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Donna Hill

Donna Hill

Saturday, 12 January 2019 10:15

Pottying a Service Dog

Pottying a Service Dog 

This is an important but often overlooked topic for service dogs.

It is usually understood that a service dog needs to be 'house trained" in all public places but there is so much more to it than that. The dog needs to have both urinating and defecating under stimulus control so you can control where and when he will go. That is, you give a cue and he responds by going where you are and he will not go in places when you do not cue it, even if there are other cues like scent of other dogs there. You need to know how often your dog typically 'goes' in a typical day when given a choice, based on your daily schedule of drinking, feeding, exercise, rest and play and how long he can comfortably 'hold it' before it becomes uncomfortable.

If you have mobility issues, you have a flare up of your medical condition that limits your ability to get him outside or live or work in a challenging situation like an apartment where access to outdoors is limited by stairs or elevators, you need to have alternative options to make sure your dog's biological needs are met quickly and easily.

A Foundation Behavior:

Put the Potty Behaviour on Cue:

Most dogs catch on to this quite quickly, if you do it the same way each time.
Take your dog out to "the spot" on leash when you know he has to go. Use his drinking, feeding and physical activity to help you learn when he needs to go. If he is asking to go out, use that time as well.
When you get to the spot, simply stop and anchor yourself so he has a limited area to move about in. Let him sniff around and just when you see him making the decision to potty, give the cue. Wait until he is finished before marking, praising and rewarding him. Avoid praising while he is going as this may interrupt the stream. We want a complete empty bladder the first time if possible. If you feel he hasn't emptied the first time, walk around for a few minutes and come back and repeat the cue.
After several reps of this, you can give the cue just before you anticipate he will go. then as you arrive at the location.
Some dogs need to walk a bit before they will go so make sure to add that into your routine. Others will go almost immediately once you cue the behaviour.

Choosing Cues:
Using a different cue for urination and defecation gives you better control over it. It helps to choose ones that sound very different (start with a different consonant and have a different vowel sound) as well. Some people like to use cues that are not obvious to other people overhearing the cues. "Get Busy" and "Stretch" are commonly used but you can use anything that makes sense to you. You can also teach a hand signal if you want a silent cue.

Different Surfaces:

Every service dog needs to be able to potty on a wide variety of outdoor surfaces. Examples include but are not limited to grass, dirt, sand, gravel, mulch, pavement, asphalt. This is taught after you have the potty cue well-trained on at least one surface like grass, mulch or gravel. Chose a surface that has a slight slope so the urine will drain away or have a plastic bag with you to remove the poop.

Take the dog to a new surface when you know he has to 'go' and give the cue. It helps if the new area has already been 'seeded' by another dog (they have already urinated or defected on it)  You can also use a piece of newspaper with a bit of urine soaked on it. Fade the 'seed' once your dog catches on. If the surface is impermeable, make sure to pour water on the area afterward to dilute the door and assist it in draining away and not leave a stain. As part of your training plan, take him to new surfaces unlit he can reliably go on any surface you ask him to.

Where to Potty:
Your dog should  also be able to be directed where to potty in potty boxes, ditches, on storm drains and smaller grates. This is taught by having a dedicated area where you take your dog. A wood frame made of 2 by 4's and about 4 feet square is suitable for most dogs. Fill it with sand, dirt or grass. Clean up after each time your dog uses it and pour or hose water over the to dilute the smell.
Over time you ca shrink the size of the area where you ask your dog to go. Build smaller squares in other areas of your yard to practice this. 3x3, 2x2 etc. This helps your dog to learn to 'aim'.

Tip 1: Potty your dog at home before you start a local walk. Walking briskly and avoiding areas where other dogs potty will help him to learn that you want him to only potty when and where you ask him to.  If you reinforce him after passing known places where other dogs potty, that will help to cement the concept of not potting on his own for him.

Tip 2: Potty your dog at home before you leave and note good locations to potty him on your regular travels. This potty before you leave also doubles as a clue that he is about to start working (especially if the car or bus ride is not too long).

Tip 3: In new locations, keep an eye open for convenient but out of the way places before you enter a building. That way, you will know where to go in case of an emergency.

Options for Limited Outdoor Access

If you go for periods where you cannot get out with your dog and family or friends are unable to help you, hiring a dog walker to come in will help.

For indoor purposes, there are many options: do be aware that anyone who has immunity issues should not be handling urine or poop. Wear rubber gloves as needed.

  • potty box outdoors on balcony (there are commercial ones available with astro turf or you can buy astroturf by the foot and place it on a raised grate in a large plastic container or boot mat that drains to one side.

    Click here to see an example:                                                                                          

    Here's another example:


  • use a potty box indoors in a walk-in closet or bathroom Here's how to make one. A deeper more sturdy tray that the one shown would prevent spillage. Raise the whole thing on a 3 inch platform and place a bowl under one corner. Lift the opposite corner to drain urine into the bowl.

