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The use of silver (reflective) mirrors in training dogs is a trade secret many owner-trainers of assistance dogs don't yet know about (unless they are training with a facility that has them).  Using mirrors is a great way to prevent and solve training challenges, and get instant feedback especially if you train alone. 


There are many benefits to using mirrors in your training. 

1. Mirrors allow you to use a normal stance (sitting or standing) while training your dog so you don't have to crane your neck, or twist around to see if your dog is doing the desired behavior when working at your side or behind you.  

2. You can use them to teach your service dog to perform cues behind your back or on the back of a wheelchair, like unzipping a zipper and retrieving an object from a bag slung over the back of the chair. 

3. They allow you to see your position and your dog's position from another person's viewpoint as well as how fluidly the two of you work together. 

4. Leash handling skills and food delivery can easily be observed. 

5. You can see at a glance if how, where and when you give a hand signal works for your assistance dog. 

6. Mirrors are great for shaping behaviors such as heel position, or moving around behind your wheelchair or walker. They allow you to see if your dog is making correct choices during the shaping process. 

7. Mirrors allow the handler to observe and prepare for potential distractions the dog may encounter without even looking directly at their dog. 

8. A dog that is socialized to a mirror is prepared to seeing them in public.

9. The best thing about mirrors is that they allow instant feedback that videotaping does not allow. Used in combination with video taping, mirrors can help to solve many problems.


1. There is always the risk on bumping into and breaking them. Make sure have shoes on, wear gloves and remove your dog from the room to prevent cuts while cleaning up broken pieces.

2. Heavy mirrors cannot be transported to different locations.

3. Light reflecting from the may pose a problem so on sunny days, window coverings may need to be closed.


Mirrors do not have to be large. In fact, using three mirrors each one foot by two feet high set side by side provides quite a large range of movement to start indoors (2 feet by 3 feet). Simply step back to see a larger area of movement. Because they are smaller and lighter, they are also easier for a person to move around and store than a larger mirror of equivalent size.

If you are planning to move your mirrors around much, (in other words take them on the road to train at different locations) having a frame and backing will protect them chipping and from cracking.  Ideally, plexiglass mirrors would be the most resiliant and lightweight for carrying but they are not always easily available locally and are more expensive. 

If you plan to only use the mirrors indoors, they can be used as is without a frame etc. For slippery floors, a rubber-backed mat laid under the edge prevents them from slipping or scratching the floor.

Mirrors with several panes (horizontal or vertical) can also work as long as the mirrors are not separated too far apart. 

Mirrors can be temporarily set on the floor leaning against the wall at an angle that allows easy viewing or permanently hung on a wall at a specific height. Mirrors with stands can also be purchased from equestrian suppliers. 

A key consideration for location is to make sure there is enough space for you (your wheelchair or seat if applicable) and the dog to move and for the behavior you plan to train. The end of an open hallway, in a large room with no furniture in the middle or in a designated training room are good choices.

Where to Get a Mirror

Garage sales, flea markets, second hand stores, internet classifieds, buy and sell, recycling stores, the larger hardware stores, bedroom and bath stores (for full length mirrors) and of course glass stores are all potential locations. There are specialty equestrian supply houses on the internet that sell larger mirrors, both mounted and unmounted. These are on the upper end of cost.

Away from Home

When training away from home, look for shaded windows on buildings that reflect the sun and hence provide mirror images. It doesn't have to be a one way mirror as even those that are partially colored can work as well. Many come low enough to the ground that you can easily see you and your dog from a short distance. Ideally find a few that have grass or other flat surface next to them for safety. Parking lots can pose a safety issue but if you go on a day of the week or time when the business is closed or is a slow day, it reduces risk. Always be aware of moving cars if you are in a parking lot. Orange parking cones may help slow unexpected traffic but do not use them if the business is open as there may be bylaws against their use.


