Choosing a Service Dog (5)
World-wide, the price of puppies and dogs has gone up. Apparently during Covid 19, many people thought that them being at home was a good time to get a puppy or dog, decreasing overall availability. Waiting lists for puppies are years long and the limited supply has driven prices up. More unscrupulous breeders are increasing how many litters they are having.
It's a buyer beware situation! Some people are cashing in on the trend and charging over-inflated prices for puppies with untested health and temperament. In Canada for example, mixed breed pups that just over a year ago used to go for $750 are now selling for $3000 or more, depending on the mix. The poodle mixes (often with doodle in the name) have historically sold for very high prices and are now costing even more at around $4500 to $6000. Most of these are from untested health lines.
If you are looking for a service dog candidate right now, for the same money (or less), you can get dogs from long-time established and ethical breeders who do breed-specific health testing and are concerned with the temperament of their lines and individual dogs. These are breeders who breed with a purpose: to either produce a dog for a specific sport or function or to improve their breed. Some breed to create a good family dog but these are hard to find.
The get-rich-quick breeders will tell you their dogs "are healthy and vet checked". A veterinarian cannot see hereditary diseases, not can they see internal structural anomalies that won't develop until the dog is older. For a service dog candidate, a simple vet check tells us nothing. Being a service dog is mentally, emotionally, socially and physically taxing. Burnout due to stress and stress-related medical conditions is common among owner trained service dogs. Service dog candidates need to be genetically and structurally healthy as a starting point. Of course temperament of the individual is important as well.
Some Steps to Take
What can you do to make sure you are getting a medically healthy dog?
1. Choose a breed or mix.
2. Find out what inherited health issues are common in the breed or breeds you are considering. Look at health issues beyond basic structural issues. Here is a .pdf that you can view online or download. It lists the breeds and what inheritable diseases they are prone to. Some diseases are affected by the environment both in development and as an adult.
Be aware that there are other diseases such as seizures or allergies that may or may not be tested for but may also affect a specific line of a breed. Do additional breed-specific searches on the internet or join a breed-specific group of forum to learn more from owners and educated breeders alike.
3. Ask what specific health conditions the breeder tests the specific parents for or tries to keep out of their lines.
4. Get copies of the actual test results of both parents of any litter you are seriously considering. In some cases you can get OFA numbers and look them up on the OFA website or for labradors, golden retrievers and Nova Scotia duck tollers on http://www.k9data.com.
If the dog is an adult (2 years or older) you can get the dog itself tested for many things like hips, elbows, patellas, eyes etc if the breeder has not yet done that. You can also make the purchase or return of the dog contingent on suitable results of the tests. Make sure to specific that they will refund or replace the dog (whichever you prefer) and by what age the tests must be done.
Unfortunately, there are many factors involved in a dog's individual health so health testing will not guarantee a lifelong healthy dog. What health testing does do, is give you an idea to the degree the breeder is doing due diligence to prevent unwanted known health issues from getting into their lines or attempting to remove them from their lines. And studies show that when done over many generations, health testing is predictive of the health of the lines overall.
Check out our free lesson on finding a reputable dog breeder and work though that first.
Get Third Party Breeder Evaluation
Finding a suitable canine candidate can take some time. Ruling out unethical breeders then talking to potential breeders takes patience. It is an emotional roller coaster for everyone. When you are spending that amount of money, training and effort on a potential service dog candidate, it it worth it to get a second opinion about a specific breeder from a professional. Book a set of 3 x30 min web cam sessions or one or more 60 minute web cam sessions with us. We help help guide you in the direction of a reputable breeder by ruling out the less desirable ones.
Did you know that Service Dog Training Institute offers a WHOLE class on selecting a service dog or assistance dog candidate?
It so important to start with the right dog that:
1. We created a whole class looking at how to determine your needs, puppy or adult, finding a breeder or rescue. Also included is key information about life stages of a dog (so you know and can prepare for each).
Here's an overview:
- Introduction to Choosing Your Service Dog Candidate!
