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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:

behavior

at home

in public

sit

 

 

down

 

 

recall

 

 

leave it

 

 

nose target

 

 

loose leash walking

 

 

settle/relax

 

 

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.

task

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.

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 www.dogdecoder.com for the article.
http://www.dogdecoder.com/theres-puppy-pile-cute/

T
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.

Spay or Not and At What Age?

You'll hear many things about whether or not and what age to alter a dog. You need to do your research before you decide what is appropriate for you, your dog and your situation. This is an especially important consideration for service dogs since certification depends the behavioral and physical abilities of the dog. Spaying and neutering too early results in health and behavioral issues in many dogs.

Why & When Is Altering Done?

Spaying and neutering is typically done as a prevention for population explosion/unwanted dogs and to prevent health issues such as cancers (experts are now question the validity of this belief.). A common practice in some regions has been to alter the puppies as young as 8 weeks before they go to their new homes (This is seen most commonly in dogs from shelters and rescue organizations and some breeders) Recent long-term studies have shown juvenile altering is not a good idea.

What is Done to the Dogs?

Spaying and Neutering a dog removes the sex organs and hormones associated with them. In females the uterus is removed (as in human hysterectomy) and the ovaries. In neutering (also known as castration) the male's testicles are removed. 

Long term Effects of Spaying Too Early

Dogs spayed or neutered as juveniles (less than 6 mos old) show many undesirable long-term effects. What occurs is that the hormones normally emitted by the sex glands are not present and this affects both the temperament and physical development of the dogs in question. In females, fearfulness, overly long leg bones, low bone density issues, hip dysplasia, ACL tears and increased risks of cancer have been identified. In males, all of the above except fearful nature is replaced by aggression.

Two long-term studies of a large number of dogs show behavioral and physical effects are a real possibility. 

*In 1998 and 1999, 1444 Golden Retrievers by the Golden Retriever Club of America

*German Shepherd Dogs

Overall Summary of Studies done on animals altered at a juvenile age. http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html

What Age Is ideal?

If you are going to spay/neuter you service dog, a minimum age is just at the time the dog reaches physical maturity. At least 1 year for small breeds, 18 mos for middle size dogs and about 2 years for giant breeds. This way, physical development (especially the bone plates which is among the last to mature) has been completed. The ideal age may also be affected by sex. (Im HH, Yeon SC, Houpt KA, et al. Effects of ovariohysterectomy on reactivity in German shepherd dogs. Vet J 2006;172(1):154-159.)

Guide Dog programs typically spay females after their first heat and males at about 8 months of age. Could this partly explain the high failure rate of dogs due to behavioural issues (some as high as 50%)?

Is Spaying/Neutering Necessary?

Do you need to alter your animal at all? That depends on the laws of the your region, the breeder, the program you belong to and the individual dog in question. 

Does altering males actually decrease or prevent aggression issues? Studies show that if the altering is done at the time of puberty, it decreases the hormonal levels and usually results in calmer behaviour such as less wandering. If the altering is done after puberty, there may be no behavioral improvement.

Here is a link to a summary of studies on spaying and neutering risks and benefits of dogs at all ages.

http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/longtermhealtheffectsofspayneuterindogs.pdf

Alternative Approaches

If your situation allows you to choose not to spay or neuter you dog, be a responsible owner and do not allow your animal to reproduce, unless you are knowledgeable and experienced in the area of breeding.

One way to do this without spaying or neutering is ask your vet to do a vasectomy on your male dog or perform a tubal ligation in your female dog. This stops all possibility of reproducing without altering the natural hormone levels in the dog. Do be warned, though, these operations, while actually easier to perform are not common and the vets may not want to do them. You may need to educate your vet or find one who is willing to do it. Only you can decide if the benefits are worth the extra effort.

Of course the common sense method of preventing your female from breeding is to protect her from male dogs (with solid fences etc) when in heat and keep your male dog with you at all times.

http://www.caninesports.com/SNBehaviorBoneDataSnapShot.pdf

There are many resources that you will need to access if you are considering adding training service dogs and their handlers to your business offerings. 

Teaching People

One of the most important things is that you need to be great working with people and knowledgeable about disabilities and how they affect your client’s life. To date, there is little, if any, resources to specifically train the human part of the service dog training team. Since that is who you will actually be training, that makes it more challenging!

