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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

Sunday, 27 June 2021 12:45

Stick with the Program!

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

Check out our online self-paced service dog program with web cam options and see if it will work for you and your dog! Request a free 15 minute webcam session to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. about how our program may fit your needs! Hope to hear from you soon!

Anaphylactic Allergy Alert Dogs (Peanut, tree nut, fish) alert dog


Training a dog to do anaphylactic alerts takes a very high degree of training since it involves the life and death of the handler. SDTI accepts no liability or responsibility for these risks should you decide to train your own dog. This content is provided for interest only so people understand the possible process of training anaphylaxis alerts.


Anaphylactic allergies are becoming more and more common, especially among children. There are things that can be done to protect those with severe allergies from harm. Of course the best thing is to avoid the allergen trigger, but this can be hard when, in cases such as peanuts, they are found in so many things and in so many places. (Link to list)

Anaphylactic Alert Dogs are dogs that can alert the allergic person to the presence of these specific chemicals in their environment, even what they can’t be seen by the naked eye. This can be done in three ways.
1. The dog is sent in the room ahead of the person, does a room search and indicates if there are objects containing the allergen or residue (which may be on counter tops, handles, clothing etc)
2. The dog stays in proximity to their handler and alerts if the allergen is on or near objects, people and food and blocks their access to it (as in if a person moves close to them with some peanut butter on their clothing or who has handled peanuts recently) This is more typically used with children. With adults, the dog may be trained to alert to the location of the allergen (using a pre-trained behavior used only for that alert such as scooting backwards or dancing on front feet and then sitting) and the handler makes a decision to leave the area.
3. The dog is trained to sniff food (from a restaurant) that may contain allergens and alert if it is present (peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy, etc that triggers allergies).

The dog is usually taught to use the same alert behavior for all different allergen alerts. The dog learns to alert several different scents (or residues) that can trigger an anaphylactic reaction such as different kinds of tree nuts if that is what the handler is allergic to.

They can also do other tasks such as carrying medication (Epipens (adrenaline), antihistamines etc) in a pack, getting help if the person collapses etc. In their home environment, dogs can also be trained to remind their handler to take medication at regular intervals such as the same time in the morning and night each day. They are taught a different way to indicate this than what is used for allergy alerting so there is clear communication what the dog is telling the handler.

Choosing a Dog for the Task

Since anaphylactic alert dogs need to check counter surfaces and other high places, it helps to have a dog that is a reasonable height.
A breed that has a higher number of sensory cells in her nose helps for finer detection. (link to list)

If you or your child has possible dog allergies, consider a hypo-allergenic breed, realizing that they are actually not allergy free, just that the person is less likely to react to the dog. 
Crosses of these breeds (such as poodle) may or may not have the non-shedding coat, depending on how many generations F1, F2, F3 of the mixes have been bred.
Avoid short-nosed dogs (brachycephalic) as they have fewer sensory cells and also may have breathing problems of their own.
Depending on your lifestyle, dogs with shorter coats (such as labs, pointers,hounds, Dalmatians) may work better than dogs that don’t shed since they have less fur to bring in allergens from the outdoors such as grass pollens and can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth to remove pollens.
Dogs that are eager to work and play with you are the best choice as they will always be up for the challenge. At the same time, the dog has to fit into your lifestyle.
Also consider the food you are feeding your dog as that may affect how allergic to her you are. (If you are feeding your dog a food with corn for example and you have corn allergies, you may show more symptoms than if you feed a diet without corn.

Here is a general approach to training an assistance dog to be of help with this disability. Anaphylaxis is a disability recognized by the ADI in the US and Canada.

Anaphylaxis alert dogs are trained the same way as a drug narcotics (scent) detection dog and diabetic alert dogs combined.

Here's a video showing how to pair an alert behavior with the scent. If you are training your own dog (or a family member or friend), see below for some suggestions to save you money while keeping you safe. Look for "Save on Costs"  Give careful consideration to what scents you choose to train with that are safe for you. If you choose smells that you run across on a daily basis (or that are common in your various environments), your dog will be constantly alerting to things that are trivial. In my environments, the only place we run into people drinking tea is at home and the cups are never on or near nose level or lower. The nice thing about tea is that it is almost always found in or near a cup as a clue to what the dog is alerting.




Here's the next step in the process, teaching the dog to smell for the scent on the ground and in containers.





Early on, dogs are typically started on a scent wheel. One container is used for the same scent to avoid cross contamination during training. Here's how to make one from easily available materials.


