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Many people talk about “Intelligent Disobedience" in a service dog. What is it and how does does it different from a “Default Behavior"?

 
Intelligent disobedience is when a dog ignores a trained verbal or body cue or hand signal given by the handler and instead does a different behavior that is for the greater good of the handler.  
 
A commonly cited example is when a blind person gives the “Forward’ cue to her guide dog at a crosswalk but the dog steps in front of the handler and blocks her from moving forward because there is a car still moving towards the team.
Intelligent disobedience is generally wanted at all times since it benefits the handler is some way (otherwise they would not call it “intelligent” LOL!).
 
A "Default Behaviour” is a trained behaviour that a dog does:
  • when he has not been cued to do a specific behaviour
  • he’s uncertain of what other behaviour might be wanted from him
  • when he wants or needs something  
 
A default behavior is done when the dog hasn’t been told what to do and uses the environment to try a behavior that has worked in the past to get reinforced. 
 
One example of a default behavior is the dog making eye contact to check with the handler to see what cue the handler might give the dog. Another example is the dog sitting or laying down when the handler has stopped for a few minutes to talk to neighbour on a walk. Or ignoring a dropped bit of food on the ground.
 
Default behaviors may be wanted by the handler in some situations and not in others. For example, a handler may want a default sit or settle when they stop and talk to the neighbor but not when they stop before crossing a street. 
 
Default behaviors can be desirable or undesirable behaviours. Whatever behavior has worked for the dog in the past can become a default behavior. The key is that behavior has been reinforced in some way. Eye contact, sit and down are common desirable default behaviors. Jumping up to greet another person or pulling on leash to get toward a distraction are examples of undesirable default behaviours.
 
Think of such a default behaviour as a fall back behavior. In any situation when a dog is not cued what to do, a default behavior is what your dog guesses the might be the preferred behavior that is most likely to get reinforced. What behavior does your dog do most often when you are n a situation and you don’t give him a verbal cue, hand signal or other cue? 
 
 

Intelligent Disobedience or Default Behavior? 

When an untrained dog ignores the cue to stop jumping all over the handler when the handler’s blood sugar levels drop, which of the two options is he demonstrating? The handler doesn’t understand why the dog is suddenly climbing all over her and wants it to stop. The dog is persistent as long as the blood sugar continues to drop if the handler does nothing to mitigate the sugar drop.
 
Think about that for a minute before reading below for the answer.
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It depends! If the dog has been taught that the dropping blood sugar levels is cause for concern and the dog has been taught to jump on the handler as a way to get her attention and get her to take action to stop the blood usage drop by eating some sugar, and ignores other cues to sit or lay down, then it would be considered “intelligent disobedience”.
 
If the dog has climbed/jumped on the handler in the past in other situations and (unintentionally) gotten reinforced for it by getting interaction with the handler and the dog senses the blood sugar drop but doesn’t know how else to communicate it to the handler, then I would suggest the jumping is a default behavior.
 

Default Behaviors Can be Taught 

If you would like to learn how to teach your dog default behaviors rather than having to cue every behavior as you go about your day, please consider joining our program. We teach you to teach your dog default behaviors from the start and how to build them into daily living. Let the dog do some thinking and take the load off you! 

 

Is a Hands-free Leash The Right Tool for You and Your Service Dog?

 
Some service dog handler’s prefer to use a leash they don’t have to hold in their hands. Some benefits for the handler include having your hands-free to hold other objects, manipulate crutches or walker or to hold the clicker and deliver treats. But, using one may not be in the long-term best interests of your dog. 
 

Hands-Free Leash is NOT a Training Tool


The first thing you need to understand is that a hands-free leash is not a training tool. Training tools are used to teach the dog a new behavior, then faded as quickly as possible once the dog understands and has generalized the behavior.  A hands-free leash should only be used AFTER the dog has been taught to reliably walk close to the handler and keeping the leash loose. 

 
Let’s dig into what a hands-free leash is to find out more. There are two kinds of hands-free leash: a shoulder leash that loops over one shoulder and clips on the dog’s harness on one side of the handler, and a waist leash which goes around the handler’s waist and clips on the harness. We do not recommend the use of collars for leash attachment due to the real possibility of injury to a dog’s back and neck even after the dog is trained to walk well.
 

