Alzheimer's Alert dogs are dogs that are trained to help the caregiver but also provide emotional support and companionship to the person suffering from Alzheimer's. In some cases, they can also lead a disoriented person home.

Some common tasks they are trained to do:

*Stay near the person with Alzheimer's Disease and interact with them for companionship.

*Alert the caregiver (usually a family member) when the person is on the move. For example, if the person gets out of their chair or out of bed, the dog goes and gets the caregiver to prevent wandering. The dogs are trained in the same way hearing alert dogs are. One specific sound the chair makes as the person stands up becomes the cue for the dog to run for help. It would be considered a 'one way alert' (one way alert video). If the dog needs to take the caregiver to the person, it would be called a 'two way alert' (two way alert video). If this occurs at night, the dog will also need to wake the sleeping caregiver.

For our sound alert video examples: replace the alarm clock sound with the chair squeaking the floor or the person's feet hitting the floor. The dog runs and finds the caregiver, gives the trained alert, and brings the caregiver back to the person with Alzheimer's disease.

*Since people with Alzheimer's also lose their sense of smell and do things that might cause them harm (such as burning food, overloading washing machines etc), the dog's nose can be used to alert the caregiver to these smells. Pair the scent of food burning in the microwave, or the burning rubber of a washing machine with the alert behavior and add distance from the caregiver. Train a two way alert so the caregiver knows where to go. Some dogs do these alerts naturally and their technique (alert behavior) can be refined.

*Push or nudge the person with Alzheimer's away from doors. If alarms are on the doors, go get the Caregiver.

*Remind the caregiver to help person with Alzheimer's take their medication.

*They can be trained to guide the person home if they become disoriented. Walking is a key way to decrease the need to wander. The "Home" cue has the dog lead the person safely home, navigating obstacles etc.

The temperament of an Alzheimer's Support/Alert Dog is key, as they must be very social and have high play drive, yet calm enough to lay for hours by the side of the Alzheimer's person. They must also be resilient to the rapid changes of mood displayed by some people with Alzheimer's.

I was recently asked how a person would go about finding a trainer that will help them to train their own service or assistance dog. Here is my answer.

Before you even get your dog, consult a trainer. They can help you find and assess the best candidate (puppy or adult dog) so you have the best success. Involve them in the process from the start!  They may offer puppy classes or can refer you to someone locally who does. They can help problem solve unwanted behaviors as well as train the basics and more advanced including tasks. And they can help prepare your dog for public access. Using web cams and mobile devices, this person can be anywhere in the world and can go with you in public places too. In-person carefully structured classes are ideal, of course, for teaching your puppy and dog to focus on you in the presence of other puppies and dogs.
 
The first assumption is that the trainer needs to be an experienced service dog trainer. While this is helpful, this is not necessarily true. The most important part of a service dog is that the dog can pass the public access test. Here's another link: IAADP 

This means the dog must behave appropriately (calmly, no barking etc) in public, be able to perform common cues (sit, down, wait, leave it etc) and not be fearful or aggressive towards people, animals and the wide array of situations s/he will be faced with when assisting their handler in public. This is the hardest (and often the longest) part of the training so choose a trainer that is going to set you and your dog up to succeed and you will look forward to working with them in the long-term. If they would like to talk to me about the process, learn about laws etc, have them book a consult with me to ask all their questions. You can find another trainer online who specializes in training the tasks once your dog is well on his way to being able to do public access or check out the task classes we offer.
 
1. Start by looking for a trainer that fits your personal training philosophy for both you and your dog. You will be working with this person or company for the next 2 years or more, so choose one who you get along with. Take a set of 4 classes with them before you commit to big amounts up front. That gives you both time to see if you get along. Consider both in-person and online trainers. If you live rurally, going to weekly classes may not be possible. You may live where you can't find a trainer you like. Online classes might be the best for you and your dog so you can learn the skills before you go to class and use it to reteach the behaviors in the presence of higher level distractions (other people and dogs).

a) Ask around (friends with dogs, dog clubs, veterinarian etc). Check the internet for trainers near you.
There are several directories to help:

Regional Training Associations such as:

Vancouver Island Animal Training Assoc (VIATA) in BC

I
nternational Training Organizations
CPDT-KA
IMDT 

Choosing a trainer that uses positive reinforcement allows you to build a strong bond and create a confident and eager worker willing to take risks during learning. A trainer who understands how to correctly apply the 'quadrants and principles of operant conditioning' will help to ensure they understand how to break behaviors into small enough steps so your dog will be successful at each step. Dogs that get frustrated or who are punished (corrected) typically shut down and do not offer the creative and intelligent behavior choices a service dog will need to offer during his/her career. Look for an "About" page on their website. It should outline their training philosophy and techniques, maybe even mentors. If it doesn't mention their approach or methods, then ask.
 
