While well-run daycares can be a super way to help your adolescent dog to learn and maintain dog social skills, learn to be calm in the presence of other dogs, call away from other dogs and to provide mental and physical stimulation, poorly-run day cares can create problems that didn’t exist before. These can be tough to change once they have become established patterns.
- Dog becomes overly interested in other dogs. Wants to play or interact in public.
- Dog arousal level increases and they start to pull on leash, especially in confined areas like gates.
- Dogs become dog-reactive. Seeing a single dog in the distance triggers an over reaction (from fear to aggression).
Some Things to Look for in a Well-run Dog Daycare
Note: It is unlikely that any one daycare will met all of the but the list gives you things to look for and you can evaluate if they meet you and your dog's specific needs. For example, small numbers of dogs in a home setting would be my preference to a larger facility with more dogs and larger staff, but that's just me.
- dogs are health-screened
- behavioural screening ( with live interview) to meet the dog alone, then introduce her to at least one other dog from the daycare in a separate space to observe interactions
- Dog groups are pre-matched for confidence, size, play style, tolerance, and energy levels.
- will explain what will be done in case of emergency
- you get to meet the staff
- get references from the daycare and find out what their expectations and experiences have been, any new behaviours in their dogs?
- floors and walls sanitized on a regular basis
- separate entrances for entries and exits and “airlocks” so the dogs don’t meet face to face and have a chance to calm down before coming in or going out.
- enough space and dividers in the facilities as needed to comfortably house a small number of dogs.
- non-slip surfaces
- access to outdoors for part of the day or walked with one or two other suitable dogs
- high floor space per dog is desirable
- air conditioning and/or heating (depending on your local weather)
- live web cam feed desirable
- are educated in seeing the early signs of stress in dogs (dog body language)
- respond appropriately to the signs they see
- are proactive to prevent unwanted situations from arising
- know when to intervene to prevent escalation
- knowledge and appropriate tools of how to safely break up a scuffle
- will not use punishment or aversive tools to manage the dogs (spray bottles, shaker cans, e-collars, prong-collars etc)
- ideally, staff are members of professional organizations that have ethical statements for members to use positive reinforcement and low stress interactions.
- high staff to dog ratios (1:4 for example)
- regular reporting of health and behavior issues
- rotational play with other dogs
- planned down time during each four hour period of a day (crates or X-pen)
- small numbers of dogs at one time such as in a home setting
- dogs are constantly supervised (staff in the same room and eyes on dogs at all times-not just watching a live feed from other room)
- are taught basic behaviors that are needed the dog’s to manage behaviour entering, exiting and being in the facility and yard
- use current ethical teaching approaches
Dogs going through adolescence before they become service dogs often present the greatest challenges that owner trainers often face. As a result, I am ever hunting for more information about how to ease that stage for both dogs and handlers. In my research, I recently came across a study on goldens, labradors and German shepherd dogs and mixes of these.
Teenage Dogs? Evidence for adolescent-phase conflict behavior and an association between attachment to humans and pubertal timing in the domestic dog. It has important implications for training a dog, and particularly service dogs.
When talking with students about dogs, some seem to have mostly clear sailing with their dogs through the adolescent period, while others have a moderate amount of challenges and others have a long drawn out period fraught with high level challenges. I suspected that the emotional environment the dogs were raised in played an important role as did genetics so in the past, I have always referred students back to their breeder to get more information about their specific lines. This study highlights the importance of a secure emotional attachment with the handler and its effects on the onset age of puberty, the length of the adolescent period and the intensity of unwanted behaviors during that adolescent period. The emotional interactions with a dog determines the quality of attachment.
Here is an excerpt from the study.
"Owing to behavioural and physiological similarities between parent–child and owner–dog relationships, the aim of this study was to examine the extent to which adolescence in dogs shares characteristics of adolescence in humans. Specifically, we investigated owner–dog parallels of three proposed characteristics of human parent–adolescent relations: (i) an earlier puberty for female dogs with less secure attachments to their carer; (ii) adolescent-phase conflict behaviour exhibited toward their carer; and (iii) greater conflict behaviour in dogs with less secure attachments to their carer."