Some Challenges When Using a Hands-free Leash 

*Finding just the right standard length of leash for the specific dog can be tricky. If it’s left too long, the handler or dog may get tangled in it, trip on it or it gets caught under wheels (for a wheelchair). If too short, the dog has only a small space to move and small margin of error before he gets pulled by the leash. The dog then has to be hyperaware of where he is in space. This is mentally stressful especially when worn for long periods.
*Most hands-free leashes have set lengths so are not adaptable to the ideal length for you and your dog.
*Most leashes too heavy. To adjust the length, some handlers double up a part of the leash but they add unnecessary extra weight (in the case where the leash has rings to allow shortening).
As a result the dog either trend to learn to ignore pressure (pull) or become sensitized to it (hyper-aware). He also may move in and out of a safe position for them both such a crossing behind or in front of the handler.
The bungy type leashes attached to the hands-free part are heavy. A lighter thinner leash is better to communicate with your dog and help him be aware of pressure changes.
*A waist leash can be hard to twist around your body if you are wearing multiple layers. Dogs will need to move around you at some point and you may need to unclip the leash to get it back into a good position.  
*Waist leashes are not suitable for people wth lower back issues as that is where the waist part of the leash rests and pulls. This is especially true for handlers with large dogs.
*Shoulder leashes are not suitable for people with shoulder or neck issues as that is where the leash rests and pulls. This is especially true for handlers with large dogs.
*If hip padding is added for handler comfort, that adds weight and is harder to rotate around your body.
handle in the middle of the leash adds weight
*The dog gets a harder jerk when you stop or change directions suddenly on a waist leash than if you are holding a leash. Your arms gives more gradual direction to your dog.
*There is a limitation to the weight of the dog attached to the hands-free leash. A large dog may drag you if you can't release the leash.
*The handler will still need to manipulate the hands-free leash in some situations. The manipulation will just be different than for a hand-held leash. 
*Some leashes have a quick release. These malfunction or get released when you don't intent it to and your dog is running free when you don’t want him to be. 
 

Hands-Free Leashes Condition Handlers To Not Pay Attention to Their Dogs Needs as They Move

The biggest challenge to using a hands-free leash is that having the leash attached to the shoulder or waist removes the more subtle communication that holding the leash in your hands allows. This usually results in the handler not paying attention to the dog or his needs as he moves along. The dog receives no subtle information about direction, speed or changes or enough time to make those changes like he would with proper leash handling. This adds stress to the dog’s daily job of helping the handler.


What Situations Can a Hands-Free Leash Be Useful?

With service dogs, there are some situations where a hands-free leash can be helpful such as hand dexterity limitations or attaching the leash to a wheelchair.

Some tips for these situations:  
*Make sure you dog can move normally. If you notice a “pace” gait then your dog is likely feeling restricted. A pace gait is when the two legs on the same side move together in the same direction. Dogs will often use it when they are tired or cannot match your speed. In this case, a speed that is comfortable for you may be too slow for your dog's natural trot but too fast for their walk.
*Use a slightly longer leash, not shorter, to give the dog more freedom. 
*Experiment with where you attach the leash to the dog’s equipment. Attaching the leash to the back clip of a walking harness may work better than attaching it to the front loop.
*Find a way to lift the leash when needed to prevent tangling (if the handler is able to use their hand or arm to lift it for example).
*Make sure the leash is attached to a secure attachment location on the wheelchair that is safe and prevents leash tangling. For heavy electric wheelchairs this may even be a proper bicycle attachment that attaches to the side or back of the chair.
*Specifically teach your dog how to deal with obstacles such as posts and poles when on leash.
*Stop and remove the leash from hands-free attachment in situations where the dog needs more length to move such as a wheelchair going through a doorway or loading into vehicle. This might mean attaching the leash in another location for better mobility in that situation.
*Give the dog frequent breaks from the hands-free leash. Stop and either lengthen or unlatch the leash to give the dog more space to move around to potty, sniff and be a dog.

 
Summary

Hands-free leashes are best used in specific situations and for short periods. Like all other behaviors, teach the dog to walk on a loose leash, add fluency to the leash walking behavior, generalize it to a variety of locations, and do maintainance training. Specific desensitization needs to be done for higher level distractions (other dogs, people, vehicles, road grates etc) that you may encounter while leashed before asking the dog to generally ignore them as he moves past them with you. Only then is it wise to add a hands-free leash to the situation.

