask a staff member if pets are allowed. If you use locations that allow dogs, this will decrease the number of questions you receive as your dog will just be another dog. If SDit are not granted public access in your local region and your dog is ready for formal pubic access training, then talk to management of retail businesses and ask for written permission on their letterhead before you go in. This will help on days the manager is off or if new staff approach you to ask if your dog is a SD and if you have permission to be there.

Tip: Stay away from big box pet stores though as they tend to be chaotic (with dogs and children) or save them for the very last training as they are the most distracting (and most risky) place to train a SDit.

Does the vest need to be a specific colour? 

It depends what the locals are accustomed to. If there is a Service Dog (SD) organization in your area that has many dogs that are visible in the community with standard-colored vests (blue or red) then you may be facing a struggle to educate them why your vest is a different colour. If there aren't many dogs or the vests vary, then it may not be an issue. Keep the vest looking professional to avoid questions about it's legitimacy.

What wording should the vest have on it? 

As few as possible. Keep the lettering large and easy to read. We recommend "Working Dog" rather than "Service Dog in training". Many people don't know what a service dog is and this brings up questions. Everyone knows what 'working' means. In states where SDit are not protected by law, then you are not breaking a law by labelling your dog an SD or SDit (which in these states is not a legal standing.)

How big should the lettering be? 

Letters need to be about an inch high with spacing between. Black on white background is easiest thread from a distance. This allows it to be read from 30 feet away. Smaller letters or more words cause people to come closer to your dog thread them. 

When my dog wears his/her vest, she is on her best behaviour! That's great right? 

If your dog shows significantly different behavior the first few times you put a vest on without doing any training or conditioning, your dog is probably not being well-behaved. He is more likely uncomfortable in it. Uncomfortable dogs appear calmer, may not eat, will move more slowly, respond more slowly to cues, may not want to sit or lay down, may not want to get up once they are down etc. In reality, they are stressed (some to the point of shutting down). I can't tell you how many service dogs in training I've seen where people say their dog is great when vested, then when I see the dog in person, the dog is scared of the harness, vest or head halter. The key thing is to watch the body language. A suddenly stiff or still dog is not a good thing.

How do I make putting on the vest a cue that the dog is working? 

You add the vest like adding any other cue: Train the dog to the behaviour level you want, then add the new cue (the vest) just before you do a training session. Start with very short sessions at first so it is obvious that you need his attention when the vest is on. At the end of each session, take the vest off and encourage your dog to be a dog (tell him to go sniff, potty, or play with him). Pairing the vest cue with the working behaviour many times, will teach your dog that when it is on, he is working. When it is taken off, he can be a dog. 

Can I introduce my dog to the vest if I am not going to use it until he is ready for pubic access?

Yes, it is important that your dog feels comfortable in the vest before he starts wearing it in public. Put it on for very very short periods before and during training sessions at home. Take it off as soon as the session is finished. If your dog is fearful of wearing a vest or harness, then consider taking our harness and vest class that addresses how to carefully introduce it to a fearful dog.

Be prepared for people approaching by using a standard answer that your dog is working, please do not disturb. Or that your dog is in training and not ready to greet people yet. Holding your hand up in front of you like a stop sign can help. Non-verbal body language such as stepping between your dog and the person can be very effective to deter people from interacting with your dog.



Thursday, 17 January 2019 09:59

Is a Service Dog the Best Choice for You?

Written by

If you have a disability and are considering a service dog to help you mitigate that disability, here are some things to consider: (whether you self-train or get a dog from a program)

Is a Service Dog the Best way to Mitigate your Disability?
Make a list of your impairments, the things you need help with. Are there other non-dog ways that can help you? 

What are your biggest challenges? 
There are more and more assistive technology created today that is effective, undetectable and more cost-effective than a living breathing being.

  • More portable
  • More reliable
  • Less intrusive

A dog may not always be available to help you. 

Is it cost-effective? One time costs rather than ongoing costs of a dog (feeding, vet, grooming, training, maintenance etc)

  • Having a service dog with you in public is stressful
  • draws unwanted attention
  • accessibility challenges
  • emotional toll of failure

While the presence of a dog can help you feel safer, they cannot be protected trained or pose any threat to a member of the public. When you need help, a first responder will need to approach and touch you. A dog needs to be very comfortable with that. Especially if you are unresponsive and cannot direct your dog. 

Considering Others Needs 
To be fair, having a dog in public with you does affect others. Just as they need to respect you and your needs, you need to respect their needs. Whether it's fear of dogs, allergies or the effect of a dog on the health of other animals, the handler needs to think about the team's presence and impact on other people and animals.