My service dog will be coming with me to Disney World in October. One thing I am worried about is how he will react to the characters. Do you have any tips on how to get him used to them so he doesn't panic or get scared? I am planning to take him to Chuck E Cheese a few times so he can get used to Chuck but I was wondering if you know of any other way I can get him used to them? 


This is a great training task for systematic desensitization.

Get several masks (from sunglasses to the drama masks to a full face mask, and a larger whole head mask. Also get different materials (both textures and makes different sounds). Try a costume store and explain to them what you are doing or check out second -hand stores for what they may have or ask friends what they have, especially if they have kids.

If at any time, your dog shows discomfort, go back to a where he is comfortable, build a reward history again then make smaller changes the second time through. For bigger challenges, increase the value of the food. This process will probably go quite quickly if your dog is generally confident and resiliant and has no prior history of fear with similar situations.

Have many medium value treats ready. Sit down at your dog's level. Let him sniff one mask on the ground. Lift it up and reward him for looking or sniffing at it at nose level. Move it around and reward for looking at it and staying calm.

For most dogs, it is the covering of the face or eyes that freaks them out. Take it slow. Move the mask near your face (not covering your eyes), reward and move it away. When he is showing no stress signs, move it closer and then briefly pass it between your eyes and him. Reward for staying calm. Repeat several times. Now add a bit of duration with the mask blocking your eyes for a second, two seconds, three seconds etc. After about 10 seconds, put the mask on and take it off. (This may take 10 seconds) and add duration from there. When the dog is good with that, add some motion moving your head first a little side to side, them bumping up and down, then both. Next put it on and sit in a chair. Reward dog for staying calm. Move around in the chair. Stand up and repeat the process.

Repeat the whole process above with each new mask. Each one will probably go faster and faster as you will need fewer repetitions for him to become comfortable.

Next play some music loudly and dance around in the mask.

Next, desensitize to different clothing sounds. Again sit on the ground, have him sniff the clothing. Hold it in your hands and move it around, rub it against itself, other material etc. Sit in chair and repeat. Stand and repeat. Drape the material over you.

Now put the mask and the costume together.

Next play some music loudly and dance around in the mask.

Repeat with a friend holding and then wearing the masks. Then wearing the costume. Then both. Add music.

Repeat with someone the dog is not very familiar with.

Now arrange to meet a costumed friend somewhere away from home and see the dog's reaction.

Practice having the dog pose for photos with you and the costumed character as this is a common event for most people. The more you can prepare for these types of situations that you may do while there, the more unflappable your dog will be.  Do remember that every dog has his or her limits so do give the dog several quiet and relaxing breaks throughout the day as well as an opportunity to do fun exercise (like ball chasing) or other game to get rid of stress.

I would do all this before going to Chuck E Cheese. Don't forget to take a photo.

There is one more key element when the dog is at Chuck E Cheese or even Disney World. Try to avoid the element of surprise where the dog feels cornered by the costumed people. Always be aware of where they are (not paranoid, just generally aware) to be able to place you the dog to see the costume as it approaches. This is especially important the first day or two while the dog is acclimating to the environment.

We would love to see some photos of you and your dog at Disney World!

Good luck!

Question: "I have been considering using umbilical training to teach my dog to stay near me and also help with house training."


What is "Umbilical Training?"
Typically, a leash is tied to your waist or shoulder for long periods of time to keep the dog near you and there is no 'give' at the end. Unlike when the dog is on a hand-held leash which can also be dropped instantly to relieve leash pressure.

Length of leash varies. Some people use a 4 foot, others use a 6-8 foot. In addition, it is a long term activity (all day and weeks) not just short periods of 5-10 min during training. Every time either of you move, you and your dog will be aware of it. It gets caught on table legs etc.

Most people who try this method find it stressful on themselves and the dog unless they cannot or choose not to read their dog's body language. They they don't see the stress signs.

