Many people talk about “Intelligent Disobedience" in a service dog. What is it and how does does it different from a “Default Behavior"?
- when he has not been cued to do a specific behaviour
- he’s uncertain of what other behaviour might be wanted from him
- when he wants or needs something
Intelligent Disobedience or Default Behavior?
Default Behaviors Can be Taught
Is a Hands-free Leash The Right Tool for You and Your Service Dog?
Hands-Free Leash is NOT a Training Tool
The first thing you need to understand is that a hands-free leash is not a training tool. Training tools are used to teach the dog a new behavior, then faded as quickly as possible once the dog understands and has generalized the behavior. A hands-free leash should only be used AFTER the dog has been taught to reliably walk close to the handler and keeping the leash loose.
Some Challenges When Using a Hands-free Leash
*Most leashes too heavy. To adjust the length, some handlers double up a part of the leash but they add unnecessary extra weight (in the case where the leash has rings to allow shortening).
Hands-Free Leashes Condition Handlers To Not Pay Attention to Their Dogs Needs as They Move
The biggest challenge to using a hands-free leash is that having the leash attached to the shoulder or waist removes the more subtle communication that holding the leash in your hands allows. This usually results in the handler not paying attention to the dog or his needs as he moves along. The dog receives no subtle information about direction, speed or changes or enough time to make those changes like he would with proper leash handling. This adds stress to the dog’s daily job of helping the handler.
What Situations Can a Hands-Free Leash Be Useful?
With service dogs, there are some situations where a hands-free leash can be helpful such as hand dexterity limitations or attaching the leash to a wheelchair.
Hands-free leashes are best used in specific situations and for short periods. Like all other behaviors, teach the dog to walk on a loose leash, add fluency to the leash walking behavior, generalize it to a variety of locations, and do maintainance training. Specific desensitization needs to be done for higher level distractions (other dogs, people, vehicles, road grates etc) that you may encounter while leashed before asking the dog to generally ignore them as he moves past them with you. Only then is it wise to add a hands-free leash to the situation.
Dealing with Children in Public
1. Eye Contact
2. Talk To Your Dog, Not Them
3. Asking For Their Help
If there are two or more children, ask them to take turns helping so your dog only has to deal with one child at a time.
4. Second Meeting, Same Day
5. Position Your Dog for Least Inviting Interaction
6. Get Help!
Practice Before it Happens!
Are You Considering Breeding Service Dogs?
(Or Are You Looking for a Service Dog?) You need to Know This!
Why is it important to breed genetically heathy dogs to genetically healthy dogs?
Does the specific tasks a service dog does effect the physical impact on the dog?
Can breeders and owners use the new genetic health tests as a screen for disease in the breeding dogs?
Does your breeding contract require the dog to be spayed or neutered by a certain age?
Did you know that dogs can get sexually transmitted diseases?
As a consumer buying a pup with the intention of breeding later, it is important to know the sexual health history of the parents. A good question to ask is has or does the breeder do live breedings? If so, how many other matings? Dogs that have only been bred using artificial insemination can prevent the spread of STD’s. Otherwise, the dogs used for breeding (both male and female) should be screened regularly, especially if they are in contact with other dogs.
Can I make a profit breeding dogs?
Some people believe that they can use their dog to create an income for themselves. If you are thinking too, do not be mistaken. Quality heath tests are expensive. Veterinary fees are expensive. Losing a few puppies or an entire litter is financially taxing and you could pay out more out than you get back in litter or stud fees. The more important focus should be on creating dogs that have the physical health and temperament requirements to make a successful service dog for future handlers.
One last thought:
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.