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Monday, 02 March 2020 21:07

Keeping Training a Service Dog Simple

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Question:
When I take my adult dog out to the yard, and lead him around on a long line, he will sniff for a half hour before going potty. As my mobility decreases, I need him to potty sooner and of course, i don't want to stand out in the rain or snow either. How can I change this? 

Answer:
It sounds like he has learned to withhold his potty events until he's ready to go in. This is common when the outdoor time is not reliant on him pottying first. In other words, he needs to potty first and go sniff outside after after as the reward.

To change this, you will need to choose a new potty location in your yard. For example a 15 foot square defined area in your front yard rather than the back yard where he has been previous doing this behavior sniffing. (Changing the environment changes the behavior expectations). Don't worry this physical location change is only temporary until he understands the new way to do the behavior.

Starting first thing in the morning when you know he has to go pee, get dressed as if you are going for a walk, take him out on a leash (not a long line) and stand in the middle of the defined area and wait until he goes. Let him move and sniff around only in the defined area. It helps to anchor yourself on the spot. You can turn around on the spot but not step away.  A six foot leash actually give him about a 15 foot radius which is plenty of space to explore to potty.

As soon as you get out there, set your phone timer or watch for 5 minutes. If he does not go in 5 minutes, then bring him back in and confine him to a small area in the house (X-pen or crate for example). Take him out again in an hour and repeat. Repeat for as many times as it takes for him to go in that 5 minute period. When he does, wait until he's done, then mark and praise him and take him for a long sniffy walk - at least his 30 minutes. If you repeat this each time you take him out (at least 4 times each day for most dogs-after meals, after training, play or sleeping, and before bed), he will start to understand that he must go potty first, then the play and walk comes afterward.

Once he is reliably going potty right away in the new location (10 times in a row), then you can start to take him back towards the previous location where he was pottying. The same rules apply in all locations of your yard now, including the the old location once you get there. Take him out, if he doesn't go in 5 minutes, back in the house and try again in an hour in the same location. If he does go, he gets a walk or playtime afterward. Later you can phase this into a yard or in-house training session if he enjoys those. What comes after the potty must be rewarding for him. Over time, you can shorten the activity or only go for a walk once or twice a day. 

Since you are already out there with him, you can also add a cue to the potty and teach him to potty under "stimulus control" so later, you can cue him to go whenever and wherever you need him to.

While you train, make sure he is getting enough mental and physical stimulation each day. Do indoor training sessions, or ask a friend or hire a dog walker to supplement his walks 3 times a week. Good luck!

Smaller dogs have traditionally been used for hearing alerts. Recently, more people are choosing small dogs and toy breeds as their service dog for other disabilities. Owner-trainers are selecting them for diabetes, seizures, PTSD and Anxiety. The benefits are easy to observe but examining the concerns are also worthwhile to make sure dogs of the smaller size are actually a good fit for the handler, the family environment and their resources.

Benefits 
A dog's small size means they may:

  • be cheaper to feed
  • have less fur overall (but still have grooming requirements)
  • be easier to transport
  • be easier to tuck out of the way
  • may need less exercise than a larger dog (but not always true)

Concerns

  • have different health issues as a group than larger dogs
    patellar luxation (knee cap) 
    protruding eye balls (especially in short-nosed breeds)
    hypoglycemia (small size/fast metabolism means they have to eat more frequently to maintain normal blood sugar levels)
    tracheal collapse (means you will need to use a flat walking harness)
    Legg Calve Perthes (hip joint issue)
    chronic valvular disease  (heart disease)
  • may have higher incidence of cryptorchoidism (undescended testicles) than larger dogs
  • anal gland issues are more common in small dogs
  • tooth and jaw issues are standard among small dogs (which also means more dental care, and smaller food which is more expensive)
  • may be harder to potty train as they can sneak through small holes to potty out of sight in the house or may not be able to hold their bladder as long as larger dogs
  • small dogs tend to be over-represented in puppy mills. Rescues/shelters take in many puppy mill dogs. These are dogs with unknown genetic, medical, and behavioral histories and do not make good service dog candidates. 
  • tiny dogs are not likely to be as effective in performing physical interruption type tasks
  • may not be able to retrieve/drag larger objects
  • may not be able to access higher locations/steps without help
  • terriers like Jack Russel and fox terriers may need more exercise than you think!
  • terrier breeds can be very persistent and predatory (including the tiny Yorkshire terriers)
  • do not adapt well to harsh environments -may get cold or hot quickly in harsh environments or on hard floors
  • shiver more often (draws attention to your dog, may need a coat in indoor environments)
  • vet bills cost the same for small dogs as medium dogs. Sometimes spaying/neutering and operations can cost more due to the skill/attention to detail needed for operating on smaller bodies. Dental surgery is expensive as it requires a specialist.
  • fragile structure-falling, jumping or being dropped from even low heights can break bones
  • may be too environmentally sensitive or over-reactive-smaller dogs have have a faster metabolism, their flicker fusion rate in the eyes of small dog are higher so they tend to see more motion than larger dogs, tend to move faster, be more fearful
  • may be more prone to alarm barking (unwanted as a service dog and you can be asked to leave if you cannot control your dog)
  • most small dogs do not tolerate or enjoy being handled by children 
  • not as easy to socialize with other dogs and animals due to size difference and predatory issues
  • may be injured if children are handling the dog (stay with medium and larger dogs with more solid structure and temperament if the dog is intended to be a child's assistance dog)
  • ears harder to clean due to size (make sure you have the dexterity to do so or can hire a groomer regularly)
  • may trigger predatory behavior in larger dogs you encounter in public
  • may get stepped on (and have to be carried more often as a result, you will need to bend over to pick up a small dog)
  • may not be taken seriously by retailers or accommodation providers (may be mistaken for "fake" service dogs (dubious about effectiveness of small size, unfamiliar with your breed as a service dog, etc)
  • may attract unwanted attention from public
  • you will be bending over for the lifetime of the dog (to reward behaviors, do hand targets-sue a stick, lift it over high barriers, keep him from harm etc)
  • you will be sitting or kneeling to train at times, or elevating the dog for training