Do be aware the term "positive" is applied in many ways, so just because a trainer calls themselves "positive" does not mean you will get one that uses primarily reinforcement-based training. "Balanced" trainers use a combination of both positive reinforcement and correction-based approaches (positive punishment). Dominance-based trainers tend to use force, physical manipulation and intimidation (such as invasion of the dog's personal space) to get behaviors, much emphasis is placed on verbal praise, and the use of food or toys is rare. The use of electronic (shock) collars and prongs has also been labelled positive. The are not wrong, in fact they are 'positive punishment' which is what we want to avoid when teaching people and dogs. Positive punishment is the addition of something the dog doesn't like in order to stop a behavior.
 
b) Since you are the other half of the service dog team, the trainer will need to be able to anticipate and accommodate your needs as well. How do they interact with you personally? Are you comfortable with them? What training have they done to learn how to train people? TAG teach (Teaching with Acoustic Guidance) is a good certification to have. Training as a teacher is handy. Training in ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) is a bonus as is a person with a Master's degree in Behavioral Psychology. Anyone that has worked with children or people with special needs or disabilities (and enjoyed it) may be a good choice as they understand how to adapt their training to your needs. What teaching experience have they had?  Choose someone that can provide structure, is organized, and can keep you on track since the process can take up to 18 months or more. 
 
2. Next, look at their dog training credentials. Is the trainer a current member of any recognized training associations? Are they members of any service dog related organizations like the International Association of Assistance Dogs Partners IAADP or International Association of Applied Behavior Consultants IAABC? Do your research on the internet and find out the methods endorsed by these organizations.

Have they taken training or been certified by a recognized organization? Are they a tester or instructor for any? Which ones? Do they participate in regular (at least annual) professional development? (That is, keeping current on new ways to teach both you and the dog?) It might be in-person workshops or seminars, could be on-line learning or even purchasing books and DVD's, reading magazines etc. Are they a leader in their field and teach others?
 
3. Do they have an area of specialty? This will be one or two areas they have a greater knowledge of due to either a special interest or more experience (might be puppies, fearful dogs, aggressive dogs, working with children, service dogs, etc). Trainers that list many "specialities" are likely using them as keywords on their site to be found by search engines. They need not have a specialty for a specific type of service dogs as the foundation for all of them are the same. You can work with another trainer who has expertise in your specific disability when training the specific tasks you need. That can start down the road once your dog is comfortable working in public. Most tasks are comparatively easy to teach. The hard part if helping the dog learn to gneralize them (perfrom them in many different locations).
 
4. When you have narrowed your list to 2 or 3 possible trainers, ask them some questions. Talk to them in person, on the phone, or via video chat. E-mailing is usually too time-consuming. Make an appointment to ensure they have time to talk to you. Explain that you are doing research to find a suitable trainer to help you train you and your service dog for the behaviors in the Public Access Test.
 
a) Ask them who handles the dog. If at any time does someone other than you (dog's partner) handle the dog? In what situations? Are you comfortable with that?

b) What type of training equipment do they use (collars, harness, food, objects, people etc.) 
Some collars use force and punishment (prong, choke, e-collar) while others are designed to avoid that (head collars, front clip harnesses) but still give you more control over the dog's behavior. The use of a non-restrictive body harnesses is preferred. Head halters need to be specifically conditioned on the dog and they train you to use them properly, avoiding jerking or lifting in their use. A flat collar is used for tags. R+ trainers will not use choke chains, prong collars, electronic (shock) collars or harnesses that tighten on the dog like some front clip harnesses. Also watch how they use the tools. A leash can be used aversively by popping or jerking, or can be used as an emergency back-up only. The latter is what you want to aim for.

c) Where do they train with you? At your home? Their facility? Public places later on? 
 
d) If a dog doesn't do what they want, how do they respond? For example, if they ask the dog to sit and he doesn't. Answers will vary from 'make him', 'push his butt down', to 'start with where the dog is at (assess for understanding, distractions, stress level etc) and train from there'. The second answer is preferred.)
 
