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Giving your dog a massage has many benefits. It is easy to do and you don’t need any special knowledge.

The benefits of massage is that they can help with bonding, is great for a dog’s physical health as it promotes circulation and toxin removal, comforting for older dogs, helps you detect injuries (since you have your hands on your dog on a regular basis), can increase flexibility and healing after an injury, can be used as a pre-warm up and cool down for rigorous exercise and help calms a dog in stressful situations.

With all these benefits, it is surprising that more people do not give their dog regular massages! Most people don’t because they fear they might do it wrong and injure their dog. With an understanding of the basic techniques, a few tips and always erring on the side of light pressure, it is really hard to do injury to your dog.

How to Give a Massage:
Choose a time of day that works for you, and a quiet location.

Your dog can be standing, sitting or laying down as you massage her. Let your dog decide what is most comfortable for her if possible. After a little trial and error, you’ll find a position that is comfortable for you both. Massaging her on her mat helps to build a positive association for the mat.

Using a moderate to light touch (always erring on the lighter side), start at the head and work toward the tail. Then start at the top of the back of the dog and work toward her feet. Massage both sides of your dog before you finish. Use smooth motions.

Support the part of the body you are currently working on with your other hand or lay it on your knee as needed. Your dog should be able to relax and rely on you to hold her body part up as you work it.

Once you have a little practice, a whole massage may take about 5 minutes. At first it may be longer. Also, as your dog learns to enjoy it, you can spend more time in favored spots. As you both gain trust with the process, allow your fingers to explore her body, getting into depressions such as hips and between foot pads, whatever you think she might enjoy.

If you have limited control of your fingers, using gentle rotations of the fist knuckles can feel good to your dog, as long as you can control the pressure.

Massage is as individual as the person giving it and the dog receiving it. Experiment in little steps to see what works for you both. If you have weakness in your limbs, do one part of the body at a time. Take a rest, then resume. There is no rule that says you must massage your entire dog in one sitting!

Head
On the head, start at the base of the ears, rubbing each ear between your thumb and forefinger. Do small circles if it feels good to your dog. With a finger on one side and a thumb on the other, gently draw your fingers towards the tip in a straight line. Start up the middle of the ear and work to the outside edges.

Use two fingers to gently massage the muscles on the top of the head. Next do the jaw muscle. Do the other side. This is often where a dog holds her stress so spend time here, especially if your dog is mouthy or snappy. Use light circles on the lips over the gum line (nose to molars) if your dog is comfortable with your touch. Many dogs enjoy light touches on the molar area. Do not do this area if your dog shows any signs of stress, (alarmed look, looking or pulling away or if she lifts her lips, growls etc.) You can try it again after several sessions when she learns to trust you.

Base of Neck
Most dogs enjoy the base of their neck being massaged on both sides. Place your thumb on one side and two fingers on the other and gently work it. Start at the base of the skull and down to the shoulders, spending more time on the thicker muscles. This is another place dogs hold their stress.

Back
Use your whole hand (fingers and thumb tips) to gently massage both sides of the back. Work in lines from front to back moving closer to the underside of your dog. You can use a gentle raking motion with your fingers. Most dogs enjoy moving the rake with their fur, very few enjoy going against the grain!

Shoulders & Hips
Massage the muscles around the shoulders & hips.


Base of Tail
Dogs that generally don’t like to be touched still enjoy a massage of the muscles where the tail meets the top of the spine. It is a difficult spot for them to reach for scratching or chewing.


Legs and Feet
Most dogs show at least some sensitivity with their lower legs as you move toward their feet. The first few times until your dog learns to enjoy the massage generally, avoid them. Then, as you gain her trust, start doing very light touches further down and actually touch the tops of the feet. Progress at your dog’s speed. When she allows it, gently work the pads of the feet. For some dogs this can take many session to get here, especially if they have had painful or scary experiences with nail clipping.


Stomach
Most dogs enjoy a tummy tickle or belly rub. Avoid using any pressure.


