Displaying items by tag: assistance dog
There are many distractions today when owner-training a service dog. And I'm not only talking about distractions for the dog.
If you want to train your dog to be your calm focussed service dog in a timely manner, you'll have better success to choose one program designed for the job and follow it through. The building blocks that are laid out for you will get you there faster and with more success than trying to cobble your own program together.
The trouble is that we all get bored of the doing the same things when they require long-term focus and we welcome variety in what we do. One thing to do is change what specific behaviors within a program you are are working on, then go back to the previous ones.
Occasional clearly-defined side forays to unrelated activities for variety are fine. They do, unfortunately, act as a reinforcer and often become the focus, which is why people often stray from a program. We get bombarded by social media with all the possibilities that are out there. We feel we are missing out. Shiny bells and whistles draw us away from what should be our focus. Stay the course!
There are so many fun sports for dogs today! Many of these require very different emotional state from service dogs and are often incompatible with being a service dog. They aim for high arousal and high speed. Instead we want a service dog to be in medium to low arousal at all times (except when off duty) so that he can regulate his behaviors and ignore highly arousing distractions like running people, kids with food and other dogs. A service dog needs to be able to get up from a relaxed settle to do a task when needed, then settle back down immediately. The behaviors a service dog are asked to do are smaller more focussed behaviors like a short 6 foot retrieve of a dropped item rather than outright sprinting for 100 yards to retrieve an object.
Consider the extra courses you take carefully. Will they lead you to your goal of a trained assistance dog or conflict with it? Can your dog clearly separate the two as work and play? Can you? If not, keep looking for something more compatible.
Choose a solid program that is intended for service dog or assistance dog training. A program that is best suited to your medical needs, your dog and your environment will help you both to learn the needed behaviors, tasks and emotional state. Such a program will offer training for the different life stages of your dog, and support you through the challenges of such stages if you follow it through. The program itself will build in choice for variety to keep the process interesting. The best thing you can do to have more success overall in training your own assistance dog is stick to the program!
Here are some tips to staying focussed.
When I take my adult dog out to the yard, and lead him around on a long line, he will sniff for a half hour before going potty. As my mobility decreases, I need him to potty sooner and of course, i don't want to stand out in the rain or snow either. How can I change this?
It sounds like he has learned to withhold his potty events until he's ready to go in. This is common when the outdoor time is not reliant on him pottying first. In other words, he needs to potty first and go sniff outside after after as the reward.
To change this, you will need to choose a new potty location in your yard. For example a 15 foot square defined area in your front yard rather than the back yard where he has been previous doing this behavior sniffing. (Changing the environment changes the behavior expectations). Don't worry this physical location change is only temporary until he understands the new way to do the behavior.
Starting first thing in the morning when you know he has to go pee, get dressed as if you are going for a walk, take him out on a leash (not a long line) and stand in the middle of the defined area and wait until he goes. Let him move and sniff around only in the defined area. It helps to anchor yourself on the spot. You can turn around on the spot but not step away. A six foot leash actually give him about a 15 foot radius which is plenty of space to explore to potty.
As soon as you get out there, set your phone timer or watch for 5 minutes. If he does not go in 5 minutes, then bring him back in and confine him to a small area in the house (X-pen or crate for example). Take him out again in an hour and repeat. Repeat for as many times as it takes for him to go in that 5 minute period. When he does, wait until he's done, then mark and praise him and take him for a long sniffy walk - at least his 30 minutes. If you repeat this each time you take him out (at least 4 times each day for most dogs-after meals, after training, play or sleeping, and before bed), he will start to understand that he must go potty first, then the play and walk comes afterward.
Once he is reliably going potty right away in the new location (10 times in a row), then you can start to take him back towards the previous location where he was pottying. The same rules apply in all locations of your yard now, including the the old location once you get there. Take him out, if he doesn't go in 5 minutes, back in the house and try again in an hour in the same location. If he does go, he gets a walk or playtime afterward. Later you can phase this into a yard or in-house training session if he enjoys those. What comes after the potty must be rewarding for him. Over time, you can shorten the activity or only go for a walk once or twice a day.
Since you are already out there with him, you can also add a cue to the potty and teach him to potty under "stimulus control" so later, you can cue him to go whenever and wherever you need him to.
