Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start training a dog to pull you in a harness or brace you while walking.

How old is your dog? Make sure she is at least 18 mos to 2 years (for the giant breeds) before you start training her to pull/brace for real. Joints can be permanently affected if training starts too young (before the growth plates have closed), the dog gets injured, or if the pulling/bracing is too strenuous or prolonged during this stage.

Is your dog physically large enough to do the required pulling? Take into consideration the weight of both the wheelchair and yourself. The height and stockiness of the dog may affect her pulling capacity. A shorter stocky wide dog may do better than a tall lanky finer-boned dog for the same breed. On the other hand, if you also need the dog for bracing, taller broader dogs do better as they have the height and width to be more stable for bracing.

Has your dog had her elbows and hips checked (OFA ratings or radiologist readings) to make sure she is structurally sound? Heart, lungs, spine, legs are all impacted as well. 

What will she be pulling and how much weight? There is no magic height or weight ratio for pulling. It depends on their dog's bone structure and amount of weight. Lightly-built (fine-boned or low muscle weight) dogs should not be pulling at all.

How much of the time will she be pulling a chair? (occasionally or quite often will help you determine the right harness).  
To balance the weight evenly and most efficiently a dog should be pulling forward, not on an angle. Pulling from the side puts undue stress on the shoulders results in uneven muscle build up, tendon damage, early arthritis and other health issues. These dogs are typically retired quite young due to this. Using a proper pulling harness (think a sled dog harness) reduces the amount of pressure to a more acceptable level and balances muscle development.

Take time to build up your dog's endurance for pulling. Just like a sport, there needs to be a careful plan for building up your dog's ability to pull weight both the amount of weight and endurance. 

Harnesses that go around under the belly and around in front of the chest are designed only for very occasional use and not for heavy pulling such as up inclines.  

Harnesses that are have a band between the front legs (sometimes in the shape of a Y) and multiple contact points to the body to spread the pressure and are usually quite stiff to give her body support for longer term and heavy duty pulling. 

If the dog is required to pull much of the time, you may need to consider an electric chair as pulling can be very hard on the dog's body.

If you have a giant breed, are harnesses made large enough or will you have to get a custom job? That will add to your cost.

Before you buy, check out several options, try them on if possible and do your research on the requirements of the pulling/bracing job and impacts on the dog.

Contact a dog sport expert or physiotherapist to have your dog assessed for pulling and to create a detailed training plan. Also do regular follow ups (6 mos) to check your dog's physical and structural health.

Since many people have Golden Retrievers as their service dog, I thought I would include this study. Interestingly, my previous Golden was spayed at 7 mos and was definitely longer-legged than her siblings who were not (conformation dogs). She lived to 12.5 years with no health issues until the very end she had an undiagnosed tumour in one of her nails. We had the toe removed. She died of a multiple back to back heart attacks a few months later.

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10498

If you remember back in history to the days of castrated male choir boys (called castrati), you may remember that in all the pictures, the boy were very tall and thin. This is because when the testosterone is removed at a young age before they have stopped growing, it is not present to tell the bones to stop growing at the normal age. Their bones ended up being longer and thinner than they would have otherwise been so they ended up being taller too. This also resulted in the rib bones being longer which meant a greater lung capacity. That was good for singers. Of course the lack of testosterone affected their voice box too so they had much higher voices for singing and their voices never deepened as a normal teens would. 

While the study was done specifically for seeing eye dogs, the finding applies to handlers with mobility/brace dogs.  This study which suggests rigid harnesses put more physical stress on a dog's body than flexible harnesses, especially on the lower right side of the chest.

(One would think which side gets more pressure would vary depending on which side is the handler's dominant side and which side of the handler the dog is on.) Our dog's physical health and safety is worth looking into.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140102112237.htm
 

The bottom line is because teaching with positive reinforcement works effectively and quickly and no physical force is needed. Several service training organizations have switched over to positive reinforcement and have found their graduation success rate has increased from 50-60% to 80-90%. Others have found the length of training time had declined (from as much as 18 months to 6 months depending on the skills required of the dog).

Positive Reinforcement can be done at a distance (via capturing behaviors and shaping). You don't have to be within arm's distance of your dog so it works well for people with mobility issues and those in wheelchairs.

