Remember that despite your best planning, no plan will occur exactly as it is laid out on paper. You, your dog and the distraction or environment will demand that changes be made on the fly. Below are training plans (think of them as frameworks if it helps you be flexible) to get you started. Please adapt or modify them for your own dog’s needs. They can be used for basic beginning training or training problem areas or anything in between. Each stage may take one training session or many, depending on you, your dog, his previous training and experience with similar situations, the object, animal or people involved and the environment where training occurs. Don’t forget, you will be clicking (or marking) and rewarding for calm behavior or focus on you at each little step.
Your Dog's Perspective
When training a dog for distractions you need to think from your dog’s perspective. Dogs learn about the world using predominantly their senses of smell, hearing and sight. So these senses are what will capture their attention. Which sense is predominant is usually determined by the breed. So for example, sight hounds are usually triggered by the sight of things moving quickly, scent hounds are triggered by interesting smells, while more reactive dogs (like terriers), tend to be more sensitive to sounds. You may need to spend more time on your dog’s preferred sense than the others but you want to make sure you work on all three separately, then together. Be creative-ask others for ideas if you run into a real challenge for your dog.
Work on Only One Aspect of a Distraction at a Time
Break down each distraction into its simplest parts and work each one separately. Once success has been achieved with each one, then you can start combining components. This is what is known as raising the criteria or splitting the behavior.
Set the Scene
Also remember that if you are calm, your dog will be too. Take a helper to help setting up the training equipment or the environment, provide moral support for you or to interact/distract/direct members of the public as required. Give them clear guidance what EXACTLY you want them to do. (Stand up straight, avoid eye contact with dog, explain to public what you are doing when they reach a specific spot etc). Thanking them afterwards or taking them out for a coffee etc goes a long way to having them help you again-think positive reinforcement for humans!
Remember to Reward
At each step of the training, start by click and rewarding desired behaviors. And don’t forget to jackpot reward (a handful of 8-10 treats delivered one at a time) your dog when she does something that is new or a breakthrough for her. This keeps her interest and also motivates her to focus on you, not the distraction.
How Fast will My Dog Progress?
How quickly your dog progresses through each step depends on her previous socialization to the objects/people/animals/environment (that is why it is so important to socialize them during the critical period of 7 to 16 weeks), current level of training/teamwork, motivation for reward, general resilience to new things and places, and overall confidence level among other things.
What is a Threshold?
This is the level at which your dog can no longer stay calm or focused on you with that object, person, animal or environment. She will show a few signs of stress (positive or negative) such as taking treats harder than usual (but can eat), ears forward and listening to object, eyes open wide and looking at the object -but can still be redirected by a cue or sound that you make. She should also be able to complete simple task such as sit, stand, down and nose targeting your hand. You want to start with your dog under threshold and keep her there as she learns to deal with distractions. Going above the threshold causes the training process to take longer.
The most effective trainers use a slow carefully thought out 4 step process.
1.Desensitize your dog to the triggers,
2. Counter condition her to them (changing how she feels about it) and
3. Train her to interact appropriately with them while giving you eye contact
4. Respond to your cues to do behaviors and tasks while in the presence of the distraction(s) then defer back to you.
All four are techniques that work best in combination for service dogs.
With some dogs, you can progress very quickly through a planned distraction. With others, you may need to spend much time at each step of a slight increase of distraction. It all depends on how much value you dog put on that particular distraction, or the combination of distractions.
You must remember that a distraction is not only something that captures your dog’s attention and draws her focus away from you, the distraction may also cause stress (anxiety, fear, excitement) in your dog. You must work through the emotional response first, (using desensitization and/or counter conditioning) before your dog can offer her attention to you.
In the first stages of training anything new, give your dog a chance to improve. If he starts at about a 30% success rate, he should quickly progress to 80% success. If his success rate is lower than that to start, or he doesn’t progress rapidly, you’ll have to break each step into smaller steps he can achieve. The same as with task training, it is the trainer’s job to help the dog succeed.
