Not all labs are equal.
Temperament and health problems are linked to the genetics of the 'silver' labs.
Interestingly, the few I have met locally all have had either skin issues or been over reactive dogs. Are you willing to put that much time and energy into a dog with health and temperament issues that may not make the grade as a service dog?
Do you research before you make your selection. Genetics are important!
In many parts of the world, a service dog is considered a valuable caregiver and are actually paid. The fee covered food and toys for the dog and saves the health system up to 29,000 pounds a year for a human caregiver.
And costs incurred may also be a deduction for income tax purposes for the handler in some countries. Check into it in your country.
In Canada, typically it is only the costs to maintain service dogs provided by non-profit societies that can be deducted, but save your receipts and ask your tax man in case the laws have changed in the last year.
In the US, you can deduct the costs for an owner-trained service or assistance dog (but not an emotional support dog or therapy dog).
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.
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.
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.
Regional Training Associations such as:
Vancouver Island Animal Training Assoc (VIATA) in BC
International Training Organizations
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.
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?
m) Can they tell you what under threshold, counter conditioning, systematic desensitization, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT), Look at That (LAT) mean?
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.
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.
A 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:
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.
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!
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 Bloom, Karen Johnson Lawrence, Jo Butler, Carol Hall, Micha 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
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.
Choosing a Breed or breed mix for a Service Dog
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.
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.
Answers to Video Observations
You may see more than this!
1. Grinning Dog
Front legs shifted
Fold left leg under
Looks at ground (or shoes?)
Looks at owner (with eye contact)
Blows his cheeks out
Dips his head
Briefly stands still
(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
Looks to left
Looks to right
Raises left paw
Looks to left
Folds ears back
Eyes look to right
Looks to left
Ears perk up
Opens and closes mouth a few times
Stops panting (as camera approaches)
Looks directly into camera
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 back at camera
Moves head back towards 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
Looks down as turns head past and away from camera to left (avoids eye contact)
Looks up past camera
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!
Hone Your Observations Skills!
Practice Without Your Dog
Take a break during a walk to sit where you can see people and their dogs walking by. Choose a behavior and watch for clickable behaviors in the stranger’s dogs. A clickable behavior is any behavior that the dog does is part of or shaping towards a specific desired. For example, greeting a person politely. Watch that dog closely and use your pointer finger as a pretend clicker and tap it on your leg when you observe any behavior that is part of greeting a person politely. They might include sniffing an offered hand, dropping head when approaching, sitting when approaching, looking away, looking back at their handler, standing calmly after approach etc.
Any behavior is fair game, including mouth movements, more subtle body movements, etc. When you have tried this on three or four dogs, count how many clickable behaviors another dog does. You might be amazed!
To continue your practice, start looking for more subtle behaviors. Watch what a dog does with his eyes and ears. If you watch your own dog closely you can start picking out blinking, relaxed eyes, wide eyes, pupils dilating during play, subtle breathing patterns, muscles relaxing or tightening and much more. For some training situations, you may need to click these as a tiny step in the start of shaping the direction of the new behavior.
You can also watch videos or DVD's of dogs to see how many behaviors they actually do offer that could be clicked! As you learn the bigger behaviors, such as scratching, yawning etc, you can start looking for smaller behaviors. The more subtle behaviors may be hard to see in videos so that’s why watching real dogs up close is best.
Watch these short video clips and make a list of how many different behaviors you can observe. Turn off the audio so it doesn’t distract you. For a list of behaviors that can be observed, see the next blog post.
1. Grinning Dog
2. Dog ‘Doing Nothing’ (according to the owner)
3. Papillion close up
4. Daxie head pictures look for more subtle behaviors
Dogs Do Behaviors All the Time.
Some behaviors are for movement, some are for communication with other dogs and humans, some express emotions, some are just dog behaviors! Most behaviors are clickable in the training context. As your powers of observation improve, you’ll be able to capture not only head turns, chin dips, and tightening muscles, but even eye movements!
(Aside: If you are interested in learning what many of these behaviors mean, you can read books such as “On Talking Terms with Dogs” by Turid Rugaas which explain the meaning and context of social interaction behaviors and help you understand dogs better.)
Starting your puppy out right can make a high difference in both his progress and the final outcome. Every potential service dog needs a solid basis for dog and human socialization and environmental enrichment. The 8-16 week when they first come home covers two socialization sensitive periods and is a critical time to start developing social skills with other dogs and people. Use it wisely.
Look around at your local classes. Visit a class or two by a couple of different trainers before you join them. Ask if they have had other SD candidates in class and then ask for their reference info so you can talk to them.