Ability to care for a dog on a daily basis-getting outdoors for 4 X or more a day to potty, one or two exercise walks or training outdoors

Ability to go out into public for acclimation, training and public access work?

Dogs make mistakes in public.

The hander needs to learn to speak dog.
Dogs communicate mostly with body language. To be a successful part of a team, you will learn your specific dog's dialect of dog. His needs will need to be met just as your are. 

Being part of a team. Trust your dog that means giving up some control. 
It also means giving up privacy. Your dog will spend the vast majority of his life within 6 feet of you. If you enjoy your space, this will feel invasive. 

Carrying equipment around. When you travel, it's not just the dog that comes along, but also the equipment a dog needs to function. It's like travelling with a toddler. There is extra gear to bring with you. 

With this, spontaneity disappears. Spontaneous people don't do well with service dogs. Unless they are organized. Organization skills and a spontaneous personality don't generally go together. LOL! 

Slows you down. Because of the above. Because part of a 2 part team etc. 

Must Pick up poop. Even blind SD handlers must pick up their dog's poop in public places.

Not easily accepted in work places or schools. 

Access is limited only to places where the public can go. Under the ADA, work places, churches and private schools and universities may have their own rules and you need to get special permission to take them there. Some of these places will not want a dog there for many reasons. Other places like food preparation areas and operating theatres service dogs are not allowed as they are not open to the public. In some jurisdictions such as Ontario, Canada, dogs may be allowed in non-public places. Check your local laws as they apply.

You will have to learn a series of laws: federal, state or provincial and even city or municipal as they apply to service dogs. 

Having a service dog adds to the familiar work load. While a service dog may solve one problem, the dog may pose others that the family doesn't want to deal with. If you have an already busy life, adding a service dog (either in training or a program-trained one can push you over the edge of what you can handle. I't more like adding a chid to your life than adopting a dog from a shelter. There is so much more involved in living with a service dog. Even more if you are training your own.

Do you have the space for a dog? Fenced yard or other safe space the dog can exercise off leash. Stairs or elevators to the outside can pose a problem, especially as a puppy or if your dog develops intestinal or badder issues.

Invisible disabilities and a service open up the questions of who you are training the dog for and the public can get personal very fast, watching to know the details of your condition. Do you have the ability or desire to politely rebuff or redirect them from personal discussion? 

How is your life going to change in the next 5-8 years? Will a service dog still fit in it? Are you planning a move? 

Can you set up your own support system? It takes a community to raise a service dog, from selecting to raising and training and maintaining the dog's every day needs and ongoing training for life. Emergencies arise for both you and the dog and he still needs to be cared for.

You may need to fundraise to help pay for the costs of training the dog. Most programs require that you put sweat equity into the dog and owner-trainers are responsible for all costs of the dog. 

Assertive to have your needs met without impinging on the needs of others.

Tolerate being ignored- focus is on your dog and people ignore your communications even if you step between the and your dog to physically block them. 

Do you have other dogs at home that are not dog-friendly? Your new dog may learn bad habits from that dog or even get hurt by your current dog. Because dogs are social learners, when they live in a dysfunctional social environment, they learn unwanted behaviours from each other. This is often despite much training. Social learning can be more powerful than other kinds of learning.

Pottying a Service Dog 

This is an important but often overlooked topic for service dogs.

It is usually understood that a service dog needs to be 'house trained" in all public places but there is so much more to it than that. The dog needs to have both urinating and defecating under stimulus control so you can control where and when he will go. That is, you give a cue and he responds by going where you are and he will not go in places when you do not cue it, even if there are other cues like scent of other dogs there. You need to know how often your dog typically 'goes' in a typical day when given a choice, based on your daily schedule of drinking, feeding, exercise, rest and play and how long he can comfortably 'hold it' before it becomes uncomfortable.

If you have mobility issues, you have a flare up of your medical condition that limits your ability to get him outside or live or work in a challenging situation like an apartment where access to outdoors is limited by stairs or elevators, you need to have alternative options to make sure your dog's biological needs are met quickly and easily.

A Foundation Behavior:

Put the Potty Behaviour on Cue:
Most dogs catch on to this quite quickly, if you do it the same way each time.
Take your dog out to "the spot" on leash when you know he has to go. Use his drinking, feeding and physical activity to help you learn when he needs to go. If he is asking to go out, use that time as well.
When you get to the spot, simply stop and anchor yourself so he has a limited area to move about in. Let him sniff around and just when you see him making the decision to potty, give the cue. Wait until he is finished before marking, praising and rewarding him. Avoid praising while he is going as this may interrupt the stream. We want a complete empty bladder the first time if possible. If you feel he hasn't emptied the first time, walk around for a few minutes and come back and repeat the cue.
After several reps of this, you can give the cue just before you anticipate he will go. then as you arrive at the location.
Some dogs need to walk a bit before they will go so make sure to add that into your routine. Others will go almost immediately once you cue the behaviour.