  • Here is another example: this one is ideal for smaller dogs, is simple to clean and uses kitty litter.

  • teach the dog to go on a potty pad. For large dogs these can be bulky to carry and dispose of, especially for large dogs (they are like a baby diaper).
  • teach your dog to pee on grates in the floor. Carry a collapsible container to wash it down. (Works well for airports when they don't have a canine rest stop handy or you don't have time to get outdoors between planes)
  • cue the dog to use a walk-in shower. Grips on the bottom prevent dog from slipping. Turn on the shower after use to prevent build up of ammonia smell. Use a cleaner periodically. 
  • if you provide a ramp to get in and out, and grips on the bottom of the tub, teach your dog to go in a bathtub. Keep a bucket nearby to rinse it down after use. Use a cleaner periodically and certainly before human family embers use it. 
  • If you and your dog are experienced with shaping behaviours, teach your dog to use a toilet seat. (You both need extensive experience with shaping before attempting this). For small dogs, you can purchase a toilet seat that is for children and has a smaller hole.                                                    

    Start with the 4'x4' potty box as above.

    Next decrease the size of the box until it is the size of the seat.

    Generalize the dog potting on hard surfaces like pavement. Then teach the dog to stand on a platform the size of the toilet seat (again shrinking it down). Next cut a hole in the middle of the platform or use a real toilet seat (check second hand stores) and cue the dog to potty there.  Now raise the toilet seat up in few inch increments until it is toilet seat height and the dog can easily get on it and balance on either side. Desensitize the dog to the sound of a stream of water being poured into the toilet (or a bowl of water)  from a height of about 18 inches. Now put it all together, cue the dog to get up on the seat and give the potty cue.

A Service Dog with Gas is more than Just Embarrassing! 

Has your service dog ever passed gas in a public place while working. It's embarrassing isn't it?
Well, for the dog there could be much more going on.

If it happens occasionally, you may want to look more closely at what special treats you are feeding your dog. Sure, after Thanksgiving or Christmas when cooked turkey with (fatty) gravy is on the menu, we expect it. Spicy foods, and any of the legumes-beans, peas, lentils, soybeans can cause gas (like in humans).

Food Causes:

If it is happening more often than that, you need to take a closer look at what you are feeding your dog on a more regular basis. As a dog providing professional medical assistance to you, it is important to find out the cause and eliminate the gas.

Gas forms when a dog eats a food product that his intestines do not have the appropriate bacteria to digest.

Some common food culprits are cheap grain-based dog treats. Many years ago I had a daxie who could clear the room when she farted, and she did it often! As soon as we removed the Milkbones from her diet, the flatulence stopped. Whenever a neighbor sneaked her a treat, within hours we were complaining about her gas.

When introducing new foods to your dog (such as in changing foods), it helps if you start by feeding very small amounts intermittently, then slowly increase the amount. This allows the dog's intestines to grow the type of bacteria needed to digest the new food. Giving too much food too fast causes gas and diarrhea because there isn't enough of the specific bacteria available in the gut to digest the new food.

Some dogs don't digest grain products very well in general so try some grain-free dog food.

Unfermented milk products may also cause this if the dog does not tolerate milk well. In general, cheese and yogurt are fine for most dogs as they have undone a fermentation process already, but if you feed them and your dog has gas, try eliminating these to see if it helps.

Food allergies may also cause incomplete digestion that contributes to gas. Rule allergies out by putting your dog on an elimination diet where he is eating only one type of protein for a period of at least 2 weeks to see if there are any changes. If it stops, then the dog probably tolerates what you were feeding. If it comes back when you feed a certain protein, then you may want to remove that from your dog's diet, or at the very least, feed only every 4 days or so to minimize the allergic reaction (called a "rotational diet"where you feed at least 4 different protein sources).

Air Gulpers:

If your dog is a "hungry hippo" and gulps air while she eats, this may contribute to the production of gas. Try feeding her smaller amounts at a time. Using her food as training treats really slows the process down. If your dog needs more mental stimulation, put her food in a food puzzle. There are many kinds from Kongs to Kong Wobblers, Buster Cubes and and of the Nina Ottoson Toys. Working for their food is much more satisfying for dogs that gulp anyway.

Placing food in "slow" feeding bowls (spirals) or distributed in muffin tins (either tight side up or upside down) or even just spread out on a mud mat will slow the dog down. Another great way is to use a "Snuffle mat" or spread the kibble in a small area of the yard and let your dog find each kibble and eat it (also called "Sprinkles ™".

Remote food dispensers are a great thing to incorporate into training. "Treat N Train" or "Pet Tutor" are tools to investigate. They are also a great way to teach dogs duration, distance and to withstand distractions.