 
Life Hack: Try Before You Buy
If you want to try a hands-free leash before buying one, use an old belt or the belt from a treat pouch and tie your regular leash to the belt. Or attach the leash to the waist belt via a carabiner clip. Experiment with the length  before you start. Then set up some obstacles to move around (cones or chairs for example). Pay attention to how your dog does without your hands guiding the leash or taking up the slack.

 

Dealing with Children in Public 

 
When you are out in public and training your service dog (or SDit) people (especially kids) can and will do many unexpected things. Unexpected, that is, unless you’ve already had some exposure to what they can do.
 
In these situations of unwanted interactions, you need to be your dog’s advocate and protector. 
 
From polite inquiries if they can pet your dog to abusive people trying to run your dog over with a  shopping cart, protecting your service dog should be your first priority. Of course how you are feeling that day will affect if or not and how you choose to interact with others people in any given situation. If you are feeling up to it-go for it! Educating people about your rights and their responsibilities is just part of the challenge of having a service dog. 
 
Below are tips to handle unwanted situations. 
 

1. Eye Contact

 
Eye contact is key in every interaction as that tells the other person that you know they are there.  This is key to getting their cooperation and using your facial language to communicate without saying a word. Think of what a “Mom look” (bit of a frown, using an unwavering stare to look directly at them, mouth pursed) can do to control children and even other adults! (Google it. It’s a thing!) Use it to your advantage. Alternatively, the  sarcastic “Really? with eye brows raised can also get their attention that you mean business. 
 
A polite inquiry from a child to pet your dog might give you a fleeting glance at you as they move in for the pat. This is the instant that you need to take advantage of for your communication. A smile is reassuring and says "Yes, go ahead!" A “No, she working” can stop a compliant child in their tracks. If they glance up and see a frown from or wide open eyes, most will hesitate. Your worried look about the interaction in that second is social referencing. And is your chance to either engage with them, turn toward your dog or even move away from them. 
 
Ignoring Them After Initial Eye Contact
 
Turning your attention from them to your dog can be very powerful as it is a clear message in body language that you wish to disengage or are focussed on something else. Turning to the side to face your dog is even a stronger message. 
 
At the same time, avoiding eye contact from the start for any interaction usually sends a message of fear and can trigger bullies to target you. 
 

2. Talk To Your Dog, Not Them

 
If you choose to turn to your dog, and perhaps are not confident in talking with strangers, talk to your dog and explain the situation. “I know that child wants to pet you but you need to keep focussing on me so you can do your job. That was so nice of them to ask though.” Say it loud enough they can hear if they have stuck around. That way they may get the message and move on. 
 

3. Asking For Their Help

 
If the child and parent are persistent, ask them if they want to help you train your dog. In many cases they think this will take a long time and are suddenly in a hurry to leave. Some (maybe about 25%) will agree to help so you need to be ready with something for them to help you with. I usually start with a nose target to hand. Ask them stay where they are and demonstrate extending your hand at your side palm facing them. Tell them you will send the dog to touch their hand. As soon as your dog does, mark and treat in front of you. That way they get to “help” they get the interaction they want and your dog learns to ignore them and focus on you. Usually repeating it three times is enough for most people. 

If there are two or more children, ask them to take turns helping so your dog only has to deal with one child at a time.
 
If you have a small dog, asking them to squat down to receive the nose target prevents the kids from leaning over your dog. 
 

4. Second Meeting, Same Day

 
Beware. Some children (usually the pushy ones) think that if they’ve greeted your dog once, then they can bypass the greeting if they see you again that day. Be prepared for this and use your body to block them however feels appropriate to you in the moment. This is another educational opportunity. "Just like we make eye contact and greet known friends before moving in to give them a hug, we need to do that with dogs every time we meet them too. The dog may be working or not want that interaction right now."
 

5. Position Your Dog for Least Inviting Interaction

 
Another effective position to prevent interactions is to turn your dog to face you and have her bum towards the oncoming person. The dog van be either sitting or standing. That allows you to pet her head and still talk to the people. Few people will reach out to pet the dog’s bum especially if the dog is sitting. This is another universal clear body language message “Do Not Touch" or "I don't want to interact."
 
In tight situations like an elevator, always put your dog in the back corner facing the door, with you standing between your dog and the other elevator riddlers. This gives her some space. What if you are the one that needs the space? Put her across in front of you with her head facing the wall. That is also an odd position that most people will hesitate to approach. 
 