e) Can they list 5 calming signals given by dogs in a stressful situation? If they don't know what signals a dog uses to communicate stress (look away, whale eye, yawning, lip licks, sniffing, avoidance etc), this is not a good sign as they probably also don't understand thresholds.
 
f) Can they tell you when the various fear periods are in a dog's development? These will affect performance during training, especially during adolescence. (fear periods are 8-11 weeks, 4 to 8 months, 6 to 14 months)
 
g) Do they do an assessment of the abilities of you and your dog? It might a verbal or a practical or both.
 
h) Do they offer semi-private or private lessons if needed?

i) How do they deal with aggression and fear? Listen for methods to reveal their knowledge level as much as a general approach. Methods such as forcing a dog to endure something it is afraid of (called flooding) or correcting the dog for growling or barking (called positive punishment) etc is now recognized as being damaging to both the dog and the relationship. Adding distance between the trigger until the dog stops reacting and using food or play to change how the dog feels are accepted ways to deal with fear or aggression.

j) What teaching methods do they use to help you learn how to teach your dog? Verbal explanations, visual info (posters etc), demonstrations with their own dog, demo with your dog, mirrors, video recording of training sessions, written logs and /or journals, step by step videos, reading assignments, handouts? Is it okay if you write things down?

k) As they explain what they do, listen very closely to the language they use. "The dog MUST Do...", "We use only praise", "You push the dog's bum down",  "The dog is being dominant" or "Your dog is part of your pack" rings alarm bells in a handler looking for a positive reinforcement approach. A trainer who recognizes that a dog (and their human) always has a choice in the behaviors they do during learning is one who may understand how a dog learns. One of those choices is to say "No." Words like "luring", "capturing" and "shaping" are good ways to get behavior.
 
l) What will they do if your dog develops fears or aggression? What setups they use to retrain this? Do they use controlled situations (lots of distance, or visual barriers, use fake dogs or dolls for children (called decoys) to start the dog well below fear threshold. Do they use muzzles if necessary?

m) Can they tell you what under threshold, counter conditioning, systematic desensitization, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT), Look at That (LAT) mean? 

n) Ask them names of authors and other dog trainers they emulate. Research them to see how positive they are. Some names (in no particular order): Paul Owens, Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Patricia McConnell, Denise Fenzi, Grisha Stewart, Kathy Sdao, Nando Brown, Coppinger's, Steve White, Jesus Rosales-Ruiz, Emma Parsons, Sue Ailsby, Pamela Dennison, Victoria Stillwell, Leslie McDevitt, Silvia Trkman, Emily Larlham, Eva Bertilsson, Melissa Alexander, Steve Dale.

o) How knowledgeable/open are they to using additional approaches such as Tellington Touch (TTouch), body wraps, massage, recorded sounds, flower essences, etc.

p) Ask what they believe the social structure of dogs is. The most current research indicates dogs have a very loose social structure based on avoidance of confrontation and maintaining social peace. They DO NOT live in a dominance hierarchy, nor in packs. The most recent understanding of dominance is that it occurs in specific situations between two dogs over a single resource. It is not a personality trait. Typically trainers who believe in social hierarchies will also use force and correction during training. Research also indicates the use of both positive reinforcement and correction/positive punishment together is very confusing to dogs and results in less learning.
 
5. Go back and review the info you have gathered about each trainer. Which might be a good fit for you? Find out by watching classes at different levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) to see what both dogs and handlers can do). The trainer should allow you to watch for free to help you decide if you like their teaching approach to dogs and people. Ensure that the trainer you watch is the one you will be working with. Take notes so you can compare them later. Record things you like as well as concerns you have. The trainer should be able to address to your satisfaction any concerns that may affect your service team's experience. Note things like, do they talk with each person? Can s/he recognize that a student is having trouble and help them to be successful in that lesson? Are the lessons structured for a group or individuals? Did the trainer do a demonstration with a dog first? Did the trainer use visuals or props? Did she talk the class through each step?
 
6. While at the class, evaluate their training location for your needs. Look for wheelchair accessible washrooms, ramps, acoustics, temperature, lighting, windows etc.  What specific things will you need that aren't there? Is the trainer willing to make alterations? Will the facility work long-term for you and your dog?  Think about the colder seasons too.

7. How big are the classes? Smaller is better. Classes of 4-6 dogs are ideal to start. Larger can be chaotic, even if there is more than one instructor. If they have 12 or more dogs in a large space, even with a second trainer, it probably isn't the class for you as you won't get enough personal interaction with the trainers and it is harder to see and hear and understand in larger classes with the instructor standing far away especially with poor acoustics. If this is the only option, start with private classes so you and your dog already know the behaviors before taking group classes. That way, you can work on using the class to add distractions, rather than having them work against you while learning new behaviors.
 
