One of the fastest growing areas of service dogs are those being trained for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety or Panic Attacks. They are typically called Psychiatric service dogs. Most people associate PTSD with veterans, but it happens to a wide variety of people of a wide age range. People who have been raped, people who have been traumatized by their families as children, people who have lived with people with addictions (alcoholic, prescription or street drugs, gamblers, sex addicts etc.), people who have seen atrocious things done to other people or animals. Sadly PTSD affects a wide range of people from those with low education income to highly educated high income. No part of society is exempt.
My most recent video is dedicated to anyone who has suffered a traumatic event that affects their life and would like to train a service dog for others or their own dog to either alert them to an oncoming anxiety attack, or interrupt one as it is happening or interrupt them when they are doing harm to themselves as a result of the pain they are feeling.
Goal Setting:Here is an example of a fictional Training Plan so you can create your own.Create it however you feel comfortable whether it's in a spiral notebook, on an excel spreadsheet or on your phone! AirTable or Evernote are great programs for this!The simple plan below is for a young dog with little basic obedience behaviors. Adapt it to your own dog and situation as needed. You can add in as much detail as you want. You can include other tasks and paperwork needed to be done for formal certification as well (see blog post on Certification).We recommend that you review this plan each month and record where you are at, and adjust the plan to reflect this.Each month, assess areas of weakness (in dog, human and team) and add it to your training plan. This might include specific fears, reactivity, over-excitability or over-interest you need to work on.
My Long Term Assistance Dog Training Plan
Date: Oct 16, 20091. Set up a journal for recording training data Oct 2009. Use video to record key sessions for self-evaluation as well as documentation.Identify tasks dog will do for the handler.2. Set Preliminary Goal: Complete Foundation Skills Class Level 1, 2 and 3 by the end of Feb 2010Behaviors are taught in: family room, bedroom, garage, backyard, front yard, local park.Eye ContactLeave it (Zen) Nose TargetChin targetPaw target Recall Working at a DistanceGo around objectsAdding duration SitDownGo mat/BedPaws on Target
Back end PivotTake and TugHandlingPotty on cueWaitBeginning of loose leash walkingSwitch sidesOn the Road (pass previous level in strange location)3. Loose Leash Walking Level 1 & 2 and Settle/Relax Level 1 online Classes complete April 2010 4. Canine Good Neighbor Training Preparation June 2010(doorways, separation from handler, ignoring crowds, greeting stranger, ignoring other dogs)Begin training for in-home service tasks.
5. Loose Leash Walking Level 3 and Settle Level 2
6. Canine Good Neighbor test Aug 20107. Get written prescription for service dog from Doctor or Nurse Practitioner (or other health care provider as appropriate) Sept 20108. Practice general behaviors in different retail locations for Sept 20109. Begin Formal work on training and consolidating Assistance Tasks Oct 2010 Online task training classes available.
Out of Home Assistance Tasks:A. Retrieve objects when in chair
B . Use target stick to retrieve an indicated item off low shelves in storesC. Open and close doors while in chairD. Put forepaws in lap of wheelchair user, hold that upright position so wheelchair user can access medication or cell phone or other items in the backpack
E . Bring Emergency phone during crisisF. Go get a family member/neighbor/workmate on command in a crisis.G. Nudge handler during freezing behavior to rouse handler from a disassociation state or fear paralysis.10. Take all of the behaviors and tasks "On the Road" to generalize them to many different locations and environments.11. Begin training for Public Access Test Dec 201012. If formal certification is desired (if you live in the U.S., it is optional) search out organizations that will test and certify you and your dog as a service dog. In BC, certification is recommended to use your dog as a service/assistance animal. 13. Do a Practice Access test with an independent person. Video it so you can watch back.Get dog spayed or neutered if required by your state or province prior to certification. Get a letter or fill out a form from vet certifying dog has been spayed or neutered.14. Take Public Access test July 2011 or Graduate dog to "Service Dog" patches (remove "in training" patch). 15. Ongoing maintenance training for tasks, public access and adding new tasks as needed.*This plan is for example purposes only. You and your dog will progress more quickly or more slowly than what the plan indicates. Most owner-trained dogs take 2 to 3 years in training from puppy to adult. Most common Service Dog breeds to not mature socially, emotionally or physically until 2.5 to 3 years. ADI suggests a minimum of 120 hours training for public access. Much more is usually needed.
