One and Two Way Alerts can be used to train assistance dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, diabetics (high or low blood sugar levels), and to alert an Alzheimer caregiver of movement by their patient. All these are taught using the same basic process.

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.

Tips:
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.

At Work
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.

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. Your plan will change and evolve as you work through it. 
My Long Term Assistance Dog Training Plan
Date: Oct 16, 2009

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.

Eye Contact
Leave it (Zen) 
Nose Target
Chin target
Paw target 
Recall 
Working at a Distance
Go around objects
Adding duration 
Sit
Down
Go mat/Bed
Paws on Target
Back end Pivot
Take and Tug
Handling
Potty on cue
Wait
Beginning of loose leash walking
Switch sides

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)
 
OR 

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.


5. Loose Leash Walking Level 3 and Settle Level 2


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)
Sept 2010

8. Practice general behaviors in different retail locations for Sept 2010
C.L.A.S.S. Master's Level training
(wait in car, pass other dog, wait at the door, come and leash up, sit down, stand,handling, loose leash, stay)
 
9.  CLASS Master's level test for Nov. 2010
C.L.A.S.S. PhD Level training
OR

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.
In Home Tasks
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.

Public Tasks
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.

Other Characteristics
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.
 
Assessments
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. 
 
"I discovered your amazing training methods while searching for " trained diabetes alert dogs."  I am new to all of this.  Our 4.5 year old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.   I have no idea where to begin.  Do you know of any reputable breeders and or trainers who will partially train diabetes alert dogs? I understand that much training will need to happen at home regardless, but just wondering what is available close to home."  Stephanie
 
What I would do is choose a breed (or mix) that suits your family and lifestyle. Look for sound health and temperament of the parents (health screens for any conditions that are typical of the breed), find a breeder that ensures the mother is not stressed during pregnancy, does Early Neurological Stimulation.
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.
 
The diabetic alert is the easy part to train (takes not many sessions for most dogs to get the hang of it. Generalizing it to other locations is the longer part.) The hardest part is getting the dog's behavior to a level suitable for public access (if you intend to certify) starting with Canine Good Neighbor or CLASS program by the APDT and continuing with a Public Access test. All service dogs need to be bombproof in many environments, with people, other dogs etc.

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!

Here is a 1hr 19 min video on selection of a potential service dog candidate (puppy or adult, purebred or mixed breed, from breeder or rescue). Many things to consider.

[ Assessing Dogs for a Service Career ]
 
The following is a letter we received from a person who emailed us asking for help. It is a glowing report that owner-trained dogs (using positive methods) can be every bit as useful as a program dogs, even if the handler doesn't know how to train when they start!

Dear VIAD,
"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)
 

Great Book on Training Diabetic Alert Dogs!

I've heard excellent reviews and the author is an excellent trainer. 
All positive reinforcement approach as well, so it's a 
win, win, win!

Click here to see more about the book and author.

Preparation for Training:

There are several basic skills that are need for an assistance dog that helps the handler when in a wheelchair.

All begin with foundation behaviors of
*nose targeting
* paw target
*loose leash walking
*30 seconds of eye contact

Desensitizing your dog to the sight, sound and proximity of bicycles, scooters, skateboards etc before training with the wheelchair, will help your dog to become comfortable with the wheelchair much more quickly and be able to focus on learning the tasks.

The basic skills and tasks can be taught with the trainer in a standing position. They can also be sitting in a swivel chair. This is the easiest way to train the eye contact-based behaviors such as swinging to right of left side, backing and gets the dog accustomed to working with the person in a seated position and a chair that has movement. This is a very different perspective for many dogs who are accustomed to seeing their trainer stand up.

When the dog is successful training near the swivel chair, transition to a stationary chair with arms (such as an armchair) or actual wheelchair to retrain the behaviors.

Training with the Wheelchair:

Desensitize Your Dog to Your Wheelchair
It is important that your dog feel comfortable with the wheelchair as he will come in close contact with it at times and need to know how it moves, the sounds it makes and that it is not something to be fearful of.

Treat the chair as a novel object and spend several sessions playing “101 Things to do with a Wheelchair”. Make sure to lock the brakes so it cannot move. Shape your dog to sniff all parts of it, nose pouch, paw touch, rest chin, place front paws up on it, climb on it, jump off it, retrieve objects from near, then under it etc. until he is very comfortable with it.

Next walk the dog beside the wheelchair over a variety of surfaces with you pushing from behind (or walking behind if it is an electric wheelchair). Pavement, gravel, bark mulch, over small bumps, ramps, up and down inclines etc.

If your dog shows any fearfulness or startles easily, counter condition him by playing with him near it, feeding him near it, using really yummy treats anytime he works near it etc. Progress to calling him past it, doing behaviors near it etc. Always make sure you can control the movement of the chair (by locking or blocking the wheels if necessary) to prevent scaring your dog unexpectedly. When you start training with movement, keep all changes small and build on previous successes. Ensure that the environment you are training in will not have any unexpected noises etc that he may attribute to the chair.

Skills With the Wheelchair
Your Dog needs a variety of skills when working with you near the wheelchair. All of these are helpful to position your dog for the tasks as well as moving around in tight spaces in stores, buses etc. Start by shaping these into the finished behaviors, then adding a cue as in normal training. What will happen with practice is that your dog will start to anticipate your needs and the cue in many situations will not be necessary.

For example, as you start moving forward, your dog will start moving with you uncued, turn uncued, as you start making a turn the dog will watch the front wheels for clues he needs to turn etc. The cues, however, will still be useful when you want to get your dog to move when he is sleeping (Jessie, Let’s Go!) or to prevent him from being startled if you need him to get into or out of a position quickly (for his or your safety etc.). (Jessie, Back!)

*Walking on a loose leash on both sides of the chair
*Following behind you on a loose leash
*Switching from one side to the other
*Moving with the chair around objects
*Passing though doors, gates etc either before or after chair
*Circling around the chair
*Moving to stand in front of the chair facing handler
*Backing up while facing handler
*Walking forward while facing handler
*Backing up at the side of the wheelchair
*Swinging around into heel position to right and left sides
*Getting front paws off your lap (after delivering an object to hand for example)
*Being comfortable being sandwiched between the chair and other objects or people (for tight spaces such as elevators and in corners of stores etc)

See our video Part 1 Wheelchair Skills


 
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