Obtaining some sort of teaching certificate or degree: (6 months to 4 year programs available)

  • provincial or state instructor’s diploma
  • adult education
  • general education

Volunteering with people with disabilities is another. There are physical disabilities (paraplegia, arthritis, hearing impaired, blindness), mental disabilities (memory issues, learning, dizziness), emotional disabilities (anxiety, PTSD, autism) and medical disabilities (allergies, chemical sensitivities, diabetes, seizures) and many others.
Counselling experience would be an asset since we spend much of our time counselling the people as well as teaching about dog training.

Teaching Resources (books)

Dr. Rise Van Fleet

Human Half of Dog Training Collaborating with Clients to get Results

Terri Ryan

Coaching People to Train Their Dogs

Gamify Your Training

Service Dog Associations 

Note: There is no official government body that oversees dog training and who offers certification or classes.

There are however, two key organizations that are internationally recognized for service dogs.

Assistance Dogs International ADI
Offers to accreditation to non-profit service dog organizations

International Association for Assistance Dogs  Partners IAADP
Offer Affiliate memberships 

Service Dog Laws

It is important to learn about the laws related to service and assistance dogs.

In general, most countries have human rights laws and disability laws that protect the rights of the individual who has the service dog.

For the USA,
The Americans with Disabilities Act ADA

ADA FAQ

In Canada, each province has their own laws regarding guide and service dogs.
British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia now have a certification process for owner-trained teams.

Learn More About the Training Process
and Becoming a Training Coach for Service Dogs and Assistance Dogs:


Here are some resources I trust to help start you off.

Check out Service Dog Training Institute SDTI’s classes:
These online self-paced classes help you to work though the process of training owners to train their own service dog. Not only training behaviors and tasks, but lectures and tips on the specifics for service dogs are woven throughout.

A General Introduction to Training Service Dog Teams:
Sharon Washer offers a series of webinars.
Webinar 1  
Webinar 2
Webinar 3 

Online Classes:
Barbara Handelman has a 3 Tier Service Dog Course that she offers online.

Veronica Sanchez has an overview class as well as a 12 week coaching certificate

In-person Classes:
West Virginia University offers classes about training service dogs and uses positive reinforcement.
Hearts of Gold

Bergin University in California offers a service dog degree program.

Web-based Consults
If you want more detail about the ins and outs of teaching people to teach their dog and teaching dogs, please contact me for a private 1 hour webcam session.  

Is Owner-Training a Service Dog a Good Fit for You?   Audio file of the text.

Over the years, we have worked with people who have tried to owner-train a dog to become public access assistance dogs for themselves or a family member and were not successful for a number of reasons unrelated to training the dog.

If you tend to be overly optimistic or unrealistic about your ability to choose the right dog, create the right environment, and your ability to follow through for the 2-3 year or more process then you will want to consider this list. The risk of failure is very real among owner-trained service dogs and assistance dogs. Having a dog fail can set you back emotionally, socially and financially. Your health and emotional stakes are high! Read the information below before you start the process!

Here are 5 categories that have been barriers to success for owner-trainers: 

1. Medical condition

Unstable Medical or Psychological condition:
Your focus will be on your changing situation rather than on training the dog. The training process may be put on hold due to your condition.  If you have been newly diagnosed, you will be busy learning out how to live with the condition for the first while, setting up your support system etc. A dog can come later.

2. Dog

Unsuitable dog: Starting with a puppy or adult that does not meet the solid temperament and great health needed by a service dog to withstand the daily stress of working. A service dog candidate needs to be raised in a stable indoor home environment, have good genetics and parents/grandparents with good health, ideally from health-tested tested adults.

If you are starting with an adult dog, the same applies. The dog must be even-tempered towards people and other animals. Adaptability and resiliency are key. The dog needs to have the size and physical ability to do the tasks required. Choose a dog that has daily exercise requirements that you can realistically live with. If you live in an area with a small dog population, then you will need to look further afield for a candidate which will involve travel.

3. Environment

The physical and emotional environment a dog lives in affects his behavior in a good way and a bad way, just like it does you. Consider the amount of space, the suitability of that space, the location where you are living and how safe it is for a dog. If you live in a rural area, you will have to add distance to go to socialize your dog and do public access training. 

Consider who else you are living with as well as paid caregivers, their beliefs and knowledge about dogs and how to interact with them. A living environment that puts you or your dog at risk for physical or emotional abuse is not conducive for creating a successful service dog. 

Do you have an unstable or overly busy family life? Too many things going on, whether it’s a busy family with many kids and many pets, a farm to care for or a caregiver/trainer with their own health issues divides your attention. Training your own service dog is like raising a baby. You need focus, time and energy to do it long term.