Tips:

  • Avoid breeds that have been "bred down" from a larger standard
  • Avoid the toy breeds (dogs smaller than 15 lbs)
  • Choose lines that have a heavier (more sturdy) bone structure
  • Choose a breeder than breeds on the large size of the standard or get a mix with a slightly larger (also suitable) breed
  • Find out what health tests have been done on the dog
  • Find out about the genetic history of teeth of at least 3 generations back
  • Brush your dogs teeth daily and give him things to chew
  • Have regular dental check ups
  • feed adult dogs at least twice a day, carry extra food for long days
  • Watch for irregularities in gait, like a skip off one leg or the other now and then when running (patella)
  • Avoid putting your dog in a shopping cart, use a snuggle/huggie tyoe carrier instead if you must keep him off the floor
  • teach him to be confident on his own and where to tuck himself out of the way to avoid injury


Small Breeds to Consider

  • conformation line beagle (breed only for companionship for many generations) (avoid hunting lines as they are higher energy, high prey drive and nose -oriented)
  • conformation bichon frise
  • Moyen poodle
  • Miniature poodle (avoid toy sized)
  • and mixes with the above breeds in them


Carefully consider your disabilities, the tasks the dog will be performing for you, your lifestyle, exercise levels, personality and those living around you (family and caregivers and other members of your support team), costs and make sure that the individual dog you choose is right for you. 

 

When considering what alert behavior you want to train, here are some things to keep in mind:

*Alerts should be passive alerts. That is the dog finds the scent and indicates where it is without disturbing it. This is ideal for allergens as the handler does not want the dog to bring particles of the allergen back to them.

*Alerts should be a behavior you will clearly recognize as an indication the dog has found a sample of the allergen. If you choose a behavior that your dog commonly does, you may miss the alert. Choosing a down for a dog that lies down when waiting may not be a good choice. You could add on a specific behavior to the common behavior such as a paw cross if that behavior would be better for the environments you need the alert in. On the other hand, choosing a really showy behavior may draw unwanted attention to you and the dog.

*The behavior must be simple enough that you can figure out how to teach it to your dog. Having a long chain of behaviors (several behaviors in a row) as an alert can make it harder to train. Capturing a slightly unusual behavior your dog does can be an easy way to train and make it a more natural behavior for your dog.

*You must decide if you want the dog to alert the allergen at it source or come back to your side and then alert.

*For an allergic alert, the dog must not interact with the scent as you don't want her accidentally bringing it back on her paws or fur. If you dog tends towards using her paws, avoid paw-reated indications and the default behavior could easily return to pawing the scent. 

*How precise of a location alert do you need? Does the behavior allow the dog to indicate in a precise way or is a general presence/absence alert more what you need (as in allergens that travel in the air). Traces of allergens can be anywhere in the room from on the floor, on people, on door knobs and handrails, elevator buttons and even in the air (as in an airborne allergy).

*Choose a behavior that is not going to stress your dog's body if it will be repeated over and over (as it will be during training sessions). Your dog could easily do 80 to 100 repetitions (or more) in a day. 3 sessions of 30 repetitions= 90.