Tip: Start with clean containers. Materials of all kinds hold scents so make sure to mark and use only one container so as to not cross-contaminate the scent for the dog. A dog may alert to a container that had the scent in it previously (residue) as their noses can pick up very small amounts of scent. I use a pen to mark containers, or tie a knot in shoes etc. Just make sure the mark can be seen by you but will not be perceived by the dog as a visual clue.

Here is how to start your dog on a scent wheel.



There are many ways to teach your dog a basic scent search.
Here are Three:

Part A i Using Containers


Part A ii Adding a Cue to the Search Behavior


See Youtube for more numbered videos in the progression of training the allergy alert dog.
(Search "Donna Hill allergy alert")


For room searches, the dogs can be trained like Steve White does with the allergen as the scent item and the dog performs the alert behavior in its presence.



(Scent wheels vary in construction)

For the taking it on the road, practice hiding the vial with scent in it in your garage, the backyard, in a friend’s yard, in a friend’s house, in a bookstore (where you have gotten permission to train) etc.

There are many elements that need to be trained separately, before being added to the chain of behaviors. For example, the dog needs to learn to search at different heights. Teach the dog to rear up during a nose target (without using her paws), then add the scent in. Use chest of drawers, tables and  boxes stacked on their side to help the dog learn to search at height. Or use target sticks with a vial of scent on the end. Train at varying heights. Place many of them with only one scented one. Transfer to hiding it at different heights in the room.

Trainers work the dogs with a variety of small amounts of scents in any form: raw, cooked (canned, baked, steamed, dehydrated etc), oil, butter, dust (residue in packaging), and in combination with other food items (such as chocolate bar, in rice noodles) etc. Also, you want to train in smaller and smaller amounts of scent so the dog learns to indicate even trace amounts. Note: ideally, you don’t want the dog to touch the scent container, just indicate it. This will help reduce risk of the dog contaminating the handler after an alert.

They then teach the dog to detect other related substances the person is allergic to. For some people this would mean different kinds of tree nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews etc).

Once the alert behavior rate is consistently high (90% or higher) in one environment, they then start training the dog to alert in different environments with more distractions as will be needed by the client’s lifestyle.

Save on the Costs by Training the Foundation Behaviors Yourself
Since hiring a trainer to train the dog from the start can be an expensive proposition (especially if you or your child has a wide range of allergens to train), a suggestion is as follows:
Find a trainer who closely shares your training philosophy.
Work with them to create a detailed ‘how to’ training plan. (Watch for our videos that show a basic process and provide ideas).
With the trainer's guidance, but with the owner doing the training, start training your dog to do the alert behavior using scents that you (the future handler) can safely interact with. Use careful selection of the scent so that it is not one your dog might encounter in the environments the allergic person will be in or the dog will give what appears to be a false alert in public. In fact, she will be alerting to a scent that was trained. Also the scent does not have to be very strong. You may need to be creative.) Train one scent to a high level of accuracy and high degree of distraction, using room search patterns, low to high etc.
Train this one scent in several different indoor environments (increasing distraction levels) where your service dog in training has permission to be. Don't forget to include outdoor environments as they are usually more challenging for the dog and will improve their indoor scenting.
Train other scents one at a time (using the same approach) so the dog learns to generalize the behavior. (The more different scents the dog learns, the faster each retraining will be)
Next, have the trainer to train the dog from the beginning with one actual allergen at a site that the future handler will not be exposed to (usually their training center). (Be sure to have them wipe the dog down with a mild antiseptic before returning her to you after each training session.) For some allergens, there may be several different forms such as raw, cooked, liquid, oils, ground, trace etc. Ensure the trainer trains these as well.
Then have them train the dog to indicate other known anaphylactic allergens (one at a time) for you to a high degree of accuracy.
When complete, do several trial runs with the dog and the new alert scents in a public environment to you so the dog transfers the behavior back to alerting to you.
For maintenance purposes, the dog should be brought back to the trainer every 3 to 4 months (or as needed) to be re-freshed on the allergen since the handler cannot handle them due to exposure to the allergen. Dogs do have good memory for scent and this is what we are relying on for their alert.
Published in Tasking/Alerts

While shaping is usually used to teach a new behavior to a dog, it can also be used to fine tune a behavior or even reshape an old one or parts of a known one. Shaping can be applied to large behavior changes or fine tuning behaviors.