While you train, make sure he is getting enough mental and physical stimulation each day. Do indoor training sessions, or ask a friend or hire a dog walker to supplement his walks 3 times a week. Good luck!
Here are 4 videos that give an overview of the realities and needs of self-training your own service dog.
Part 1 The Need (3.43 min)
Part 2 Resources and Laws (5.21 min)
Part 3 The Dog (3.03 min)
Part 4 Training and Common Situations Handlers Deal with (5.25 min)
Please feel free to share this link with anyone you know who is thinking about Do it Yourself DIY training or just starting to train their own service dog or assistance dog!
When first starting out with your service dog candidate (whether puppy or "new to you" dog), it can be fun to teach new behaviors and tricks! Learning how to learn is an important part of a service dogs skills. You do need to be careful with your choice of the first 5 or 6 behaviors though, as choosing the wrong ones can add more work or even derail your training as your dog progresses.
Some of these behaviors can be used as alert behaviors later on so we want to be thoughtful how we teach them and what cue we pair them with. This means after YOU have some experience in training behaviors and have a better idea of what you are doing and your dogs' temperament is like.
All of these behaviors are likely to become default behaviors when your dog dog doesn't know what else to do, when you are shaping him or when he gets frustrated. Most of them are self-reinforcing, which means just doing them feels good, no reinforcement is needed from you so he will keep doing them even when you don't want them. They can also be hard to get rid of once they are established, even if you teach a cue for them and put them under stimulus control.
Wait until your pup or dog understands the concepts of a 'behavior on cue' and 'stimulus control' for at least 5 more basic (foundation) behaviors before you teach any of these.
- spinning (this can become a obsessive compulsive behavior)
- shake a paw (can interfere with a nose target since the cue is very similar, a lifted paw encourages others to interact with your service dog, can interfere with a dog's communication with you since you might misinterpret it)
- jumping up or paws up even if on cue (especially with large dogs and the behavior an become an attention seeking behavior)
- licking face
- biting at your face (misinterpreted by others)
- lifting lips "smile" (can be mis-interpreted as a snarl by strangers, is also an appeasement behavior)
- barking (on cue) Service dogs can be asked to be removed from a public place if they are disruptive. (Avoid teaching barking as an alert behavior)
- ringing bells to go out to potty
- scratching the door to go out (wooden doors get damaged in public places)
- nose nudge of hand (can easily become a demand to pet behavior when you are distracted especially if you absently stroke the dog's head)
Save sniffing for medical alerts until later as well. Sniffing comes naturally to dogs and scents do not need to be "imprinted" at a young age for the dogs to be successful medical scent detectors (diabetic alerts, seizure alerts etc).
Great behaviors you want to start with instead are:
- eye contact
- four on the floor
- nose target
- bringing things to you
- dropping objects
- following you (loose leash walking off leash)
- adding duration to all wanted behaviors
Check out our Foundations Skills Classes for guidance on how to start teaching the basic skills a service dog will need.
If you are considering having your dog help you with mobility wheelchair transfers, this article will help you to understand the reasons why not to use your dog as a transfer tool.
Let's look at what mobility transfers are, 5 bio-mechanical reasons not to have your service dog help you with them and how you can learn to do them yourself.
What are Mobility Transfers?
Any movement involving a shift of weight by a person with limited mobility to move them from one surface to another surface.
Typically the person uses their hands and arms to take some pressure while other parts of their body are shifted.
The person needs at least a partial ability to stand. Transfers may be done by the person alone or with assistance from another person or sometimes 2 people.
Transfers can also be done mechanically with a manual or electric lift.
Here are some examples.
- bed to wheelchair https://youtu.be/BWzcIl1SGgw
- wheelchair to toilet
- wheelchair to tub or shower
- wheelchair to couch
- wheelchair to car
- ground to chair (after a fall)
The number of transfers per day adds up quickly.
The Primary Goal of a Successful Transfer
is to prevent falls and avoid injury (shoulders, arms, skin, bruising) of the transferring person.
A secondary goal is for the person to use the wheelchair independently.
Injury Among Human Helpers
Transferring a person from one surface to another is one of the highest causes of long-term injury for human helpers of wheelchair users.
Another is the rotation while pushing the chair (lower back compression).