Choosing Cues:
Using a different cue for urination and defecation gives you better control over it. It helps to choose ones that sound very different (start with a different consonant and have a different vowel sound) as well. Some people like to use cues that are not obvious to other people overhearing the cues. "Get Busy" and "Stretch" are commonly used but you can use anything that makes sense to you. You can also teach a hand signal if you want a silent cue.

Different Surfaces:
Every service dog needs to be able to potty on a wide variety of outdoor surfaces. Examples include but are not limited to grass, dirt, sand, gravel, mulch, pavement, asphalt. This is taught after you have the potty cue well-trained on at least one surface like grass, mulch or gravel. Chose a surface that has a slight slope so the urine will drain away or have a plastic bag with you to remove the poop.

Take the dog to a new surface when you know he has to 'go' and give the cue. It helps if the new area has already been 'seeded' by another dog (they have already urinated or defected on it)  You can also use a piece of newspaper with a bit of urine soaked on it. Fade the 'seed' once your dog catches on. If the surface is impermeable, make sure to pour water on the area afterward to dilute the door and assist it in draining away and not leave a stain. As part of your training plan, take him to new surfaces unlit he can reliably go on any surface you ask him to.

Where to Potty:
Your dog should  also be able to be directed where to potty in potty boxes, ditches, on storm drains and smaller grates. This is taught by having a dedicated area where you take your dog. A wood frame made of 2 by 4's and about 4 feet square is suitable for most dogs. Fill it with sand, dirt or grass. Clean up after each time your dog uses it and pour or hose water over the to dilute the smell.
Over time you ca shrink the size of the area where you ask your dog to go. Build smaller squares in other areas of your yard to practice this. 3x3, 2x2 etc. This helps your dog to learn to 'aim'.

Tip 1: Potty your dog at home before you start a local walk. Walking briskly and avoiding areas where other dogs potty will help him to learn that you want him to only potty when and where you ask him to.  If you reinforce him after passing known places where other dogs potty, that will help to cement the concept of not potting on his own for him.

Tip 2: Potty your dog at home before you leave and note good locations to potty him on your regular travels. This potty before you leave also doubles as a clue that he is about to start working (especially if the car or bus ride is not too long).

Tip 3: In new locations, keep an eye open for convenient but out of the way places before you enter a building. That way, you will know where to go in case of an emergency.

Options for Limited Outdoor Access

If you go for periods where you cannot get out with your dog and family or friends are unable to help you, hiring a dog walker to come in will help.

For indoor purposes, there are many options: do be aware that anyone who has immunity issues should not be handling urine or poop. Wear rubber gloves as needed.

  • potty box outdoors on balcony (there are commercial ones available with astro turf or you can buy astroturf by the foot and place it on a raised grate in a large plastic container or boot mat that drains to one side.

    Click here to see an example:                                                                                          

    Here's another example:


  • use a potty box indoors in a walk-in closet or bathroom Here's how to make one. A deeper more sturdy tray that the one shown would prevent spillage. Raise the whole thing on a 3 inch platform and place a bowl under one corner. Lift the opposite corner to drain urine into the bowl.

  • Here is another example: this one is ideal for smaller dogs, is simple to clean and uses kitty litter.

  • teach the dog to go on a potty pad. For large dogs these can be bulky to carry and dispose of, especially for large dogs (they are like a baby diaper).
  • teach your dog to pee on grates in the floor. Carry a collapsible container to wash it down. (Works well for airports when they don't have a canine rest stop handy or you don't have time to get outdoors between planes)
  • cue the dog to use a walk-in shower. Grips on the bottom prevent dog from slipping. Turn on the shower after use to prevent build up of ammonia smell. Use a cleaner periodically. 
  • if you provide a ramp to get in and out, and grips on the bottom of the tub, teach your dog to go in a bathtub. Keep a bucket nearby to rinse it down after use. Use a cleaner periodically and certainly before human family embers use it. 
  • If you and your dog are experienced with shaping behaviours, teach your dog to use a toilet seat. (You both need extensive experience with shaping before attempting this). For small dogs, you can purchase a toilet seat that is for children and has a smaller hole.                                                    

    Start with the 4'x4' potty box as above.