- Lecture 1 General Points
- Lecture 2 Basic Biological Development of a Puppy
- Lecture 3 Social Development of Puppies
- Lecture 4 What Do You Need in an Assistance Dog?
- Service Dog Selection Homework 1
- Lecture 5 Selecting a Reputable Breeder and Puppy Buyer Etiquette
- Service Dog Selection Homework 2
- Lecture 6 Selecting an Adult Service Dog Candidate
- Service Dog Selection Homework 3
- Lecture 7 Preparation for Puppy Arrival
- References and Resources
2. We offer it for FREE!
Yes, choosing the right dog is key to success! While there are stories about miracle dogs rescued from bad situations becoming successful service dogs, those are celebrated by the media and such dogs are few and far between. The reality is that you need to start with a healthy dog with a great temperament that has been socialized from birth and living in a home environment. Those can be hard to find in today's world! Even in litters that are specifically bred for assistance work, only 3/7 successfully make it to the working stage. Even then, some of those dogs are retired early due to health issues that appear, temperament issues that occur later or trauma that occurs on the job. A well-bred dog shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Many of the mixed breed dogs of unknown parentage do cost an arm and a leg (up to $3500!) and may result in high medical bills and a very low success rate as a service dog. If you go in educated you can avoid the costs and heartache involved in a failed service dog.
Here's the link. No gimmicks, no signing up for email lists!
Access it as often as you like! Share it with friends, family and colleagues.
Smaller dogs have traditionally been used for hearing alerts. Recently, more people are choosing small dogs and toy breeds as their service dog for other disabilities. Owner-trainers are selecting them for diabetes, seizures, PTSD and Anxiety. The benefits are easy to observe but examining the concerns are also worthwhile to make sure dogs of the smaller size are actually a good fit for the handler, the family environment and their resources.
A dog's small size means they may:
- be cheaper to feed
- have less fur overall (but still have grooming requirements)
- be easier to transport
- be easier to tuck out of the way
- may need less exercise than a larger dog (but not always true)
- have different health issues as a group than larger dogs
patellar luxation (knee cap)
protruding eye balls (especially in short-nosed breeds)
hypoglycemia (small size/fast metabolism means they have to eat more frequently to maintain normal blood sugar levels)
tracheal collapse (means you will need to use a flat walking harness)
Legg Calve Perthes (hip joint issue)
chronic valvular disease (heart disease)
- may have higher incidence of cryptorchoidism (undescended testicles) than larger dogs
- anal gland issues are more common in small dogs
- tooth and jaw issues are standard among small dogs (which also means more dental care, and smaller food which is more expensive)
- may be harder to potty train as they can sneak through small holes to potty out of sight in the house or may not be able to hold their bladder as long as larger dogs
- small dogs tend to be over-represented in puppy mills. Rescues/shelters take in many puppy mill dogs. These are dogs with unknown genetic, medical, and behavioral histories and do not make good service dog candidates.
- tiny dogs are not likely to be as effective in performing physical interruption type tasks
- may not be able to retrieve/drag larger objects
- may not be able to access higher locations/steps without help
- terriers like Jack Russel and fox terriers may need more exercise than you think!
- terrier breeds can be very persistent and predatory (including the tiny Yorkshire terriers)
- do not adapt well to harsh environments -may get cold or hot quickly in harsh environments or on hard floors
- shiver more often (draws attention to your dog, may need a coat in indoor environments)
- vet bills cost the same for small dogs as medium dogs. Sometimes spaying/neutering and operations can cost more due to the skill/attention to detail needed for operating on smaller bodies. Dental surgery is expensive as it requires a specialist.