Do you have a support system? Raising and maintaining a service dog or assistance dog takes a community. From family/housemates, canine professionals like trainers, vets and groomers, professional healthcare to open-minded retailers, everyone is involved in successfully raising and training a service dog to the point of public access. Do you live in isolation? This will be problematic.

Rental or Strata housing don’t recognize a service dog in training in most jurisdictions. The landlord/manager’s perception of the dog or breed you choose can create difficulties. They can change their mind and revoke permission at any time. They can manufacture a reason to revoke permission for the dog. Managers/landlords and Strata councils change.

School or workplace acceptance: Make sure your school or workplace is supportive of you training your own service dog and will allow the dog access during training and later once the dog is ready to accompany you. These places may not be covered by public access laws. 

4. Required Finances

Raising and training a Service Dog requires money, even if you owner train. You will need to learn how to train your dog to professional standards. Even if you are already a professional trainer, you will still need to consult other dog training professionals for group classes, problem solving and to get an outside perspective. If the dog experiences trauma, a certified veterinary behaviorist may need to be contacted. These are very expensive.

Every dog has basic needs that need to be met. They need to be fed, housed, have veterinary contact and grooming fees. They get sick and injured and need immediate treatment. Heath testing and neutering are done when the dog is an adult. It’s mandatory to raise a good chunk of the money upfront, ideally all of it, before you start like organizations providing the dogs do. Otherwise, you will be fundraising while training and that takes your focus away from training and adds a level of stress into the process. Plan on Canadian$3000-$6000 depending on what age and training level the dog is starting at.

What if you run out of money before the dog’s training is completed? There will be ongoing maintenance training and also upgrades to training if your medical conditions change. 

5. Personal Skills/Characteristics

There is a long list of skills and characteristics needed for a handler to successfully train their own service dog. If these are lacking, they can become insurmountable hurdles.

  • No previous experience in sole care of a dog.  You need to understand what is realistic to expect a dog to do and not do at the different stages of life and how to make sure the dog’s needs as a biological being and keep the dog healthy and fit for working in public.
  • If you are unable to focus on training in the moment (short-term focus) or create a long-term training plan (big-picture goals) this will make training very difficult for you.  
  • An inability to adjust your expectations to match what the dog is capable of in the moment or being easily overwhelmed work against your success.
  • If you are unable to generalize learning from one behavior to another then you will require step by step plans laid out with all possible options.  This requires the help of a personal life coach or daily support person.
  • You will need the ability to keep detailed records and daily journaling about the process.
  • Inability to go into public places regularly to train the dog. This may be due to a medical condition (agoraphobia, anxiety, severe environmental allergies etc) or lack of dog-friendly transportation to get you there.
  • Dis-interest or too stressed or anxious to learn how to train effectively, especially in new environments.
  • Lacking self-evaluation skills (of yourself as well as the dog.)
  • Lacking coping strategies when things don’t go well, or people confront you about your dog in public etc. 
  • Needing excessive amount of support for decision-making and action-oriented tasks

Check out this blog post on what characteristics professional service dog trainers require. 


Conclusion:
If you find that you are missing several of the key skills and characteristics, then you will want to seriously consider not training your own service or assistance dog.

Some Alternatives:
If you still think you could benefit from a service dog and be able to take care of one:

Find an ADI accredited program to get a trained dog from. Each have their own application process, screen potential handlers and often have requirements for fundraising to be done upfront.

Find a training company who will sell you a trained dog. Do your research. There are several scammers who will make unbelievable claims (like saying a 12 week old puppy is a fully-trained service dog, or make guarantees they can’t follow through with etc. ) Check the better business bureau, do a Google search, and look for Facebook complaint groups to see if anything concerning comes up. Get references and talk to clients who have had a dog from them for at least a year.

 

 

 

Saturday, 22 September 2018 11:38

"I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!"

Written by

"I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!"

 
I hear this comment occasionally when I get new service dog clients. For the vast majority, we are able to figure out why the dog does not want to work for the food they are being offered. Below are some of the most common reasons. 
 

Why Do We Want to be Able to Use Food?

