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.

Lastly:
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.

 

 

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 ring as this may interrupt the stream. We want a complete empty 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. 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 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.

Medication:

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).

Other: 

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.

 

I am often asked what things a service dog needs to focus on, in what order to teach them and how much time to spend of each. Here is a graphic I created to help you understand the answer to that question.



At the bottom is the service puppy stage upto about 16 weeks for most pups (less for the perk-eared breeds like German Shepherds and nordic breeds as their socialization window is shorter (closes around 12 weeks). The main focus in this period needs to needs to be on socialization and environmental enrichment. This prepares the puppy for all the things and beings he will encounter as an adult. Behaviors for every day living like house training, bite inhibition, crate training, social isolation and the beginnings of impulse control (like asking for things the pup wants by sitting) and following the handler are taught. There is plenty of time later for learning other more complex behaviors.

Next are the foundation skills. Learning how to learn is the key during this period. This can start around 12 weeks if humane methods are used. Behaviors like nose target, paw target, wait, leave it, and eye contact form the basis of other behaviors later on (including service tasks). It also includes teaching concepts such as moving with the handler, being able to work at a distance from the handler, adding cues to behaviors and learning how to generalize behaviors to other locations. Most owner-trainers will be learning these as the pup or dog is. This process helps to form a bond.

Two absolutely essential behaviors for a service dog are loose leash walking and settle/relax. Much time is spent helping the dog learn how to chain together small pieces, add duration (time) when doing both behaviors, navigate obstacles and ignore distractions (this biggest challenge of both of these behaviors). Focussing on these when the dog is younger helps start the dog off on the right foot. 

Once the dog has a good understanding of the previous levels, time needs to be dedicated to teaching him to further ignore distractions, especially those away from home. This is not considered public access, but is preparation for it.

Next comes teaching the dog service tasks. These rely on previously taught foundation skills and the creativity of the handler or trainer. These are behaviors that specifically mitigate the medical needs of the handler. In relation to other behaviors, these are typically easy to teach and quick for the dog to learn. Since the dog already knows how to generalize and has been working on distraction training, this is when they are introduced. Also, we wait until later to add them since we need to let our dogs be puppies and mature before adding the responsibility of tasking, whether it be at home or away. Most dogs are no where near ready to task reliably until after 18 months or older. While they can learn the foundation behaviors, we don't ask or expect them to do tasks until then. Early burn out is a common side effect for dogs that do tasks young. Let them be a puppy and an adolescent! 

Public access is a stage where the dog is learning how to function as part of a team and looking out for the needs of the hander. General behaviors should be trained to a high level as should the needed tasks before starting public access training is started. Here is a blog post on how to know when your dog is ready for that. 

All of these levels together will take a pup about 2-3 years to be ready for actual work in public. Less time will be needed if the dog is an adult and has some basic behaviors and concepts in place already. 

If or not certification for training for public access level is needed depends on the state and province you are located in. Check your Justice department to find out. Check out our FAQ of Useful links to find out. 

The end of the process (which is not shown in the graphic) is Maintenance (of behaviors). Maintenance is an ongoing process of keeping your dog up to date with practice of seldom used tasks and visiting places of high distraction for your dog. This is also when additional tasks are added as your health needs change.

On the far right of the diagram, are Three Stages of Being. 
First the dog needs to learn to be a dog. This starts in puppyhood. Some people believe that a service dog should be a robot. He is a sentient being with emotions and needs. He must have his needs met for the species just like we do as a human.  

Next, he needs to learn how to function as part of a mixed-species family. This is what helps him become a good family member.

Finally, he needs to learn and fine tune the behaviors and relationships that makes him a capable service dog.

To learn how to teach your dog these levels of training, check out our course catalogue or book a web chat session with our instructors.


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. 

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