- fragile structure-falling, jumping or being dropped from even low heights can break bones
- may be too environmentally sensitive or over-reactive-smaller dogs have have a faster metabolism, their flicker fusion rate in the eyes of small dog are higher so they tend to see more motion than larger dogs, tend to move faster, be more fearful
- may be more prone to alarm barking (unwanted as a service dog and you can be asked to leave if you cannot control your dog)
- most small dogs do not tolerate or enjoy being handled by children
- not as easy to socialize with other dogs and animals due to size difference and predatory issues
- may be injured if children are handling the dog (stay with medium and larger dogs with more solid structure and temperament if the dog is intended to be a child's assistance dog)
- ears harder to clean due to size (make sure you have the dexterity to do so or can hire a groomer regularly)
- may trigger predatory behavior in larger dogs you encounter in public
- may get stepped on (and have to be carried more often as a result, you will need to bend over to pick up a small dog)
- may not be taken seriously by retailers or accommodation providers (may be mistaken for "fake" service dogs (dubious about effectiveness of small size, unfamiliar with your breed as a service dog, etc)
- may attract unwanted attention from public
- you will be bending over for the lifetime of the dog (to reward behaviors, do hand targets-sue a stick, lift it over high barriers, keep him from harm etc)
- you will be sitting or kneeling to train at times, or elevating the dog for training
- Avoid breeds that have been "bred down" from a larger standard
- Avoid the toy breeds (dogs smaller than 15 lbs)
- Choose lines that have a heavier (more sturdy) bone structure
- Choose a breeder than breeds on the large size of the standard or get a mix with a slightly larger (also suitable) breed
- Find out what health tests have been done on the dog
- Find out about the genetic history of teeth of at least 3 generations back
- Brush your dogs teeth daily and give him things to chew
- Have regular dental check ups
- feed adult dogs at least twice a day, carry extra food for long days
- Watch for irregularities in gait, like a skip off one leg or the other now and then when running (patella)
- Avoid putting your dog in a shopping cart, use a snuggle/huggie tyoe carrier instead if you must keep him off the floor
- teach him to be confident on his own and where to tuck himself out of the way to avoid injury
Small Breeds to Consider
- conformation line beagle (breed only for companionship for many generations) (avoid hunting lines as they are higher energy, high prey drive and nose -oriented)
- conformation bichon frise
- Moyen poodle
- Miniature poodle (avoid toy sized)
- and mixes with the above breeds in them
Carefully consider your disabilities, the tasks the dog will be performing for you, your lifestyle, exercise levels, personality and those living around you (family and caregivers and other members of your support team), costs and make sure that the individual dog you choose is right for you.
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
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (2 kinds)
- Von Willibrands disease (blood doesn't clot properly)
- Addison's Disease
- in the minis: luxating patellas
- congestive heart failure
- subaortic stenois
- heart murmurs
- ear infections ( may be related to allergies)
- hot spots
- interdigital cysts
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.
What I took away from the book is that golden doodles vary widely and that is because many of them are first and second generation dogs. It is not usually until after about the 6th generation when most lines will be more consistent in the structure and fur of the puppies.
Any dog with the 'goldendoodle' in the name can be a mix of a poodle and any other breed. I know of students who thought they were getting a golden retriever/poodle mix and instead they got a Great Pyrenees mix. Golden retrievers and Great Pyrenees have very different temperament, size and build from each other. Make sure to ask what the foundation breeds are for your specific litter!
The amount you pay for a Golden Doodle is usually set by regional demand for the dogs. Never pay ridiculous prices for pups whose parents have not been health tested. Ask to see the test results. A simple veterinary check does NOT qualify as health testing. The actual DNA has to be examined by experts so blood samples need to be sent out.
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 females 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, hypothyroid diseases etc. In females spaying reduces the incidence of mammary cancer and pyometra but increases risk of cancer, low bone density issues the same as males 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. Neutering a fearful dog before maturation can increase a male dog's fearfulness.
If your dog has a "doggy" odor, check for fungal and yeast growth. They may grow in moist areas like between the foot pads and in the ears. Washing more often will not help. You will need to get a fungal or yeast treatment from your veterinarian. Washing their bedding will though if you treat the dog at the same time.
Curly coats that have a heavy texture can be very difficult to maintain and groom. They are more prone to matting that other coat types.
If you have a disability and are considering a service dog to help you mitigate that disability, here are some things to consider: (whether you self-train or get a dog from a program)
Is a Service Dog the Best way to Mitigate your Disability?
Make a list of your impairments, the things you need help with. Are there other non-dog ways that can help you?
What are your biggest challenges?