8. Get references and ask previous clients questions about the training process, effectiveness of the trainer, ability to adapt training to the person or family's special needs etc.
 
9. Use all of what you found and how you feel about the trainer to decide if s/he is a good match for you and your dog.
 
10. Book several classes and see how they go. Re-evaluate after the sessions are over. What progress did you and your dog make? How did you feel about the sessions?  Can you work with this trainer in the long run?
 
11. Keep your research records as you may need one trainer to help with the basics, another to help with the specific service tasks and still another to help as specific challenges crop up. If you learn to trust them, this gives you a support system to draw from.
 

While scientists do not yet understand the exact trigger* (see below) that dogs recognize to know a seizure is coming, they do know that the foundation of response training is simple: reward a behavior the dog does (pawing, grabbing sleeve, getting agitated in any way, barking, licking, etc) while the owner is having a seizure. This is called a conditioned response. A dog trained this way is called a seizure response dog, one that responds to the seizure as it is happening.

seizure alert dog is able to predict that the seizure is coming. Some dogs appear to have this as an innate ability while others can develop it. This is not something that can be trained so far as we know today. What may happen over time is the seizure response dog learns to look for smaller and smaller clues (whatever they are) to predict the seizure will happen so they can get rewarded sooner (an example is a dog that is fed on a regular schedule that starts 'asking' for supper earlier and earlier.) Some dogs can predict seizures up to 45 minutes in advance.
(Source: European Journal of Epilepsy Seizure Brown, Steven W, Dr. & Val Strong 1999)

BC Epilepsy Society defines the difference between the two dogs:

"Alert Dogs – are dogs that sense their owner is about to have a seizure and by exhibiting strange behavior (e.g. running in circles) let the owner know this so they may prepare themselves. They will stay with their owner and perform seizure assist duties as well. They can be trained to go for help as well..."
 
"Assist Dogs aka Seizure Response Dogs – gives a sense of security to their owner while having a seizure and perform medical assist duties if necessary..."


from: http://www.bcepilepsy.com/files/PDF/Information_Sheets/Seizure_Response_Dogs.pdf

Of course, training a seizure response dog is more complicated than simple behavior conditioning. In order to be a valid service dog in any jusidiction, the dog also needs to have all the foundation behaviors, such as basic obedience behaviors, being calm in public, ignoring distractions like food, kids, other dogs, cats, and people, plus it is recommended to have at least 3 specially-trained behaviors such as responding to the seizure by providing comfort, getting help, pressing an emergency alarm, dragging harmful objects away from the person as they are having a seizure, carrying information about the handler's medical condition, rolling them over to prevent airway blockages, blocking the person from falling down stairs, helping to re-orient the person as they come out of their seizure, helping the person to stand after a seizure (called bracing), guiding their disoriented person to a predetermined location for help, or reminding their person to take their medication regularly. 

Not all dogs seem to be able to predict seizures. Some studies suggest only 10-15% of dogs can alert to seizures before they occur. Success may depend on the type of seizures the owner  is having. Psychological seizures are induced by stress and epileptic seizures cause a change in the chemistry in the brain. For some seizure suffers, having an alert dog can lead to less frequent seizures. Further research still needs to be done in all these areas.

Even if a service dog does not learn to alert to a seizures, their handler can still benefit from the dog as s/he can stay with the person and comfort them as they recover (by laying beside them), lick them as they re-orient, or go get help as the seizure is happening (or the other tasks listed above). Of course, seizure response dogs offer constant emotional support as well.

Is it possible to train your own seizure response dog? Yes, if you have frequent seizures (I.e. your seizures are not being well-controlled by medication, some studies suggest once a month or more) and you have help from a person who can reward the dog while you are having a seizure (or you have regular access to a person who has seizures frequently.)

Update: A small group of individuals interested in testing what might be the biological cue for the dog to alert have discovered that it is likely something in the scent given off by a person who is about to have a seizure.

Here is what one of the members wrote me:
"Seizure Alert Project Phase
1: An empirical study of the capture, preservation and measurable use of seizure scent for training purposes
Anyway…….I firmly believe that 1) there IS an odor,
2) it can be captured and stored
3) the dogs can be trained to distinguish it and alert to it.
Just like every other scent driven alert, the difficulty in testing is locating donors and obtaining odor for training. "

Contact Lynn Shrove for more information on what they found. 