Having a dog that enjoys working for food helps to speed the learning process as well as offer an alternative to using toys or interaction (like massage, play etc). In the training phase, a dog needs to know she is doing well and food reinforcements are a good way to communicate that quickly and eaisly. Food is something that has intrinsic value to a dog unless he has learned to not enjoy it. Eating is a basic survival need.
In the early stages of training, reinforcement rates need to be high to keep a dog engaged in learning (about 3 to 4 seconds per behavior repetition-Yes you read that correctly! One reinforcer every 3 to 4 seconds!) Giving your dog a toy to play with may slow the repetitions to 1 per 20 seconds or much more. Food is the fastest reinforcer there is. A dog can eat a piece of food in less than 2 seconds and be doing the next repetition soon after. This helps her to do more repetitions in a shorter period of time so she can learn the behavior more quickly than using other types of reinforcement.  It also helps to give you another tool to combine when dealing with high level distractions. Using food, toys and interaction together is a jackpot reinforcement gives you an edge for the highest level distractions!
Not to worry about using food forever, though. Once the dog has grasp of the basic behaviors, toys, play, massage and even other learned behaviors can become reinforcers for behaviors and service dog tasks. Eventually, once the dog fully understands the behavior and can generalize the to many public locations,  the use of the food can be faded except for special occasions. Over time, the value of working with you will build and the relationship and communication between you and your service dog will grow. At that point, you can then reliably use your relationship to reinforce trained behaviors for more dogs. 
 
There are several common reasons why a dog might not work for food: 
Handler's Philosophy
Probably the most common reason food may not work for a dog is the handler's own philosophy on what is appropriate to use as a reward. Some people believe that a dog should not be paid using food. They believe that the relationship they have with their dog is enough. That verbal praise combined with an ear scritch is motivation enough. 
While that may work for a few dogs, unfortunately, dogs that offer undying devotion for your love without you having to earn it are few and far between. For the vast majority of dogs, until you have taken the time to build a positive working relationship with her, you'll need to use other things in addition to your relationship to motivate her. 
Dogs, like humans, initially do what gets them what they want. Then over time as they learn to master behaviors and skills, they begin to enjoy the activity and interaction itself. In the meantime, food is an easy choice for most service handlers because the vast majority of dogs enjoy eating. Let's not overlook the fact that they need food to survive. 
Some handlers unconsciously undermine their success with food. They don't use the food correctly, or they skimp on the amount. In the early stages of training, it must come fast and be high enough value that the dogs deems it worthy to work for. There is a skill to using food for training. It pays to take time to learn it so you and your dog can succeed together.

Some people think they have to carry food around with them for the rest of the dog's life. Not so. If food is used correctly, it is used to train a behavior, then other types of reinforcers are substituted. Anything from toys and play with the handler to real life reinforcers are introduced to maintain the behavior. They might be as simple as getting to go through a door, going for a car ride, greeting someone and some of the trained behaviors can become fun or rewarding for the dog to do. Of course every dog, even well-trained ones, appreciate the occasional food reinforcer.
Unfortunately, there are some in society who say "Training with food is cheating." It becomes a voice that triggers doubts in your success. Whether that voice is from another person, or comes from within, if you want to change it, you are the only one who can.
Repeat after me: "Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
 
Free Feeding Practice
One commonly overlooked practice that people do to lower a dog's value of food is to free feed. Free feeding involves placing a full food dish on the ground and letting the dog eat what she wants when she wants how often she wants. While this is convenient for the handler, it removes the dog's motivation to eat and ultimately earn it.  That's why the dish sits there full for most of the day. The food becomes meaningless to the dog and the dog is eating and doing nothing in exchange for it. The food is available at all times. 
A tip to help with food motivation as well as potty issues in a dog of any age is to put the food bowl down twice a day. If the dog doesn't eat after 10 minutes, pick it up and try again at the second feeding of the day. By placing it down just twice a day, it builds scarcity for the dog so he will eat when it becomes available. Suddenly the food has more value. Do this for at least a week before you try the next step below. 
Next, measure out the dog's total daily ration of food. Remove the amount you need for training, and divide the remainder into two. So, if you plan to do 50 repetitions over 2 training sessions, take out 50 kibble and set those aside in a treat pouch.  Then twice a day, place the rest of the food into food puzzles and let your dog work for it. Getting dogs to work for their food builds value for it too. It also helps by giving the dog a job to do and burning off mental energy so you don't have to spend hours physical exercising her. Since most dogs enjoy having a job, this gives eating some meaning.
 