Perking Your Dog Up
For a quick invigorating massage, pretend your dog is soaking wet and use a fluffy towel to pretend to dry your dog off front to back, top to bottom.


Five Key Tips to Massage Your Service Dog:
1. Get in a position that is comfortable for you to sustain. Place your dog beside you on the couch, on a table where you can easily reach her while seated in your wheelchair, or sit with her on her mat.


2. If you are relaxed, your dog will relax. Using calming signals such as deep breathing, matching your dog’s breathing patterns, lowering eye lids while making eye contact all helps.

3. Observe your dog's facial and body reactions constantly. If she shows concern at any time (looks at you with concern, flinches, tenses up, pulls away etc), stop massaging that area and go back to where you know your dog was enjoying it. Lighten your touch. If she gets up and walks away, honor that and let her go. She has had enough for one session.

4. Keep your touch light. The idea is to gently move the muscles to stimulate blood flow, move muscles and tendons and remove toxins etc. A Massage should be a soothing activity for you both. Use a very light touch on puppies and small dogs.

5. Avoid working over the vertebra-stay to each side of them. Similarly, work around, not on, recent injuries.

Try giving your dog a 5 minute massage every day for a week. What changes to you notice in his behavior? Flexibility? Health? Calmness level?

Let us know how you make out!

Click here to listen to an audio file of this blog post.

An alternative to commercially prepared treats (perhaps since you know what ingredients go into them and because homemade ones are often much cheaper as well as better quality), is to make your own. Here are some suggestions.

If you want to add nutrition, dust meat bits with debittered Brewers Yeast and kelp powder. Soaked millet, rolled oats and cooked barley are good substitutes for other treat recipes requiring wheat since they are higher in protein and are more easily digested by dogs.

High-Value Heart
Probably the highest value treat and the best tolerated food I have found for most dogs is heart. Heart is a muscle meat and there is no gastrointestinal upset if a dog eats a lot of it. It is high in taurine and counteracts the effects of legumes in grain free kibble. 

Purchase heart of any species. Ideally source the meat from a local butcher who has access to grass-fed animals. 
Cut off excess fat (for the larger animals) and slice the heart into half inch slices and cook on a no-stick pan without oil. Cook on both sides until there is still a little pink in the middle. Remove from heat and cut into cubes the size appropriate for your dog.

If you have some left over, they freeze well but are not as tasty as if fresh-cooked. Thaw for a few minutes before feeding. BBQing can increase their value. I use this for high distraction environments and behaviours I need to be strong away from home like recalls. Avoid using in low distraction environments or you risk your dog refusing other lower value treats. They are that yummy! LOL!

Chicken Patty Treats
For probably the most economically priced and easiest to prepare healthy training treat, purchase frozen chicken patties, sprinkle liberally with garlic powder and cook until done all the way through. Cut into 1/4 inch cubes and freeze.

When needed, thaw for 10 sec in microwave and cut again into quarter inch cubes. (about $3 per kg or $1.50 per pound!)

Liver Treats
Cooked Liver (beef, chicken, pork or turkey)
garlic powder flavoring

Sprinkle powder on liver and use outdoor BBQ to fry up liver slices. This prevent smelling up house. and cut into strips, then tiny bits. Freeze in containers. This is very rich and should not be more than 1/6 of your dog's daily food intake. Most dogs will get the runs from eating too much. A few dogs get goopy eyes from eating cooked liver.

Moist Meat Treats
A bit more sloppy treat is slow cooked chicken, turkey, duck or roast. Buy the cheapest cuts and cook until meat falls off from bones. Separate bones from meat and freeze meat bits in containers, using wax paper or plastic to make layers that container enough for one training session. Freeze. Thaw or microwave before using.

For the cheap cuts of meats such as beef or moose roast, cut into 3/4 inch steaks.