The rule of 4 comes in handy here. If your dog is not successful, break that step into 2 smaller pieces and then each of those into 2 smaller pieces. Once your dog has achieved 80%, it’s time to increase the criteria. Remember that several short sessions are better than one long one. Give him play breaks, crate him, or take him out of the stressful environment if you plan to be there for a longer period- for example if you must drive a distance and want to make your time at the location worthwhile. Don’t forget, it takes a lot for you to focus as well, so you need a break from your dog too!
When your dog can calmly focus on you and do some simple behaviors (nose touch, sit, a cued glance, etc) for you with the distractions nearby, it is time to move on to asking for a progression of more complex service-oriented tasks. Work towards his returning his attention to you after each task. The click or mark and reward will help with that, but by intermittently rewarding for eye contact, you can have a dog that is attending to you.
General Rules of Distraction Training:
A. Set your dog up for success! The key idea here is that the increments of change must be small enough that your dog can take them in stride. This is called working under threshold. If your dog starts to become distracted and I unable to complete the behavior or task you cued, you have raised the criteria too fast for her needs. That is an example of working above threshold.
B. Remember to use high value rewards when adding a high value distraction or one that she has never trained with before successfully.
C. Use distance as your friend, then decrease it in small increments as your dog demonstrates he can handle being closer to the object/animal/person.
D. Start with low value distractors and increase in slightly higher value steps. You will need to brainstorm a list of things that capture your dog’s attention (smells, sounds, things he sees) and prioritize them. If you can separate out the pieces of each distraction: for example a horse: sounds of neighing, smell, sight since for some dogs one of these will be more of a trigger than others and you will need to work separately on it.
E. Start with stationary things, then add a slight motion and move to greater motion.
F. Start with quiet things, then increase sound in small increments.
G. Start with non-smelly objects and increase the intensity of the smell. For example, instead of using a live bird, pet it first and c/t for your dog smelling your hands and staying calm. Next wrap the bird in a towel for a few minutes and lay the towel down where your dog can smell it. Present the empty cage for your dog to smell. Then add the bird.
H. Start with one distraction, then add another, in increments of one or two as you dog shows you she can be successful with it.
For Locations with Multiple Distractions
i). Train a few of the distractions individually first, then together in various combinations, if possible.
ii). Start in a familiar environment if at all possible, then move to less familiar location to continue training.
iii) Train at the location when no-one is there to build familiarity with the physical environment.
iv). Start at the periphery of a location, (walking on the edge of the action, for example, before moving slightly towards the center.)
v). Start with low density (for example, choose events with fewer people more spread out, then progress to slightly more dense situations (move to an area in the event where people are closer together or a more popular event).
Train for the worst-case scenario and you will also be prepared for anything! This is called over-training. Since working in public can be so unpredictable, it is important that we train way above any expected criterion for distraction level. We do not want to floor or traumatize our dog, but by incrementally increasing our distraction criterion, we can bring our dogs into the realm of bombproof (assuming they have a resilient temperament to start with.)
Proofing For Distractions
In order to keep your dog current, it is a good idea to refresh training uncommon distractions periodically. How often is up to the time you have and how reactive/focused on you your dog is or you can refresh training for specific distractions before you intend to revisit a location.
The more sounds you train for (each trained separately until the behavior is complete) the faster your dog will generalize the behavior to that sound. For example, when I started training Jessie for a door knock after learning the wake alarm, the first behavior she offered was a nose nudge.
In this situation, Jessie was also offering the nose nudge as a default behavior in a situation where she didn't know what I wanted. She was smart enough to try to offer the sound alert behavior in response to a new sound. THIS is what generalizing is.
If those first few sound alerts of the new sounds are immediately reinforced, you’ll get the alerting behavior for the new sound more quickly. If you ignore them or don’t reinforce them, your dog will be confused and not be confident in what you are asking her to do and may offer other behaviors.
If you do not use some specific sounds on a regular basis, you will need to review training on a monthly basis to keep the behavior current.
What other ways can a one and two way alert be used by Assistance Dogs?
"I'm wanting to train my dog as a diabetic alert dog being that I'm insulin dependent. My question to you is what training tools do you use to teach the dog how to detect low blood sugar & high blood sugar (sensing)? I've asked numerous trainers on youtube this question, but no one has responded. My dog already does the targeting exercise with flying colors thanks to you and your video. Can you help me? TY :)"
Most people use a Tshirt or other clothing that has sweat on it from when they had a low blood sugar reading as the training object and store it in a sealed plastic bag like a ziplock when not using it.