When you are sitting, your dog can either sit or lay between your legs with her bum under the chair or body across sideways under your legs. Face your dog away from oncoming people. In this case, the middle of the bench rather than facing the end. Avoid having her hang out the end of the chair or in foot traffic channels. This will stop people from stepping (or tripping) over your dog. 
 
A more extreme version is to teach your dog to move behind you or between your legs so you become a physical barrier for her. In some cases, you may need to be quick to step between the child and the dog to become a physical barrier. If you teach your dog ahead of time what to do, and practice in many settings, that will make it easier when it happens. 
 
Alternatively, a hand up in the "Stop" sign will almost always stop the most persistent child. If they don't be prepared to use your "Mom voice" to give them instructions like "Go find your parent." Mean business. Combine it with the "Mom look" if needed.
 

6. Get Help! 

 
If no parent is present, call out for one! At the very least, other parents will look and that attention is not usually what the unruly child wants. 
 
If you have someone following you, go to the customer service desk and tell them what’s happening. They are often willing to talk to the person or at the least, intervene to give you time to leave the store. Some may invite you behind the counter to get away from the stalker. Avoid being alone with them. For example, avoid going into the bathroom as they follow you in there. 
 
The shoe may be on the other foot as well. Perhaps the child is afraid of dogs but the parent wants an interaction. On duty is not the time to work on this, but if you want to help, you can move to a non-working location with the parent and child. One trick that worked well for us was to teach your dog to lay on her side or her back. Our golden was very hairy and we asked the kids if they knew that dogs have belly buttons too? When they realized they do, and they wanted to see one, they became so invested in finding it in the fur, that they forgot about their fear. Obviously do this with only dogs that are comfortable with kids stroking their stomach area.
 

Practice Before it Happens!

 
In any case, figure out what you will say in three common situations and then ask a friend and actually act it out. That way when it happens on the fly, you will have generalized it which will make it easier for both you and your dog in the moment. 
 
Hopefully, this will give you some ways to handle situations with children that come up in public. They can be unpredictable so be ready for anything. 

Are You Considering Breeding Service Dogs?
(Or Are You Looking for a Service Dog?) You need to Know This!

 
Due to the high demand for service dogs, more people are turning to breeding or considering breeding dogs for service dogs and assistance dogs. 
 
No matter if you are intentionally breeding purebred or mixed-breed dogs, here are some points to consider before you do so. 

Golden Retriever Service Puppy

Why is it important to breed genetically heathy dogs to genetically healthy dogs? 

The owners of service dogs invest a huge amount of time, energy and money into training a dog to the point of working with them in public-all while living with a disability. To have a dog fail for preventable and testable health is a huge set back for them. There is nothing more disappointing or demoralizing than getting a dog trained and find out it has the be retired due to health issues that could have been identified ahead of time. 
 

Does the specific tasks a service dog does effect the physical impact on the dog? 

Yes! It depends on the types and frequency of tasks a dog does on a daily basis how much physical impact a particular disease will have on the dog’s ability to carry out those tasks. For a dog that does heavy mobility (pulling forward, balance etc.), having a joint issue can be devastating. For a dog that is doing less impactful tasks, then a specific disease may have less effect if the health issue is of low consequence and can be managed.
 

Can breeders and owners use the new genetic health tests as a screen for disease in the breeding dogs? 

Yes and no. 
Recent advances in genetic technology can identify diseases that are linked to a specific gene or set of genes. For diseases caused by a single gene, the test can tell if or not the dog will suffer from that disease (if it is a dominant gene) or if the dog carries the gene (for recessive genes). Some examples are: von Willebrand disease (vWD) (low blood clotting factor), and Multi-drug Resistant Mutation (MDR1) where dogs have a negative reaction to a specific drug.
 
Even if the disease can be genetically screened for, such as Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) in the eyes, the dog still needs to be assessed by a veterinarian with a specialty in that disease. For example, if the dog tests positive for a breed-specific PRA, s/he should still be examined by a canine opthalmologist to see to what extent the dog is currently affected.
 
For other diseases like hip or elbow dysplasia, several genes are involved and the disease is also impacted by different environmental factors. Tests like X-rays and radiographs are required to examine the dog’s physical structure for deformities. Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHipp are two common organizations who test dogs. Here’s a 2010 study that compares the two. 
 