If your dog is on any medication, new or old, consider it as a possible cause. Look at the pattern. Did the gas start close to when the medication was started? Talk to your vet if the answer is yes.
One common cause is antibiotics. Antibiotics kill ALL bacteria, good and bad, so leaves your dog with difficulty digesting food. A good probiotic can help repopulate the gut with good bacteria both during and after a round of antibiotics. Ask for vet which kind will work best for the antibiotic your dog is on.

If the medication is anything other than antibiotics, the vet  may be able to give your dog an alternative that they tolerate better or at the very least, assure you that the gas will go away when the dog is finished her medication. Remember that being a service dog is stressful and your dog should not be working while on medication. A sick dog should not be exposed to the public or other dogs as he is vulnerable to infection (just like humans on antibiotics are).


If none of the above seem to be relevant, consult your vet to explore other reasons. Gas could be an indication of gastrointestinal medical problems especially if it is often companied by diarrhea, vomiting, unusual weight loss or decrease in appetite.


Thursday, 10 January 2019 09:09

6 Levels of Training a Service Dog

I am often asked what things a service dog needs to focus on, in what order to teach them and how much time to spend of each. Here is a graphic I created to help you understand the answer to that question.

At the bottom is the service puppy stage upto about 16 weeks for most pups (less for the perk-eared breeds like German Shepherds and nordic breeds as their socialization window is shorter (closes around 12 weeks). The main focus in this period needs to needs to be on socialization and environmental enrichment. This prepares the puppy for all the things and beings he will encounter as an adult. Behaviors for every day living like house training, bite inhibition, crate training, social isolation and the beginnings of impulse control (like asking for things the pup wants by sitting) and following the handler are taught. There is plenty of time later for learning other more complex behaviors.

Next are the foundation skills. Learning how to learn is the key during this period. This can start around 12 weeks if humane methods are used. Behaviors like nose target, paw target, wait, leave it, and eye contact form the basis of other behaviors later on (including service tasks). It also includes teaching concepts such as moving with the handler, being able to work at a distance from the handler, adding cues to behaviors and learning how to generalize behaviors to other locations. Most owner-trainers will be learning these as the pup or dog is. This process helps to form a bond.

Two absolutely essential behaviors for a service dog are loose leash walking and settle/relax. Much time is spent helping the dog learn how to chain together small pieces, add duration (time) when doing both behaviors, navigate obstacles and ignore distractions (this biggest challenge of both of these behaviors). Focussing on these when the dog is younger helps start the dog off on the right foot. 

Once the dog has a good understanding of the previous levels, time needs to be dedicated to teaching him to further ignore distractions, especially those away from home. This is not considered public access, but is preparation for it.

Next comes teaching the dog service tasks. These rely on previously taught foundation skills and the creativity of the handler or trainer. These are behaviors that specifically mitigate the medical needs of the handler. In relation to other behaviors, these are typically easy to teach and quick for the dog to learn. Since the dog already knows how to generalize and has been working on distraction training, this is when they are introduced. Also, we wait until later to add them since we need to let our dogs be puppies and mature before adding the responsibility of tasking, whether it be at home or away. Most dogs are no where near ready to task reliably until after 18 months or older. While they can learn the foundation behaviors, we don't ask or expect them to do tasks until then. Early burn out is a common side effect for dogs that do tasks young. Let them be a puppy and an adolescent! 

Public access is a stage where the dog is learning how to function as part of a team and looking out for the needs of the hander. General behaviors should be trained to a high level as should the needed tasks before starting public access training is started. Here is a blog post on how to know when your dog is ready for that. 

All of these levels together will take a pup about 2-3 years to be ready for actual work in public. Less time will be needed if the dog is an adult and has some basic behaviors and concepts in place already. 

If or not certification for training for public access level is needed depends on the state and province you are located in. Check your Justice department to find out. Check out our FAQ of Useful links to find out. 

The end of the process (which is not shown in the graphic) is Maintenance (of behaviors). Maintenance is an ongoing process of keeping your dog up to date with practice of seldom used tasks and visiting places of high distraction for your dog. This is also when additional tasks are added as your health needs change.

On the far right of the diagram, are Three Stages of Being. 
First the dog needs to learn to be a dog. This starts in puppyhood. Some people believe that a service dog should be a robot. He is a sentient being with emotions and needs. He must have his needs met for the species just like we do as a human.  

Next, he needs to learn how to function as part of a mixed-species family. This is what helps him become a good family member.

Finally, he needs to learn and fine tune the behaviors and relationships that makes him a capable service dog.

To learn how to teach your dog these levels of training, check out our course catalogue or book a web chat session with our instructors.

First, it is the team, not just the dog that is certified.