Others breathe on a pad when their blood levels are low or high and seal it in a ziplock type bag or small vial.
Still others prefer to soak a small cotton pad in their saliva as they are having a low. These probably store the best for training purposes and are more accurate for the dogs than using sweat.
If you can get a blood sample, that works well, especially if you can test and know how high or low it is. Blood samples, however, break down quickly so are not as accurate.
Dogs can be trained to alert to any sugar level you choose. You don't want the sample reading too low when the dog alerts, as you want to be alert enough to be able to still help yourself. Most people use a reading of 70-80 to train their dog asthey are still functioning and able to help themselves.
In our training videos, replace the sound with the scent. Let the dog smell a small sample of the blood ( in a vial or other quick opening and sealing container) before cuing the alert behavior during training. Most dogs catch on to this quickly since they are so scent-oriented.
Please refer to our 4 blog postings (pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4) and embedded videos on training a one and two way alert.
How to Train a One Way Diabetic Alert
Ideally start by training with the actual diabetic person or you will have to retrain the dog to alert to the other person later.
1. Train and practice the alert behavior separately.
For example: use targeting to teach a nose touch on your leg. Shape it into a hard nose nudge just above your knee. An easy position to start training this behavior is with you in a sit. Then when your dog is successful, change your position to a stand, squat, sit on the floor, face the dog, turn to your side, turn your back etc until your dog can nose nudge you in any position. Add distance.
2. Present the smell of the sweat or blood sample. Click and treat your dog for any interest in the smell (sniff, lick etc). Do not c/t a bark or other noise! Place the smell on your lap, on the ground and other places and see if the dog seeks it out to sniff. When your dog is consistently indicating that she smelled the smell, go to next step.
3. Present the smell and immediately cue nose nudge. (sniff, cue 'touch', dog nose touches, click as nose makes contact, then reward)
4. When your dog is offering nose nudges consistently, fade the cue (touch). Present the smell alternating using the touch cue and not and see if you get the behavior. After several repetitions, the smell alone will trigger the alerting behavior (nose nudge). If not, keep practicing with the cue. Now the smell has become the cue to do the alert behavior. Practice this until your dog nose touches after sound 8/10 times before moving on.
5. Change positions from sitting to standing to facing towards dog and away. Practice crouching, sitting on the couch, sitting at the table, laying down on your bed and other places you might normally be when a low or high blood sugar might occur. When your dog is successful at this level, try doing other behaviors such as pretending to do the dishes, talk on the phone, watch TV etc. while presenting the smell.
6. Next add distance in one foot intervals. You can throw a treat away from you to get the dog away from you. Present the smell beside you.
7. Change positions where the dog is in relation to you (the source of the smell). For example, throw a treat down a hallway, around a corner etc. Then present the smell.
8. Adding distractions such as one, two and more people in the room, TV or radio on, a person standing between you and the dog, person engaging you in conversation etc.
9. Ask a helper to be nearby as a distraction when you present the smell on your body. Decrease distance at first, increase it as your dog is successful (to say where the dog is laying on her dogbed and alerts you from there).
Your dog may want to go to them to alert first. Ask your helper(s) to ignore the dog by avoiding eye contact, not responding to the alert, not petting or otherwise distracting the dog etc. You then give your alert cue "touch" and your dog will come to you to alert. C/t.
You will need to practice this several times before the dog understands that it is only when she alerts you that she gets rewarded. Adding other helpers in the room and training the same way with all of them (prepare them as to what you want them to do if they dog alerts to them). With many repetitions, your dog will learn to search only you out in a crowd.
10. Use a timer to cue you to present the smell on you at unpredictable times during the day. Ideally, try not to let your dog see you set the alarm or she will anticipate that you are doing it. For example have it set to go off when she is relaxing next to you, or on her bed, when she is playing quietly with a toy, when she is sleeping lightly, when she is sleeping soundly. Ideally, she should jump up from a sound sleep and run to you to give the alert. If she is sound asleep, she may hesitate and she may be disoriented, but give her up to to 6 seconds the first few times (count one one thousand, two one thousand in your head) to assess what is going on and to start moving towards you before helping her by cueing the 'touch' cue. Do not say the cue if she starts moving towards you before that time. As she gets more practice, allow her less time decreasing in one second intervals (but always allowing at least 3 seconds to orient on her own).
