Here is a great post on enrichment ideas for young puppies. It can be a challenge at some times of the year and in various locations to get the puppies out and about, or for some people training their own Service Dog to get out, so here is a great idea to start introducing different textures, sounds and movement at a young age.
Since I've had several question about raising Service Dog puppies recently, here's a list of things to make sure your breeder does, in addition to the Early Neurological Stimulation Program:
General socializing: the Rule of 7s:
By the time a puppy is seven weeks old, he/she should have:
1. Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl,
grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips, etc....
2. Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft
fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper or cardboard items, metal items,
sticks, hose pieces, etc....
3. Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen,
car, garage, laundry room, bathroom, crate, etc.....
4. Met and played with 7 new people: include children and older adults...
5. Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, go through a tunnel, climb
steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go in and out of
a doorway with a step up or down, run around a fence, etc....
6. Eaten from 7 different containers: metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, china,
pie plate, frying pan, etc....
7. Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, yard, basement, laundry room, living
room, bathroom, etc...
Look for breeders that raise their pups with the Puppy Culture or Avi Dog programs.
Your best bet is to find a breeder who keeps the dogs to at least 8.5 weeks of age and starts socialization with kids, adults, lots of environmental enhancement such as moving the rearing box to different rooms in the house, introduces different toys periodically, does early neurological stimulation that helps to create a more resilient adult etc, then continue the pup's socialization. The goal is to have all positive experiences in the first 16 weeks of the pup's life. Meet at least 100 different people, visit different indoor and outdoor locations, different surfaces, sounds, sights, modes of transport, meet other dogs that are properly socialized and friendly (even if the final vaccinations have not yet been done), plus expose the dog to any environments you anticipate s/he will be exposed to during her lifetime. etc After the 16 weeks, it is important to maintain all this but not as intensive.
You can start the basic training (sit, eye contact, leave it, nose targeting etc) as young as when you bring the pup home. Some clicker trainers start the pups at 4 weeks as soon as they can hear. But be careful to let your pup be a pup! Your dog is a dog first, family member second and service dog third. If you plan to do other things (like compete in sports), train those later if the service dog is the primary focus. Avoid asking too much of your dog as they can burn out. Working as a service dog for one person is a full-time job for most dogs. Some dogs, like diabetic and seizure alert dogs, are on 24/7 so make sure to give the dog time away from work on a regular basis.
Know that no service dog is ready to work in public until after about 18 months of age. If someone is trying to sell you a "trained" service dog that is younger than that, especially a 12 to 16 week old pup, then run away! Pups of this age do not have the social, emotional or physical maturity or reliability to handle this job, even if they can already detect blood sugar highs and lows. They have not been trained to work in public. Plus it's not fair to the developing pup to put that level of responsibility on him or her.
You can adopt an adult dog and train it to be a medical detection dog. They do not need to be raised using their nose to learn the task. Dogs know how to use their nose and if they have a bond with you, they can easily learn how to do medical alerts of all kinds. Avoid short-nosed breeds for the job just because they often have health issues due to the short nose structure or heart issues.
Here is a FREE e-book that helps you to select a service dog from various sources.
If you are considering in-home work only, almost any healthy dog of suitable size for the task can be taught some simple tasks. Your dog can even be 'stubborn', fearful or even what you consider to be dumb if you use our methods! Once you both learn how to learn and work together, you can progress to more complex tasks. All it takes is a little time everyday and some understanding of how dogs learn.
If you want your dog to also accompany you in public to mitigate your disabilities, (certified or not) your dog needs to have a sound temperament, be in good physical shape, and be an appropriate size for the tasks you are requesting. The dog MUST have been well-socialized to people, other dogs, animals and all environments you plan to go as a working dog. Basically, having solid behavior in public is the foundation of any dog used as a service dog for public access. The Canine Good Neighbor test run by the CKC or the CLASS program run by the APDT is a good way to determine if your dog might have the basic training needed to start working in public.
It also depends on what tasks you want your dog to do.
A hearing dog, for example, needs to be alert to sounds and active enough that he is willing to jump up from a sound sleep to let you know someone is knocking on your door or that your morning alarm is sounding. On the other hand, a mobility dog does better if they have a calm enough temperament that they can lay under your chair until you ask him/her to help you. A corgi would not be suitable to help you brace yourself as you stand because it would put too much strain on his back, and it would be hard for a large mastiff to retrieve small dropped objects without mouthing them.
It’s really about having a good match between the dog, person, situation, lifestyle, and tasks required.
To see if your dog might have potential for public access or if you are considering selecting a dog for service work, choose for temperament, health, size, exercise and grooming requirements, not by breed (mixed breeds can do very well). Even within a particular breed, individual temperament (avoid pups with fearful or aggressive parents), health and exercise needs vary.
To get a good idea of if a specific dog is suitable for service dog work, SDTI does in-person assessments in the Nanaimo BC area and also can help you assess a dog via webcam if you take your hand-held device with you and have bandwidth or wifi on site where the dog or puppies are. Dogs over 18 months are the better choice if you are choosing an adult dog as their temperament is consistent after that point, unless the dog experiences trauma or illness.
For puppies, it pays to look closely at the parents, grandparents and what the breeder does with the pups in the first 8 weeks of life. Their experience in that time can help to start their life off as a service dog. Look for breeders that raise their pups with the Puppy Culture or Avi Dog programs.
Research shows that temperament tests are a better indication of what the breeder has or hasn't done with the pups, much more than predicting what the pup's future temperament will be since life experience and the environment a pup lives in has a large effect on each pup and their genes.
More than 50% of assistance dogs trained by organizations are removed from the program before graduating. Fearful dogs are among the first to be declined. Health issues, aggression, over-friendliness and too high drive are other reasons dogs fail as service dogs.
See all other posts numbered 3 for more information on selecting a good candidate.
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