Choosing a puppy class to take your service dog pup to can be made easy if you have some criterion in mind. Use the list below to see if the class will meet most of your needs for your service dog candidate. It is unlikely that any one trainer will met all the criterion, but the list will help you make your best choice. Feel free to sign up for more than one if the trainer only offers one a week or is missing any key criterion that another class may offer. Above all, be prepared to be your puppy's advocate and be careful to keep all experiences positive. Ask questions about what is the basis of a specific behaviour if it is not obvious to you or if you have concerns. You have the right to obtain (keep your puppy safe) during parts of training you don't agree with. Get him to do other known behaviours during those periods to keep him busy and use the time effectively.
The bottom line is that you are looking for a class that focusses on using the other puppies not only for socialization to continue dog language and bite inhibition skills, but as a distraction that he can be called away from and do other behaviours in their presence. A class that lets the puppies play for long periods, without frequent call aways and then ends only teaches the puppies to be more focussed on the other puppies.
Feel free to print off this page as a handout to give to your trainer to help her understand your needs better. All puppies will benefit, not just service dog candidates.
Name of trainer: _________________________ website: _______________________________
Address: Location: ________________________________ city: _________________________
Contact info: phone:_________________________ email:_______________________________
How to Choose a Puppy Class for Your Service Dog Candidate
Look for a Class Where:
___1. The trainers focus on simple ways of getting behaviors such as luring with food or capturing with a marker sound to start with, then shaping with slightly older puppies. Force should not be used (pushing a puppy into a sit or down or pulling on the leash).
___2. The puppies are paired off for short spurts of play, then rotate partners. This allows the pups to learn to interact with other puppies of different sizes, fur length and shape and energy levels.
1:1 allows the humans to gently intervene before things get out of hand. In small rooms, baby gates or Xpen dividers are helpful to keep the pairs apart. Trios can be allowed if each puppy has been successful interactions with the other two singly first.
___3. The humans are on their feet and interacting with their pups (not sitting on the sidelines). Premack Principle should be used during interactions. This means that the puppies learn some simple behaviors like eye contact, sit or nose target to a hand, then allowed to play with a partner for a few minutes, then are called away and asked to do a simple behavior, given a reward then sent back to play with their buddy. This teaches them good behavior patterns such as coming away from another dog and focussing on her handler despite the distraction of other dogs. This must happen right from the start.
___4. The trainers teach you about dog body language and what the most common behaviors mean. How do you know when the puppy is not feeling comfortable and when you need to redirect their attention or intervene.
___5. Class is short (45 min or so). Longer sessions are not desirable. In fact, shorter is better as there is better chance of positive experiences for the puppy. Young puppies get tired quickly.
___6. Handlers start learning without the puppies. The human handlers need to learn the theory and practice before applying it on their dog. They need a chance to focus without the distraction of the puppy. This can occur in a human-only session before class starts, and also at the beginning of each class. 10-15 minutes is enough to teach you what you will be doing in class as well as set up the handling expectations for each class and where your starting spot will be. Then you go get your puppy. A family member or friend can be waiting in the car or outside with your pup.
___7. The trainers provide a variety of different environmental enrichment opportunities each session. This could be different flooring, things to crawl over, under and around, hanging things, sounds playing in the background, things commonly seen in life (crutches, canes, children, ladders, wheelchairs or strollers etc)
___8. Children are welcome in class but are supervised by a teen or adult whose sole job is to work with the child on interacting with the puppies. A great opportunity, but needs to be structured.
___9. The puppies are all in a narrow developmental range 8-16 weeks, and are highly supervised. Ideally, at first small puppies should be matched by size, at least until they gain confidence and care with puppies of a different size and developmental stages.
___10. Class has a maximum of 6 puppies of different breeds, shapes, colors and sizes. 4 is ideal. Even if there is a higher trainer to pup ratio, too many puppies is too many puppies to keep track of and the sheer chaos of more than 3 pairs is hard for the puppy and handler to focus in.
___11. Puppies are off leash for the class. This requires a room of decent size so each handler puppy pair has enough room to train.
___12. That puppies are allowed to just sit and watch if that is where they are at. Let them decide when they are ready to interact. They should not be forced to interact. Give them time to assess the situation and that choice helps them to gain confidence.
___13. More frequent sessions are ideal. A trainer who offers drop in classes (with limited group size and consistent handling expectations) many times a week is great. The more frequent the brief exposure to different puppies, rooms and environmental enrichment the better.
___14. The trainer follows a regular room cleaning protocol to prevent the spread of disease. Since puppies may start classes at 8.5 weeks, all of them should have their first set of inoculations.
From: Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs Blog www.servicedogtraininginstitute.ca 2015
Here's a video that shows a well-run small class of 3 pups.