Here's an interesting article that shows behavioral and physical traits in a dog may predict his or her success as a service dog. Something to pay attention to when selecting your next dog! Front paw preference (right or left), eye preference (left or right is the more dominant one) and hair swirls (clockwise vs counter-clockwise) could be key in pre-determining the success of your canine partner as a your service dog. According the to the results of her study off 115 guide dogs, it could be key. 

According to the article, the perfect candidate for Guide Dog school would be right-pawed, left-eyed with an anti-clockwise whorl. 

Assuming the experimenter is correct about the use of dogs on the right side of the handler, left-handled handlers may be better to choose a right-eyed dog and train them to work off their right (as in heel on the right), which in left hand-drive countries, would be safer anyway since the dog would be away from traffic. 

Link to the article

A local service dog training organization has calculated the value of a certified service dog at CDN$80,000. Another in The US states US$55,000.  That is more than the value of most people's vehicles! 

Can you imagine a person letting their child run up to and jump in your car and demand a ride? You would be pretty upset if they did and probably tell the child off, or at the very least demand that the parent remove the child.

That is a pretty good analogy of what is happening when a child asks to pet a service dog. Unlike the car analogy, the result might be more disastrous than just delaying the driver a few minutes. The child is interfering with the dog's ability to medically assist the handler. That is the dog's job. All it takes is a momentary distraction for the dog to miss a medical alert, not be available to support their handler or not be there to block the person from moving forward.
 

That is why there are laws that protect service dogs from being interfered with by the public.

What A Member of the Public Can Do:
1. Talk to and look at the handler, not the dog. It's great to be friendly to people with disabilities!

2. Start up a conversation with them. Let them know you think their dog is pretty or quiet or doing a good job. Or that the weather has been nice recently.
They may be in a hurry or may have already greeted several other people that day so be ready for them to just thank you and move away. 

3. Look at the handler while you ask if you can interact with the dog. Be prepared for them to say "No". They may also ask if you can help them train their dog by interacting with the dog in a specific way. It is good to practice with your child that the handler might say no and you need to keep moving or smile and look away.

The service dog may be in training and greeting you, your child or your dog at that moment may set the dog back in that training. Ensure your child stays out of the dog's space and keeps his hands at his side. If you have a dog with you, keep your dog close to you on leash and well out of contact range of the service dog team if he is showing too much interest in the service dog. 

4. Keep your own opinions about the level of disability of the handler. Many disabilities are invisible. Examples of invisible disabilities are seizures, diabetes, anaphylactic allergies, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety.  

5. If you see that a service dog is causing a disturbance in public, move away and notify the manager of the store. Let them deal with it. They should ask the handler to control the dog. If after being given a chance to do so and they are not able to or make no attempt to control the service dog, then the manager can ask them to remove the dog. Members of the public cannot ask a service dog to leave. That would be considered interference with a service dog team.

Did you know that in BC, Canada there is up to a $3000 fine for anyone interfering with a service dog team? Or that a record and jail time is possible for doing so? There are similar laws all over the world. Please respect a service dog team!

Caroline Mitter has kindly allowed me to share this post with you about the process of becomming a team with her dog.

"I've been thinking about Cricket, including our recent outings and the status of the minor issues we've been working on, and I've made a decision that is largely symbolic in CA but emotionally important. 

Look, ma, no training tags!

       puppy cricket      cricket no training tags

Like Rani Aguirre, he's in the owner-trained service dog graduating class of summer 2017. I have sometimes referred to him as my service dog before now and he has met the ADA requirements for some time, but I've kept an "in training" patch on his work harness because I felt that there were some minor things that we needed to iron out and I wanted to be able to use the "in training" tags to remind everyone, especially myself, that he wasn't perfect.

He's still not perfect, he sometimes loses track of his neuron in group class, and we're still adding more tasks. However, he has really matured over the last few months and shown me that he is on point when it really matters. He can work without any reward besides my attention, pick up his leash and hand it to me instead of taking advantage under distracting conditions, and switch from play mode to work mode at the park if I need him. Despite his playfulness while off duty, he has been barked at and even charged by another dog in public with no reaction. He has worked some LONG days and nights in stressful situations, such as the UCDMC ER, and handled himself with aplomb on a recent trip to a friend's farm, complete with goats, chickens, and an overly friendly pony. 