What Are the Standard Behaviors and Cues for a Service Dog?
I find it fascinating that I often get asked this question and many similar to it. People assume there are standard verbal cues and hand signals for behaviors that service dogs and assistance dogs do. I also find it interesting that they believe there is a standard approach to training.
There is No Standardization!
Most people are shocked to find that there is no standardization at all. Each organization, school or business has their own way of training and their own behaviors they teach and signals they commonly use. They may also use a specific set for a specific kind of service dog. It's what is familiar to them and what has worked in the past. Given that they often deal in larger numbers of dogs and have several staff, it is more efficient to have a common set of behaviors and cues all dogs are taught. Since owner-trained dogs breeds vary widely, there will even be differences in how different sized dogs carry out a behavior. A small dog might jump on the handler's head while they are sleeping if their blood sugar drops too low where a larger dog might nose nudge their neck to wake them up for example.
While there are some basic cues that all service dogs need, they are not all the same since the dog and handlers needs are all different. For example a person with mobility issues may prefer to use verbal cue "Here" to recall their service dog since they may have limited control of their hands for hand signals. For someone who has trouble speaking, extending a hand for a nose target can recall or reposition the dog. Each team has their own special abilities and focus.
Examples of Cues
A cue to a dog is just an event that triggers a known behavior. It can be something in the environment (a door open button), a body cue (person turning their head in a certain direction), hand signal (a lifted hand) or a spoken word. What that word or signal might be is up to what will work for the person the dog. Any cue can be taught to mean any behavior. Bringing a toy can be an alert for a diabetic low. A fist can be sit. Even lifting a symbol drawn on a laminated page can cue a dog to lay down.
If you are training your own service dog, you can choose what makes sense to you and is non-disruptive to the public when the dog is working. If you are training an assistance dog for someone else, you can help them to choose cues and behaviors that make sense to them.
Using Atypical Cues
Some people actually choose non-typical verbal cues or use a different language to prevent other people from distracting their dog. This may not work though as dogs usually respond to tone and take a guess when they don't understand the cue itself. It is better just to proof for extreme distractions.
The only caveat to keep in mind when choosing behaviors and cues, is that at some point your dog may need to be handled by other people if you are incapacitated (emergency personnel, family or friends). This puts your dog at risk if she doesn't understand or do what an "average" person handling a dog expects. The dog needs to either be trained to do behaviors by default (someone holding the leash means the dog walks on a loose leash or the person sitting down cues the dog to lay down and wait) or common verbal and hand cues need to be used at least for really common behaviors. Given the wide variety of training approaches out there, and if your dog 'refuses' to do a given cue (or command), and what the potential human reaction might be, it is wise to keep that in mind.
Wondering what behaviors are the foundation for service dog? Find out in my new class "Foundation Skills Level 1" (for both dog and human) starting in June 2016.
If you want to learn how to train a service dog like a professional, this and the next class will give you a great foundation!
Donna Hill B.Sc. B.Ed.
Founder/ Head Instructor
Do I Need to Certify my Dog?
The answer is, it depends in what environments you want to use your dog's skills and where you live.
If you are only going to use your dog at home, and take him only to places that any pet dog can go, the answer is no certification is needed.
In some circumstances where your work environment is suitable and safe, the employer and other employees are okay with it, you may also not need to be certified to take your assistance dog to work with you. Some places of work welcome dogs generally, and others may be open to your assistance dog if it is proposed to them. If there is a dog or pet policy in writing, get a copy of it. Otherwise, we suggest asking for permission in writing to protect yourself and your dog. Of course, it is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is well-behaved and welcomed in the place of work.
It will also depend where you work if your dog has access at all. In food preparation areas or operating theatres or other places where the public is not allowed, even a certified dog may not be allowed. Check your local laws and talk to your employer. An employer cannot discriminate against you for having a service dog but they may be able to limit access where you can take the dog. Talk to a disability laywer for the exact details of your situation.
In Public Places
If you are planning on having your dog assist you in public places such as restaurants, stores, and on public transportation etc, the answer varies.
If you need to take your dog in public places where pet dogs are not allowed, yes, certification by the provincial body in some provinces of Canada (BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia (soon) is recommended and will make your life easier if challenged by a retailer or accommodation provider. In the UK, Yes. In the USA, no as residents are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Here. Each country has its own laws.