If you live in British Columbia, Alberta or Nova Scotia, you need to contact the regulating bodies that will test you and your dog in person, make sure you are both ready to take the assessment test, fill out the forms, have the designated medical provider and veterinarian fill out the forms, and pay the fees. Be prepared to cover your own travel and accommodation costs unless you are on social assistance. Each province also requires an annual or biannual renewal.

If you live in any of the other provinces that do not offer this option, you have two options:

1. Contact each of the 3 provinces who certify owner-trainers and ask if they certify out-of-province teams. Find out if they will accept forms filled out by medical provider and veterinarian from another province. If so, then arrange for the test. Be prepared to cover your own travel and accommodation costs unless you are on social assistance. Each province also requires an annual or biannual renewal.

2. Contact organizations accredited by Assistance Dogs International and and find out if any of them will certify owner-trained teams. They may require you to train with them for a period of time so they are comfortable that your team will not be a liability issue for them. Make sure they have the same training philosophy as you do before committing to working with them. Ask what equipment and tools they use on their dogs and make sure you are comfortable with that as well. You will have to travel to them and likely provide your own testing, training, travel and accommodation costs etc.

All legitimate tests are done in-person and issued either by an organization accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or a body appointed by the provincial government. None of them will issue a certificate without meeting you and your dog together in-person.
Sunday, 16 December 2018 08:55

What is "Fading" in Service Dog Training?

"Fading" is the term many trainers use when they want you to gradually decrease the use of reinforcers or prompts to reduce your dog needing them to perform a behaviour or series of behaviours. 

This is done by breaking down the steps for your dog so the removal of the reinforcer or prompt is not very noticeable. Most dogs need this to be a gradual change to be able understand what you are asking them to do. Most dogs at least 3 or 4 steps in the process.

Removing reinforcers or prompts too quickly (making the fading steps too large) makes learning hard for your dog, can cause your dog to be frustrated about what you are asking, or to even give up trying, especially early in the training process. 

Here are some examples of fading below.

Fading Reinforcers

During the learning phase of any behaviour, we want to use one reinforcer for one behaviour to to keep our dog interested in learning a new behaviour.

After our dog has learned a specific behaviour, we want to reduce the reinforcers so we don't have to give a treat, toy, or massage after each time our dog does that behaviour. 

We can fade them by:

A. Changing to intermittent reinforcement. This is when we choose only the best examples of the behavior and reward only those. Typically we start with the best 8 out of 10 behaviours to mark and reinforce. 

B. Next, we can ask for a series of behaviours. We can gradually increase how many behaviours in a row we ask for before we deliver a reward. For loose leash walking, we can start asking for moving forward two steps with us, then 4, 6, 8, 10 etc, gradually building to more.

C. Then we can gradually replace one reinforcer with an alternative one. We can use other behaviours our dog has learned and enjoys performing for just our praise such as retrieving a leash. We can also use rewards that occur naturally in the environment such as going out a doorway, getting into a car, sniffing, greeting people or dogs etc. Most dogs thinks these things are enjoyable or at the very least, exciting.

Adding duration to any behaviour can also be seen as fading reinforcers since more is asked of the dog for the same amount of reinforcer.

Fading Prompts

Here are examples of different kinds of prompts and how you might fade them.

A. Hand Signal:
If you are using an arm signal to send your dog around a cone, to fade it, you would start with a full wide arm sweep (arm extended and parallel to the ground). Then you will tuck your elbow against your side and sweep forward with just your hand and forearm. To fade it further, you might just flick your wrist. Eventually you might just crook your finger to tell your dog that he need to move around the cone (or other object).

B. Prop such as a paw target: 
When you are using a visible paw target such as a 8 inch ice cream bucket lid, you would gradually cut the size down by an inch or so each training session until it is about 2 inches in diameter.

C. Platform:
When you use a platform to teach a behaviour, it will need to be faded as well. For example, if you are teaching your dog to stand stay, you might start with the dog on the platform, then use a lower platform of the same size and shape to practice the behaviour. Next you might put a mat on the floor, then remove the mat. You dog should be able to perform the stand stay behaviour without the platform.

D. Barrier
If you are starting with the dog in another room from a distraction (say a cat in a crate), you can bring the dog into the room but have a low visual barrier between them. Let's use the example of  an Xpen with a blanket laid over it. Next you might make the blanket narrower by folding it over, then remove it entirely.  The dog can now see the cat in the crate. 

Being able to break down the steps to fade reinforcements and prompts is an important step to helping your dog learn to perform behaviours in public. What other prompts can you think of for training a service dog need to be "faded"? 



When people start training their dogs a service dog or assistance dog candidate, I recommend that they start early on with two behaviours that are essential for every service dog. These behaviours are often confused for two similar, but different behaviours. Let's take look at the difference. 