He and I have gotten better at communicating with each other and I understand now that when he's restless, it's not a lack of training, it's that he has a need that hasn't been met or he's trying to tell me that *I* need to take care of myself. I've gotten to where I hesitate to leave the house without him. We'll keep working on keeping track of that neuron in group class and adding more tasks. Now that the weather is getting more reasonable outside and I have a bit more energy, I'm hoping to work more on tracking and preparation for other dog sports.

It's been a bit over 3 years since I first brought up the idea of getting a service dog with my mentors and family, which started with researching programs, deciding I would train a dog myself, and finding a breeder who was having a litter, then 2 years of puppy raising and training. It's not been a fast, cheap, or easy process by any means. I'm incredibly grateful to all those who have supported us along the way and who continue support our growth and development as a team - Linda Barter as matchmaker and puppy raising mentor; Kim Wurster as breeder of the best dog ever; Nancy Haverstock Abplanalp and Donna Hill as our primary professional training support; Sandra Walther as public access training buddy; Christy Corp-Minamiji and clan as second family who gave him stability when I was in the hospital for weeks; the UCD vet behavior team (I think Michelle Borchardt was the first one who told me I could do it); my online training mentors in crime, I mean, um, um (Patty Aguirre, Cheryl BloomKaren Johnson LawrenceJo ButlerCarol HallMicha Michlewicz, Lynn Shrove and many more); my family, who financially backed this questionable startup and took him on countless walks and dog park trips; all of the local people who helped socialize and puppy sit him; and of course his entire online fan club, who made me laugh and supported me when I was feeling down about training and life in general.

What Are the Best Learning Environments for Your Puppy?

Start in a familiar environment (at home with familiar people). Choose the basic skills you need your puppy to know. Don't flood him with too many behaviors.
One person teaches him one skill at a time.

Teach the basic behavior (either by capturing, luring or shaping). Wait to add the hand cue until the puppy is clear on what the final behavior is.

Take him to at least 4 more rooms in the house and reteach the behavior from the start. This helps him to learn exactly what the behavior is and what cues you use for him to know what you are asking (they might be your body position relative to him, a prop you might use, a hand signal, and lastly the verbal cues you might use.) Most dogs learn body language easiest as that is how they communicate with other dogs. Each room will have different distractions. The more behaviors you teach and the more locations, the faster the pup will relearn them. This is calling 'learning to generalize".

Next add some distractions like you clapping hands, turning around, placing treats on a nearby surface, and cue him to do the behavior. Start with low-level distractions and progress to higher level distractions. Progress to doing jumping jacks, jogging by him as you cue him etc. Get family members to help add distractions incrementally. Give them specific instructions of what you want them to do,

Next, start generalizing the behaviors to other slightly more distracting environments out of the home: the deck, back yard, front yard, driveway, sidewalk, park etc. Before you start each session though, give your puppy time to explore the new space. That will help him get the sniffies out of his system and to get comfortable in the environment before you start reteaching him.

Now it's time to think about adding the presence of strangers, other known dogs, swings swinging etc. Ask neighbors and friends to come over for puppy training sessions. Retrain the behaviors with them watching, then adding mild distractions.

Now the pup is ready for puppy class. Choose one that has a clear structure and does not offer free-for-all play sessions. The point of classes is to teach your puppy to work with you in the presence of the distractions. Get permission from the instructor to bring your puppy into the environment to sniff around before the other puppies arrive. That way he will be comfortable in the environment before the other puppies arrive. This is called "acclimating".

Take the class and participate with your puppy as she can do. You will find that she is already far ahead of other pups in class as the foundation for learning has been laid.

Once the classes are over, continue training more complex behaviors at home, then away from home as before.

Then sign up for adolescent classes and advanced distraction classes. Each time, your pup will be exposed to new dogs and people in class. Ideally, find different location to take classes.

Then start to work on behaviors in more public places where you have previously taken the puppy when you were socializing her as a small pup (up to 16 weeks). This lays the foundation for public access later on.

How to Use the Clicker to Shape my Dog's Behavior 

SDTI's training approach is based on this technique and is very effective for training dogs!

Your job is to find out what food or toy rewards are meaningful enough to your dog to make him want to play the game with you. And training really is a game to the dogs and you too!

Psychologist Skinner called the tiny steps in developing a new behavior “successive approximation” and he was right! If you reward really simple behaviors that are part of a more complex behavior, you can get the dog to change that behavior little by little into the more complex final behavior. The dog is “approximating” a behavior at first. Today we call this "'shaping".