There are more and more assistive technology created today that is effective, undetectable and more cost-effective than a living breathing being.
- More portable
- More reliable
- Less intrusive
A dog may not always be available to help you.
Is it cost-effective? One time costs rather than ongoing costs of a dog (feeding, vet, grooming, training, maintenance etc)
- Having a service dog with you in public is stressful
- draws unwanted attention
- accessibility challenges
- emotional toll of failure
While the presence of a dog can help you feel safer, they cannot be protected trained or pose any threat to a member of the public. When you need help, a first responder will need to approach and touch you. A dog needs to be very comfortable with that. Especially if you are unresponsive and cannot direct your dog.
Considering Others Needs
To be fair, having a dog in public with you does affect others. Just as they need to respect you and your needs, you need to respect their needs. Whether it's fear of dogs, allergies or the effect of a dog on the health of other animals, the handler needs to think about the team's presence and impact on other people and animals.
Ability to care for a dog on a daily basis-getting outdoors for 4 X or more a day to potty, one or two exercise walks or training outdoors
Ability to go out into public for acclimation, training and public access work?
Dogs make mistakes in public.
The hander needs to learn to speak dog.
Dogs communicate mostly with body language. To be a successful part of a team, you will learn your specific dog's dialect of dog. His needs will need to be met just as your are.
Being part of a team. Trust your dog that means giving up some control.
It also means giving up privacy. Your dog will spend the vast majority of his life within 6 feet of you. If you enjoy your space, this will feel invasive.
Carrying equipment around. When you travel, it's not just the dog that comes along, but also the equipment a dog needs to function. It's like travelling with a toddler. There is extra gear to bring with you.
With this, spontaneity disappears. Spontaneous people don't do well with service dogs. Unless they are organized. Organization skills and a spontaneous personality don't generally go together. LOL!
Slows you down. Because of the above. Because part of a 2 part team etc.
Must Pick up poop. Even blind SD handlers must pick up their dog's poop in public places.
Not easily accepted in work places or schools.
Access is limited only to places where the public can go. Under the ADA, work places, churches and private schools and universities may have their own rules and you need to get special permission to take them there. Some of these places will not want a dog there for many reasons. Other places like food preparation areas and operating theatres service dogs are not allowed as they are not open to the public. In some jurisdictions such as Ontario, Canada, dogs may be allowed in non-public places. Check your local laws as they apply.
You will have to learn a series of laws: federal, state or provincial and even city or municipal as they apply to service dogs.
Having a service dog adds to the familiar work load. While a service dog may solve one problem, the dog may pose others that the family doesn't want to deal with. If you have an already busy life, adding a service dog (either in training or a program-trained one can push you over the edge of what you can handle. I't more like adding a chid to your life than adopting a dog from a shelter. There is so much more involved in living with a service dog. Even more if you are training your own.
Do you have the space for a dog? Fenced yard or other safe space the dog can exercise off leash. Stairs or elevators to the outside can pose a problem, especially as a puppy or if your dog develops intestinal or badder issues.
Invisible disabilities and a service open up the questions of who you are training the dog for and the public can get personal very fast, watching to know the details of your condition. Do you have the ability or desire to politely rebuff or redirect them from personal discussion?
How is your life going to change in the next 5-8 years? Will a service dog still fit in it? Are you planning a move?
Can you set up your own support system? It takes a community to raise a service dog, from selecting to raising and training and maintaining the dog's every day needs and ongoing training for life. Emergencies arise for both you and the dog and he still needs to be cared for.
You may need to fundraise to help pay for the costs of training the dog. Most programs require that you put sweat equity into the dog and owner-trainers are responsible for all costs of the dog.
Assertive to have your needs met without impinging on the needs of others.
Tolerate being ignored- focus is on your dog and people ignore your communications even if you step between the and your dog to physically block them.
Do you have other dogs at home that are not dog-friendly? Your new dog may learn bad habits from that dog or even get hurt by your current dog. Because dogs are social learners, when they live in a dysfunctional social environment, they learn unwanted behaviours from each other. This is often despite much training. Social learning can be more powerful than other kinds of learning.