Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start training a dog to pull you in a harness or brace you while walking.

How old is your dog? Make sure she is at least 18 mos to 2 years (for the giant breeds) before you start training her to pull/brace for real. Joints can be permanently affected if training starts too young (before the growth plates have closed), the dog gets injured, or if the pulling/bracing is too strenuous or prolonged during this stage.

Is your dog physically large enough to do the required pulling? Take into consideration the weight of both the wheelchair and yourself. The height and stockiness of the dog may affect her pulling capacity. A shorter stocky wide dog may do better than a tall lanky finer-boned dog for the same breed. On the other hand, if you also need the dog for bracing, taller broader dogs do better as they have the height and width to be more stable for bracing.

Has your dog had her elbows and hips checked (OFA ratings or radiologist readings) to make sure she is structurally sound? Heart, lungs, spine, legs are all impacted as well. 

What will she be pulling and how much weight? There is no magic height or weight ratio for pulling. It depends on their dog's bone structure and amount of weight. Lightly-built (fine-boned or low muscle weight) dogs should not be pulling at all.

How much of the time will she be pulling a chair? (occasionally or quite often will help you determine the right harness).  
To balance the weight evenly and most efficiently a dog should be pulling forward, not on an angle. Pulling from the side puts undue stress on the shoulders results in uneven muscle build up, tendon damage, early arthritis and other health issues. These dogs are typically retired quite young due to this. Using a proper pulling harness (think a sled dog harness) reduces the amount of pressure to a more acceptable level and balances muscle development.

Take time to build up your dog's endurance for pulling. Just like a sport, there needs to be a careful plan for building up your dog's ability to pull weight both the amount of weight and endurance. 

Harnesses that go around under the belly and around in front of the chest are designed only for very occasional use and not for heavy pulling such as up inclines.  

Harnesses that are have a band between the front legs (sometimes in the shape of a Y) and multiple contact points to the body to spread the pressure and are usually quite stiff to give her body support for longer term and heavy duty pulling. 

If the dog is required to pull much of the time, you may need to consider an electric chair as pulling can be very hard on the dog's body.

If you have a giant breed, are harnesses made large enough or will you have to get a custom job? That will add to your cost.

Before you buy, check out several options, try them on if possible and do your research on the requirements of the pulling/bracing job and impacts on the dog.

Contact a dog sport expert or physiotherapist to have your dog assessed for pulling and to create a detailed training plan. Also do regular follow ups (6 mos) to check your dog's physical and structural health.

Since many people have Golden Retrievers as their service dog, I thought I would include this study. Interestingly, my previous Golden was spayed at 7 mos and was definitely longer-legged than her siblings who were not (conformation dogs). She lived to 12.5 years with no health issues until the very end she had an undiagnosed tumour in one of her nails. We had the toe removed. She died of a multiple back to back heart attacks a few months later.

http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10498

If you remember back in history to the days of castrated male choir boys (called castrati), you may remember that in all the pictures, the boy were very tall and thin. This is because when the testosterone is removed at a young age before they have stopped growing, it is not present to tell the bones to stop growing at the normal age. Their bones ended up being longer and thinner than they would have otherwise been so they ended up being taller too. This also resulted in the rib bones being longer which meant a greater lung capacity. That was good for singers. Of course the lack of testosterone affected their voice box too so they had much higher voices for singing and their voices never deepened as a normal teens would. 

While the study was done specifically for seeing eye dogs, the finding applies to handlers with mobility/brace dogs.  This study which suggests rigid harnesses put more physical stress on a dog's body than flexible harnesses, especially on the lower right side of the chest.

(One would think which side gets more pressure would vary depending on which side is the handler's dominant side and which side of the handler the dog is on.) Our dog's physical health and safety is worth looking into.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140102112237.htm
 

Many people consider getting a Golden Doodle or other poodle mix. I recently discovered a great book approved by the Gold Doodle Association of North America. It is a fantastic book that provides a great overview of Golden Doodles! I recommend reading it BEFORE you line up a breeder or put a deposit down on a puppy.
 
It is clear that Golden Doodles and other poodle mixes are mixed breed dogs. They are not recognized as a "breed" by any organization. 
Any other breed mixed in can be called a Golden Doodle. 
They explain the F1, F2b etc.
Buying from a responsible breeder is key to getting the health, temperament and activity level that will best suit your lifestyle.
Check out breeders who are members or who follow the GANA code of ethics for breeding. They must do specific health tests on each parent. The parent dogs must be 2 years of age and not be bred after 7 years of age. 