Shaping a Behavior
If we first asked your dog to shut the door and just waited for the behavior to happen, we would be waiting a long time. So that method doesn’t work for this complex behavior. But by asking the dog to do a tiny bit of the behavior (touching the nose to the door), we now have the dog doing something that will lead to closing the door.

Next, we ask for a harder touch (as this will be needed to shut the door). Next, we can open the door a crack and ask him to push it closed. If he does not, we can get the dog to increase the behavior by simply waiting. Your dog will likely offer another touch, giving an extra hard push (as if to say, “Hey! Did you see that?”) and you click as he does so. If you reward him with a couple of treats, most dogs remember this and are more likely to do that same harder push again.

Practice at that level for a few clicks, then ask for a little more by opening the door slightly wider. And so on until the behavior is complete.

Have a look at the video to see how shaping is used to teach a dog to close a door.




A Written Plan
It is very helpful if you have a written plan of what the shaping might look like before you start training a task. Start by brainstorming: at the bottom of the page, write down the final behavior you want, then at the top, write down the first behavior you would think your dog might offer you. Most behaviors start with a sniff or a look in the right direction, the progress to a nose touch, paw or other foot movement etc.

Try to figure out what the steps would look like in between to get you there. Number them if it helps. You dog may not follow your plan, but at least you will have an idea of where to go with what he does offer you. If you get stuck, break each step down into 4 more micro steps. Make it as easy for him to take each small step as you can as this is how you can quickly progress to the more complex final behavior.

Jessie learned the basic idea of how to close a door in about 30 minutes of actual training time when she was about a year old. We had not done much shaping before this so it was new to her. I was cooking her treats on the BBQ and needed to take frequent breaks to check the meat. This was perfect as it gave her a chance to wander off and sniff, then she was eager to come back and try again. Perhaps she was processing the information she was learning.

For some dogs, shaping occurs quite quickly, while for others (especially the first few shaping exercises you do) each step may need to be broken down even simpler. The more experience a dog has with shaping, the more quickly the final behavior is offered. Now at almost 2 years, Jessie can move through a shaped exercise quite quickly and has the final behavior accomplished in record time (for her). 


For practice before trying to teach your dog to shut the door, try shaping a firm nose touch to a piece of tape on your hand. Then try moving the tape to the door. Your pointing finger becomes a target to help the dog to learn that you him/her to touch the tape.

What Else Can I Do with Shaping?
Now that you know how to shape, the world is your oyster! You can train your dog to do anything! Start with simple behaviors and progress to more complex ones. Starting with Object-based shaping where your dog interacts with a physical object such as a target, book, chair, box etc is much easier than non-object based shaping like swinging into a heel position or giving you eye contact in distracting environments.
 
Our 3 Foundation Skills Classes will take you and your dog through teaching the basic skills needed to teach your service dog the behaviors and process for public access and service dog tasks. Registration is open from the First Wednesday to the second Wednesday of each month. 
 
 

Choosing a Breed or breed mix for a Service Dog

Question: 

How do I choose a large breed dog for my needs? I was considering German Shepherd Dogs but have been advised against them for many reasons. I need a dog that is sensitive to me as I have anxiety.

Answer:

The key thing about any breed of dog is to choose one that matches your lifestyle. If a dog doesn't fit into your life, it won't work overall. 


Another thing to look at is what specific tasks are you hoping the dog will do for you. Obviously, the dog will need to be able to physically do the tasks and you want to choose one that can be sensitive enough to be connected. 

Any of the gun dog breeds generally could do well as they are sensitive and love to work with their person. A Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Short-Hair Pointer, Hungarian Vizsla or Brittany might be a few breeds to look at. A Standard Poodle might be another dog that is sensitive but level-headed.

One thing to be aware of is that in many breeds, there is a difference between the hunting lines and the conformation lines.  Look at the specific lines they come from and what they have been bred to do and what titles they have. Hunting lines alone tend to need more exercise than those from conformation lines. A great example of this is the Golden Retreiver. There are field lines can be very high energy dogs who need much daily exercise, and then there are conformation Goldens like the dog off "Homeward Bound, The Incredible Journey" with Michael J Fox who are more laid back for both exercise and temperament. I've had two of the latter and they were wonderful family pets and made great therapy dogs as they loved people and were sensitive to their moods. 