The idea behind it typically is that the dog must pay attention to what the handler is doing at all times and the handler can ignore what the dog is doing. In my mind, that is not teamwork. We are trying to build a team of dog and handler. Yes, the pup needs to learn to pay attention to the handler and where they are in space but this is not the way to do it.

The concept of "connectively" is something we can teach our dog, but it takes time as it doesn't come naturally. We can force it but not a choice I would make for a lifelong member of my team.

For dogs that have personal space issues, this would be a nightmare for both of you. This can trigger people with PTSD and worsen the dog's fear of confinement. It could be considered a form of flooding as the dog eventually gives up.

It also involves "forced compliance".
It is an ethical choice to use it or not.

It's one of the hold over behaviors used in old style correction-based training where dogs are made to do what they are told. Until people analyze it, they don't often see how it could be a negative experience for the dog! The results can be want they want but it also carries the baggage of the attitude and discomfort the dog feels while it's being done.

In my opinion, it is using force as the dog doesn't have choice and can't get away and the dog isn't getting any systematic desensitization or classical counter conditioning (pairing it with food) for tolerating it especially at first when it's most uncomfortable for the dog.

I have seen too many dogs worked with wheelchairs using the umbilicus. The dog typically stays at the absolute end of the leash as much of the time as they can, especially when the leash is too short. You can see the dog shows a level of fear of the chair since they are pinned against the chair at doorways or their toes get run over. 

We want to build a bond built on choice. We want the dog to choose to be near us during training. If they choose not to be near us during training, we have a relationship problem. A big one!

Even being in too small of room can trigger a dog to not want to be with you (see my video of teaching backing into small spaces). The smaller the steps of training is done, the more choice a dog is given, the more they come to trust us. It also helps when we make being near us rewarding rather than something they "must" do.

There are so many other choices we can make can build the relationship rather than use force!

A baby gate or Xpen to confine the pup or dog to a smallish area when we can't directly supervise them, then carefully introduce a crate and give him choice to move around in a smaller space without social pressure.

In positive reinforcement training, if we have good mechanics of training, we can quickly build a positive relationship with our dogs. 

Combine that with regular meals and putting him on a potty schedule and you will have a house-trained pup that wants to be with you in no time!

This list is not exhaustive but does give you an idea of the areas laws pertain to so you can do more research. 

The USA has the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that has overriding laws about Service dogs in the US. 

Retailers are allowed to ask 2 questions:
1. Is that a service animal?
2. What tasks does the dog do to mitigate your disabilities?
In order to be considered a SD, a dog must be trained to do tasks that specifically mitigate your disabilities.
Here is the act info:
Here is Service dog related info:
There is no certification required federally so do not fall for fake certifications that charge money to “register” your service dog. 
If you do decide to certify your dog, then the only ones that are valid require you to do a live in-person test WITH your dog. You are tested as a team. Assistance Dogs International has schools that are accredited by them that do offer certification. They are recognized internationally. I have not found an organization will certify owner-trained dogs that they have not been in training with for a period of time.

Airline Carriers Act
In addition different laws govern Airlines regarding SD.

Fair Housing Act covers emotional support animals (which are different from service dogs) but your service dog may be covered under this law.
Internal Revenue Service (taxes)

Fees that can be deducted in the US relating to Service Dogs

State Specific Laws

And each state has different laws that cannot supercede those laws, they can only make them more accessible.
In California for example, Service dogs in training are allowed in public places. In some other states they are not.
This is the most current state by state comparison of service dogs laws that I have found. 

Please Note 

These are provided for general interest only. You will need to verify each is current and that the details are correct with a laywer if using them to fight a legal case. SDTI accepts no liability or responsibility for posting them here.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019 05:56

Pottying While Training in Public Places

"I am starting to take my dog into stores and other public places. How do I handle him having a bowel movement on the floor? He is house trained. He is small breed and 1 year old." 

Good for you for asking before you start! It can prevent headaches for you, your dog and the places you visit! 