Using Food That is Too Low Value
Often people infer that their dog will not work for food because they use food that is too low of value for the distraction level of the environment they are training in or the level of difficulty or the length of time they are asking from their dog. Using hard or dried commercially made treats away from home usually isn't enough. If the task is too hard or the distraction level is too high, most dogs will  disengage. Use real meats like beef (cooked heart is very high value for most dogs, fresh or canned  tripe too (stinky but high in demand), pork, and lamb. Chicken and turkey work well but do fall apart in bits.
Adding sardine juice or beef gravy stock to other foods increase the value. Squares of hard cheese, cooked omelette squares are enjoyed by most dogs. Dogs with lactose intolerance is actually not as common as it is made out to be and fermented milk products like cheese and yogurt are more easily tolerated. Mashed potatoes or yam, yogurt, thick pea soup, and meaty baby food can all be put into a food tube for easy lickable delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes). Even just adding garlic powder or mixing other smelly foods into a bag of kibble can increase their value enough to motivate a dog to work for it.
 
Dog will Only Eat "Human Food"
I am talking about dogs who won't eat their kibble but gobble it down if you add leftovers from your meals. Part of this involves your philosophy of not feeding dogs "people food". Let's look at this a little closer. The better "dog foods" are made from food that is leftover from processing human food. The soft portions of a chicken carcasses are removed from the bone and boiled. The fat is melted down. Leftover grain from processing cereal and other human foods is cooked and vitamins, coloring and preservatives are added back in to the mix. The food is then put into a machine, pushed out a hole and cut to make the kibble shape. Then it is cooked and dried. In reality dog food is IS refined people food,  but is it not as fresh or palatable and so often has lower value to the dog.
If your dog is refusing to eat it, she may be bored with the same food day in and out. Giving her a variety of food not only flavors but texture, moisture levels and shapes may help. Dogs developed as scavengers over the last 14,000+ years, eating whatever refuse they could find around human settlement. That involved variety. Like in human diets, it is the variety that gives us the breadth of nutrients we need to thrive. Check out other feeding options for your dog. There is commercial kibble, canned food, moist food, food rolls, raw food, cooked food and there is also the homemade option. All of these may be higher value to your dog an she will be willing to work for them. Do your research no matter what choice you make to ensure your dog is getting what she needs to maintain physical and mental fitness to work as your service dog. Note that not all veterinarians support all kinds of food.
If the refusal to work for kibble is new, check the food out for the best before date and take a sniff of the bag and look at a handful of kibble. Kibble can go moldy in a moist environment and dogs detect pathogens that make them sick. This causes them to refuse to eat. Trust your dog and return it to the retailer with the receipt. If that's not the issue, a vet check is in order. 
 
Allergies
Dogs who have food allergies may not enjoy eating since their intestinal tract is upset. They have connected eating to feeling bad and may refuse to eat. In addition, handlers may find it hard to find food of high enough value for training due to the severe limitations of what the dog can eat. If this is the case, the handler must be creative. Perhaps moistening a dry food with water or real meat juices or other real flavoring that the dog is not allergic to. Or if the dog is eating only soft food, it can be placed in a food tube for delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes.)  Try dehydrating soft food to make a hard treat that can be tossed.
 
Inadvertent Pressure While Eating
This is one that a handler may not be aware they are doing. It can come in several forms. 
1. They are in a hurry to do something and after they put the food down, they put social pressure on the dog to eat. "Hurry up." And then get angry, drop the tone of their voice to tell the dog to hurry. Or, similarly, if the dog drops food on the ground, he is verbally admonished for it. Eating becomes a punished behavior. 
2.  During training, the handler gives small inadvertent punishers as they are delivering the food so the dog quits eating. The dog does what was asked, then is either too slow, or does something that the handler sees as undesirable (like jumping up and grabbing an object during training the retrieve) and then gives a verbal reprimand or pushes the dog out of their space. For sensitive dogs, the handler may not even be aware of the level of impact on the dog. In this case, the dog is connecting the punisher to the trained behavior, or even eating of the food, not her behavior at the end of the training session. The result is a dog that looks like she doesn't want to work for food or can't focus on any training activity very long.

A good test to see if your dog is afraid to eat with you nearby is to have a neutral person (ideally a good positive reinforcement trainer) try training the dog with food. The dog is usually more than happy to train with the neutral person as there is no history of positive punishment. They may also appear less subdued (happier) than with their usual handler. 
 
Building Value for Toys until Dog is Toy Obsessed
Toys and games are a great thing to have as part of your training reinforcement strategy. Using toys for training can inject enthusiasm, speed and joy into a less motivated dog.  But, some dogs will reject food when in the presence of toys while others can't think when they are within reach. 
Ideally, you want to build value for both so you have many options to choose from when training different behaviors. Some behaviors lend themselves to toys better than food and vice versa. Food can be used to calm an over-aroused dog in training.  Toys can put a dog with low impulse control into over-arousal (excitement level where they lose control).
After training is complete and the behaviors have been proofed, toys, like the food, need to faded.  They can be used when your dog is not working and during breaks in work for your service dog.
 