That there are four coat types: flat, straight, wavy and curled.
Straight and Wavy are the most desirable. Flat are the same as Golden retrievers (shedding) and curly is like poodle but often heavier (and requires more work to maintain and mat often if not brushed out daily).

There are different sizes. They have different temperaments due to different sizes of poodles being used as the parent breed. (Standard, moyen, toy and mini)

There is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. Hypo means "low" allergies, not "no" allergies.
People can be allergic to the proteins in the saliva, urine and/or on the dander of dogs.

There is a new test that can be done for the gene for an incorrect coat type (which is recessive). If breeders know if their dogs carry it they can breed accordingly to improve the probability of getting more of the desired non-shedding coats.

Doodles should not be washed any more often than once a month or the dog's skin may dry out and it triggers skin issues.

They are prone to many diseases common to both breeds, most of which can be tested for:

hip dysplasia
elbow dysplasia
eyes
Von Willibrands disease (blood doesn't clot properly)
in the minis: luxating patellas

diabetes
cancer
hypothyroid
seizures
bloat

Puppies should not go to their new homes until at least 8 weeks of age (This is written in state laws in most states).

Golden Doodles may vary in the amount of energy/drive and exercise they need depending on what lines the parent breeds are from. Generally, lines from hunting/sport may have more energy. Conformation/show lines may have less. (English lines may have lower energy needs than American sport lines.)

That positive reinforcement is best for training a doodle.

The book: (also available on Kindle as an e-book)
The GoldenDoodle Handbook Linda Whitwam 2016

GANA Member Breeders

There is also a Labradoodle club but the breeders ethics is optional to membership so do your due diligence when talking with the breeder to make sure to see the results of the health tests. Note that the temperament of the Labradoodle is different than a Goldendoodle due to the parent breeds being different breeds.

Note: They recommend that the breeders use the Volhard Puppy Aptitude test. Many research papers have found that such tests are not a predictor of the future temperament or personality of a dog but instead more of a reflection of what the breeder has already done with the individual pup.

Some breeders also will have the pups spayed or neutered prior to going home with their families. Others will ask for proof of spay or neuter at one year of age. If you plan to use the dog as a your service dog, males should be kept intact until at least one year or age and female s 18 mos. This is to prevent the full normal bone development to occur before the hormones are removed. Removing the hormones (especially testosterone in males) can result in longer thinner bone structure, increased risk of cancer and hypothyroid diseases etc. See our other blog posts on this. Extensive research has been done on both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds on the juvenile spay or neuter topic. 


The bottom line is because teaching with positive reinforcement works effectively and quickly and no physical force is needed. Several service training organizations have switched over to positive reinforcement and have found their graduation success rate has increased from 50-60% to 80-90%. Others have found the length of training time had declined (from as much as 18 months to 6 months depending on the skills required of the dog).

Positive Reinforcement can be done at a distance (via capturing behaviors and shaping). You don't have to be within arm's distance of your dog so it works well for people with mobility issues and those in wheelchairs.

Positive training creates a dog that thinks about what behavior is wanted and needed in a specific environment. It teaches dogs what TO do, rather than just teaching them what not to do. In a service dog, you do not want a doormat. You do want a thinking partner at your side. ]

Dogs work for what motivates them. They must eat. Food is motivating.  Using something that are willing to work for is a smart approach. Why not have them work for their meal? It makes their life more meaningful than just delivering the dish to them.

Note about dogs that don't enjoy eating: They have been trained to do that. Because food is a requirement for survival, it it unusual to find a dog that does not want food unless they have a medical condition (usually related to their GI tract) or are highly stressed (which means they wouldn't make a good SD candidate). They can be re-trained to like food. This may require you to re-examine your definition of dog food and how you use it.

Food isn't the only thing that can be used for positive training. Toys can be added after the basic behaviors have been taught. Things your dog really wants (such as going out, sniffing, chasing, greeting people, going for a walk etc) and games your dog enjoys can be used to positively reinforce desired behaviors as well.

Using the principles of positive reinforcement builds a fabulous trusting bond between you and the dog. There is no fear involved.

Shifting to a positive-based training philosophy will change your life. Your daily stress level will lower when you are looking for the great things your dog is doing, rather than focussing on what he is doing wrong.  Learning that you create the social and emotional environment and choose the physical environment your dog lives and works in and the impacts it has on their dog (and others around them)  is eye opening for most people!

You can apply the same principle to your interactions with family and caregivers to create a more positive atmosphere in what is usually stressful. If you are living with a disability, why make it harder than it needs to be?