The key thing is to remember that dogs don't generalize well. That means that even if he's housetrained at your house, he may not understand that he's not supposed to go in other buildings. He may also go due to stress (excitement or worry). Urine production increases when a dog is stressed.  It's the same as us humans. Ever needed to "go" more often when you are excited, stressed or cold?  

The key is to put potty on cue and teach him to go just before you take him in. Find a spot in the parking lot just outside the door. That way you are pretty sure he isn't likely to go inside.
Keep training sessions short inside businesses until you know he is comfortable and he learns to potty only outdoors. Take frequent breaks outdoors. 

Then, if he does go, it will most likely be due to stress (excitement or worry). That's good information to slow down on your public training and give him more acclimation time and keep sessions shorter. Other reasons are he might have eaten something that didn't agree with him. That's a good reason to keep working on leave it and make sure other people at home aren't feeding him junk treats. 

Be prepared for it by carrying plastic bags, paper towels and wet wipes so you can clean it up. Just be matter of fact and try not to be embarrassed. It happens to everyone at some point! It also helps to alert a staff member so they can disinfect the floor afterward.

Keep an eye on boys to make sure they don't lift their leg on merchandise. Simply interrupt the behaviour with a Kissy sound and keep him moving to the outdoors. Cue the potty cue once you get to an appropriate spot. 


Here are some common errors we see with owner-trainers and how to solve them. How many of these do you do?

Spending more time focussing on training behaviours and tasks than doing gradual exposure and acclimation to new stimuli, environments, people and animals especially with puppies up to 16 weeks and dogs in a fear period. In this early period, it is more important to spent time creating positive social experiences and environmental exposures for your pup to build from. 

Asking a dog to figure out too many steps in training.
This is called "lumping". Breaking down behaviours into smaller parts actually speeds the dogs understanding and how fast he learns the behaviour. This is called splitting. Often the dog needs us to split the behaviors into much smaller pieces than we ever dreamed. Also it helps if our dog has been taught the foundation behaviors needed for harder behaviors (that are often a combination of several skills).

Expecting the dog to perform a behaviour in distraction level that is much too high for what he has been trained to do (jumping from elementary school to university level distractions). Break down the distractions and take time to specifically to controlled set ups to desensitize your dog to the ones that are the hardest for him (often people, other dogs, animals etc).

Expecting a dog to do a newly learned behaviour in a new location without taking the time to reteach him from the start that he can do it.  This is a concept called  "generalizing". A dog needs to be taught how to generalize as they don't do it naturally. It's a step by step process of training each behavior in each new location until your dog really understands what you are asking and can do it on the first try in each new location.

Training their dog do tasks at too young of an age and expecting them to carry them out as needed. This puts too much pressure on the pup and may lead to early burnout. You can teach the foundations and have some fun with it, but let your pup be a pup until he's mature enough to handle the responsibility and cognitively figure out what help is needed under what circumstances. For many tasks (mobility, psychiatric, diabetic and seizure response) that is 18 months or more. 12 months of age is reasonable for other tasks as long as the dog isn't required to do them on a regular basis.

Focusing training mostly movement behaviours when away from home.
Settle/relax is a key behaviour pup need to learn to do everywhere. Spend about half your time away from home practicing settle/relax.  It allows your dog time to acclimate as well. 

Teaching the dog a cued "watch me" behaviour and insisting the dog look at them in the presence of scary things and distractions.
It's actually better to have a default attention (the environment becomes the cue for the dog to look at you) as it gives the dog a chance to check out his environment and let you know he is ready and able to focus on you. If he's not, he's not ready for that level of distraction or situation.

Taking dog out to public places and events to train but not paying attention to him.
They expect him to behave with little or no training. Pay 100% attention to your dog when out with him at first. Outings are training sessions, not socializing sessions for the handler.

Attending to only unwanted "bad" behaviour and ignoring good behaviour.
Reinforce desired behaviours like loose leash walking, settle/relax and ignoring distractions! You get more of what what you reinforce!