Think of shaping a behavior as a process of revision. Rewriting a book is shaping that book into a different form to a higher degree of detail. For dogs it might be teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash. Heeling is a finer precision of walking on a loose leash.

How do you do this?
1. Select which criteria you want to improve.
Every behavior has more than one part that makes up the whole behavior. This is criteria. Is it timing, movement, speed of response, finesse, accuracy of a behavior? Do trial of 10 repetitions for one behavior. Note your dog’s proficiency in it. Is the whole behavior where you would like it? Is there a part of it you would like to improve? Note which ones your dog needs improvement with. You can shape each of these separately.

2. For each criteria, select for the better responses.
Repeat 10 repetitions and see how many times out of 10 that your dog actually does the criteria to your satisfaction. Is it 5 out of 10? To move to the next level you want it to be at least 8/10.
Dogs are not computers and each time they do a behavior there is variability in how they perform it. A behavior might be harder, longer, more focused, superfluous etc. It is this variability that allows us to shape behaviors.

3. Practice only that part of a behavior you want to improve the criteria, this time clicking/treating only for those behaviors that meet your slightly higher requirements.

So to reshape your dog to be more gentle with his teeth (and more aware that there are toes under your sock) focus on the first part of the pull only. Maybe in 10 repetitions, your dog grabs your sock roughly 4 times and slightly more gently 6 times before pulling it all the way off. Click only the more gentle grabs and he need not pull the sock all the way off. Keep practicing until you notice that your dog is able to offer the gentler grabs 8/10 times.

Tip: If you raise your requirements too fast, your dog will not get c/t and will get frustrated and may quit. You must be observant to ensure that you are raising your criteria at a level appropriate to your dog's current abilities so she can still have success but start slightly modifying her behavior to match your shaping plans.

Now increase your requirements so this time your dog takes the sock a little more gently 8/10 times (or more). Increase your requirements slightly again. Does he still need more improvement? Keep practicing and increasing his required gentleness and only select those behaviors which are slightly more gentle.

Keep upping the requirements in little steps until your dog is able to offer the behavior you desire consistently. Then add the new criteria as part of the whole behavior.

Example 1:
Placing a coin into a small container is really an exercise in shaping. You need to work on two different shaping criteria separately.
1. Size of object being retrieved and placed.
2. Size of the opening the object is being placed into.

1. Size of object being retrieved and placed.
Start with an object that is comfortable size and familiar to your dog. Practice with this until he is successful 8/10 or more. Then choose a slightly smaller object and practice with that until 8/10 successful. Continue in this vein until your dog is able to pick up and carry very small items such as coins (start with largest coins and work down), a chain of paper clips, a ring etc. If you are introducing a new material to your dog, you may need to do some separate training until your dog is comfortable it before decreasing size of object further-metal is a good example)

2. Size of the opening the object is being placed into.
During a separate training session, start with a laundry basket your dog can easily reach into. Then when he is successful placing objects into that, try a slightly smaller box. Then a smaller one, then a plastic bucket, then a plastic container with a smaller opening. Notice that you are slowly decreasing the size of the target area where your dog drops the object. At some point you will need to switch to smaller and smaller objects so do that training first. Train your way down in size to the narrow-mouthed container.

Now you can combine the criteria to finish with the final behavior-your dog retrieves a coin and places it into a narrow-mouthed jar. Congratulations, you have just shaped two criteria and put them together to get a finished behavior!

Example 2
Don’t like the way your dog delivers retrieved objects to you? Reshape that end part of the retrieve. Start from where he is at, and determine what criteria you need to work on. Is it how accurately he can target your hand? (see above for process) or that he lets go as soon as he touches your hand with his nose? Work on only that part of the skill before you start adding it to the whole retrieve behavior chain. The dog must learn to push objects into your hand and hold them there until you to give a release cue.


Why do You Retrain Only One Part of a Complicated Behavior?
If you wait until the dog has completed a whole behavior to click, he has no way to know which part of the behavior he did well and which part he did substandard. Was was too boisterous in running to get the object? Was he sloppy in picking it up? Was he slow in returning to you? Did he drop it on the floor at your feet? Because there are so many parts to a behavior, you really need to zero in on the part that he is not performing as well as you would like. Work on that, then integrate it by chaining it back into the larger behavior.

What Behaviors Do you Want to Improve?
Break them down into their criteria and reshape each part as necessary!