11. Generalize the behavior by training at different locations, starting from the beginning at each location.
This alert teaches the dog to let you know there is a specific sound and to take you to the source of the sound.
The order that the dog does (whether alert you first or alert the location of sound first) is up to the task, your preference or even your dog's natural tendancy as long as the order is consistent for that sound so you know what to expect. You may have to adapt the order of the training below. For example, some people prefer their dog runs to the source first, instead of to the person. It doesn't matter as long as the dog is doing both alerts in a chain.
To strengthen your preferred order, start training the first behavior first and perfect it before moving on to the second behavior. Also more heavily reward when your dog does the first preferred behavior first so the dog is not getting more highly rewarded for the second.
1. Train the one way alert (see pt2), choosing an appropriate alert behavior for the sound.
2. Teach the dog the 'take me to' behavior separately. You can use the cue 'show me' 'find it' or 'where is?' (See our shell game video) Choose one cue and use it consistently through out training. The 'show me' behavior indication may be a nose nudge of the object as for the sound alert, a paw touch, a sit near the object, laying down beside the object, or other behavior as appropriate.
3. Place the sound at dog level if possible. Place a covered bowl of treats at the sound source but above the dog's nose level. Also ensure you have treats on you to reward the sound alert.
4. Pair the sound with the 'show me' by setting the sound off first, allowing dog to do their sound alert (nose nudge) rewarding the nose nudge, then cue 'show me', then give the dog time to respond.
The first few training sessions it helps if you review each of the sound alert and the show me behaviors separately, before bringing them together. The dog will then more naturally blend the behaviors into a chain.
5. When doing both the sound alert and the show me behaviors together consistently, start about 2 feet away, set off the sound, reward a sound alert and cue “Show me?” and follow dog toward sound.
6. Add distance in one foot increments. Very quickly, the dog will likely check to ensure you are following her to the sound source.
7. Move around a corner (but still close) and indicate “show me” to the next room
8. Add distance into other rooms
9. Decrease distance and add distractions one at a time.
10. Next set the time for the sound to go off for longer intervals, then unexpectedly (for the dog) in the same room. Then unexpectedly (for the dog) from another room, while the dog is laying down, resting, then later even playing or sleeping.
Check out our video on training a 2 way alert.
Here is a video of training a hearing dog to do a 2 way alert around a corner. Note that the dog is eating (is distracted) and then runs to do paws up on legs as the alert behavior. The owner follows the dog quickly to the location and the dog alerts the location of the sound.
11. Generalize the behavior by training at different locations, starting from the beginning each time.
To strengthen the whole chain of behaviors or to increase enthusiasm, try using the dog's full meal as a reward or play a rousing game of tug after she completes the whole task. You can also use these as jackpot rewards anytime your dog has a breakthrough at a challenging spot.
Examples of two way alert: cell phone ringing, oven timer, kettle whistling, door bell, knock, baby crying, dryer buzzer, dropped keys, medication pump monitor alarm, and Alzheimer’s patient movement alert (where the dog lays near the patient, and if the patient gets out of his chair, runs to alert the caregiver and leads her back to the patient (who may be headed out the door).
Check out the AAIDP website (scroll down to hearing task list) for more ideas.
One way alerts include any time the dog needs to get your attention, but you do not want her to take you to the source of the sound. For example, for a smoke detector or fire alarm just telling you that they are going off is enough. You do not want to be led back into a fire to learn it is the smoke detector going off. It is helpful to train a separate alert behavior for safety issues so you will know which specific sound your dog is alerting to (such as laying down at your feet for smoke detector, refusing to move for oncoming cars etc.)
You want your dog to alert only to you, not to helpers, family members or other people so only reward the dog when she alerts to you. if she tries to alert to anyone esle, ask them to ignore the alert and verbally redirect your dog by cuing the alert behavior. Reward that behavior.