    Next decrease the size of the box until it is the size of the seat.

    Generalize the dog potting on hard surfaces like pavement. Then teach the dog to stand on a platform the size of the toilet seat (again shrinking it down). Next cut a hole in the middle of the platform or use a real toilet seat (check second hand stores) and cue the dog to potty there.  Now raise the toilet seat up in few inch increments until it is toilet seat height and the dog can easily get on it and balance on either side. Desensitize the dog to the sound of a stream of water being poured into the toilet (or a bowl of water)  from a height of about 18 inches. Now put it all together, cue the dog to get up on the seat and give the potty cue.

A Service Dog with Gas is more than Just Embarrassing! 

Has your service dog ever passed gas in a public place while working. It's embarrassing isn't it?
Well, for the dog there could be much more going on.

If it happens occasionally, you may want to look more closely at what special treats you are feeding your dog. Sure, after Thanksgiving or Christmas when cooked turkey with (fatty) gravy is on the menu, we expect it. Spicy foods, and any of the legumes-beans, peas, lentils, soybeans can cause gas (like in humans).

Food Causes:

If it is happening more often than that, you need to take a closer look at what you are feeding your dog on a more regular basis. As a dog providing professional medical assistance to you, it is important to find out the cause and eliminate the gas.

Gas forms when a dog eats a food product that his intestines do not have the appropriate bacteria to digest.

Some common food culprits are cheap grain-based dog treats. Many years ago I had a daxie who could clear the room when she farted, and she did it often! As soon as we removed the Milkbones from her diet, the flatulence stopped. Whenever a neighbor sneaked her a treat, within hours we were complaining about her gas.

When introducing new foods to your dog (such as in changing foods), it helps if you start by feeding very small amounts intermittently, then slowly increase the amount. This allows the dog's intestines to grow the type of bacteria needed to digest the new food. Giving too much food too fast causes gas and diarrhea because there isn't enough of the specific bacteria available in the gut to digest the new food.

Some dogs don't digest grain products very well in general so try some grain-free dog food.

Unfermented milk products may also cause this if the dog does not tolerate milk well. In general, cheese and yogurt are fine for most dogs as they have undone a fermentation process already, but if you feed them and your dog has gas, try eliminating these to see if it helps.

Food allergies may also cause incomplete digestion that contributes to gas. Rule allergies out by putting your dog on an elimination diet where he is eating only one type of protein for a period of at least 2 weeks to see if there are any changes. If it stops, then the dog probably tolerates what you were feeding. If it comes back when you feed a certain protein, then you may want to remove that from your dog's diet, or at the very least, feed only every 4 days or so to minimize the allergic reaction (called a "rotational diet"where you feed at least 4 different protein sources).

Air Gulpers:

If your dog is a "hungry hippo" and gulps air while she eats, this may contribute to the production of gas. Try feeding her smaller amounts at a time. Using her food as training treats really slows the process down. If your dog needs more mental stimulation, put her food in a food puzzle. There are many kinds from Kongs to Kong Wobblers, Buster Cubes and and of the Nina Ottoson Toys. Working for their food is much more satisfying for dogs that gulp anyway.

Placing food in "slow" feeding bowls (spirals) or distributed in muffin tins (either tight side up or upside down) or even just spread out on a mud mat will slow the dog down. Another great way is to use a "Snuffle mat" or spread the kibble in a small area of the yard and let your dog find each kibble and eat it (also called "Sprinkles ™".

Remote food dispensers are a great thing to incorporate into training. "Treat N Train" or "Pet Tutor" are tools to investigate. They are also a great way to teach dogs duration, distance and to withstand distractions.


If your dog is on any medication, new or old, consider it as a possible cause. Look at the pattern. Did the gas start close to when the medication was started? Talk to your vet if the answer is yes.
One common cause is antibiotics. Antibiotics kill ALL bacteria, good and bad, so leaves your dog with difficulty digesting food. A good probiotic can help repopulate the gut with good bacteria both during and after a round of antibiotics. Ask for vet which kind will work best for the antibiotic your dog is on.

If the medication is anything other than antibiotics, the vet  may be able to give your dog an alternative that they tolerate better or at the very least, assure you that the gas will go away when the dog is finished her medication. Remember that being a service dog is stressful and your dog should not be working while on medication. A sick dog should not be exposed to the public or other dogs as he is vulnerable to infection (just like humans on antibiotics are).


If none of the above seem to be relevant, consult your vet to explore other reasons. Gas could be an indication of gastrointestinal medical problems especially if it is often companied by diarrhea, vomiting, unusual weight loss or decrease in appetite.


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