Down Stay vs Settle/Relax

Most pet dog classes teach a formal down and stay behavior. This is because the origins of older dog training comes from the military where they had strict adherence to formal obedience and dogs were drilled on the behaviours. This is a formal behaviour that involves the dog laying in a sphinx position (dog staying very still with front feet extended and rear feet tucked under the body and the head up). Formal down stays take much focus and energy to maintain. Even the best-trained dogs cannot hold the down stay position for very long. Formal competition obedience only requires a 3 minute down stay.  Pet dogs and service dogs don't actually need a formal down stay.

What both pet and service dogs DO need is a settle or relax behaviour. A settle/relax allows the dog to get comfortable on the ground. That's it. The dog can determine what is comfortable. If that is laying with their one hip rolled under them, laying on their side or laying on their chest like a frog or bear rug, that works.

The difference is that a settle/relax can be done for long periods because the dog is comfortable and can move around. Most service dogs work 4-8 hours a day or more away from home, often more at home. Like us when sleeping, our dogs move around. It is not reasonable for a handler to expect a pet or working dog to maintain a down stay for periods. The dog can stay relaxed yet still be alert for doing his job, or he can fall asleep but is still nearby. In a settle/relax, the dog can shift around on the spot, as long as he stays low on the ground. Many handlers use a towel or yoga mat to let the dog know the space that he has to move around on.

Some handlers train a 'park' cue that means the dog can get up and turn around as long as he stays on the designated spot (mat). More movement is allowed for a 'park' than a settle/relax. 

The only time a settle/relax might not work is if the dog needs to curl up into a small ball to avoid being stepped on or if placed in small spaces like under a seat in a plane. Then they are also taught 'under' and 'curl'. Two more useful behaviours. 

It is a great compliment when someone observes a handler leaving a restaurant and exclaims "I didn't even know there was a dog here until you got up to leave!" A settle/relax allows an assistance dog to be out of sight. 

Heeling vs Loose Leash Walking

Another often taught behaviour in pet classes is the formal heel. It too has the same history as the down stay. Heeling involves the dog staying very close to (a few inches a way) or in physical contact with the handlers leg or wheelchair. In some styles of heeling, the dog also holds his head upright rather than looking forward. This is very hard on the dog's neck. Turns (left and right) are controlled with cues. 

Heeling, like the down stay, is also a very difficult behaviour for a dog to sustain for long periods. Even highly trained competition dogs only do a formal heel for 5 minute periods. Heeling is only used with service dogs in specific situations such as when moving through narrow areas with many people (crowds or aisles in a store) then the dog is released to go back to loose leash walking after the obstacle or group is passed. 

In loose leash walking, the dog can move within 24 inches of the handler and turns with the handler without cueing or leash tension or direction. The dog may be in front of, beside or even behind the handler, as long as they stay with 24 inches of the handler's leg or wheelchair. Quite frankly, we would not want a dog to heel very close to a chair or other medical device as they risk getting their feet run over or getting knocked into it. The extra distance from the handler allows the dog to safely navigate around storm drains, curbs, posts without affecting the handler's direction or movement in space. The dog can also move to the end of the leash to retrieve dropped objects for the handler as they move along.

Service Dog Training Institute offers classes on both Settle/Relax and Loose Leash Walking because they are important enough to do so.  Check the catalogue page for registration information.

Monday, 03 December 2018 10:28

Does Your Dog Jump on Visitors?

Is your dog overly friendly to everyone? A great way to teach your dog to stop jumping on visitors in general is to start teaching him at home. 

Doorways are exciting places for dogs since people come and go. New scents, motion, sound and lots of love and attention happens near the door.

There are several different strategies you can use to teach your dog to keep his feet and mouth off visitors.


1. Prevent the Dog from Practicing Jumping on People

While we desensitize your dog to the excitement of the doorway and train a different behaviour, we need to prevent him from practicing the unwanted uncued jumping. The more practice he gets, the better he gets at jumping and the more he associates it with the doorway location. 

a. Cue the dog to go into a crate, keep him behind a barrier or tether him to a heavy piece of furniture. 
With the crate, he needs to know how to go to crate first on cue. 
Next, teach him to go from a distance. 
Next, add some planned distractions.
Then try the process at the door with a helper posing as the visitor.
Start with placing the crate near the door and gradually move it further away to where you want it to be placed. 

b. If you have an indoor doorway close to the outside door, then a barrier might make more sense. Place the dog behind the barrier and let your visitor come in. Wait until your dog has calmed down before letting them interact. You might have to be creative with an X pen if you don't have an indoor doorway nearby. Set the pen up as a U-shape around the outside door to create an 'airlock' and have your dog on the house side of the barrier. Your visitor comes into the airlock and waits until the dog calms down. 

c. If you have a heavy piece of furniture and a dog that is small enough not to pull it, tethering your dog by a leash and harness might work. This option is not an ideal one for enthusiastic jumpers or dogs with low tolerance to frustration though, since being held back may trigger oppositional behaviours (opposition reflex). 