Stress
If you find that your service dog in training suddenly stops eating in some locations but will happily focus and work and eat in others, consider her stress level as a cause. Stress can be good or bad (distress or eustress). Arousal level may also contribute to not eating.

At a biological level, if a dog who can eat normally while training away from home, suddenly stops eating, this can be an indication of severe stress. In order to prepare for flight or fight, the stomach shuts down and the blood flows to muscles for running away or fighting. A dog that can't eat is a stressed dog.

Stop training and take the dog out of that environment or, at the very least, give her time to adjust before asking her to do anything. After a few minutes in a safe environment, she should want to eat again. If she can't, you will want to figure out if it is caused by fear or arousal and the impact this is going to have on her as a  service dog. If she cannot function, she will be of no help to you. There are options available (such as desensitization and counter conditioning processes) but consult a profession positive reinforcement trainer for help in creating and carrying out a plan to help your dog overcome the fear or stress.
 

Are you a dog trainer? Have you considered becoming a service dog training coach?  It's great that you want to help others! Consider carefully if this lifestyle is for you, and if you have or can get the training and skills needed to do this successfully.

Here are some questions to get you started:

Do you want to work for an organization?
Or do you want to work in your own business?

Do you enjoy working with groups of people and dogs?
Or do you prefer working one on one?
Would you prefer to training the dogs, then spend a short time with the people to transition the dog to the new handler who has the disability?
Do you have your own training facility? Have local facilities that can be rented locally? Or do you work in client’s homes?
Does your state or country require you to be certified?
Do you want to be an accredited organization?
Do you want to create a non-profit business?

Here is a basic list of training, skills, knowledge and characteristics you will need to start adding service dog training to your list of services: 

Training in:

Teaching Humans (of different ages)
Specialized training in the disabilities you are specifically interested in
Teaching Dogs (to a high level of performance in public)


Recommended Skills:
Counselling
Fundraising
Ability to Assess people for suitability of owner-training.
Ability to assess dogs for suitability as a service dog candidate.
Observation skills (for humans and dogs)

Knowledge
Regional/State Disability laws
National Disability Laws
Learning theory and practice how it applies to humans and dogs
Psychology of humans
Ethology of dogs (behavior)


Personal Characteristics:
Mentally and emotionally stable
Ability to set clear work vs personal boundaries
Lifelong learner
Creative
Resourceful
Empathetic
Strong self-care skills (ability to detach)
Ability to define what are your own reinforcers for doing a job are.
Resilience to bounce back between punishing situations
Have or can create a support system for yourself
A Sense of Volunteerism
Have a support system

If you want more detail about what I have learned about teaching people to teach their service dog candidates, please contact me for a private webcam session



Observation skills are critical to developing good clicker skills. You can easily improve your powers of observation by taking the time to watch your dog, or someone else’s. Go to a dog park and watch dogs interact or sit on a park bench for a break with your dog and watch other dogs as they walk by on leash with their owners.

Practice Without Your Dog
Take a break during a walk to sit where you can see people and their dogs walking by. Choose a behavior and watch for clickable behaviors in the stranger’s dogs. A clickable behavior is any behavior that the dog does or is part of shaping towards a specific desired. For example, greeting a person politely. Watch that dog closely and use your pointer finger as a pretend clicker and tap it on your leg when you observe any behavior that is part of greeting a person politely. They might include sniffing an offered hand, dropping head when approaching, sitting when approaching, looking away, looking back at their handler, standing calmly after approach etc.

Any behavior is fair game, including mouth movements, more subtle body movements, etc. When you have tried this on three or four dogs, count how many clickable behaviors another dog does. You might be amazed!

To continue your practice, start looking for more subtle behaviors. Watch what a dog does with his eyes and ears. If you watch your own dog closely you can start picking out blinking, relaxed eyes, wide eyes, pupils dilating during play, subtle breathing patterns, muscles relaxing or tightening and much more. For some training situations, you may need to click these as a tiny step in the start of shaping the direction of the new behavior.

Videos
You can also watch videos or DVD's of dogs to see how many behaviors they actually do offer that could be clicked! As you learn the bigger behaviors, such as scratching, yawning etc, you can start looking for smaller behaviors. The more subtle behaviors may be hard to see in videos so that’s why watching real dogs up close is best.

Watch these short video clips and make a list of how many different behaviors you can observe. Turn off the audio so it doesn’t distract you. For a list of behaviors that can be observed, see the next blog post.