Using training collars before having properly taught the dog to do a behavior. Also using those training collars as a crutch for the life of the dog. Dogs need to be taught what to do in many different situations. A training collar just masks the issue and may cause new ones (if the wrong tool is chosen or its used incorrectly).

Using only one type of reinforcer.
There are so many things that can be used to reinforce a dog and variety within each type. Food, low key toys, gentle massage, greeting people and other dogs on cue, sniffing, watching etc. 

Training sessions are too long, especially at first.
Start with short sessions and increase as your dog is able to handle it. 

Training the dog where they think the dog should be able to do, rather than what he's actually able to do in that moment. Go back to the step your dog can do. That might be as basic as capturing behaviors. Nothing wrong with that as you are rebuilding a positive association.

Handlers doing too much coaxing rather than training to get behaviours.
They often use too many words, loud voices, or move their bodies too much. This can cause sensitive dogs to shut down (move slowly) and boisterous dogs to amp up (bark, bite, jump up). Try using calmer language and quieter voices. Your dog will notice and will become more attuned to your subtle communication.

Handlers not being able to read their dog's body language and stress levels. Dogs communicate all the time. If they move slowly or refuse to do a behavior, the dog is usually trying to communicate that he either doesn't understand what you are asking or is feeling pressured. A jumping, mouthy dog might be frustrated with your lack of ability to communicate effectively with him. 

If you are interested in learning more detail about any of these, book a web cam session. They are only CA$65 or ~ US$50.


What are My Options for Getting a Service Dog?

There are several options:

1. Applying and getting a trained dog from a non-profit organization. You can apply to get a dog from anywhere in North America that are associated with Assistance Dog International or International Guide Dog Federation (Some guide dog organizations also train service dogs for autism or hearing). Some require you do some fundraising to help offeset the cost of the dog and training it. Some don't. Most have waiting lists.

2. You can purchase a trained or partly-trained dog from a private trainer. If you can find one who is a professional member of a training organization and follows a code of ethics, that is good. Also make sure they have a local business licence. Hire an another independent trainer who can read dog body language to evaluate the dogs they offer. Some methods are not suitable for some dogs and that will affect how comfortable and reliable the dog will be and how much stress the dog is under when working.

3. Some trainers offer board and train, but do a thorough check and get references and ask many questions before you take your dog to them. There are very few positive trainers who do board and train (but there are more all the time). Most use balanced methods that may not be suitable for your dog. If you cannot be there to watch, you have no idea of what methods they are using on your dog. I prefer the ones who board the dogs in their own home rather than a kennel environment so the dog won't be isolated or get culture shock when going there and coming home. If you can find one who is a professional member of a training organization and follows a code of ethics, that is good. Also make sure they have a local business licence. 

4. You can get the help of a professional trainer who can help you select a puppy or adult dog and train one yourself with the help of a trainer. If you can find one who is a professional member of a training organization and follows a code of ethics, that is good. We belong to Vancouver Island Training Association. Also make sure they have a local business licence. We have one in the City of Nanaimo for example.

5. Or some combination of the above.
You might be able to get a partly-trained dog from both organizations and private trainers. Then finish the dog yourself.
Or you might start the dog on your own until he's 18 months and get a professional train to finish the dog to public access standards and train tasks. Or you may send the dog for a shorter board and train. Or the trainer might teach you how to fine tune the behaviors and tasks to the level needed for public access. 

In all cases, it is going to cost you money. How much depends on how much of the work work you do.
Avoid any company or organization who offers a guarantee on training. Dogs are living beings that are not perfect. Events may occur that are out of your hands such as your dog suffering emotional trauma from getting attacked or medical conditions that affect their ability to train. 

Can You Give Us a Better idea of What it's like to Owner-Train?
To help you decide if training your own dog (called "owner-training") is for you, I have several blog posts that may help. It's a big undertaking and is equivalent to taking on a child for at about 2 -3 years until the dog is ready to be a partner.