2. Desensitize Dog to Arrivals

a. Drop treats on the floor at the visitor's feet to direct your dog's attention downward. 
Start with delivering them one at a time fast and furious and then slow the rate down as your dog calms down. Mark and treat your dog for keeping himself on the ground (4 feet on the floor).

b. Block eye contact with your hand.
If your dog has already been taught how to nose target, he should catch on quickly to what you are doing. Practice this before your visitor comes over.
Start by walking with your dog toward the visitor and cover your dog's eyes with one hand as he moves around. 
Teach your visitors to present their hand in front of them to block the dog's eyes.
Fade that once the dog calms down. This also has the benefit of teaching the dog that hand contact is better than eye contact. If your dog enjoys back or hip rubs, then direct them to do that. This is calming to most dogs. 

c. Use Premack's Principle to recall your dog away from the person.
You must have a reliable recall with distractions for this to work.
You can start with your dog on leash if you need to help your dog turn back to you. 

Practice sending your dog to the door and recalling before a visitor comes. 
Send your dog to the door when the visitor is still outside and call him away.
Then send your dog to the visitor once she comes in. At first let your dog just get to the person, then call him away.
Each time you send your dog, his excitement should decline. If that happens, let him interact a little longer each time. Try to call before he has a chance to jump.
By pairing the greeting visitor with the recall, you strengthen the recall. Sending multiple times with each person also desensitizes your dog to the people. This calms the dog down as well.

d. Have the visitor come further into the house. 
Moving the visitor away from the doorway reduces the excitement for everyone. This calms the situation down.
Have the visitor avoid eye contact. It's best if everyone has something else to look at, like an object of interest (computer or book). That takes the focus off the dog. 

3. Train an Incompatible behaviour.

This means think of something you want the dog to do that interferes with the jumping. 

a. Some examples are to ask the dog to run to her bed and lay down. She can't lay down and jump at the same time. 
Like before, the dog needs to know the behaviour well and with distractions before starting to use this near the doorway. 
Practice sending your dog to his bed when you knock or ring the bell. 
Have a helper practice knowing or ringing the bell. Send him to his bed. 
Then practice opening the door. 
The first few times with a real helper visitor, you may need another helper to stay with the dog and reward frequently until he is released from the mat (or you can do that too if the visitor outside can hear your instructions to come in when you are ready). 

b. For dogs that get mouthy, like golden retrievers and labradors, put a toy in their mouth. This fills the need to grab and hold something. That way, they won't ned to jump up and grab visitors hands or wrists. 
Keep a few toys near the door for this purpose. After several practices of this, most dogs will start looking for their toy when they hear the knock to doorbell. They will learn to greet people with a toy in their mouth.

c. Teach your dog to "Go Say Hi".
Ask your visitor to put out his hand palm forward and cue your dog to nose target it and come back to you. Reward when he comes back to you. This keep meetings brief while the dog calms down. (similar to Premark Recalls above) Your dog can't nose target a lowered hand and jump at the same time. 

4. Put the Jumping on Cue

Teach your dog to jump up on cue. Whether he jumps all 4 feet in the air or leans front paws on the visitor, this can work. 
It gives the dog an outlet to do the behaviour, then you can phase out when you cue it. Combining this with the person moving into the house works well to calm the dog quickly. 
The jumping behaviour needs to be under good stimulus control before you start using it with visitors so it is considered an advanced approach. 
Check out my two 'stimulus control' videos.

5. Elevate Your Dog

Near the doorway but far enough away that your dog cannot touch the visitor, place your dog on a raised platform like the top of a crate or grooming table, or even a stable stool.
This fills the need to be closer to the visitor's face for greeting. Because the distance is so far, he will naturally stop jumping. 
Once your dog is focussed on you, he may also start to offer other behaviours like a sit or down.
At the beginning, feed a high rate of reinforcement to focus your dog on you. Once the person is in the house, cue your dog to jump off and 'go say hi', calling away as necessary.

Here is a video that shows you the 5 strategies. 

I don't tend to cue a dog to sit or down near a visitor unless he is facing the handler. I find that most dogs while facing the visitor will use the sit or down to launch themselves at the visitor. 

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 2

It is important to try to identify the parts of the training that you aren't enjoying.
What exactly is slowing you down, tiring you out or turning you off?

Once you have done that, you can tackle each part, change what you need to make it work for you and move beyond each. Talk to others to get ideas. Ask on Facebook or dog trainers. Even ask a friend. We all go through it and have different ways to cope that you can try.

What I don't like:

How I can change it:











Here are some other ideas to stay motivated: 

  1. Take regular days off. Just like us and other work, we need to take 2 days off each week to give ourselves time down to recharge. Training every day takes the fun out of it. Training doesn't have to be done every day and in fact, giving our dogs time off between lets them think about a behavior and progress faster. They and we are eager to get back to training. Burn out is huge among owner-trained service dogs.