Positive training creates a dog that thinks about what behavior is wanted and needed in a specific environment. It teaches dogs what TO do, rather than just teaching them what not to do. In a service dog, you do not want a doormat. You do want a thinking partner at your side. ]

Dogs work for what motivates them. They must eat. Food is motivating.  Using something that are willing to work for is a smart approach. Why not have them work for their meal? It makes their life more meaningful than just delivering the dish to them.

Note about dogs that don't enjoy eating: They have been trained to do that. Because food is a requirement for survival, it it unusual to find a dog that does not want food unless they have a medical condition (usually related to their GI tract) or are highly stressed (which means they wouldn't make a good SD candidate). They can be re-trained to like food. This may require you to re-examine your definition of dog food and how you use it.

Food isn't the only thing that can be used for positive training. Toys can be added after the basic behaviors have been taught. Things your dog really wants (such as going out, sniffing, chasing, greeting people, going for a walk etc) and games your dog enjoys can be used to positively reinforce desired behaviors as well.

Using the principles of positive reinforcement builds a fabulous trusting bond between you and the dog. There is no fear involved.

Shifting to a positive-based training philosophy will change your life. Your daily stress level will lower when you are looking for the great things your dog is doing, rather than focussing on what he is doing wrong.  Learning that you create the social and emotional environment and choose the physical environment your dog lives and works in and the impacts it has on their dog (and others around them)  is eye opening for most people!

You can apply the same principle to your interactions with family and caregivers to create a more positive atmosphere in what is usually stressful. If you are living with a disability, why make it harder than it needs to be?

The use of silver (reflective) mirrors in training dogs is a trade secret many owner-trainers of assistance dogs don't yet know about (unless they are training with a facility that has them).  Using mirrors is a great way to prevent and solve training challenges, and get instant feedback especially if you train alone. 


Benefits

There are many benefits to using mirrors in your training. 

1. Mirrors allow you to use a normal stance (sitting or standing) while training your dog so you don't have to crane your neck, or twist around to see if your dog is doing the desired behavior when working at your side or behind you.  

2. You can use them to teach your service dog to perform cues behind your back or on the back of a wheelchair, like unzipping a zipper and retrieving an object from a bag slung over the back of the chair. 

3. They allow you to see your position and your dog's position from another person's viewpoint as well as how fluidly the two of you work together. 

4. Leash handling skills and food delivery can easily be observed. 

5. You can see at a glance if how, where and when you give a hand signal works for your assistance dog. 

6. Mirrors are great for shaping behaviors such as heel position, or moving around behind your wheelchair or walker. They allow you to see if your dog is making correct choices during the shaping process. 

7. Mirrors allow the handler to observe and prepare for potential distractions the dog may encounter without even looking directly at their dog. 

8. A dog that is socialized to a mirror is prepared to seeing them in public.

9. The best thing about mirrors is that they allow instant feedback that videotaping does not allow. Used in combination with video taping, mirrors can help to solve many problems.


Drawbacks

1. There is always the risk on bumping into and breaking them. Make sure have shoes on, wear gloves and remove your dog from the room to prevent cuts while cleaning up broken pieces.

2. Heavy mirrors cannot be transported to different locations.

3. Light reflecting from the may pose a problem so on sunny days, window coverings may need to be closed.


Size

Mirrors do not have to be large. In fact, using three mirrors each one foot by two feet high set side by side provides quite a large range of movement to start indoors (2 feet by 3 feet). Simply step back to see a larger area of movement. Because they are smaller and lighter, they are also easier for a person to move around and store than a larger mirror of equivalent size.

If you are planning to move your mirrors around much, (in other words take them on the road to train at different locations) having a frame and backing will protect them chipping and from cracking.  Ideally, plexiglass mirrors would be the most resiliant and lightweight for carrying but they are not always easily available locally and are more expensive. 

If you plan to only use the mirrors indoors, they can be used as is without a frame etc. For slippery floors, a rubber-backed mat laid under the edge prevents them from slipping or scratching the floor.

Mirrors with several panes (horizontal or vertical) can also work as long as the mirrors are not separated too far apart. 

Mirrors can be temporarily set on the floor leaning against the wall at an angle that allows easy viewing or permanently hung on a wall at a specific height. Mirrors with stands can also be purchased from equestrian suppliers. 

A key consideration for location is to make sure there is enough space for you (your wheelchair or seat if applicable) and the dog to move and for the behavior you plan to train. The end of an open hallway, in a large room with no furniture in the middle or in a designated training room are good choices.