Note: Even if your dog is certified, anytime your service dog causes a disturbance (barking, whining etc), shows aggression or fear, or has a housetraining mistake, you can be asked to leave the premises if you have been asked to remedy the situation and do not or cannot.
Are "Service Dogs in Training' (SDit) Protected for public access?
It depends on where you live. Some states protect them it, some do not. For example, in BC, the handler must work or volunteer for an Assistance Dog International (ADI) accredited organization. Owner-trainers are not protected.
What Does The Certification Process Look Like?
Before you apply to a certifying body (government or ADI accredited organization) for certification to use your dog as an Assistance dog or service dog, you will need to collect proof of your dog’s training and use.
Any documentation you can provide helps the certifying body to evaluate your dog as a service dog such as:
*Proof of the vet visits, vaccinations, etc. needed to keep the dog in good health, recovery from injury or illness etc.
*Proof of spay or neuter.
*Canine Good Neighbor Certificate
*Public Access Test completed and passed
*A prescription for a service/assistance dog from your doctor, nurse practitioner, or other health care provider (varies depending on the certifying body)
*A list of the tasks (suggest at least 3 that specifically address your disability in public places- providing comfort does not qualify as a task)
*Documentation of the amount of time in specific training your dog has had for each task. (Keeping a journal that you can summarize is a key point)
*Outside or supervised training that has been done A written letter documenting what training they have overseen and your success rate as a team. Make sure to provide the name of the training company Or companies you worked with.
*Employer’s letter of how your dog operates in your workplace (if your dog has been allowed to work with you).
*Letters from friends and family documenting the past dog’s behavior in their homes, in public etc.
*A concise letter detailing the difference your service dog makes in your life.
*Other documentation that may support your application.
The government or organization will then refer you to a person who is authorized to test your dog in person and submit the results to them. Note: If someone claims they will certify you and your dog without seeing you work together in public, then they are a scam and a waste of your money. There are thousands of these online so buyer beware.
How Long Does it Take to get a Dog Ready for Certification?
It depends. Some dogs started as puppies and trained professionally can be ready by 18 months to 2 years. Dogs trained by owners usually take longer as they have lives to lead and they are not professional trainers who are training every day. How old the dog is and how much previous training s/he has had before you start also affects the duration. It depends on the dog and how willing and interested s/he is to learn, how dedicated you are as a trainer, how good your training skills are, your specific tasks and many other factors like your health while you train.
Remember that not all dogs that start training will be suitable in the end to be certified to assist you in public places. Be prepared to remove your dog from training and find another. Plan what will happen to the dog. Will you rehome him? Will you keep him?
Education is an Important Role of the Handler
Much of having an assistance dog is about taking the time to educate the public about the laws.
Having your service dog in training identified with a training vest is one way to show you are serious about training, but is not required by law.
What Identification Does my Dog Need Once s/he is certified?
Once your dog is certified, s/he needs to be identified as a service or assistance dog with a collar tag that is issued by the BC government. Anyone wanting to bar you from an establishment can only ask if your dog is a certified service dog and to ask to see that collar tag. Make sure you can produce it at all times in public. If the dog is not wearing it or you do not have it, the establishment may choose to prevent access. They can also ask for the certification number from the tag and call to verify that your dog is registered with the province. If you or your dog create a disturbance, they can ask for your dog's tag number and make a complaint to the Ministry of Justice.
What about Fakers?
If your dog is not certified and you claim s/he is, that is fraudulent representation and you may be subject up to a $3000-$6000 fine depending where you are located. If you live where your dog does not need to be certified, s/he does need to have specific training both for public access (120 hours) and for tasks that specifically mitigate your disability to qualify for public access as a service dog. This is where the documentation and proof of training can help you prove your dog is legitimate.
Teaching Your Service Dog to Heel
There is much confusion in the service dog world about what is heeling is and isn't. Before we can start talking about teaching a dog to heel we need to know exactly what you are asking him to do.
dog stays in a specific position next to your body, within a few inches, usually with eyes looking at you. The handler is usually upright and staring ahead holding their body in a somewhat rigid position. This skill takes much concentration and as is very hard for a dog to maintain for even short periods. Heeling is typically seen in competition, military or other hierarchical based situations. Even the high level dogs are only asked to do it for 5 minutes at a time. Service dogs only need heeling when negotiating tight spaces, high distractions or crossing streets. Teaching this takes incredible concentration on both ends of the leash. A typical cue for heeling is "heel".