One of the key things most organizations use to rule out people is if or not they have had a dog before. This helps the to have realistic expectations of what it is like to live with a dog at minimum and how to care for one.

Then there is the specific training for public access and the tasks on top of that. Dogs are individuals and are not perfect. They have needs just like people.

On my personal Facebook page and in my Service Dog Training Institute group, I have shared many links about the concerns of using a ball to exercise your service dog. If you have a ball obsessed service dog, or if you have limited ability to exercise your dog, this blog post is for you!

What's the Problem with Throwing a Ball to Exercise Your Service Dog?

When you toss the ball it goes rolling away from the dog much like prey escaping. The dogs pounce on it. Because they roll, they can be hard to catch and this makes it much more exciting to chase. For dogs with any level of prey drive, this drives up their adrenaline levels. With repeated practice, the dog starts to require this adrenalized activity daily. It becomes an addiction.

Using arm extenders that allow the ball to be thrown further (like tennis rackets and Chuk it ball throwers) can add to the problem as it adds a higher level of speed with the distance. Dogs slide into grab the ball and injure themselves. On hard surfaces like pavement or asphalt, they skin the pads of their feet when they try to stop. I have talked to several orthopaedic veterinarians who have seen a huge increase in their services due to people using arm extenders. You don't want to risk having your dog removed from service due to an injury.

Over time you are also creating a better and better athlete that you have to keep up with.

Even just using a tennis ball with wool on the outside can cause health problems. It quickly wears a ball-obsessed dog's teeth down. The wool stores sand that acts as sandpaper. Take a look at any flyball dog's teeth: by 3 years of age, there is significant wear and shortening of the canines and side teeth. If you use a ball, make sure it has a non-wooly surface. A squash ball or orange Chuk it brand ball works well.

How Can I Modify the Ball Toss Game?

First, make sure to warm up and cool down your dog. A warm up is typical a less intense version of the actual activity. So in this case, roll the ball slowly or tow the ball on the ground in a giant circle with a flirt pole.

Rather than stopping cold turkey with your dog, try alternating the ball toss with other activities. One day ball toss, next day do something else. That way you can gradually shape your dog to enjoy other less arousing exercise activities. Over time decrease how often you use the ball and increase other activities. 

Buy a ball with a rope attached to it. This will stop the rolling when it hits the ground. 

Place the ball in a sock and toss it with that. This will limit the rolling and limit the distance it can be thrown.

Throw the ball into water. Swimming is a good workout for your dog and the ball stops moving as soon as it hits the water. No rolling away.

Cut a cross in your ball and insert a scent. With your dog out of sight, hide the ball in long grass or on the forest floor, or even bury it lightly. Then release your dog to find it. Use a long line if your dog's recall or retrieve needs work. Over time you dog will learn to find that specific scent and you can transfer it to other objects you can hide. (Again an old sock is ideal for this.)

Try substituting a hunting bumper (canvas or plastic). They are made for hunting breeds, fit nicely in their mouth and stop dead when they hit the ground. That way your dog can stop before grabbing it and the final escape doesn't happen. If it happens to be tossed into long grass, your dog will hunt for it using his nose which uses mental energy, not just physical. Because they are an odd shape and size, the distance you can toss it is also limited. The dog won't build up as much speed when running. 

What Else Can I Do? 
There are plenty of other things you can do to exercise your dog. You must remember that your dog needs to use both physical and mental exercise. If you can combine the two, you will tire your dog out faster and with less effort on your part.

Ideally, long steady exercise periods at a moderate heart-raising pace is what you want to aim for. 

Hike with your dog. Or hire someone else to walk or hike with your dog two or three times a week.

Steady leashed walk.

