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What Are the Standard Behaviors and Cues for a Service Dog?


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Going Back into Public

As restrictions are easing in many jurisdictions, we want to remind you to take a planned approach to exposing your dog to distractions. 

Even if you have been keeping up your service dog’s training and skills at home (which is great!), you need to remember that the dogs can easily get overwhelmed if they are not exposed to distractions regularly. 

What this might look like for your dog:
-inability to focus on you or tasks
-inability to relax
-pulling on leash
-staring at moving objects or sounds
-barking at other people or other dogs
-fear of changes in the environment
-sniffing the ground, merchandise or the air

What You Can Do:

Go back to the beginning and do training at your dog’s pace. Start at home, in the yard, then at the edge of the yard, then on the sidewalk. 

If you must drive to the training location, even the car ride might be very exciting for your dog. 

Create a gradual desensitization plan to gradually expose your dog to things he had been exposed to in the past. 

Use acclimation. Acclimation is standing still (you anchored to a spot that you think your dog can quickly adapt to the distraction level) giving your dog a limited area to explore (such as the length of the leash) and letting her explore the environment by looking, listening and sniffing in that specific space. Wait until until she is calm and focussed enough to offer default behaviours like an un-cued look at you. Capture as many of those as you need to until your dog shows you she wants to train. 

Next, try some simple nose targets, sits and downs to see if she can respond and how calmly she responds. Only when her focus is 90% on you, can you take a step towards a more distracting location and repeat. 

If she is hanging on the end of the leash, let her look, listen and sniff again until she defaults back to you. Repeat taking one step at a time closer to noise, movement or scents that interest your dog.

If she reacts with anything other than general interest (gets overexcited, whines barks or pulls), that means you have chosen a location that has too high of a distraction. Move to a lower distraction location and try again. 

Keep sessions short (5 minutes) at first, and do only a few a day. Later you can increase the length of the sessions and the the number of them separately. It may take several weeks for your dog to get back to ignoring distractions as she did before COVID 19. Carefully choose your training destinations to gradually increase the distraction level. This sets your dog up for success!

If you need help, remember that both Jenn and Donna are available for one hour web cam sessions to help you plan and start reintegration and offer 3x 30 min weekly sessions to help you implement it.

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.

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. 

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.

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


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.