1. Train and practice the alert behavior separately
For example: use targeting to teach a nose touch on your leg. Shape it into a hard nose nudge just above your knee. An easy position to start training this behavior is with you in a sit. Then when your dog is successful, change your position to a stand, squat, sit on the floor, face the dog, turn to your side, turn your back etc until your dog can nose nudge you in any position. Add distance.
2. Set off the sound (optional: use only for dogs that are not sensitive to sounds) Click and treat your dog for any indication that your dog heard the sound (ear flick, turning head, looking at source. Do not c/t a bark or other noise!
When your dog is consistently indicating that she heard the sound, go to next step.
3. Set off the sound and immediately cue nose nudge. (set off sound, cue 'touch', dog nose touches, click as nose makes contact, then reward)
4. When your dog is offering nose nudges consistently, fade the cue (touch). Set off the sound and alternating using the cue and not and see if you get the behavior. After several repetitions, the sound alone will trigger the alerting behavior (nose nudge). If not, keep practicing with the cue. Now the sound has become the cue to do the alert behavior. Practice this until your dog nose touches after sound 8/10 times before moving on.
Check out this video for an idea of what this looks like. This person started with no cue and is shaping the dog to nose nudge on the sound only.
5. Change positions from sitting to standing to facing towards dog and away. Practice crouching, and even laying down. When your dog is successful at this level, try doing other behaviors such as pretending to do the dishes, talk on the phone, watch TV etc. while setting off the sound.
6. Next add distance in one foot intervals. You can either throw a treat away from you or have a helper make or start the sound from increasing distances away.
7. Change positions where the dog is in relation the sound. For example, throw a treat on the opposite side of the sound to where you are standing, then you back up so the dog must pass the sound to come to you to do the alert. (This prevents the superstition that the dog must come first to the source of the sound or be near it before alerting you). Only reward when the dog walks by the sound to alert you.
8. Adding distractions such as another person in the room, TV or radio on, two people in room, a person standing between you and the sound, person engaging you in conversation etc.
9. Ask a helper to set off the alarm. Your dog may want to go to them to alert first. Ask your helper to ignore the dog by avoiding eye contact, not responding to the alert, not petting or otherwise distracting the dog etc. You then give your alert cue "touch" and your dog will come to you to alert. C/t. You will need to practice this several times before the dog understands that it is only when she alerts you that she gets rewarded. Adding other helpers in the room and training the same way with all of them (prepare them as to what you want them to do if they dog alerts to them). With many repetitions, your dog will learn to search only you out in a crowd.
10. Use the timer on your alarm to set the alarm off at unpredictable times during the day. Ideally, try not to let your dog see you set the alarm or she will anticipate that you are doing it. For example have it set to go off when she is relaxing on her bed, when she is playing quietly with a toy, when she is sleeping lightly, when she is sleeping soundly. Ideally, she should jump up from a sound sleep and run to you to give the alert. If she is sound asleep, she may hesitate and she may be disoriented, but give her upto to 6 seconds the first few times (count one one thousand, two one thousand) in your head)to assess what is going on and to start moving towards you before helping her by cueing the 'touch' cue. Do not say the cue if she starts moving towards you before that time. As she gets more practice, allow her less time time decreasing in one second intervals (but always allowing at least 3 seconds to orient on her own).
11. Generalize the behavior by training at different locations, starting from the beginning at each location.
You can use a one way alert to teach your dog to alert you to: fire alarm, smoke detector, wake up alarm, someone calling your name, horn honking, car backing up, etc.
This same process can also be used to train a low blood sugar (diabetic) alert. If your dog will be doing both sound and diabetic alerts, it is helpful to train different alert behaviors for each so you know which the dog is indicating.
Watch our video to see the process in action!
It is very important before and during the training process to avoid saying “no” or otherwise discourage an alerting behavior in any context. You can ignore uncued behaviors such as a nose nudge for attention (especially if given when not during training sessions) so the dog will stop doing the behavior but do not punish or verbally scold the dog for doing it. Punishing or otherwise discouraging alerting behavior may affect your dog’s willingness to do that behavioral alert in the future.