I think this study has implications for how a handler interacts with their dog and creates a secure attachment. Learning to respond appropriately to a dog's communication and behaviors (such as demanding behavior and frustration) in a way that creates a secure attachment to the handler is a key part of that. A previous study refined a base definition of what secure attachment looks like in dogs. Secure attachment in the study looked at the dog's ability to play with and longer duration when playing with new toys with the owner rather than a stranger in the room, the dog's closer proximity to the owner when playing with the toy than a stranger, and the handler providing social support for the dog in the presence of strangers, In other studies, they also looked at the dog's behavior when separated from the handler during when stressful situations.
Hopefully, there will be other studies to follow that give human family members a clearer indication of what can be done to increase the age of puberty, shorten the adolescent period and decrease the intensity of unwanted behaviors during the crazy teen period for service dogs and pet dogs. That will decrease the conflict that occurs and possibly increase the success rate of service dogs in training for owner trainers.
Questions for Medical Doctors, Nurse Practitioners, Psychiatrists to Help Clients Decide if a Service Dog is an Appropriate Health Care Treatment Option
Check the links in the text for more detailed information on the point.
- Have other treatments to mitigate the diagnosed health issue been tried? If so, What? How well did they work? Technology is often cheaper in the long run as it is a one time cost, low maintenance etc. How well would a dog integrate with those treatments?
Is your client's medical condition stable? Do they understand their condition or disease and it's limits?
Does the client have multiple medical conditions that would put too many ongoing demands on the dog?
Has your client lived with and been responsible for a dog before? (Such as feed, exercise, train, emotionally connect with etc. not just lived with a dog.)
Would a dog be safe being cared for by your client? Is the client on medication that moderates their emotions? If the client stops taking medication would the dog be at risk?
Would they be able to meet the dog’s mental, physical and emotional needs?
Is the living environment safe and suitable for a dog? (physical and emotional -easy access to outdoors, fenced yard, enough space, family members in agreement how the dog will be treated and trained, there is no volatile tempers or abuse in the home etc)
Does your client have the mental ability to train a dog? This involves learning how dogs learn, learning to communicate with their dog and respond appropriately etc.
Does your client have the ability to manage his/her own frustration in an appropriate way at home and in public places?
Does your client have the executive functioning skills to train a dog (memory, timing, record keeping, communication skills, ability to stick to a daily structure etc)?
Can your client build a support team for the service dog training process 3 years plus? And lifelong support for the dog itself?
Does the client have the ability to safely manage the dog in unpredictable public situations?
Is the client able to functionally deal with strangers interacting and asking about the dog? Having a service dog public places attracts unwanted attention from the public. Public Access with the dog may be challenged by retailers, restaurants and accommodation providers. Can your client handle such confrontations without getting overly stressed and escalating into inappropriate behaviors?
Does the client have a way to pay for the initial cost of the dog and training to public access?
Does the client have a way to pay for ongoing costs like feeding, veterinary, biannual recertification and life training and behavior maintenance?
Does the client have enough emotional energy to train a dog every day? How tolerant of training failures and frustrations are they?
Does the client have enough physical energy to exercise and train a dog every day?
Can the client emotionally handle a dog that fails as a service dog in public? What will happen to the dog if this occurs? Will the dog stay as a pet? Be re-homed with a family member or friend? The success rate for owner-trained dogs is very low and some people train several dogs before they find one that is successful and they have developed the skills to train that dog.
Can your client either fundraise or have enough money to maintain and train a service dog?
Is the dog they are considering suitable as a service dog: confident, resilient, calm, friendly to strangers etc?
Note: If you write a prescription for a service dog, it is simply to state that your client has a disability and a service dog could help mitigate their disability (in the same way a wheelchair is a medical device). It is not for a specific dog nor does it say their dog has been trained as a service dog.
Over the years, we at SDTI have watched many service dogs teams successfully train to working in public together. I thought it would be helpful for potential owner-trainers to take a look at the top characteristics that all the successful teams consistently possess. They are not in any particular order. They are your best bet to set yourself and your dog up to being successful as a working service dog team in the future.