Here is a list of passive (allergy) alert behavior ideas: 

  • sit
  • sit and paw lift
  • down
  • down and paw cross
  • nose nudge leg (or hand)
  • nose touch and hold on leg or hand (target spot must be accessible to dog at all times standing, sitting and laying down)
  • dog grabs "bringsel" (a thin bumper attached to his collar) and holds it in his mouth
  • stand and scratch floor with paw (near but not on allergen)
  • stand and paw lift (point)
  • quiet talk (more of a conversational woo, woo-not barking)
  • beg (sit up pretty)
  • tipping head up (yes nod) or sideways (no)
  • chin on floor or chair holding still towards scent 
  • nose touch held in place without the physical contact
  • spin once
  • back leg lift/stretch
  • kicking with back legs (like after a defecation)
  • rear up and paw (ends up more of a dance where she places paws on my arm)
  • back away from allergen
  • bow and scooting back away from allergen
  • grab wrist/sleeve and lead you away
  • tug on a toy attached to your waist and lead you away
  • physically block you from allergen (stand stay crosswise in front of you that resists your forward movement)

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Once your dog has been trained to do a specific behaviour, any training tool you use needs to be gradually removed from training (faded) or replaced with a different cue for the dog to know that she's working. Fading is the process of removing the training tool from use usually after a cue is added to the finished behaviour. 

Why Not Stop Using Training Tools Cold Turkey?

While some dogs who catch onto concepts quickly (those who are able to generalize well) will quickly adapt to removing a training tool, most dogs need transition time to learn a new cue for the behaviour, then learn that the tool is not actually needed as a cue to do the behaviour. They need structure to gradually remove their reliance on the tool to know what to do and when to do the behaviour.

Fading the tool rather than just removing it will reduce frustration for both the handler and the dog. Fading prevents the extinction phase that occurs when removing training tools cold turkey. 

What Training Tools for Service Dogs Need to be Faded? 

  • lures
  • platforms/pivot
  • barriers
  • channels
  • targets (nose, paw, stick)
  • mats
  • front clip harnesses
  • head halters
  • prong collars
  • any other tool you have introduced to help you teach your dog a new behaviour

What Process Would You Use for Each? 

First, make sure that your dog understands and can perform the behaviour fully, the behaviour is "on cue" and the dog can perform the behaviour a timely manner in each specific environment, and with some distractions. What that level of distraction is depends on the training tool and what behaviour it is used for. 

Next, break down the criteria to fade for each tool. Looking at single criterion and breaking each one down can help make the fading process fast and easy. Here are some criterion for the examples above.

  • lures- "fake" luring (presence/absence of food), lure changed to hand signal, food or toy delivered after mark from out of sight (treat pouch or table top).
  • targets (nose, paw, stick)-size, texture, distance
  • platforms/pivot-height, size, shape, texture, presence/absence
  • barriers-distance from them, solid or see through, presence/absence
  • mats-size, thickness (height), presence/absence
  • front clip harnesses-other cue
  • head halters-other cue, attached to leash/unattached, presence/absence
  • prong collar-other cue, attached to leash/unattached, inside out, presence/absence

3 Examples of Loose Leash Walking (Loose Heeling) Training Collars 
I want to be clear that these tools do not teach the dog to walk on a loose leash. It is what else the handler does that teaches the dog where and how to walk on a leash. We know this because if the tool is removed, the dog will move out of position, and even pull on the leash. Until the handler takes the time to teach their dog the position where they want her to be, that it is a rewarding place to be, to stay in that position as the handler moves around obstacles in life and to move with any slight pressure from the leash, the dog doesn't really understand the behaviour and is likely only responding to the presence of the tool. Tools that restrain a dog are actually more for the handler than the dog. It gives the handler confidence that they can control the dog until a strong enough relationship is built that the training tool is no longer necessary. 

Flat Walking Harness: Front Clip 
This is what SDTI recommends for all dogs to wear. A vest or bandana with a Service Dog patch is typically worn over top of the harness. The harness does not tighten or chaff and can be put on easily with a clip rather than a buckle. Some examples: Balance Harness or Perfect Fit or similar designs like the cheaper Hamilton Harness. The leash is attached to the front chest clip to redirect the dog back to you when she pulls.

Do training set ups at home. To start fading the front clip, attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes. One clips to the front chest ring and one to the back ring.

With the dog at your side, hold the leashes so that the back ring leash is a little shorter than the front ring leash. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the front clip. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the back clip which becomes a new cue for the front clip tension.

Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the front chest ring. Now add some movement, keeping the back clip leash a little shorter than the front clip leash. That way if your dog pulls, tension is put on the back clip first and the front clip second. 

Once you can walk about 50 feet with your dog moving with you, gradually increase the distraction level. When she is successful, you can stop using the front clip by unclipping and removing the front clip leash and just holding the leash attached to the back or top of the vest or back clip. 

Head Halter 
Most dogs really dislike the head halter, some designs more than others. In addition, members of the public mistake this tool for a muzzle, which does not give them confidence in the handler's ability to control the dog. So the sooner you can wean your dog off this tool if you are suing it, the better.