Click here to see a previous post on Shaping.  Want Some help with Shaping? Book a web cam session with Donna

Published in Dog Basic Skills
Tuesday, 06 October 2020 10:49

Are You a Recipe Trainer or a Concept Trainer?

Your approach to dog training can make or break your service dog's success! Everyone has skills in some areas and not in others. Knowing if you tend toward being a "recipe trainer" or a "concept trainer" can help you know what to focus on to improve your training.

Check out this chart to contrast the two approaches. Where do you fall on the continuum between the two types? 

Recipe Trainer

Concept Trainer

is skills-based. They follow a lesson plan to teach specific skills only. is theory-based. They learn and understand the principles such as systematic desensitization, counter conditioning, operant conditioning, Premack's Principle, capturing, shaping and chaining.
is a procedural learner. They memorize but not understand what they are doing or why. They are great at following step by step directions from someone else and may vary it a bit but that’s it. It is very much like following a cooking recipe. You measure each part but are afraid to test the parameters as you might wreck the product. is principle learner. They can apply (generalize) the principles and concepts to teaching many behaviors and situations.

 
believes that one training plan can work for all dogs knows their dog's specific learning style and can choose training approaches and recipes that best suit that specific dog
has weak observation skills and poor interpretation of their dog's body language. Doesn't know or understand natural dog behavior.   has strong observation skills and can interpret their dog's body language and use that to change the course of a training session. Understands canine ethology.
focusses on short-term goals. Teaches only specific behaviors to pass a test such as those needed for the Public Access test for service dogs. keeps long term concepts in mind while teaching the smaller goals. Teaches the broader goals of being safe in public, being calm and reliable in public and working as part of a team. 
hopes the dog will figure out how to react appropriately in public prepares the dog for the unpredictability of real life in public using systematic desensitization, counter conditioning etc. as needed
limited ability to apply recipe to other behaviors applies principles, situations, tasks and to teach concepts. Teaches the dog many examples of the concept so she can learn it. An example is duration. If the dog is taught to hold her nose to a target, wait at a door, stay in a relaxed down, hold an object in her mouth and look at you, each calmly for a duration of time, the dog starts to understand that patience gets her what she wants. 
rarely reviews or evaluates what they have done and why it worked or didn't work regularly reflects on and analyzes training and situations and applies changes to current ones
tries to solve specific problems without seeing the bigger behavior patterns involved looks for patterns in behaviors and between behaviors. They use critical thinking skills and categorize and organize information using logic.
has hard time breaking behaviors into smaller steps when they haven't seen someone else do it first. understands the smaller pieces that make up behaviors. For example, a nose nudge is made up of three behaviors or a retrieve is at least 6 different behaviors. 
 follows what others have done  creative thinkers for behaviors and problem solving


Concept Training

In human and dog training, concept learning is key since there are so many different behaviors the handler and a service dog need. They also face so many different daily challenges. Learning to teach your dogs conceptually means that you can figure out how to teach any behavior or task you will need as your medical condition changes as well as being able to teach your own successor service dogs with less guidance. This will save you money and is also empowering and fun! Your dog will learn faster once you have put in the time to learn the theory upfront.

Problem Solving Examples
Conceptual learners are good problem solvers. They are creative in applying what they know. They seldom need help with teaching their dog new skills. They see the big picture while also seeing the immediate picture and how they fit together. Conceptual knowledge allows the trainer to break the steps down when they are teaching their dog. This is especially helpful for problem-solving since they can isolate the problem part of the behavior and reteach that.

Example 1.
A procedural learner would ask:
“How do I get my dog to ignore people while working?”
She would receive the list resources (such as a step by step approach, human helpers etc.) that was given to her, and then apply them so the dog would not engage with people.

In contrast, a conceptual learner would ask:
“What is the general approach I can take to help desensitize my dog to a trigger?”
And with a few general ideas from others, would be able to create a plan on her own, identify what resources are needed for the plan and carry it out. In addition, she would be able to recognize and apply the ideas to other situations that need desensitization such as overexcitement, fear of people, other dogs and animals, loud noises, etc.

Example 2.
When faced with a dog that has low interest in doing a specific behavior or task, a procedural learner would ask:
“How can I get my dog more excited about performing my medical task?”

In contrast, a conceptual learner would ask:
“What principle can I use to increase my dog's enthusiasm for the task?

The conceptual answer would be: “You can apply Premack’s Principle to increase his enthusiasm for the task.” If the handler didn’t know what Premack’s principle was, they could research it and see some examples of how to apply it, then generalize those ideas to their specific situation.