1. Grinning Dog

2. Dog ‘Doing Nothing’ (according to the owner)

3. Papillon close up

4. Daxie head pictures look for more subtle behaviors

Dogs Do Behaviors All the Time.
Some behaviors are for movement, some are for communication with other dogs and humans, some express emotions, some are just dog behaviors! Most behaviors are clickable in the training context. As your powers of observation improve, you’ll be able to capture not only head turns, chin dips, and tightening muscles, but even eye movements!

(Aside: If you are interested in learning what many of these behaviors mean, you can read books such as “On Talking Terms with Dogs” by Turid Rugaas which explain the meaning and context of social interaction behaviors and help you understand dogs better or sign up for our online self-paced class "Dog as a Second Language" Class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. The class is like a book with photos an videos. Registration is open the 22 of July, Sept., Oct., Dec., Feb, and April) to the 15 of the next month.

Check out the answers to the questions here

Here is a list of behaviors that can be observed from the previous videos.
You may seen more than this!

1. Grinning Dog

Laying down
Head dip
Ears flatten
Front legs shifted
Tail wag
Straightens body
Smile
Fold left leg under
Looks at ground (or shoes?)
Licking lips
Shakes head
Stands up
Shakes body
Looks at owner (with eye contact)
Licks lips
Bows
Smiles
Shakes body
Blows his cheeks out
Dips his head
Smiles
Briefly stands still
Licks lips

(In case you are interested, many of these are calming behaviors meant to calm both the dog himself and the owner. The behavior context is that the owner just came home from being away at work. The dog could also be offering the behaviors in response to seeing the video camera.)

2. Dog Doing Nothing-Golden Retriever

looks at camera
turns head away
lifts head
sniffs
obvious blink
softens eyes
looks away
looks back
holds head still but looks at camera (so we can see whites of eyes called whale eye)
looks towards camera
turns ahead quickly to straight position
lifts head
drops head, looks to left and sniffs

That's just in the first 30 seconds! 

That’s a lot for doing nothing! 30 (or more) behaviors!

3. Papillon close up

Moves head to left
Rotates eyes to left
Moves chin down
Looks down
Looks back at camera
Moves head back towards camera
Sniffs camera
Opens eyes wider
Looks to left
Moves chin down to left
Looks back at camera (as camera pans away)
Lifts head slightly
Turns head to right away from camera
Rotates ears away from camera
Looks back at camera
Blinks
Looks down as turns head past and away from camera to left (avoids eye contact)
Looks down
Looks up past camera
Blinks
Turns eyes
Looks down and up


So, what did you learn from watching the dogs behaviors in these videos?

Hopefully, that dogs offer many clickable behaviors all day long. We trainers just have to improve our observation skills and our clicker timing to be able to capture them to use them to shape behaviors we desire!

Hopefully, two of your criteria for choosing your assistance dog were that he would be physically and mentally capable of doing any task that you would require of him. As the trainer as well as owner/handler of a service dog, you will also need to consider WHEN he will be physically and mentally ready for some of the tasks and what impact they may have on him.

Physical Needs of Service Dogs
A dog that is asked to train for and carry out tasks that he is not yet physically mature enough to do may negatively impact his overall health. Any behavior that is repetitive especially on a daily basis, that is done on a hard surface, involves jumping, or puts stress on joints (such as rearing up) should be closely evaluated for when they should be trained. Hips, elbows, knees and spine are the most affected.

A dog’s bones are not fully formed until they are 12 to 18 months old. Smaller dogs develop sooner than larger dogs. By that age, the bone plates have closed and if they have formed properly, your dog is more likely to be sound. If there is significant or ongoing stress as the plates are forming, the bones may be malformed and the damage can become permanent.

Overall physical stamina is another consideration. A 6 month old puppy has less stamina than a 2 year old dog and a senior dog also likely has less than the 2 year old. You need to choose the number and type of tasks to train accordingly.

Since bracing work is especially structurally stressful, make sure dog is structurally sound and suitable build for this work and wait until his bone plates have closed before starting the training. Have a vet assess your dog. Pay particular attention to the technique you use to teach a brace as you want to make sure you are distributing your weight over the shoulder area evenly, not putting any stress on the spine and placing your weight so the stress goes straight down through the dog’s legs toward the ground. Think of a cane being held upright versus being held on angle. The one on the angle put the stress on the cane and it may snap. The cane held upright puts the stress on the bottom tip on the ground where it should be.