Where to Get a Mirror

Garage sales, flea markets, second hand stores, internet classifieds, buy and sell, recycling stores, the larger hardware stores, bedroom and bath stores (for full length mirrors) and of course glass stores are all potential locations. There are specialty equestrian supply houses on the internet that sell larger mirrors, both mounted and unmounted. These are on the upper end of cost.


Away from Home

When training away from home, look for shaded windows on buildings that reflect the sun and hence provide mirror images. It doesn't have to be a one way mirror as even those that are partially colored can work as well. Many come low enough to the ground that you can easily see you and your dog from a short distance. Ideally find a few that have grass or other flat surface next to them for safety. Parking lots can pose a safety issue but if you go on a day of the week or time when the business is closed or is a slow day, it reduces risk. Always be aware of moving cars if you are in a parking lot. Orange parking cones may help slow unexpected traffic but do not use them if the business is open as there may be bylaws against their use.

Question: 

My service dog will be coming with me to Disney World in October. One thing I am worried about is how he will react to the characters. Do you have any tips on how to get him used to them so he doesn't panic or get scared? I am planning to take him to Chuck E Cheese a few times so he can get used to Chuck but I was wondering if you know of any other way I can get him used to them? 

Answer:

This is a great training task for systematic desensitization.

Get several masks (from sunglasses to the drama masks to a full face mask, and a larger whole head mask. Also get different materials (both textures and makes different sounds). Try a costume store and explain to them what you are doing or check out second -hand stores for what they may have or ask friends what they have, especially if they have kids.

If at any time, your dog shows discomfort, go back to a where he is comfortable, build a reward history again then make smaller changes the second time through. For bigger challenges, increase the value of the food. This process will probably go quite quickly if your dog is generally confident and resiliant and has no prior history of fear with similar situations.

Have many medium value treats ready. Sit down at your dog's level. Let him sniff one mask on the ground. Lift it up and reward him for looking or sniffing at it at nose level. Move it around and reward for looking at it and staying calm.

For most dogs, it is the covering of the face or eyes that freaks them out. Take it slow. Move the mask near your face (not covering your eyes), reward and move it away. When he is showing no stress signs, move it closer and then briefly pass it between your eyes and him. Reward for staying calm. Repeat several times. Now add a bit of duration with the mask blocking your eyes for a second, two seconds, three seconds etc. After about 10 seconds, put the mask on and take it off. (This may take 10 seconds) and add duration from there. When the dog is good with that, add some motion moving your head first a little side to side, them bumping up and down, then both. Next put it on and sit in a chair. Reward dog for staying calm. Move around in the chair. Stand up and repeat the process.

Repeat the whole process above with each new mask. Each one will probably go faster and faster as you will need fewer repetitions for him to become comfortable.

Next play some music loudly and dance around in the mask.

Next, desensitize to different clothing sounds. Again sit on the ground, have him sniff the clothing. Hold it in your hands and move it around, rub it against itself, other material etc. Sit in chair and repeat. Stand and repeat. Drape the material over you.

Now put the mask and the costume together.

Next play some music loudly and dance around in the mask.

Repeat with a friend holding and then wearing the masks. Then wearing the costume. Then both. Add music.

Repeat with someone the dog is not very familiar with.

Now arrange to meet a costumed friend somewhere away from home and see the dog's reaction.

Practice having the dog pose for photos with you and the costumed character as this is a common event for most people. The more you can prepare for these types of situations that you may do while there, the more unflappable your dog will be.  Do remember that every dog has his or her limits so do give the dog several quiet and relaxing breaks throughout the day as well as an opportunity to do fun exercise (like ball chasing) or other game to get rid of stress.

I would do all this before going to Chuck E Cheese. Don't forget to take a photo.

There is one more key element when the dog is at Chuck E Cheese or even Disney World. Try to avoid the element of surprise where the dog feels cornered by the costumed people. Always be aware of where they are (not paranoid, just generally aware) to be able to place you the dog to see the costume as it approaches. This is especially important the first day or two while the dog is acclimating to the environment.

We would love to see some photos of you and your dog at Disney World!

Good luck!

Question: "I have been considering using umbilical training to teach my dog to stay near me and also help with house training."