Here is a video from an American Kennel Club (AKC) geneticist that explains hip and elbow dysplasia. Note that the elbows carry at least 60% of the dog’s weight plus take the brunt of impact when jumping and yet people seldom test for elbow dysplasia. 
 

Does your breeding contract require the dog to be spayed or neutered by a certain age? 

If so, you will want to re-evauate the age of spay and neuter. Here is a chart from a recent study on its effects on the heath of 35 different breeds. 
Hip and elbow testing can be done at the same time if spay/neuter is at an age appropriate to do so since the dog has to be put under anaesthetic to do both. Here is summary of additional studies.
have linked the age of spay/neuter with increased risk of cancer in breeds used as service dogs (Golden, Labradors and German Shepherds). 
 

Did you know that dogs can get sexually transmitted diseases? 

While not common in pet dogs in some regions it is in others, a bacteria like Brucellosis can cause infertility in both sexes, or kill an entire litter before or just after they are born. It cannot be cured. Others are passed by casual contact like Canine Herpesvirus. Canine transmissible general tumors (CVVT) are a sexually transmitted cancer that spreads rapidly in an individual dog. 
 

As a consumer buying a pup with the intention of breeding later, it is important to know the sexual health history of the parents. A good question to ask is has or does the breeder do live breedings? If so, how many other matings? Dogs that have only been bred using artificial insemination can prevent the spread of STD’s. Otherwise, the dogs used for breeding (both male and female) should be screened regularly, especially if they are in contact with other dogs.  

Can I make a profit breeding dogs? 

Some people believe that they can use their dog to create an income for themselves. If you are thinking too, do not be mistaken. Quality heath tests are expensive. Veterinary fees are expensive. Losing a few puppies or an entire litter is financially taxing and you could pay out more out than you get back in litter or stud fees. The more important focus should be on creating dogs that have the physical health and temperament requirements to make a successful service dog for future handlers. 

 

One last thought: 

If you are new to breeding, find a mentor who has bred many litters responsibly and knowledgably. They can help to coach you through the process and help you problem solve as questions and issues arise. They can help you to understand what is part of the normal process and what needs a veterinarian's attention before the situation progresses to dire. Some breeds are more prone to problems than others. Find out as much as you can before you start the process. Breed clubs can often refer you and do be aware that your mentor can breed a different breed than what your dogs are. 

While well-run daycares can be a super way to help your adolescent dog to learn and maintain dog social skills, learn to be calm in the presence of other dogs, call away from other dogs and to provide mental and physical stimulation, poorly-run day cares can create problems that didn’t exist before. These can be tough to change once they have become established patterns.  

Three of the most common problem behavior changes we have seen with service dogs are:
  1. Dog becomes overly interested in other dogs. Wants to play or interact in public.
  2. Dog arousal level increases and they start to pull on leash, especially in confined areas like gates.
  3. Dogs become dog-reactive. Seeing a single dog in the distance triggers an over reaction (from fear to aggression).
 
Since your dog is a member of your family (you would screen a daycare for your child!) and you are having to use many resources to properly socialize, train and generalize behaviors in your future service dog, you will want to take care in the daycare (or dog sitter) that you choose. This also applies to general boarding and board-and-train situations too. 
 

Some Things to Look for in a Well-run Dog Daycare

Note: It is unlikely that any one daycare will met all of the but the list gives you things to look for and you can evaluate if they meet you and your dog's specific needs. For example, small numbers of dogs in a home setting would be my preference to a larger facility with more dogs and larger staff, but that's just me.

 
Pre-screening:
  • dogs are health-screened
  • behavioural screening ( with live interview) to meet the dog alone, then introduce her to at least one other dog from the daycare in a separate space to observe interactions
  • Dog groups are pre-matched for confidence, size, play style, tolerance, and energy levels.
  • will explain what will be done in case of emergency
  • you get to meet the staff
  • get references from the daycare and find out what their expectations and experiences have been, any new behaviours in their dogs?
 