Do training set ups at home. Teach your dog that gentle tension on the back clip means the same as gentle tension on the head collar. Attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes: one goes to the head halter ring and one to the back of the vest or flat walking harness. Hold the leash so that the back clip is a little shorter than the head halter leash. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the front clip. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the back clip is a new cue for the front clip tension. Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the head halter. Gradually increase the distance you walk with her.  Then the distraction level.

When she is successfully responding to the slight leash pressure on the back ring, use only one leash on the back ring and having the dog wear the head halter but not attaching the leash to it. Review loose leash walking like this until you are confident that your dog will keep the leash loose without the leash attached to the head collar in more and more distracting environments. When she is successful with that, take the head collar off and go for a short walk in an easy environment to see if your dog understands the behaviour is the same as when she is wearing the head halter. 

Prong Collar or Pinch Collar
You can follow the same approach as the two other tools above to teach your dog that tension on the back ring of a harness or vest is a new cue for the prong collar. (We do not advise the use of a prong collar but offer this information for those who are already using one and want to fade it.)


Do training set ups at home. Teach your dog that gentle tension on the back clip means the same as gentle tension on the prong collar. Attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes: one goes to the back of the vest or harness ring and one to the prong collar. Hold the leash so that the back clip is a little shorter than the prong. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the prong. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the vest/back clip is a new cue for the prong tension. Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the prong. Gradually increase the distance you walk with her. Then gradually increase the distraction level.

When she is successfully responding to the slight leash pressure on the back ring, use only one leash on the back ring and having the dog wear the prong but not attaching the leash to it. Review loose leash walking like this until you are confident that your dog will keep the leash loose without the leash attached to the prong in more and more distracting environments.

When she is successful with that, turn the prong inside out and repeat the process. This gives her the feel of wearing something on her neck. Go for a short walk in an easy environment to see if your dog understands the behaviour is the same as when she is wearing the prong. Next, take the prong off and use only the leash attached to the back ring.

Having Trouble? 
If you find that you cannot easily fade the training tool, then the fading steps you are using may be too big for your dog. Try breaking the criterion down finer or giving your dog more time at each step, or training each step in different locations to help her generalize. Problem-solving is key! Contact us to book a web cam session if you need help fading tools!


Thursday, 28 November 2019 08:20

Handling Errors in Service Dogs

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Wednesday, 20 November 2019 14:33

Marking in Dogs

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When first starting out with your service dog candidate (whether puppy or "new to you" dog), it can be fun to teach new behaviors and tricks! Learning how to learn is an important part of a service dogs skills. You do need to be careful with your choice of the first  5 or 6 behaviors though, as choosing the wrong ones can add more work or even derail your training as your dog progresses.

Some of these behaviors can be used as alert behaviors later on so we want to be thoughtful how we teach them and what cue we pair them with. This means after YOU have some experience in training behaviors and have a better idea of what you are doing and your dogs' temperament is like.

All of these behaviors are likely to become default behaviors when your dog dog doesn't know what else to do, when you are shaping him or when he gets frustrated. Most of them are self-reinforcing, which means just doing them feels good, no reinforcement is needed from you so he will keep doing them even when you don't want them. They can also be hard to get rid of once they are established, even if you teach a cue for them and put them under stimulus control.

Wait until your pup or dog understands the concepts of a 'behavior on cue' and 'stimulus control' for at least 5 more basic (foundation) behaviors before you teach any of these.

  • spinning (this can become a obsessive compulsive behavior)
  • shake a paw (can interfere with a nose target since the cue is very similar, a lifted paw encourages others to interact with your service dog, can interfere with a dog's communication with you since you might misinterpret it)
  • jumping up or paws up even if on cue (especially with large dogs and the behavior an become an attention seeking behavior) 
  • licking face
  • biting at your face (misinterpreted by others)
  • lifting lips "smile" (can be mis-interpreted as a snarl by strangers, is also an appeasement behavior)
  • barking (on cue) Service dogs can be asked to be removed from a public place if they are disruptive. (Avoid teaching barking as an alert behavior)
  • digging
  • ringing bells to go out to potty
  • scratching the door to go out (wooden doors get damaged in public places)
  • nose nudge of hand (can easily become a demand to pet behavior when you are distracted especially if you absently stroke the dog's head)

Save sniffing for medical alerts until later as well. Sniffing comes naturally to dogs and scents do not need to be "imprinted" at a young age for the dogs to be successful medical scent detectors (diabetic alerts, seizure alerts etc).

Great behaviors you want to start with instead are:

  • eye contact
  • four on the floor
  • sit
  • nose target
  • bringing things to you
  • dropping objects
  • following you (loose leash walking off leash)
  • adding duration to all wanted behaviors

Check out our Foundations Skills Classes for guidance on how to start teaching the basic skills a service dog will need. 

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