The Same Can Be Said for Service Dogs
The goal of having a service dog is to help the handler to gain more independence but not by putting the dog at risk,
especially when there are other more effective and less harmful ways for a person to transfer themselves.
Service dogs can easily get injured during transfers and be rendered useless to the handler. The handler potentially loses not just independence, but their partner.
5 Biomechanical Reasons Why Not To Have Your Service Dog Help
1. Dogs are not designed to be weight-bearing, even large dogs.
Dogs don't have a collar bone like humans have, and the muscles do the work of holding the shoulders together. Pressure goes from the muscles to the dog's spine. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and spine can be injured with just a small amount of weight, even in big dogs. Soft tissue injuries take a long time to heal. Spine injuries can be chronic and disabling for a dog.
While some breeds of dogs are bred to pull carts, they can carry only a very small amount of weight. Pulling a maximum of ten percent of their body weight is generally recommended for dogs with a suitable bone structure and are appropriately muscled. This weight is spread over their body with proper harnesses and is a pulling forward motion.
2. Humans have little ability to estimate the amount of actual pressure they put on their hands, especially while in motion.
Typically for transfers, handlers place their hand or hands on the dog’s shoulder. The recommended weight is 10% of the dog’s body weight, the same as for pulling except the pushing pressure is downward.
Say your mobility dog is 45Kg (100 lbs). Do you know how much pressure 4.5 kg (10 lbs) feels like?
Try this: Use a bathroom or kitchen scale and place your hand (fingers or knuckles) on the scale for 5 seconds and try to hold it at 4 Kg. Don’t look at the scale but have a friend or family member watch the scale to tell you the highest amount of weight you put on the scale after each trial. Repeat 10 times and write down each trial result. How accurate are you on average to put a maximum of 4 Kg on the scale?
I bet not very!
Now imagine you are trying to move your body to one side, balance it and estimate and control the amount of weight you put on your dog’s shoulder. Can you do it? Are you willing to risk her health? Using a stabilizing pole or transfer board that can take much more weight than what you can put on it makes more sense than using your dog.
3. There is too high a risk that the weight may be placed in the wrong location.
People with physical disabilities are often told to put the pressure directly over the dog’s shoulders when using the dog for stability, rather than on the back or rear end. The idea is that the weight will get transferred to the ground rather than stressing the dog’s muscles or bone structure.
During transfers, it is not always possible to place your hands exactly where you want them since where the dog can stand may not be ideal for the transfer. The handler’s angle may also put the pressure in the wrong place on the dog.
4. It’s not just simple weight involved.
If your dog moves during the process (accidentally pushed by too much pressure form you, takes a step to the side, gets distracted etc.) she is adding shearing force to the transfer.
Shearing force is unaligned forces pushing one part of a body in one specific direction and another part of the body in the opposite direction. If the forces push together, this results in compression at the centre point (like spine compression). If the forces push away from each other tearing results (like cruciate ligament tears). Neither is what we want for a service dog’s spine, tendons or ligaments.
5. Depending on the handler’s level of disability, there may need to be many transfers each day. The more transfers, the more stress that is put on the dog’s body.
This comes out in the long-term wear of the dog’s skeletal system and the greater probability of injuring your dog.
This can shorten your dog’s working life and result in severe pain even if he never suffers an acute injury.
Learn How to do Transfers Without Your Service Dog’s Help,
Consult your physiotherapist or occupational therapist. He will show you how to use your body and tools in your environment to safely transfer yourself in and out of a wheelchair no matter where you are based on your specific abilities. Have your dog sit or lay down off to the side until you are safely transferred, then put her back to work.
Here is a partial list of tools to use instead of your service dog:
- grip bars
- transfer/sliding board
- swivel cushions (that rotate easily such as for getting in and out of the car)
- metro car handle to push up on-fits on U-bolt of door lock
- raising beds and car seats in low cars or lowering beds and car seats in high vehicles helps to ease transfers from higher to lower
- drive wheelchair directly into the car (including driver seat)
- place leading hand -lower (pushing) or higher (pulling) are better than median such as on the steering wheel, which puts more torque on the shoulder and increases the chance of injury
If you are training a mobility service dog, check out our new class Wheelchair Loose Leash Walking for Service dogs.