Physical space:
  • floors and walls sanitized on a regular basis
  • separate entrances for entries and exits and “airlocks” so the dogs don’t meet face to face and have a chance to calm down before coming in or going out.
  • enough space and dividers in the facilities as needed to comfortably house a small number of dogs.
  • non-slip surfaces
  • access to outdoors for part of the day or walked with one or two other suitable dogs
  • high floor space per dog is desirable
  • air conditioning and/or heating (depending on your local weather)
  • live web cam feed desirable
 
Staff: 
  • are educated in seeing the early signs of stress in dogs (dog body language)
  • respond appropriately to the signs they see
  • are proactive to prevent unwanted situations from arising 
  • know when to intervene to prevent escalation
  • knowledge and appropriate tools of how to safely break up a scuffle
  • will not use punishment or aversive tools to manage the dogs (spray bottles, shaker cans, e-collars, prong-collars etc)
  • ideally, staff are members of professional organizations that have ethical statements for members to use positive reinforcement and low stress interactions.
  • high staff to dog ratios (1:4 for example)
  • regular reporting of health and behavior issues
 
Schedule:
  • rotational play with other dogs
  • planned down time during each four hour period of a day (crates or X-pen)
 
Dogs:
  • small numbers of dogs at one time such as in a home setting
  • dogs are constantly supervised (staff in the same room and eyes on dogs at all times-not just watching a live feed from other room)
  • are taught basic behaviors that are needed the dog’s to manage behaviour entering, exiting and being in the facility and yard
  • use current ethical teaching approaches

Dogs going through adolescence before they become service dogs often present the greatest challenges that owner trainers often face. As a result, I am ever hunting for more information about how to ease that stage for both dogs and handlers. In my research, I recently came across a study on goldens, labradors and German shepherd dogs and mixes of these.
Teenage Dogs? Evidence for adolescent-phase conflict behavior and an association between attachment to humans and pubertal timing in the domestic dog. It has important implications for training a dog, and particularly service dogs. 

When talking with students about dogs, some seem to have mostly clear sailing with their dogs through the adolescent period, while others have a moderate amount of challenges and others have a long drawn out period fraught with high level challenges. I suspected that the emotional environment the dogs were raised in played an important role as did genetics so in the past, I have always referred students back to their breeder to get more information about their specific lines. This study highlights the importance of a secure emotional attachment with the handler and its effects on the onset age of puberty, the length of the adolescent period and the intensity of unwanted behaviors during that adolescent period. The emotional interactions with a dog determines the quality of attachment. 

Here is an excerpt from the study.

"Owing to behavioural and physiological similarities between parent–child and owner–dog relationships, the aim of this study was to examine the extent to which adolescence in dogs shares characteristics of adolescence in humans. Specifically, we investigated owner–dog parallels of three proposed characteristics of human parent–adolescent relations: (i) an earlier puberty for female dogs with less secure attachments to their carer; (ii) adolescent-phase conflict behaviour exhibited toward their carer; and (iii) greater conflict behaviour in dogs with less secure attachments to their carer."

I think this study has implications for how a handler interacts with their dog and creates a secure attachment. Learning to respond appropriately to a dog's communication and behaviors (such as demanding behavior and frustration) in a way that creates a secure attachment to the handler is a key part of that. A previous study refined a base definition of what secure attachment looks like in dogs. Secure attachment in the study looked at the dog's ability to play with and longer duration when playing with new toys with the owner rather than a stranger in the room, the dog's closer proximity to the owner when playing with the toy than a stranger, and the handler providing social support for the dog in the presence of strangers,  In other studies, they also looked at the dog's behavior when separated from the handler during when stressful situations.

Hopefully, there will be other studies to follow that give human family members a clearer indication of what can be done to increase the age of puberty, shorten the adolescent period and decrease the intensity of unwanted behaviors during the crazy teen period for service dogs and pet dogs. That will decrease the conflict that occurs and possibly increase the success rate of service dogs in training for owner trainers.

Questions for Medical Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Psychiatrists to Help Clients Decide if a Service Dog is an Appropriate Health Care Treatment Option

 
Here are a series of questions as a starting point to consider and discuss with clients to explore if owner training a service dog to the point of public access would be a suitable treatment for them. You must look our for the needs of both the client and the dog and potential implications if the training process fails to produce a service dog. 

Check the links in the text for more detailed information on the point.

  1. Have other treatments to mitigate the diagnosed health issue been tried? If so, What? How well did they work? Technology is often cheaper in the long run as it is a one time cost, low maintenance etc. How well would a dog integrate with those treatments? 
     
  2. Is your client's medical condition stable? Do they understand their condition or disease and it's limits?
     
  3. Does the client have multiple medical conditions that would put too many ongoing demands on the dog?
     
  4. Has your client lived with and been responsible for a dog before? (Such as feed, exercise, train, emotionally connect with etc. not just lived with a dog.)
     