Here is a golden retriever showing how to do off leash competition heeling. You can see how much effort this would be for a dog to maintain for long periods. Thank you to Ada Simms and Lexi from Reward That Puppy Dog Training Inc. for the demo video.
Loose Leash Walking:
the dog walks with a 6 foot or shorter leash, keeps slack in the leash (hangs down in a U or the clip hangs down) but is allowed to sniff and change position. Dogs may look at the hander or use their peripheral vision and other senses to keep track of the handler's position. Most handlers are comfortable with their dogs 3-4 feet away in any direction. While in indoor retail in crowds or narrow busy sidewalk type locations, service dogs are required to stay within 2 feet of the handler but do not need to be that close in general. Loose leash walking should be a 'default' behavior. 'Default' means that the dog does it when he is not told to do any other behavior. He can rely on the equipment, the handler's body position and context to know what behavior to do. It takes much training to get to this stage.
Here is another golden learning to loose leash walk in public with her handler. She doesn't have to look at the handler, just stay in close distance and keep the leash loose.
A Challenging Behavior
The challenge for both heeling and loose leash walking is that it requires the dog to have a high level of impulse control (to resist distractions and stay in position) and that they must hold that position for a long time. And it requires the same of the human.
Being attached by a line is not natural for a dog or a human. We are free ranging individuals. Even formal dancing for short periods is difficult for many people. Both partners have to learn how to work together to keep it a comfortable experience for both. The teaching process requires short frequent training periods with high level of reinforcement in many different carefully chosen environments to help both partners succeed. If done well, can really build the bond between the two team members.
Do Corrections Work?
Corrections such as collar pops only work in the short term. If you have to keep using them, they aren't working. Head collars don't teach the dog anything except to give in to the head collar. Take it off and the dog moves away from the handler. Both of these approaches are aversive for a dog. To build and enhance a strong relationship with a service dog, we need to teach the dog the behavior we want, not punish him for what we don't. Time has to be spent specifically focussing on teaching your dog the desired position no matter what is going on around you, how good a scent or who may be approaching you. That needs to be taught specifically and incrementally, not just as a byproduct of doing other training.
How to Help Your Dog be Successful
The dogs that are successful loose leash walkers are the ones who understand the position you want them to be in first. Most dogs do best with learning to walk leash free first. Most importantly, the handler learns to let the dog learn to control herself, rather than direct the dog all the time. For some people this can be a hard habit to change.
Another aspect is if your dog is off leash, you are more likely to be aware of where your dog is in relation to you rather than rely on the leash pressure to tell you that. This awareness (including eye contact, physical proximity as well as changes in tension on the leash) is a big part of the connection between you and the dog when you are working. Many people are disconnected from their dog partner and oblivious to what is going on for him. He is half of the team and needs to be given full attention during training and then that will be faded to half your attention once he is fully trained. When you are dancing with your partner, you need to be aware of where your partner is no matter if he is dog or human. The leash is added after the dog knows the desired position and you have developed a feel for where he is. Dogs that can work off leash are much more reliable on leash.
Do a search on Youtube and Vimeo and most videos will start you off, and show great early success, but not show the steps later in the process. It can be a long one and different approaches are needed for different dogs and different situations they are in. Creativity is needed.
LLW is a Prerequisite as a Service Dog
Since loose leash walking is a necessary prerequisite for all service dogs.
and if he cannot walk on a loose leash walk with distractions, he is not ready to start public access.
If you want to follow a step by step procedure to teach your dog to loose leash walk successfully, check to see if my Loose Leash Walking classes are being offered online this month. Current registration is open until May 11, 2016 at midnight Pacific Time.
If your dog generally does well except with high level distractions or has fears etc, you will want to look at our Harnesses and Vests class. Or for large dogs that lunge or yoyo or if you have little arm strength or stability our Head Halters class that will teach you how to safely introduce your dog to a head halter and how train with it with the goal of your dog walking without it down the road.
Donna Hill B.Sc. B.Ed.
Service Dog Training Institute