Example 3.
A procedural learner asks: “How would I prepare my dog for going to a concert?”

A conceptual learner would ask: “What specific things would I need to desensitize my dog to to prepare him to attend an indoor concert with me.”

The first is looking for an a, then b, then c type answer. In other words, they want you to tell them how to do it step by step. The second is asking for ideas of specific criterion they need to train for that they might not have considered (especially if they have never been to an indoor concert before). They already have a broad plan in place (using desensitization) they are just looking for things they might have missed.

Look at Other People's Questions
Take a look in various dog training groups on social media and look for the types of questions people ask. From them, you can tell what kind of trainer they are and what types of answers that would be helpful for each. A recipe trainer wants a step by step answer, perhaps one that considers all the "What if's". A concept trainer only needs to be pointed to the principles that apply and they can figure out the rest of the process.

The good news is everyone can learn to improve their concept training! That will allow them to deal with any situation that arises and to train any behavior, skill or task their service dog may need. That will save money and hassles in the long run.

Improve Your Knowledge!
If you want to begin learning the theory and skills behind training your dog as a service dog, take a look at our online "Foundation Skills" self-paced classes. Then if you want to keep learning, check out our other classes such as Loose Leash Walking, Settle/Relax and Public Access Level 1 and 2 (Preparation for Public Access). Between the four classes, you will learn the major teaching Principles and how to apply them so can train your own service dog to be a safe, responsive partner for you in life.

Booking a one hour session or more with Donna can also help you pinpoint what principles you need to learn more about to improve your service dog training skills.

Published in Training Skills
Monday, 02 March 2020 21:07

Keeping Training a Service Dog Simple

Keeping Training a Service Dog Simple

Training your own service dog seems like a complicated long term and in depth process, and it is! Keeping the process simple is the key to being able to follow through! 
 
Here is an Overview:
 
Identify Qualities
you would like your dog to have.
 
Some Examples of Qualities:
A calm dog in many different environments
A dog that desires interaction with you or to be in close proximity with you.
A dog that is confident no matter where he is working.
A dog that is able to really relax in different environments.
A dog that is comfortable with strangers.
A dog that has body awareness.
 
Generalize Behaviours
Identify a few basic behaviours that are key to starting getting those qualities. Generalize those behaviours.
Identify what concepts your dog needs to know.
Generalize those concepts to different locations. 
Make the base behaviours a habit.
 
Some Examples of Behaviours:
A dog that looks at you.
A dog that can lay down on a mat near you.
A dog that can leave objects alone (not sniff, pick up or  or eat objects).
A dog that can nose target objects.
A dog that can step over a series of rungs without knocking them over.
 
Generalize Concepts
Identify a few basic concepts you would like your dog to generalize well.
 
Some Examples of Concepts:
A dog can do a variety of behaviours at a distance from the handler
A dog that can do a behaviour for a long period of time (duration).
A dog that moves at the same speed as the handler.
A dog that can nose target any indicated object anywhere.
A dog that is careful with where his body is in space no matter what situation he is in.
A dog that can be walked away from the handler by a stranger without a verbal cue or hand signal.
A dog that chooses to do an appropriate default behaviour when not specifically cued to do a behaviour in a specific environment (such as leave it for scents, food, other people, other dogs etc. 
 
Fear Periods 
Take into account that fear periods occur and when they might occur. 
If they erupt, take a few steps back and reinforce base behaviours in familiar places and move forward  in incrementally new locations.
 
Train the Dog in Front of You. 
This means assessing each training session where your dog is at and what he might be able to do in that moment. Do this in each session no matter if you have trained in that spot only once or a hundred times before. 
 
Keep your eye on the bigger goal and try not to get bogged down in the details. It you find you are getting mired in the mud, get an outside perspective. You may also need help to use creativity to problem solve. 

Contact SDTI to do a web cam consult with either Jenn Hauta or Donna Hill.
Published in Training Skills

Question:
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? 

Answer:
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!

Published in Public Access

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.

Benefits 
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)

Concerns

  • 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

Tips:

  • 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. 

 

Published in Choosing a Service Dog
Saturday, 21 December 2019 12:35

What is involved in Self-Training a Service Dog?

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! 

Thursday, 28 November 2019 08:20

Handling Errors in Service Dogs

Making errors can be very stressful for a dog, especially one working in public where the spotlight is on them. They don't deliberately try to make mistakes. Training is ongoing and you and your dog are always learning together, no matter how much experience you have together. 