  2. Find a friend to train with once a week. Working together with someone else helps keeps you committed to scheduled days at different locations.
  3. Vary the behaviors you train. Come back a month later and retrain from the beginning but progress further than before.

  4. Randomly draw from a list of behaviors you need to train and train that behavior for several sessions. Draw a new one and train that. Work your way through all of those and repeat until you get to your progress goal for each behavior. When you finish one, add another in to take it's place. The somewhat unpredictable nature of the process keeps you interested.

  5. Teach someone else (whether by explaining or writing it down or making a video) how to train a behavior you aren't enjoying or are having a challenge with. This will help you think form another's perspective and you may even come up with a solution or a new way to teach it.

  6. Train one aspect of the behavior that you enjoy then leave it for a bit. Come back to it later.

  7. Break behaviors or tasks into smaller steps. Identify your specific challenges and break those down into 4 steps, the again another 2 each.

  8. Research other ways to teach a behavior or generalize or proof it. Do those as they may be more fun! 

  9. Make a training plan and tick off or fill in the steps you have accomplished. This gives you a quick visual reinforcer that you are making progress!

  10. Add what you are training to your computer calendar for the next week or month. Then you get reminders the day before and you can mull it over in your mind. This allows you to adjust it as you go along. 

  11. Do a simple version of the task. Come back at later date and teach more complex version.

  12. Use a 'snakes and ladders' approach on ourselves. Train to your goal for a few days, then do a shorter training day. Go back to a longer day. This way you get mini breaks but still move towards your goals.

  13. Work on concepts rather than behaviors. It's a bigger picture approach. Once your dog understands the concept, she can learn new applications of it much faster.
    For example: teaching distance as a concept
    If you teach the distance aspect of several different behaviors all at once, the dog will understand it faster. Each of these behaviors have a distance element: nose target, paw, sit, down, crate, mat, jump, retrieve. If you train each behavior to 10 feet, your dog will solidly be able to do a behavior at that distance. Train each one to 15 feet. etc.

  14. For public access training, start with what is doable for you. 
    Maybe one day a week is fine. Even when you are doing mostly public access training, do only a maximum of 3 days each week. Adding transportation to and from the pubic site adds stress. You need to account for that. You will be more relaxed and so will your dog if you give yourself time to recharge between by staying closer to home. Plan the further location like field trips. Pack a lunch.

  15. For public access training, invite a friend to be a helper. They can run interference from people and dogs, taking the focus off you so you can focus on training.
  1. Collect and store all equipment as close as possible to where you train at home or stored in a trunk when you do public access training. Have to carry and set up equipment every time can be very demotivating. You may need to be creative and store some equipment in unusual places. Get permission and focus on training those behaviors in a short period, then remove the equipment and go on to other behaviors.
  2. Prepare treats in bulk once a week. Bake, cut up and freeze them into training session sized portion. Sandwich bags work well. If treat preparation gets you down, splurge and purchase good quality pre-cut treats once in awhile. Search out easy to make recipes. Or easy to make treats. My dogs works for cut up vegetables like cooked carrots and yam, raw cucumbers and zuchini, frozen peas. Partly thawed slow-cooked kidney beans. They also enjoy Cheerios, squares of beef fat (instead of cheese), yogurt, thick pea soup and gravy placed in tubes. 

What other things do you do to keep yourself motivated to train?  

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

Many people embark on a dream to train their own service dog. Along the way they get bogged down, tired, life happens or their medical issues flare up and all contribute to them taking a longer than planned break from training.

What can you do to stay motivated?

Reinforce and Reward Yourself!

Before you scoff at this idea...
When you go to work, you get paid, right? Why shouldn't you get paid to train your dog as well? If your boss offered you the opportunity to do your job without getting paid, you would do it right? Wrong! So why are you asking yourself to do another job without payment? Payment comes in many forms. We'll get into external motivation versus internal motivation in a minute, so bear with me.

The first thing we need to address is that we humans need both reinforcement and rewards to start and keep up behaviors just like our dogs do. Training is one such behavior that can be reinforced and rewarded. Explained simply, reinforcers occur immediately after a specific behavior has occurred. They increase the possibility of the behavior happening again. Rewards occur after a series of behaviors have been completed and reward the whole process, rather than one specific act. A hug given immediately after someone is assertive on behalf of someone else, is a reinforcer. A $200 bonus received at Christmas time is a reward.

What is Reinforcing and Rewarding to You?
Just like we would for our dog, we need to make a list of what foods, things, activities, people and events are reinforcing to you. Make sure to include some from each group. Include some of small value, medium value and high value. The low and medium items are used as reinforcers. The high value ones will be reserved as rewards for bigger accomplishments. Prioritize them least to greatest value to you in their separate groups.