Component 1 Right Stage of Disability
Many people love dogs, may already have one and jump to the conclusion that training their dog as a service dog will solve their problems. Instead, the bigger question should be: Are you in a place with your disability where you are able to support training a service dog and is it the best choice to mitigate your disability?
A handler needs to have a diagnosed disability. They need to be at a point in that disability where they understand how it affects their life on a daily basis and how the disability may change in the future. It needs to be stable or improving at the present time.
The handler must have seriously tried or considered other forms of support for the disability under the guidance of their healthcare providers. There are many lifestyle and environmental changes, new technologies & gadgets and medical and or psychological interventions that will be more time, energy and cost effective than a service dog.
Basically, a service dog should be well down the list for consideration after other interventions, not first in line. Consider how a service dog may augment those other forms of support. How might a dog interfere? What specific tasks might a dog do to mitigate your disability? Is the effort of training a dog to service dog standards worth the value of the tasks?
Component 2 Provide the Correct Environment For A Dog
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.
Service dog owner-trainers who have a long-term training plan and follow consistent program and get help as they need it are more successful than those who dabble and try to create one themselves. Take a look at Service Dog Training Institute's training program. It trains the handler and the dog not only in behaviours but to prepare the team for a functional life together.
If you score high on all of these, or can find ways to consistently overcome the challenges involved, you are more likely to succeed in training your own service dog to public access working level. If you need help in assessing yourself, your situation or your dog, contact us to book a Zoom session.
Help! What I was told to do isn’t working!
How you do things is just as important as what you are doing! While you may understand what to do, actually carrying it out in the right way is also important to your dog’s success!
Below are some common examples I have come across recently.
- Early neurological stimulation is a program that is done on individual pups in a litter when the pups are between 3 and 16 days old to help build a more resilient adult dog. Doing the protocol earlier or later will affect how much impact it has on each pup. Doing each step shorter or longer also affects the outcome. Doing 3 seconds instead of 5 makes a big difference. How often the protocol is done (such as more than once a day) can also affect the outcome.
- Once a pup comes home, socialization to your world is key to later confidence. Whether you force the pup into situations or let him decide how fast he will go into interactive situations is one example. Do you set the pace of interaction or do you let your pup set the pace or something in between?
- When carrying out a systematic desensitization process for excitement before going for walks, do you leave a harness on a doorknob or do you take it out only for desensitization sessions. Do you have the harness close to the dog or far away to start with?
- When you are training operantly, how is your timing? What criterion are you using as your objective for that session? Where are you delivering your treat? Are you talking to your dog and making extra motion when you train? These can confuse a dog.
- When using massage, do you use long firm strokes or short fast strokes? Long slow strokes with a full hand can calm a dog. Short fast strokes using just the finger tips can actually excite a dog and do the opposite of what you want.
So the next time you read a training description or watch a video, it is good to pay attention to how you do something, not just what you do!
And if you find the process isn’t working for you, get some help from an experienced trainer who can spot these tiny pieces that can make a huge difference in you and your service dog’s success.
Book a Zoom consult, show me what you are doing and how you are doing it, or submit a video for us to discuss! You’ll be glad you did! Little changes can have big effects!
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.
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.
When I was back in university, I took a class called "Environmental Psychology" that had a huge impact on how I looked at the world. Right from the first class, I learned an important lesson. Context can affect our views and behaviors!
At the time, I lived and breathed teaching children and families about nature and the environment animals live in. So, when I read the class description, I thought the class was going to be about how the natural environment affects human behavior. Imagine my surprise when I stepped into the classroom the first session and found out that we were going to study how the built environment affects humans behaviors! An example would be how we move through a shopping mall affects our purchasing choices. I seriously considered dropping the class but decided that while it was different than what I thought, it might prove to be of interest and value after all. It was!
In that class, we looked closely at how every part of the environment can change how we interact with it. From the width and flow of hallways to the color of the walls and height of the ceiling affects if we are attracted to that location, how we feel in it, what we do in it and how long we stay there. It can even affect what we purchase while we are in it!
