When learning how to train your own service dog, there is much theory to be learned.
In order to successfully train your service dog, you need to transfer that theory into practice. Some people can do it easily, while others are okay and still others understand the theory but struggle with putting it into practice.
First, identify where your area of weakness is.
It helps if you practice all three steps like any other skill.
Get help from a family member, friend or professional trainer to help you think through all the considerations needed for your specific dog and situation. They can also help you make a plan to implement the theory.
Then demonstrate what what you need to do. (Learning by observation is a key skill for humans too.)
First, let's look at the practical training skills, also called "training mechanics".
Choose a Theory and a Behavior
Let's start with applying the concept of "capturing". Capturing is a great way to teach a dog what any behavior he already does naturally is called. First we get him to do it repeatedly and predictably, then we add the cue.
Choose a really simple behavior like sit or down for your dog. Your dog knows how to sit, we are just getting him to do it and adding a name to it so he knows that we are asking for it.
This experience is for you, not your dog so don't worry too much about how well he already does or does not do the behavior, just that he is willing to work with you.
Next, using the same behavior, plan a training session.
Where are you going to do the training. Why?
What equipment will you need? (reinforcers, props, etc.)
What training mechanic are you going to be working on (for you, not the dog)?
Exactly what will it look like?
What specific criterion are you looking for in this set of 10 repetitions?
How will you know he meets your criterion?
When will you mark? Before the dogs does it, while he is doing it? After he has done it?
What treat will you use? What value? What shape and texture(this can affect how far it rolls if you toss it)
Where will you move the treat to once you take it in your hand. In front of you? At your side?
Where will you release it to? His mouth? Drop it on the floor? If the latter, how far will the dog have to move to get it?
How will that line him up for the next repetition? It helps if for you to be very clear on where you are putting your treat (use a piece of tape to make where you want to place it or a bowl to toss or drop it into or put tape on the ground where you will toss it to.)
What will the next repetition look like? Dog stops chewing and lifts head or eyes to make contact with my eyes.
Great! If you have answered all these questions before you train, now you have a specific plan!
Do it! Hands-on Practice!
Practice the skill without your dog in the room. Put him into a crate or in the other room with a door or baby gate to stop him from getting to you.
Either use a stuffed dog or use a surrogate dog (a pillow works just fine!).
Set up the equipment (including a camera to film the session).
Set up the fake dog where you would place your real dog. Consider if the flooring material may affect a dog's ability to do the behavior (In this case is it slippery or grippy?)
Stand where you would stand if the dog was real.
Do a training session exactly as you would if your real dog were there. Do 10 repetitions in a nice even flow.
Record your session and afterward watch your body movements.
How did it feel? Did the process get smoother each time you did it?
Repeat the training session several times, each time paying attention to only one mechanical skill.
Where are you holding your treat delivery hand while you want for the click? This is called your "Home position". Keeping your hand there will prevent you from reaching for the treat before you click.
What is your criterion?
When will you click?
Where will you release the treat?
Here is a video showing me capturing eye contact from Jessie as an example to see what you are aiming for. The session is just 30 seconds long but is a good example to observe what I am doing rather than what the dog is doing.
Just watch the first 43 seconds. Do not do it yet with your dog. Just watch what I am doing in the video.
Now the theory. What training concept were you using? (Capturing)
Describe what you did.
Describe why you did it.
Was it successful?
What would you change the next time?
Now I want you to try it with your dog.
Keep everything else the same, just remove the fake dog and add your live dog to the set up.
What other behaviors might you use capturing to teach your dog the name of a behavior they already do?
For each behavior, what environment or situation does your dog tend to do it in? How could you set that situation up to increase the chances he will do the behavior again?
Is this process similar to other parts of the theory you already know? Such as classical conditioning? In what way?
The Beginnings of a New Skill!
Just like any other skill, doing it will feel awkward at first. Just like driving a car or learning a musical instrument, with practice you will likely feel more comfortable and be able to do it without thinking about it as you do it. The more practice you have doing the correct training mechanics, planning and applying the theory, the easier it will come to be.
Rather than asking others how you might solve your dog's problems, if you gain the ability to apply the theory, you will be able to solve them yourself.
If you are still having trouble with any of these three parts of the training process, then reach out and get some help.
We are available to do one hour web cam sessions or three 30 minute sessions to walk you through the process (scroll down the link for the one hour session). If you are clear on what you want to learn, we can help you get there!