The big question is what you do when your dog makes a mistake? How you deal with the situation can either build your relationship or create confusion and degrade what bond you have. 
Sure you have bad days and your dog does too! And he is allowed to have them! He's not a robot just like you aren't. 

If he has made the mistake twice in a row (no matter how big or small the mistake is), it's time to stop, take a break and take stock in what is going on for the dog.

Start with Asking Questions to Clarify the Situation

1. Does he truly know the behavior? Does he know exactly what is expected of him?
2. Do you see any signs of stress? Specific behaviors like avoidance behaviors are very high level indicators while nose tip licks and averting his eyes tend to be signs of lower levels of stress.
3. Does he understand the cue? Have you put in enough repetitions that it has become muscle memory and he just responds to the cue as a stimulus (think can opener and cat comes running).
4. Is what your body cuing to do and what your mouth is saying actually the same thing?
5. Have you given him time to acclimate to the environment? or did you rush right in and expect him to work? Just like when you go to a party and take a look around to get your bearings before choosing where to move in, your dog needs this time as well. He needs to feel comfortable in the environment so he can work.
6. Is there something in the environment telling him to do something other than what you are telling him to do?
7. Have you given him the foundation for length of time that he needs to be able to sustain the behavior in the new environment? If he can't do it at home, he's not likely to be able to do it away from home.
8. Have you trained with the specific distractions that he is concerned about or distracted by? What might be competing for his attention?
9. Are you trigger stacking him? In other words, are there are too many things going on that he is over his ability (threshold) to deal with and think about what he is doing?
10. Have you prepared him to do the distance that you are asking him to do?11. Did you skip some steps when training in the environment? This can result in a dog that is confused what behavior you want or how long you want it for. This might be called the "miracle method" where your dog is not succeeding in other environments and you decided to just take him anyway and see how he does. 
12. Can you control the immediate environment well enough that your dog can feel comfortable and focussed to work?

If you can honestly answer these questions and admit that you believe your dog has been properly prepared for both the behavior and the situation he finds himself in, here are some ideas of how to handle error.s 

How to Handle Errors: 

A. Cheerfully reset him the first time. "That's okay buddy, let's try it again!"
A reset might involve taking a small step to the side and re-cuing the behavior, followed with a mark and reward.
Or it might be taking him out of the environment and approaching it again. 

B. If he makes two errors in a row, you need to ask him for something a little easier so he can succeed.
Decrease the duration of the behavior, the distance from you or the target, or move away from a distraction.
Set him up to show you what he CAN do, rather than what he can't. 

C. If you suddenly realize that you've asked for too much, reward your dog for attempting the behavior.
If he refuses to lay down, for example, but will go part way down, mark and reward him on the way down!
You will know when he's made an effort if he does the behavior but maybe only part of it. That's a great start! 
You can use shaping the behavior on the spot to get more of the behavior!

D. If he makes an error again, stop the session, give the dog a break and ask yourself (or helpers, or watch the video if you've been recording) "Why isn't he succeeding? What do I need to change so he can succeed?"
You may need to abort the that specific behavior and come back to it later after he's acclimated to the environment. 

For the break, and while you are evaluating what is going on, take him somewhere to be a dog for 10 minutes or more, then come back and try again but train the behavior in an easier environment.
Work at the edge of the environment or at the back of the room to see if he can succeed there.  You can move further into the room if he is successful. 

E. Teach the behavior to a higher level in other more familiar environments. Make sure he can perform it to a higher level than he will ever need to perform it in real life. You can make it fun to add more duration, distance and distraction. Use an incremental approach to prepare him well. Be creative but be kind! Avoid surprising him. 
Do specific set ups with specific distractions to teach your dog that he can indeed ignore the distractions and perform the behavior no matter what is going on around your team.

If you think of your dog's mistakes as information to what you are asking him to do, rather than his failure, then it's just that, information. Use that information to change what you are doing to help him succeed. That is how you build his confidence, trust and grow as a team!
As a trainer/handler you need to always be on the alert to what your dog is feeling and adapt what you ask him to do to what he is capable on that day in that moment. You are a partnership and while he supports you, you also need to support him.

Good luck! 

if you need some support to come up with ways to break behaviors down into smaller steps, creative ways to over-prepare him for specific situations, and generally help your dog succeed in public, contact us!
We can help you plan beforehand and also deal with the situation in the moment, real time by phone or webcam.

Published in Public Access
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