  5. Would a dog be safe being cared for by your client? Is the client on medication that moderates their emotions? If the client stops taking medication would the dog be at risk?
     
  6. Would they be able to meet the dog’s mental, physical and emotional needs?
     
  7. Is the living environment safe and suitable for a dog? (physical and emotional -easy access to outdoors, fenced yard, enough space, family members in agreement how the dog will be treated and trained, there is no volatile tempers or abuse in the home etc)
     
  8. Does your client have the mental ability to train a dog? This involves learning how dogs learn, learning to communicate with their dog and respond appropriately etc.
     
  9. Does your client have the ability to manage his/her own frustration in an appropriate way at home and in public places?
     
  10. Does your client have the executive functioning skills to train a dog (memory, timing, record keeping, communication skills, ability to stick to a daily structure etc)?
     
  11. Can your client build a support team for the service dog training process 3 years plus? And lifelong support for the dog itself?
     
  12. Does the client have the ability to safely manage the dog in unpredictable public situations?
     
  13. Is the client able to functionally deal with strangers interacting and asking about the dog? Having a service dog public places attracts unwanted attention from the public. Public Access with the dog may be challenged by retailers, restaurants and accommodation providers. Can your client handle such confrontations without getting overly stressed and escalating into inappropriate behaviors?
     
  14. Does the client have a way to pay for the initial cost of the dog and training to public access?
     
  15. Does the client have a way to pay for ongoing costs like feeding, veterinary, biannual recertification and life training and behavior maintenance?
     
  16. Does the client have enough emotional energy to train a dog every day? How tolerant of training failures and frustrations are they?
     
  17. Does the client have enough physical energy to exercise and train a dog every day?
     
  18. Can the client emotionally handle a dog that fails as a service dog in public? What will happen to the dog if this occurs? Will the dog stay as a pet? Be re-homed with a family member or friend? The success rate for owner-trained dogs is very low and some people train several dogs before they find one that is successful and they have developed the skills to train that dog.
     
  19. Can your client either fundraise or have enough money to maintain and train a service dog?
     
  20. Is the dog they are considering suitable as a service dog: confident, resilient, calm, friendly to strangers etc?


    Note: If you write a prescription for a service dog, it is simply to state that your client has a disability and a service dog could help mitigate their disability (in the same way a wheelchair is a medical device). It is not for a specific dog nor does it say their dog has been trained as a service dog. 

Over the years, we at SDTI have watched many service dogs teams successfully train to working in public together. I thought it would be helpful for potential owner-trainers to take a look at the top characteristics that all the successful teams consistently possess. They are not in any particular order. They are your best bet to set yourself and your dog up to being successful as a working service dog team in the future.


Component 1 Right Stage of Disability

Many people love dogs, may already have one and jump to the conclusion that training their dog as a service dog will solve their problems. Instead, the bigger question should be: Are you in a place with your disability where you are able to support training a service dog and is it the best choice to mitigate your disability?

A handler needs to have a diagnosed disability. They need to be at a point in that disability where they understand how it affects their life on a daily basis and how the disability may change in the future. It needs to be stable or improving at the present time.

The handler must have seriously tried or considered other forms of support for the disability under the guidance of their healthcare providers. There are many lifestyle and environmental changes, new technologies & gadgets and medical and or psychological interventions that will be more time, energy and cost effective than a service dog.

Basically, a service dog should be well down the list for consideration after other interventions, not first in line. Consider how a service dog may augment those other forms of support. How might a dog interfere? What specific tasks might a dog do to mitigate your disability? Is the effort of training a dog to service dog standards worth the value of the tasks?

 

Component 2 Provide the Correct Environment For A Dog

If a service dog is deemed an appropriate intervention, then needs of the dog must be able to be met. A dog needs to be dog first, a family member second, then a good community member, lastly a service dog. Does your living environment (home, yard, neighbourhood, community) meet all a dog's levels of needs? Think about his daily needs. Exercise, mental stimulation and emotional support are the biggest ongoing considerations. The indoor home environment needs to be emotionally stable and supportive for you and the dog. Regular daily activity and sleep schedules at home is needed. Chaos at home or away is not conducive to success, nor is family trauma. Consider rental, strata, travel and work suitability for a dog both training and when working. Your dog will need regular socialization and training outings in the community too. How accessible is your city and state to a dog in general and a service dog in training?
 