Cycling with your dog, on leash or off. If on leash, then use an attachment or if your dog has a slower speed, teach him to jog beside the bike attaching the leash to the frame low on the bike so he can't pull you over. Do not hold the leash in your hand as it affects steering and balance. I prefer to teach them to keep the leash loose rather than pull the bike like a sled. Some people prefer bike-joring. Make sure to use proper harnesses for this (not a mobility harness).

Take your dog swimming. Use a bumper to retrieve. 

Find a natural area with a variety of natural features (long grass, trees, plants, etc). Put on a long line ( 10 feet or more) and cue your dog to "Go sniff" Let him lead the way! You can do this along a path if you are in a wheelchair. 

Set up a regular play date with a buddy. Playing with other dogs tires them faster than any other activity. 

Call your dog back and forth between two people.

Play hide and seek and add distance. Hide in the house, then take it on the road to a safe area. Add finding you to the call back and forth game.

Try dog parkour. Find a variety of objects in the environment that your dog can jump onto, jump over, crawl under etc. Even just jumping on and off a circle of large rocks can tire a dog quickly. (Don't worry that you might be teaching your dog to jump up on furniture and other objects. Just avoid using those in training. Once you put a cue to it, he will learn not to jump up unless you cue it. 

Doing stationing approach during walks help. Stop and do some behaviors, move a short distance and practice others. Keep doing that along a short loop of a walk. There a many training benefits for a service dog of doing this too. Dogs learn to generalize behaviours more quickly. In August 2019, I will be teaching a Build the Bond: Relationship Walks class with Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Tons of great ideas in there.

If You Are Limited to Where You Can Go, Try These:

Use the neighbourhood kids to come play agility in your yard with your dog while you supervise. They can mentally and physically tire your dog out for you. Our newspaper kids used to knock on our door and ask if our dogs could come out to play. They all enjoyed their weekly romps! And wen enjoyed the social interactions and break from exercise!

Do body awareness exercises like back end awareness. Those get your dog's body and mind working together.

Teach him to balance on a lower inflated yoga ball or to use an exercise peanut.

Teach him to run around an object and come back to you. Set up 2 cones or other objects, and stand in the middle and send him around those. Then set up 3, then 4 etc. Increase the distance between the cones.

Paw targeting works great to exercise your dog when you add distance. Make sure to do this on a soft surface once some distance is added. 

Teach pulling as a fun exercise and practice it regularly. Make sure to have a proper harness and appropriate weight for your specific dog. Even small dogs can learn to guide you short distances, even if you don't need it as a task.

At Home: 

Mental puzzle games like snuffle mats and food puzzles help. Stuff a Kong-type toy with some favourite treats, kibble etc, put it in a cup upside down, pour a liquid in it (yogurt or broth) and freeze it. Give it to your dog on his mat or in his crate. I use the flat bone-shaped rubber toys so they don't move around much while my dogs are eating. 

A snuffle mat is a mat with long fat "fingers" where you place kibble or food bits and your dog does the finding. Because it's limited to a specific location and piece of equipment, you don't have to worry that you are encouraging scavenging in your service dog. Dogs don't generalize well.

If your dog is an advanced shaper, try the "101 Things to do With a Box" activity. Vary the object. Use a chair laid upside down. Use a ladder on it's side etc. This helps a service dog gain confidence.

Be creative in how you exercise your dog! Think outside the box!

Yes, you read that correctly! I am comparing building a road to training a service dog. It follows the same process.

I was out walking my dog on a dead end road in our neighbourhood this morning. We have been watching as a new road has been built for a housing development. As I marvelled about the weekly changes, I was struck by the similarities of the overall process to training a service dog.  I will share my thoughts here: 

When a road is built, the contractors don't just flatten the trees and lay out the concrete or asphalt. There is a process. 

It Starts With a Plan
First a plan is made for the specific ground that will be developed.
Is the planned location a suitable one for a road? What is the slope of the land? Is the existing subsurface suitable to build on? Is it too wet? Or will too much material (rock) need to be blasted out? Are there obstacles that might be in the way that need to be planned around? Are there sensitive habitats that need to be protected or heritage trees or buildings?
How will the road be used? What types of vehicles will be travelling on this surface? Bicycles, private vehicles or large dump trucks? 