A. Use this Basic Process to Train your Dog to Alert to Any Sound.
For the actual alert, you can use a firm nose nudge, chin rest on hand or lap, pawing your arm, laying on your feet, face licking, jumping in front of you, jumping in your lap etc. Before training, choose whichever behavior is appropriate for the level of alert required for your dog to get your attention. Avoid using barking as an alert as it is disruptive when in public. The only time you might use a bark alert is when the dog needs to get you help from strangers during an emergency.
B. Having a helper (for at least the middle part of the training process) to make the sound or set off a gadget from other locations makes your job much easier and is clearer for the dog.
C. Choose Your First Sound Carefully.
If this is your first time training this behavior, it is a good idea to train a sound that is not likely to be heard in your environment (home, work or play). This way, you can use it to learn to train a basic alert and can learn from your mistakes before training more important alerts.
Ensure the gadget you choose:
-Is one that you can turn on and off quickly and easily with no fumbling
-The gadget making the sound will not wear out before you are done training
-The gadget can be set to go off at whim and in one minute (or less) intervals
Probably the easiest sound to start on is a knock (on the door) that needs no equipment.
When choosing a gadget that makes a sound, choose a sturdy one with big buttons. The first alarm clock I used was a small travel alarm and it was difficult to set and wind quickly and wore out after just three training sessions. I then tried to use sounds from the a computer but that was awkward, didn’t allow me to set them off as quickly as I needed to keep my dog’s interest at first and I wasn’t able to move the computer around to generalize the sound to different locations/rooms. I also tried a digital alarm but that combined the drone alarm with the radio noise and this was not a pure enough sound for my dog to understand what I wanted.
From a second hand store, I bought an old sturdy wind up alarm clock and that saw us through training the first 1 and 2 way sound alerts. This worked well enough when I was first training one way alerts and when I had a helper for distance and two way alerts. It worked well enough to train my dog when I was training alone from other rooms but it took a minimum of 10 minutes to go off after being set.
Ideally, sound alarms should be ones that can also be set to go off within a minute of setting it and more as your dog progresses in training.
It really helps your dog get the idea if the rate of repetitions is high for the first few training sessions until your dog understands what to do for the basic behavior. Once your dog understands the behavior, then you can use other new sounds that are harder to replicate.
See also posts (alert 1.1, 1.2, 1.3)
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 will wear the identification provided issued by the certifying body. In BC and Alberta, retailers can only ask if your dog is a certified service dog and to ask to see that collar tag/certification. Make sure you can produce it at all times in public. If the dog is not wearing a certification tag 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.
In the US, retailers, transportation and accommodation providers can only ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks the dog performs for you.
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.
Can We Get Certified Online?
No. Going online to get your dog certified is a waste of money as none of them are legitimate.
A couple of simple criteria to rule out bogus tests:
1. All legitimate assessment/certification tests for owner-trained teams are done in person. The testers need to see you and your dog working together in person and they will make sure you know how to take care of your dog and know your rights and responsibilities. Public safety is the number on concern for certifying bodies. The application process may be online, but there will always be an in-person part of the test.
2. The organizations doing the certification in North America will be accredited by either Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation or a state or provincial body or an organization that has been contracted by the state or province to assess the team in person.
If the certifyer doesn't meet these two criterion, then it will not be a legitimate one in North America.
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. Your plan will change and evolve as you work through it.
1. 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 2010
Behaviors are taught in: family room, bedroom, garage, backyard, front yard, local park.
Leave it (Zen)
Working at a Distance
Go around objects
Paws on Target
Back end Pivot
Take and Tug
Potty on cue
Beginning of loose leash walking
On 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. APDT C.L.A.S.S. Bachelor Evaluation training (generalize behaviours)
(doorway, leave it, greet a stranger, recall from 10 feet, wait for food bowl, stay, settle, give and take)
Canine Good Citizen (US) or Canine Good Neighbor (Canada) Training Preparation June 2010
(doorways, separation from handler, ignoring crowds, greeting stranger, ignoring other dogs, recall, loose leash walking, stay, sit, down)
Begin training for in-home service tasks.