Changing the Environment Changes the Behavior
Just changing the appearance of the entrance to a store can make it more appealing to enter into. Choosing the design and comfort of a chair can affect how long the customer stays. If a chair is comfortable, a customer will stay longer. If the chair is uncomfortable, they will leave more quickly. Fast food chains like McDonald's achieved a higher turnover through their restaurants for many years when they used hard ugly yellow chairs attached to the tables. Conversely, family restaurants who want you to stay longer and eat more, offer more comfortable padded dining booths that afford privacy and often some sound dampening. Deliberately placing small items like gum, candy and magazines near cash lines at grocery stores takes advantage of people's impulsiveness while waiting. Most of this behavior response is unconscious and is conditioned by repeated exposure and becomes a habit.
How it Applies to a Service Dog in Training
The knowledge from the field of environmental psychology is very relevant to training a service dog. For the most part, we choose and create the environment around our dogs. The size and design of the house and yard we choose to live in with them, the access to the house (the level of freedom they have), the arrangement of objects that are found within and extends to the emotional environment we create and especially the habits we get into all affect how our dog behaves to a large degree. Like us humans, much of this behavior response is unconscious and becomes habitual.
Good Crate Habits
Let's start with a crate. It's a small confined space often placed in a quiet location in the house. Often there is a soft cushion in it. The dog is put in the crate when we want him to rest or take a nap. We will sit quietly nearby. Maybe he's given a food toy to occupy and calm him at first. If the crate door is left open, we may find that the dog chooses to go in during the day when he wants some quiet time. That combination of things teaches him that being in the crate means he can be calm and relaxed within one.
In teaching the crate, we may also see a dog that can calm down in a crate but not when laying out in the room with the family. That's likely because he's learned that the only place he gets a break or needs to be calm is when he is in the crate. At other times someone is interacting with him or entertaining him. The family needs to learn to build in some quiet time with the dog out of the crate. Maybe it starts in the evening, when everyone is tired from the day, the dog cuddles with the handler on the floor or couch. The handler might start with a massage. Then as the dog has learned to calm there, just the warmth of laying next to the handler or on a particular mat is calming. With repeated exposure, the dog learns to be calm out of the crate as well. The same can apply with a dog that is calm in the car but not out on a walk. His handler has likely gotten into the habit of putting the dog into the car (a small quiet stationary place) after the walk, perhaps to talk with friends, but never set up the situation for the dog to learn to be calm and rest out of the car. Next time, bring a mat and have the dog settle on the mat on leash next to you as you talk with your friend.
Coming and Going
When we come back into the room or house after an outing and we interact with our dog in a positive way when she's excited (jumping up etc), then we are conditioning (making it a habit) that excitement. Instead, if we come in and get busy doing something else, and wait to interact when the dog is calmer (it only takes two or three minutes), we will have a calmer dog when we come and go. (Check out this calming video)
Being Calm on Outings
A dog that is habitually revved up before, during or after training sessions or outing (to burn off extra energy first) conditions a high adrenaline response before and during training. Chasing balls triggers adrenaline for example. That is the opposite of what we want in an assistance dog. Choosing less adrenalizing ways to expend extra energy with a service dog is ideal. A long walk at a steady speed can take the edge off and have a calming effect because serotonin is released during the sustained exercise.
Settling in outdoor setting.
Photo used with permission by Ingrid Mcue 2021.
Making Better Choices of Reinforcers
Carefully choosing what reinforcers we use can make a huge impact on the present and future behavior of a dog. Our behavior, massage, food and play can all be used.
Using calm body language (avoiding flailing arms and excessive body movements) can help a dog stay calm. Moderating your voice (generally lower tones, speaking slowly and using softer volumes) can have an calming influence. Make sure to use calm sound and body movements at first, then teach him to remain calm even when your voice and body language tells him you are excited.
While massage is less exciting than food for most dogs, how you use it makes a big difference. Heavy fast pressure can actually excite some dogs. Generally long slow medium strokes are calming. Food can be calming (low value) as the chewing process calms a dog or it can be exciting if your dog loves all food and gulps it! Toy play can be super exciting or only moderately exciting. This doesn't limit play from your dog's repertoire, just be careful in why and when you choose to use it. If you want your dog to show more enthusiasm for a specific behavior, such as pulling forward guiding, then use toy play afterwards to increase the enthusiasm.