Next, make an overall training plan for your dog. Start with today's date and end with your goal date in the future when your dog will be ready to help you as a service dog. If your area needs the dog to be certified, that would be your end date. If you want to use the public access test as your end date, use that!  Click here to see a more detailed post on creating a training plan.

Go ahead and reinforce your self for taking the first step of making the plan! Have a special coffee, eat a piece of chocolate. There, doesn't that feel better? Reinforcement is delivered as soon as the desired behavior is done. Finish writing down the first step of your plan, eat your chocolate.

Take the Next Step
Identify the foundation skills your dog needs to be able to do both at home then in public no matter the distraction? List those.

Here's a few:


at home

in public










leave it



nose target



loose leash walking






be handled by a stranger



ignore other dogs







Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks does your dog need to do to mitigate your disability? List those.


at home

in public

alert you to a doorbell ringing



pick up a dropped item




do deep pressure therapy to you







Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks or behaviors are not needed but you think might be fun to train? List those.

task or behavior

at home

in public

pivoting from in front of you



backing up







Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

There's a good start on a reward plan for yourself!


To incorporate reinforcement into the plan, break down each of those behaviors into their smaller training steps and choose reinforcers for each one. Even if your dog isn't as successful as you like, reinforce yourself for doing the training that day! Be kind to yourself (use a higher rate of reinforcement on yourself when you start losing motivation for a specific behavior) and motivation will come!

Behavior: settle/relax

relaxes on dog bed or mat voluntarily


relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location


relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location


settles on mat until released by cue


relaxes on mat on cue


settles on mat on cue near chair in new room


settles on mat near chair in yard





Another way you can apply Premack principle is to do a training session of one behavior you enjoy less to train, and alternate that with a behavior you enjoy training. It works! 

What other creative ways can use use Premack Principle on yourself?

External Motivation vs Internal Motivation

Back to this. The difference between these two is interesting. They have a relationship. External reinforcers and rewards can be things, objects, games, activities, travel, interaction with people, another person's approval etc. Internal motivators are feelings that you get from inside yourself when a step, task, job is completed or your dog figures something out on his own.

When you start out using external motivators, then apply them to yourself intermittently (ask for more of the same behavior to earn a reinforcement (called two-fers and three-fers in dog training) , the activity that you are being reinforced for becomes reinforcing with application of the external reinforcers. When you start to see a change in your dog's behaviors in specific situations, you feel good about it. Those feelings, caused by your dog's change of behavior, lead you to be more motivated to train your dog as you want to see more behavior change and feel better about the fact that "Yes! you CAN do this! "

This process is explained by the application of the Premack Principle that is the most powerful tool in a trainer's toolbox. Premack Principle says that if you pair a lower likelihood behavior with a higher likelihood behavior, over time the lower level behavior will increase in value to the learner. Sometimes becoming equal in value to the higher value behavior.  So pairing a lower likelihood activity (training in public) with a higher value activity (going out for coffee with a friend afterward), you increase your enjoyment of training.



Ultimately, the process of doing the activity becomes internally reinforcing. Internal reinforcement is when we do specific activities for the satisfaction or pleasure of doing them. No external rewards are necessary to do them. Over time, little things become internal reinforcers. The fast that your dog CAN do a specific behavior that he was having trouble figuring out. That your dog CAN do the same behavior in a pubic place! Voluntary eye contact from your dog. that makes you feel good! The feeling of pride when your dog helps you for the first time in public as a service dog in training learning public access. Many, many such things will become reinforcers to keep you motivated if you start incorporating external reinforcers into your training plan. 


For me, in writing these posts, I am reinforced by the feeling of satisfaction that I get when I hit the "Post" button on the blog. It is one step in being able to help others. I then Premack myself by having lunch of something I enjoy eating.  I get rewarded when someone lets me know that the post was helpful to them!

Watch for Part 2 for more ways to keep yourself motivated to train your service dog.

Sunday, 02 December 2018 13:48

Never Have a Night Crying Puppy Again!

As a person training your own service dogs, the last thing you need a is a puppy that cries all night. It stresses you out and it stresses the pup out. And it's not a great start on bonding. So…read this article!

I have slept with all my puppies, then phase them out by transitioning them to a crate. Crates are handy for travelling. A tip for small breeds is to roll up a towel or fleece and make a ring. That will prevent you from laying on your pup while you sleep. You can also use it to help your pup learn to sleep in the crate as it smells familiar.

The bond that is created when you sleep with your pup is very strong and that is needed for service dogs. A bonus is that you wake up when the pup starts moving around and this makes night-time house training so easy.

Thanks to Jill Breitner of for the article.

his TedX Talk by Jaak Panksepp reveals some important information about physical connection and emotion and the importance of this connection in mammals and birds.

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