Pulling a wheelchair is another physically stressful task as is opening a heavy public door. Start with a harness that is designed for the task, and has been properly fitted. Make sure your dog is physically mature and that you slowly condition him to do the amount of pulling you need on a daily basis. Think of your dog as an athlete: every aspect of their physical training (weight, distance, speed, duration, etc) should be increased in small increments and trained one aspect at a time. Then you can bring the aspects together by adding two together, then three etc.

Mental & Emotional Needs of Service Dogs
Mental and emotional levels and requirements also need to be considered when considering training new tasks. Does your dog have the self control, body awareness and mental maturity to complete both the training and implementation of each specific task?


Some dogs won’t be ready for certain tasks until they are older. For example, your dog might be too mouthy (unaware of the impact his teeth have on you) to carefully pull off a sock without injury to you or too exuberant to paw a light switch without scratching the wall. He may not yet be physically aware of his body to safely navigate close to you in a wheelchair. You can choose to start training these but not expect proficiency until he is older, or you may choose to wait to train them.

Mental stamina increases from puppyhood to maturity and beyond. Start with simple tasks, and train more complicated ones. Start with a few and build to many, alternate training tasks so you don’t overload him in training.

Consider how long your dog can focus on a task or tasks without getting fatigued - a very common cause of refusal. Stop well before you get to that point. Better to leave him eager for more than getting tired of what you are training.

Your dog needs to feel connected to you. Regular training and play builds that bond (remembering than training should always be fun!) Of course, your dog needs daily love and attention from you (and maybe others).

Overall Maintenance of Health
Maintaining your dog in good working condition is critical to his performance. Ensure he is getting the exercise levels he needs for a dog his body structure, breed and age and getting quality food.


Daily exercise builds muscle tone, helps with body awareness, expends extra energy and stress and helps keep him at an ideal weight. It also helps to keep a more active dog calm.

Factor in how much exercise he gets doing tasks for you, then make up the balance of his needs with other forms of exercise. You may need to be creative with how you exercise him if you handle him alone and have physical or balance disabilities. Teaching him to chase a piece of fur dran along th ground on a string, or the tip of a long target stick, retrieve a ball, pacing alongside your wheelchair, sending him to run around objects at a distance or targeting a spot on the fence etc may be options. Directed exercise may also help him to bond with you since you are the provider of this resource.

An overweight or obese dog is less likely to want to work for the handler, has lower energy levels, may be sluggish in performing them and the extra weight puts him at risk for heart and joint-related health problems. This makes it difficult to maintain his performance and training.

Tip:
To figure out if your dog is overweight, gently touch the tips of your fingers to his ribs. You should be able to easily feel the rib bones under his skin. If there is a layer of fat, he needs to lose some weight. A quick visual check (not as effective) is to look from above to see an hourglass shape with his chest and hips being wider than his stomach area. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

Your dog needs quality food suited to his age and energy output.

For large-boned dogs, it is important to pay attention to how much calcium is required for proper growth during puppyhood. Consult your vet, but a heads up that too much calcium can be bad for large breeds or big-boned dogs as it promotes the bones to grow too quickly and become less dense, and therefore less able to withstand stress. If your breed is prone to hip or elbow dysplasia, an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) screening test at 2 years of age done by a veterinarian may be needed.

Since you are most likely using treats to train, you can fend off obesity by removing the equivalent of food from his daily ration that you feed him in treats. For a handful of treats, remove what you think the caloric equivalent is for his food. You may also be able to use his daily food as the reward for training, providing it motivates him enough to work. In more distracting environments, or to motivate him to do new tasks, you may need to use higher value, but healthy treats, such as small cubes of liver, chicken, cheese etc.

An easy way to reduce caloric intake is to remove one fifth of his regular meal and substitute it with cooked pumpkin or other squashes, boiled frozen green beans or other vegetable that he will willingly eat. Once he gets to his ideal weight, you may need to experiment with how much food he needs to keep him at a stable weight.

On a daily basis, every dog needs a balance of rest and recreation time suited to his specific needs. After performing longer than usual or in stressful situations, it is important to give your dog sufficient rest and recovery time afterwards. Giving him a day off, or periods of time where he can remove himself from the stress is needed to keep him happy and healthy.

When in the midst of performing, a short break from the situation, a change of task or creating an opportunity to physically release stress by chasing a ball or playing tug may help him deal with the stress in a appropriate way. Then he can get back to work.

A Study of the Impact on Service Dogs for Autistic Children might be of interest.
Factors Affecting Behavior and Welfare of Service Dogs for Children With
Autism Spectrum Disorder


 
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