If your dog gets excited about food (as most Golden retriever and Labrador retrievers do!) then use massage to consistently reinforce a calm behavior or task. If your dog doesn't value a massage, then you need to teach him it has value!
Training in Public Places
Taking a dog to an environment that has constant movement, such as a dog park or busy mall, and never teaching him he can be calm there results in a dog that expects to be doing something at all times. Instead, take his mat and settle at a distance to watch. Use massage to help him stay calm. Do it for short periods and only increase the duration when he is successful at lower durations. Only then incrementally decrease the distance from the excitement.
When we do public access training, if all we do is train in motion the entire time we are out, the dog never learns to be calm or rest away from home. They learn to expect to be "on" the whole time. Instead, we need to teach them that being calm and relaxed is in fact what they can do most of the time when away from home. We need to get into the habit of adding calm settle sessions away from home. Do them often in an outing. Then build time into those. This is hard for many people, especially if they are uncomfortable away from home. You may need to have someone else to do this part of the training for you until the dog is ready to have you accompany them. A family member or trusted friend can do this or hire an experienced trainer to take on this part of the training, then transition it over to you.
Here is a service dog sleeping in a hospital.
(photo used with permission from Sarah Magnan 2021)
Calm During Anxiety and Panic Attacks
If a dog consistently sees, especially from a young age, the handler being emotionally affected by a trigger or environment, that dog can become sensitized to those events or situations. There is research to support that. So, we either start with an older dog that has had her personality shaped by a more stable environment before we start training anxiety-related tasks or we can try to avoid letting her experience stressful situations until she is old enough to handle it. Most dogs start getting to emotional and social maturity at 18 months of age or later.
Consider Your Own Environment
So knowing that the physical and emotional environment affect your dog, what things do you do to unknowingly excite your dog every day? What specific things can you do to change the environment around your service dog in training to change his response to a calmer one?
I am so glad I stayed in the class as it was a life lesson of considering the environment's affect on not only human behavior but that of service dog behavior!
If you'd like to get some specific ideas on what environmental changes are possible for your environment and identify what habits you and your family might have that are working against you teaching your service dog in training to be calm, book a web cam session with me!
When learning how to train your own service dog, there is much theory to be learned.
In order to successfully train your service dog, you need to transfer that theory into practice. Some people can do it easily, while others are okay and still others understand the theory but struggle with putting it into practice.
First, identify where your area of weakness is.
It helps if you practice all three steps like any other skill.
Get help from a family member, friend or professional trainer to help you think through all the considerations needed for your specific dog and situation. They can also help you make a plan to implement the theory.
Then demonstrate what what you need to do. (Learning by observation is a key skill for humans too.)
First, let's look at the practical training skills, also called "training mechanics".
Choose a Theory and a Behavior
Let's start with applying the concept of "capturing". Capturing is a great way to teach a dog what any behavior he already does naturally is called. First we get him to do it repeatedly and predictably, then we add the cue.
Choose a really simple behavior like sit or down for your dog. Your dog knows how to sit, we are just getting him to do it and adding a name to it so he knows that we are asking for it.
This experience is for you, not your dog so don't worry too much about how well he already does or does not do the behavior, just that he is willing to work with you.
Next, using the same behavior, plan a training session.
Where are you going to do the training. Why?
What equipment will you need? (reinforcers, props, etc.)
What training mechanic are you going to be working on (for you, not the dog)?
Exactly what will it look like?
What specific criterion are you looking for in this set of 10 repetitions?
How will you know he meets your criterion?
When will you mark? Before the dogs does it, while he is doing it? After he has done it?
What treat will you use? What value? What shape and texture(this can affect how far it rolls if you toss it)
Where will you move the treat to once you take it in your hand. In front of you? At your side?
Where will you release it to? His mouth? Drop it on the floor? If the latter, how far will the dog have to move to get it?
How will that line him up for the next repetition? It helps if for you to be very clear on where you are putting your treat (use a piece of tape to make where you want to place it or a bowl to toss or drop it into or put tape on the ground where you will toss it to.)