6. C.L.A.S.S. Bachelor level test or Canine Good Neighbor test Aug 2010
7. Get written prescription for service dog from Doctor or Nurse Practitioner (or other health care provider as appropriate)
8. Practice general behaviors in different retail locations for Sept 2010
(wait in car, pass other dog, wait at the door, come and leash up, sit down, stand,handling, loose leash, stay)
CKC Urban Dog training
10. CLASS PhD testing or Urban Dog testing Jan. 2011
11. Begin formal work on training and consolidating Assistance Tasks Jan. 2011
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 stores
C. Open and close doors while in chair
D. 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 crisis
F. 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.
12. Take all of the behaviors and tasks "On the Road" to generalize them to many different locations and environments.
Identify at least 10 different public places near home to train that are accessible to my dog.
13. Begin training for Public Access Test Dec 2010
14. 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, Alberta and Nova Scotia, certification is recommended to use your dog as a service/assistance animal. May 2011
15. 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. June, 2011
16. Practice Tasks in Public, Fine tune any holes (distractions, minor fears etc)
17. Take Public Access test or make video recording of entire final test Sept. 2011
Graduate dog to "Service Dog" patches (remove "in training" patch).
18. 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.
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.
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.
Then take the challenge of taking corrections (punishment) off the table!
It's a simple as that!
Why would you do that? Because the vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors.
Reread that last sentence and digest it.
"The vast majority of mistakes your dog makes are actually handler training errors."
This is sad but true. If you videotape yourself training, you will find that anytime your dog makes a mistake (assuming he has actually learned the behavior) it is because of a mistake you made or something you overlooked in the environment. Rather than correct the dog's behavior, look at it as a way to improve your own training. What is it that you have missed in his training that set him up for failure?
Here is a list of the 11 most common parts of training that are missed by handlers training their own service dogs:
Handler's lack of ability to read their dog's communication.
A stressed dog cannot think about his behavior. Happily, there are a series of early behaviors that give the handler an idea of the stress level of their dog. Learn what those are and change the training environment so your dog's stress level is reduced. Stress can be both good (excitement) and bad (worry) as well as emotional (scared) and physical (tired). Join the Facebook Observations Skills group to learn more.
Not explaining the behavior in enough different ways so your dog can understand what you want.
Like humans, dogs learn in different ways. Some learn by watching another dog do a behavior. Some learn by watching their human do a behavior. Some dogs love shaping. Almost all can learn by capturing a behavior as he does it naturally. Luring works too but fade the lure as quickly as you can or the dog can become reliant on it as part of the cue.
Using the wrong motivator.
We all need some sort of motivation to learn and perform a behavior. Would you still go to work if your boss didn't pay you? Find out what it is that your dog loves and use that! Food, toys, playing with you can all work well. Just make sure it is something your dog really wants. Also, adjust the motivator for the level of difficulty of the behavior and the environment you are training in. Lower value for easier behaviors, known behavior or training in low distraction locations. Medium for middle of the road challenges and higher value for the more difficult/distracting locations.
Failure to teach the behavior at a distance.
While most dogs learn to do a behavior close to you, they have no idea they can do a behavior at a distance. That must be trained incrementally. If you haven't done that, then your dog's failure is your mistake, not his.
Failure to teach the behavior with duration.
How long the dog can do a behavior also takes specific training. Duration can be hard for puppies, adolescents and for impulsive dogs. When you play games, think of the ones you give up on. Those are the ones where the game just gets longer (boring) and does not allow you many successes. So vary the length of what you ask, always making sure to do some easier ones so the behavior isn't always getting harder. It also helps to pair stationary activities with active ones.
Increasing the level of distractions too quickly.
Dogs can learn to ignore distractions quickly, but you do need to vary their level too. Be creative with the type of distractions Do you know the days you crawl out of bed and are sensitive to sounds? Perhaps you are feeling a little "off" today? Dogs have those days too! Particularly in adolescence when hormonal changes vary day to day. If he have had too many stressors the day before, he might need a day of lower distractions to recover. Realize that there will be some situations when your dog is distracted from the start and won't be able to succeed. On those days, lower the distraction level or change your training location. It might mean moving just a few feet to one side or going somewhere else altogether.
Failure to teach cue discrimination.
Dogs as social learners typically learn physical cue (like body and hand signals) very easily. However, they may find verbal cues much harder. Take the time to teach your dog that different hand signals and different words mean different behaviors. Be aware that many words share the same starting consonant or the same vowel sounds. That is very confusing. "Slow" and "Go" can be hard to tell apart. "Sit" and "Stand" may as well.