Another thing to consider is to look at how the general public views the breed. This dog will be at your side in public and will affect how the public, managers, and co-workers interact with you.  A friend of mine noticed that people were much more friendly, helpful and tolerant of her needs when she retired her Belgian Malinois and got a yellow labrador. She felt they were uncomfortable with the Malinois as it was a protection breed. He was actually a very people social dog but people's perspectives do affect their interactions. If you get an unusual breed, you will be stopped frequently to be asked "What kind of dog is that?" which you may or may not be comfortable or have time to do.

Go meet the actual breeds! 

Go to dog shows and meet breeders of your chosen breeds. Talk to them, interact with the adult dogs.

Find out if they possess the characteristics you need in a service dog and if you could live with the general nature, grooming needs, exercise etc of the breed. What are the pros, cones and health issues of the breed for your specific needs?

Find average people who live with the breed and talk to them. Arrange to see the dogs at home and away from home. Check out dogs at dog parks and talk to the people who accompany them. Observe how attuned to their person they are. Find out what the person likes and dislikes about the breed and their specific dog. Even within breed lines, each individual dog can vary quite a bit in his or her attentiveness, sensitivity, awareness etc. so choosing a breed doesn't ensure that you will get the dog you are hoping for. It comes down the individual choice of the pup. Check out a previous post on temperament tests of young adult dogs and puppies.

Allow yourself at least 6 months to find a pup or adult dog. Allow longer if you live in an area with lower numbers of breeds or dogs in general.

A BIG TIP:
If at all possible, go to see the adult dogs you will be getting a puppy from. Breeders interpretations of what you are looking for and what you actually get may be very different things.Their definition of 'sensitive' or 'low exercise needs' may not be the same as yours. If you see the adult dogs in real life, you can judge for yourself if you can live with the characteristics their lines have in them. Just because a breeder has had a few dogs trained and used as service dogs does not mean they actually understand your specific needs (especially since there is such a wide variety of types of service dogs) or can select a pup for you without ever meeting you. Since you are going to be investing so much time, money and energy in this pup, it is wise to arrange a visit with the parents, even if it costs you money on travel and an overnight stay or even a flight.  Basically, this may limit you to pups that are within a days drive but at the very least, start there. Shipping a pup during the fear period can set her way back in confidence and socialization. Ideally, if you can go get her and bring her home, you can start the bond on the journey home.

Friday, 01 September 2017 09:40

Answers to Video Observations

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Answers to Video Observations

 
Here is a list of behaviors that can be observed from the previous videos.
You may see more than this!

1. Grinning Dog

Laying down
Head dip
Ears flatten
Front legs shifted
Tail wag
Straightens body
Smile
Fold left leg under
Looks at ground (or shoes?)
Licking lips
Shakes head
Stands up
Shakes body
Looks at owner (with eye contact)
Licks lips
Bows
Smiles
Shakes body
Blows his cheeks out
Dips his head
Smiles
Briefly stands still
Licks lips

(In case you are interested, many of these are calming behaviors meant to calm both the dog himself and the owner. The behavior context is that the owner just came home from being away at work. The dog could also be offering the behaviors in response to seeing the video camera.)

2. Dog Doing Nothing

Dog runs to edge of bed
Sniffs camera
Lays down
Looks to left
Opens mouth
Looks to right
Lays down
Raises left paw
Looks to left
Blinks
Sniffs
Looks Straight
Dips chin
Folds ears back
Licks mouth
Eyes look to right
Opens mouth
Looks to left
Lifts head
Ears perk up
Moves jaw
Drops head
Rotates ears
Opens and closes mouth a few times
Pants
Lifts head
Stops panting (as camera approaches)
Looks directly into camera
Sniffs

That’s a lot for doing nothing! 30 (or more) behaviors!

3. Papillion close up

Moves head to left
Rotates eyes to left
Moves chin down
Looks down
Looks back at camera
Moves head back towards camera
Sniffs camera
Opens eyes wider
Looks to left
Moves chin down to left
Looks back at camera (as camera pans away)
Lifts head slightly
Turns head to right away from camera
Rotates ears away from camera
Looks back at camera
Blinks
Looks down as turns head past and away from camera to left (avoids eye contact)
Looks down
Looks up past camera
Blinks
Turns eyes
Looks down and up


So, what did you learn from watching the dogs behaviors in these videos?

Hopefully, that dogs offer many clickable behaviors all day long. We trainers just have to improve our observation skills and our clicker timing to be able to capture them to use them to shape behaviors we desire!
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