What will the next repetition look like? Dog stops chewing and lifts head or eyes to make contact with my eyes.
Great! If you have answered all these questions before you train, now you have a specific plan!
Do it! Hands-on Practice!
Practice the skill without your dog in the room. Put him into a crate or in the other room with a door or baby gate to stop him from getting to you.
Either use a stuffed dog or use a surrogate dog (a pillow works just fine!).
Set up the equipment (including a camera to film the session).
Set up the fake dog where you would place your real dog. Consider if the flooring material may affect a dog's ability to do the behavior (In this case is it slippery or grippy?)
Stand where you would stand if the dog was real.
Do a training session exactly as you would if your real dog were there. Do 10 repetitions in a nice even flow.
Record your session and afterward watch your body movements.
How did it feel? Did the process get smoother each time you did it?
Repeat the training session several times, each time paying attention to only one mechanical skill.
Where are you holding your treat delivery hand while you want for the click? This is called your "Home position". Keeping your hand there will prevent you from reaching for the treat before you click.
What is your criterion?
When will you click?
Where will you release the treat?
Here is a video showing me capturing eye contact from Jessie as an example to see what you are aiming for. The session is just 30 seconds long but is a good example to observe what I am doing rather than what the dog is doing.
Just watch the first 43 seconds. Do not do it yet with your dog. Just watch what I am doing in the video.
Now the theory. What training concept were you using? (Capturing)
Describe what you did.
Describe why you did it.
Was it successful?
What would you change the next time?
Now I want you to try it with your dog.
Keep everything else the same, just remove the fake dog and add your live dog to the set up.
What other behaviors might you use capturing to teach your dog the name of a behavior they already do?
For each behavior, what environment or situation does your dog tend to do it in? How could you set that situation up to increase the chances he will do the behavior again?
Is this process similar to other parts of the theory you already know? Such as classical conditioning? In what way?
The Beginnings of a New Skill!
Just like any other skill, doing it will feel awkward at first. Just like driving a car or learning a musical instrument, with practice you will likely feel more comfortable and be able to do it without thinking about it as you do it. The more practice you have doing the correct training mechanics, planning and applying the theory, the easier it will come to be.
Rather than asking others how you might solve your dog's problems, if you gain the ability to apply the theory, you will be able to solve them yourself.
If you are still having trouble with any of these three parts of the training process, then reach out and get some help.
We are available to do one hour web cam sessions or three 30 minute sessions to walk you through the process (scroll down the link for the one hour session). If you are clear on what you want to learn, we can help you get there!
Here is a link to 20 years of research that looks at why specific-bred guide dogs are removed or "washed" from work. This is important to look at as more and more people are owner-training dogs they have chosen as service and assistance dogs. If professionally bred dogs have issues, then it's no surprise that dogs chosen from pet and sport dog lines will have problems. The key is to choose your next service dog candidate carefully. Choose the right breed. Look for parents who are fearless. Look for breeders with mature dogs and multi-generations so you have a better feel for their potential.
A quick summary of the findings:
In the study 83% of the dogs retired. The reason for other dogs being removed from service were:
environmental anxiety, training issues (a lack of willingness to work or confidence) and fear and aggression.
Other reasons were chasing, lack of attentiveness, social behaviour, excitability and distraction.
An average service dog's working life is 3097 days. Dogs removed from service for behavioural reasons lost between 1,580 – 2,286 days of work.
Different issues were associated with dogs of different age categories.
Young dogs under 3.5 years of age were more likely to be removed for fear and aggression.
Training issues were the reason for removal of dogs older than 6 years.
Sex may also affect the type of behavior that triggers removal. Fear, aggression and chasing were more often cited in the neutered males (All guide dogs are neutered).
Breed may as well. Behavioral reasons for Labradors were the least likely reason to be removed from work. German Shepherds showed the most fear and aggression.
Note that this study does not include mention of dogs that were removed for health or other non-behavioral reasons. They are other things to consider.
This research points to the need to carefully choose your next service dog candidate. Not just any dog will do! Check out our FREE Service Dog Selection Class. There are many things to consider!