Answer:

What is "Umbilical Training?"
Typically, a leash is tied to your waist or shoulder for long periods of time to keep the dog near you and there is no 'give' at the end. Unlike when the dog is on a hand-held leash which can also be dropped instantly to relieve leash pressure.

Length of leash varies. Some people use a 4 foot, others use a 6-8 foot. In addition, it is a long term activity (all day and weeks) not just short periods of 5-10 min during training. Every time either of you move, you and your dog will be aware of it. It gets caught on table legs etc.

Most people who try this method find it stressful on themselves and the dog unless they cannot or choose not to read their dog's body language. They they don't see the stress signs.

The idea behind it typically is that the dog must pay attention to what the handler is doing at all times and the handler can ignore what the dog is doing. In my mind, that is not teamwork. We are trying to build a team of dog and handler. Yes, the pup needs to learn to pay attention to the handler and where they are in space but this is not the way to do it.

The concept of "connectively" is something we can teach our dog, but it takes time as it doesn't come naturally. We can force it but not a choice I would make for a lifelong member of my team.

For dogs that have personal space issues, this would be a nightmare for both of you. This can trigger people with PTSD and worsen the dog's fear of confinement. It could be considered a form of flooding as the dog eventually gives up.

It also involves "forced compliance". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_compliance_theory
It is an ethical choice to use it or not.

It's one of the hold over behaviors used in old style correction-based training where dogs are made to do what they are told. Until people analyze it, they don't often see how it could be a negative experience for the dog! The results can be want they want but it also carries the baggage of the attitude and discomfort the dog feels while it's being done.

In my opinion, it is using force as the dog doesn't have choice and can't get away and the dog isn't getting any systematic desensitization or classical counter conditioning (pairing it with food) for tolerating it especially at first when it's most uncomfortable for the dog.

I have seen too many dogs worked with wheelchairs using the umbilicus. The dog typically stays at the absolute end of the leash as much of the time as they can, especially when the leash is too short. You can see the dog shows a level of fear of the chair since they are pinned against the chair at doorways or their toes get run over. 

We want to build a bond built on choice. We want the dog to choose to be near us during training. If they choose not to be near us during training, we have a relationship problem. A big one!

Even being in too small of room can trigger a dog to not want to be with you (see my video of teaching backing into small spaces). The smaller the steps of training is done, the more choice a dog is given, the more they come to trust us. It also helps when we make being near us rewarding rather than something they "must" do.

There are so many other choices we can make can build the relationship rather than use force!

A baby gate or Xpen to confine the pup or dog to a smallish area when we can't directly supervise them, then carefully introduce a crate and give him choice to move around in a smaller space without social pressure.

In positive reinforcement training, if we have good mechanics of training, we can quickly build a positive relationship with our dogs. 

Combine that with regular meals and putting him on a potty schedule and you will have a house-trained pup that wants to be with you in no time!

This list is not exhaustive but does give you an idea of the areas laws pertain to so you can do more research. 

American-wide
The USA has the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that has overriding laws about Service dogs in the US. 

Retailers are allowed to ask 2 questions:
1. Is that a service animal?
2. What tasks does the dog do to mitigate your disabilities?
 
In order to be considered a SD, a dog must be trained to do tasks that specifically mitigate your disabilities.
 
Here is the act info:
 
Here is Service dog related info:
 
 
 
 
 
There is no certification required federally so do not fall for fake certifications that charge money to “register” your service dog. 
If you do decide to certify your dog, then the only ones that are valid require you to do a live in-person test WITH your dog. You are tested as a team. Assistance Dogs International has schools that are accredited by them that do offer certification. They are recognized internationally. I have not found an organization will certify owner-trained dogs that they have not been in training with for a period of time.

Airline Carriers Act
 
In addition different laws govern Airlines regarding SD.
 
Housing

Fair Housing Act covers emotional support animals (which are different from service dogs) but your service dog may be covered under this law.
 
Internal Revenue Service (taxes)

Fees that can be deducted in the US relating to Service Dogs

State Specific Laws

And each state has different laws that cannot supercede those laws, they can only make them more accessible.
In California for example, Service dogs in training are allowed in public places. In some other states they are not.
 
This is the most current state by state comparison of service dogs laws that I have found. 


Please Note 

These are provided for general interest only. You will need to verify each is current and that the details are correct with a laywer if using them to fight a legal case. SDTI accepts no liability or responsibility for posting them here.