Plan what verbal cues you will use. It helps to keep a running list of both hand and verbal cues so you can see where movement and sounds might overlap. It happens much more often than people think, especially once your dog has learned many behaviors! Additionally, handlers often use a hand signal at the same time as a verbal cue. If the hand signal and verbal cue differ, almost all dogs will choose to follow the hand signal.
Insufficient change of position.
Dogs are discriminators by nature, which means they look for the small details, not the larger patterns. So you must proof behaviors for position changes (both the dog and you). Can your dog do a cued behavior with you sitting on the ground? Laying on a bed? Can the dog do the behavior (say holding an object) when sitting, standing, laying down, turning around, changing from one position to another etc? If you haven't already taught him that he can do a behavior with each of these changes, then you are punishing him for your lack of training. No fair!
Not giving your dog a chance to acclimate to a new environment.
Acclimation is giving your dog a chance to assess the environment he is in. When you go to a party (or any new location), do you march right in and start talking? Probably not. Think of the first few times you went a party. You felt awkward and worried. You probably stopped near the entrance and looked around, noting where the bathroom was, where the food was, the music and chairs and if there was another exit. That allowed you to know where you could move to depending on how you are feeling. Dogs need to do the same. Give your dog a chance to look (and sniff if appropriate) in a limited area (such as the length of the leash) before starting to focus on you. Capture any focus he chooses to give you and you will find you will get more. Giving him time to acclimate will build his confidence in new places and he can focus on you.
Not enough generalization.
Since dogs are discriminators, they do look for the details. So if your dog learned to nose nudge your leg beside the refrigerator, the refrigerator might be something he looks for a clue to what behavior you want. If it is not present, he has to then start guessing. Your dog needs you to give him enough practice in many different environments so he can learn what the key points to watch for (environmental, hand signal, verbal cue?) to tell him what behavior you want from him. Start teaching each behavior from the beginning in each new environment and you will find he relearns the behavior faster and faster in each new location. Eventually, he will be able to walk in and perform that behavior with just the cue, no retraining.
No maintenance of trained behaviors.
Just like humans, if they don't use behaviors, they forget them. Maintenance involves reviewing and even retraining a behavior periodically to put and keep it in long-term memory. Plan to practice new behaviors at least once every two weeks to a month in the beginning, then once every couple of months after that.
If you take correction (punishment) off the table, then you will learn so much more about how to best teach your dog.
Want to learn more? Check out our Foundation Skills classes. The classes are for the handler are much as they are for the dog!
[ Assessing Dogs for a Service Career ]
"It's almost been 3 mos since I asked you about helping train my chihuahua, Clarice, to scent my blood sugars. Again, I couldn't go wrong watching your wonderful videos and following your advice. It only took me all of 3 days of teaching her to scent my blood sugars. She's already saved my life 4 x's by waking me up in the middle of the night w/my sugars being dangerously low. I had enough time to grab my granola bar on my nightstand before possibly slipping into a diabetic coma.
She goes everywhere I go, including sleeping w/my husband and I, Now, my dog behavioral trainer (who does cost me a fortune) suggests that no dog should be allowed to sleep in the same bed as their owner, but when I told him my story...he now included an exception to his rule.
I cannot thank you enough for all of the wonderful videos that are helping me train her. In fact, today I purchased one of your training CD's.
Again, I cannot thank you enough for a new-found freedom I've found w/my dog. As I had promised before...I will continue to keep you updated w/Clarice's progress. I never had so much fun & confidence in knowing that I could train ANY dog. You & your videos have changed my life completely. I plan, in the future, getting a golden retriever to train in servicing my physical needs, but that's way ahead in time, as I have to perfect Clarice's skills first.
Also...by all means...feel free to post this email on your site for others to read. I give you complete permission to allow others to know that even those people who think/believe they could never accomplish this...actually CAN!!! I never had any formal training for any types of pets. Your website, blogs, and videos have given me so much confidence and the pride to say that I did it all by myself!!!
Diana & Clarice" (4 lb Chihuahua)