An Assessment is Done
An on-the-ground survey and assessment of what is actually there will need to be done. 

A Crew is Hired
A variety of people with the skills and equipment needed are identified and found.

The Practical Begins

Next, the practical begins. The vegetation, trees and large features like rocks or derelict houses are removed. 

Next, the topsoil is scraped away. The underlying ground is further assessed to make sure it matches the expectations. Is it rock? Gravel? Sand? Clay? That will determine what and how much needs to go on top in each section of the road to improve stability.

The Infrastructure for Future Services are Put in Place
Then trenches are dug for sewer, water and gas pipes. Those pipes are laid in place and the trenches covered over. These will later serve the houses and businesses that the road is being built to allow access to. 

A Strong Flexible Layered Foundation is Put in Place
Now comes the base layer for the road. Whether this is coarse rock like rip rap for wet areas to build up the height while allowing drainage, or coarse gravel or sand is determined by what they already found in the ground. They may need to build this layer up with several layers of gradually finer materials. Each layer gets packed down by large machinery to stabilize it.

Next, over that, they lay a coarse soil/gravel as a base for the asphalt. That gets packed down.

The Process is Done in Stages
The asphalt will be laid, in small patches, limited by how much asphalt each truck can carry and how much progress the workers can do each day. Each layer is rolled over with a heavy machine made for the job.

The New Road is Given Time to Settle
That asphalt is allowed to cool and a second and third layer may be put down. 

Specific Parts of the Process Must be Done only at the Right Time and Under the Right Conditions
The process must be done at the right time of year, during the right weather and care must be taken to do the job correctly, or the road will soon degrade and be un-usable. Only vehicles that the road has been prepared for are allowed on that road or it will be damaged or age prematurely.

Regular Use and Maintenance Must be Done
Roads that are seldom used and maintained will also fall apart for different reasons than overuse. Roots of large trees break up the asphalt. The edges crumble and erode as high water gushes over it. The painted centre lines fade in the sun.

In addition, as the road ages, patches may need to be made. If enough pot holes appear or the road shows cracks or heaving, whole sections of the road may need to be repaved. This is ongoing maintenance. 

Do you See the Parallels with Training Your Own Service Dog? 

It's a carefully planned, incremental process that starts with the right dog. Your dog must be prepared for each next step by making sure each previous step is done well.

If the foundations have not been laid, you will need to go back and fix them. This often takes more time than doing the job properly the first time. Or may result in needing to remove the dog from specific training until he's ready for it. 

Paying attention to the details as you socialize, environmentally enrich, train, proof and generalize skills will pay off. Asking just the right amount from your dog will help him gain confidence to move forward. Taking regular breaks (short breaks between training sessions, weekends off etc) helps the learning cement in his mind. Breaks that are too long will slow the process. Asking for too much can overwhelm him. Asking him to do tasks for you before he's mature enough (emotionally or physically) can harm the process and risk washing your dog out. 

There is ongoing maintenance training for the life of the dog. In some regions, certification needs to be renewed every year or two. 

So think about the process your dog needs to go through the next time you see a road being built or repaired! Will your process measure up and stand the test of use and time?

A vest for cue working mode is added the same way all other cues are added.

When you can reliably predict your dog will be in working mode in a public place (and are willing to be $100 that he will go into work mode), then you add the cue of the vest or bandana or special harness. Put the vest or harness on just before going into a public place where the team will be working. 

Then, your dog will start to associate putting on the vest or special harness as the cue to work. It's based on classical conditioning or pairing of the new cue with the behavior the dog already does. The fact that the equipment feels different than what the dog usually wears will help her understand this job is different. 

You can certainly help him to be comfortable in the vest at home but if you want it to mean something, then wait to add it to 'work' situations.

Read this post on vests

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