"I am starting to take my dog into stores and other public places. How do I handle him having a bowel movement on the floor? He is house trained. He is small breed and 1 year old." 

Good for you for asking before you start! It can prevent headaches for you, your dog and the places you visit! 

The key thing is to remember that dogs don't generalize well. That means that even if he's housetrained at your house, he may not understand that he's not supposed to go in other buildings. He may also go due to stress (excitement or worry). Urine production increases when a dog is stressed.  It's the same as us humans. Ever needed to "go" more often when you are excited, stressed or cold?  

The key is to put potty on cue and teach him to go just before you take him in. Find a spot in the parking lot just outside the door. That way you are pretty sure he isn't likely to go inside.
Keep training sessions short inside businesses until you know he is comfortable and he learns to potty only outdoors. Take frequent breaks outdoors. 

Then, if he does go, it will most likely be due to stress (excitement or worry). That's good information to slow down on your public training and give him more acclimation time and keep sessions shorter. Other reasons are he might have eaten something that didn't agree with him. That's a good reason to keep working on leave it and make sure other people at home aren't feeding him junk treats. 

Be prepared for it by carrying plastic bags, paper towels and wet wipes so you can clean it up. Just be matter of fact and try not to be embarrassed. It happens to everyone at some point! It also helps to alert a staff member so they can disinfect the floor afterward.

Keep an eye on boys to make sure they don't lift their leg on merchandise. Simply interrupt the behaviour with a Kissy sound and keep him moving to the outdoors. Cue the potty cue once you get to an appropriate spot. 

 

In many regions, you need a note (presciption)from your Doctor, Psychiatrist or Nurse practictioner as proof a service dog will help you mitigate your disabilities. It may be helpful to have this prescription even if it is not required. Opening a dialogue with that person about getting a service can be hard. Here are some things to consider talking to them about. These ideas should help you explore the options with them. 

Explain if you have had a dog before and taken care of one yourself. How long, What breed or mix? How much daily exercise did s/he need? What training did you do? To what level?
Would having a pet dog help your condition? A pet can help you regulate your daily schedule, get you out of bed etc. They can also be trained to do tasks at home.
Do you have the funds to maintain a pet dog in good health? Feed, veterinary costs?
Can you afford to hire a dog walker? Trainer? Groomer? Can you groom the dog yourself?
Will your disabilities allow you to meet the social and emotional needs of a dog?

Is your disability stable at present? If not, can you foresee it being stable?

Why do you specifically need a Service Dog? Is it for rental/strata purposes? Is it for use in public places?
How to you see the dog help you (beyond the comforting role) which though important doesn't count for a SD.
What tasks can a SD can do for you in public?

What skills do you see you will acquire during the process of getting/training?

Are you willing and able to train a dog yourself? Can you build a support team that is needed to help you? Family, friends, health caregivers, groomers, vet etc.

Are there local trainers to help you select a dog?
Where would you get a dog from? Do you have a breed in mind?
Can you find a skilled human coach/trainer to help guide you?
How much of the work would you do yourself?
How would you get the funds to fully train a service dog? (May take up to 3 years).

Are you considering a puppy or adult dog? Why?

Do you have the physical ability to train a puppy or adult?
Do you mental ability to focus on training? Can you make and follow a plan?
Can you handle the emotional turmoil that accompanies living with and training a service dog?
Are you good at identifying, researching and acquiring the resources needed?

Can you follow detailed instructions in person or online (text, video)?
Does anxiety make it difficult to remember things?

Can you learn the federal and local laws about public access for service and assistance dogs? Can you explain them to someone else while staying calm?
Can you handle it when public approaches you to demand to pet your dog or just come up and hug your dog?
Can you handle confrontations by retailers and rental/strata? Can you learn how? Where will you get that help?

What other options are available to mitigate your disabilities?
Could you purchase weighted blankets, hearing aids etc? How could these be used either in place of or in combination with a service dog? 

What might be the best option for you?

Looking at all sides of the options as well as looking ahead and identifying potential benefits and challenges and figuring out how to prevent or overcome them can help you and your Dr. decide if or not a SD is a good choice for you and your disability.
If you address just half of these, your Dr will be impressed and you will be far more prepared than most people who just go out and get a dog as a SD candidate and then try to convince their healthcare provider they need one.

If you need someone to talk to, consider booking a webcam session with us. 

Good luck!

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