Component 3 Choose the Right Dog

It is critical to choose a dog that has the characteristics to succeed as a service dog. Start with a healthy dog that has parents who are been tested for genetic diseases and/or themselves been tested at appropriate age and has no history of other chronic diseases or structural issues. A dog with a confident and social temperament who is comfortable in many different environments is key. A service dog candidate needs to be resilient and forgiving to life and training mistakes made by the handler and the public. They need to be able to handle and recover from stress. A dog of suitable size for the desired tasks to be performed and has exercise and mental abilities that match the handler’s life style and mental acuity (not too high or too low). Many dogs fail due to being too active or too smart for the handler. Dogs with undesirable characteristics like fear, aggression, are predatory or excessively friendly are not suitable candidates. Dogs that are too sensitive also fail to be adaptable in public. Dogs with known health issues or unsocialized background (such as former street dogs) who exhibit lifelong fear have all shown to lack the desirable traits of a service dog in the long run. Research has shown us that dogs that had gastrointestinal diseases as puppies (Parvo for example) will be anxious as adults. Our free class will help to guide you to narrow down possible candidates. If you have a dog, it is helpful to work through the class to see if your current dog might be suitable.

Component 4 Have A Sufficient Support System

Another critical component to success is having a support team. This is a group of people who are not only your cheerleaders but people willing to dig in and help when you are down for the count. Some are available on a daily basis, some offer general support while others jump in on an emergency basis. If you don’t have such a team, you can build one! It takes a village to get a service dog to the point of successfully working in public. Check this link to see what type of help you need to line up. 

Component 5 Handler Has Key Characteristics and Abilities
 
A handler needs to have mental, emotional, social and physical abilities to train a dog to a high level. This includes mental and practical skills. Executive functioning for planning and carrying out training on a regular basis. Good timing and reward delivery skills. Regular documentation and reflection of training. Ability to read and understand dog language and respond in an appropriate manner. Understanding that adolescence is a stage and that a dog needs time to mature through it. Transportation to and ability to be in and train in public locations. Ability to interact with members of the public. Resilience for major set backs.
 
Component 6 Follow a Consistent Program

Service dog owner-trainers who have a long-term training plan and follow consistent program and get help as they need it are more successful than those who dabble and try to create one themselves. Take a look at Service Dog Training Institute's training program. It trains the handler and the dog not only in behaviours but to prepare the team for a functional life together.

If you score high on all of these, or can find ways to consistently overcome the challenges involved, you are more likely to succeed in training your own service dog to public access working level. If you need help in assessing yourself, your situation or your dog, contact us to book a Zoom session

Help! What I was told to do isn’t working! 

 

How you do things is just as important as what you are doing! While you may understand what to do, actually carrying it out in the right way is also important to your dog’s success! 

Below are some common examples I have come across recently. 

  1. Early neurological stimulation is a program that is done on individual pups in a litter when the pups are between 3 and 16 days old to help build a more resilient adult dog. Doing the protocol earlier or later will affect how much impact it has on each pup. Doing each step shorter or longer also affects the outcome. Doing 3 seconds instead of 5 makes a big difference. How often the protocol is done (such as more than once a day) can also affect the outcome.

  2. Once a pup comes home, socialization to your world is key to later confidence. Whether you force the pup into situations or let him decide how fast he will go into interactive situations is one example. Do you set the pace of interaction or do you let your pup set the pace or something in between?

  3. When carrying out a systematic desensitization process for excitement before going for walks, do you leave a harness on a doorknob or do you take it out only for desensitization sessions. Do you have the harness close to the dog or far away to start with?

  4. When you are training operantly, how is your timing? What criterion are you using as your objective for that session? Where are you delivering your treat? Are you talking to your dog and making extra motion when you train? These can confuse a dog.

  5. When using massage, do you use long firm strokes or short fast strokes? Long slow strokes with a full hand can calm a dog. Short fast strokes using just the finger tips can actually excite a dog and do the opposite of what you want.

So the next time you read a training description or watch a video, it is good to pay attention to how you do something, not just what you do! 

Get Help! 

And if you find the process isn’t working for you, get some help from an experienced trainer who can spot these tiny pieces that can make a huge difference in you and your service dog’s success. 

Book a Zoom consult, show me what you are doing and how you are doing it, or submit a video for us to discuss! You’ll be glad you did!  Little changes can have big effects! 

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