Freeze until ready to cook separating steaks with wax paper or plastic. Drop bundle on the ground to break apart and remove as many steaks as you want to cook. Thaw. Sprinkle garlic powder on both sides and let sit for a few minutes. Cook (in a no stick pan or BBQ) until brown all the way through then slice in quarter inch strips and freeze in containers. Cut into 1/4 inch squares after thawing.

These meats also do well when ground up in a food processor and put in a food tube. 

Beef/chicken/turkey Patty treats
1lb lean ground beef, chicken, or turkey
2 eggs
1-2 cup quick oatmeal (add more or less depending on consistency-more for higher fat meat)
garlic powder to taste

Mix all ingredients into a giant patty (or several smaller ones) and flatten to very thin. Cook on a no stick fry pan until cooked. Flip and cook all the way through.

Cool and cut into strips, then tiny squares and freeze on cookie sheet. Then scoop bits into containers for freezing. This does have a somewhat crumbly texture so best used at home. This recipe is more work (and more expensive) than the chicken patty treats above)

Cheese Bits
Use a mild chedder or marble cheese and cut into 1/4 inch cubes. On hot days can get a bit mushy.


Hard Boiled Egg Bits
Hard boil an egg or two for 10 minutes and let cool. Peel the shell off and cut egg white and yolk into small pieces and freeze in a small container. Take a few out for training sessions and let thaw for a few minutes (or microwave for 15 sec). The yolk is usually highly prized by dogs. It is a bit messy but works well for in home training.

Egg variation: Make french toast and cook all the way through. Cut into quarter inch cubes and freeze until needed. You can also make a double egg omelet in a very small pan. Flip it over to cook both sides until dry. Cut into squares. Mixing in a bit of flour before cooking can help it stick together better. 

Kidney Bean Treats
Slow cooked kidney beans are high in protein and do not cause gas in most dogs. They are very cheap and make an ideal, if somewhat sloppy treat.

Place 2-3 times as much water as beans in a slow cooker, turn on high and cook until tender (about 4 hours).
Use a slotted spoon and lift beans onto cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze.

When frozen, remove from freezer, let thaw for about 3 minutes or run water over the back of the cookie sheet, then lift with flipper or butter knife and break into bits and freeze in containers. It looks like peanut brittle at this point. Place into containers and freeze.

Take them out of the freezer for a few minutes before using during training. Juice makes a tasty additive to dry foods.

If you mash them, you can use them in a food tube too!



Have other favorite recipes? Please share them with us!

Leslie McDevitt has put together a comprehensive 7-10 week training program to help you teach your dog how to relax, focus on you and the task while in exciting and stressful environments. Always working under your dog’s threshold and using counter conditioning and desensitization, this program is a Godsend for anyone with a dog that has any over the top reaction (positive or negative) to any person, animal or situation. Her methods use these triggers to teach your dog to focus on you, which of course is what a service dog needs to do. The methods are easily adaptable for anyone with physical or other limitations.

The foundation of the program is a series of games that are enjoyable for both you and your dog. They become tools you can use for life with your dog anytime you are in a stressful or exciting environment.

Leslie offers some surprising approaches to retraining dogs (such as if your dog wants to sniff, encourage it and put it on cue. Not only does this decrease his desire to sniff, the sniffing becomes a reward for him!) and they become amazingly effective tools. She offers sound advice using a variety of techniques from learning your dog’s body language to massage and even using your own breathing that helps to calm your dog! Originally marketed for the agility crowd with over-drive dogs, this book will benefit anyone who wants to become better partners with their service dog.

A DVD has recently been released where you can see her dogs as well as clients’ dogs in the process of training. She shows you subtle behaviors to watch and reinforce that change how the dog is feeling. If you are expecting to see reactive dogs, you won’t see them since the program is all about working your dog under threshold and changing the way he feels about his trigger(s) and teaching him to use you as his focus point.

This is one book that everyone should have in their library, no matter how awesome their dog is, to head off potential problems. All you need is a basic understanding of operant conditioning (or willingness to learn) and an openness to new ideas to get all of the benefits from this book. This book is one we will be reading over and over again as we get more ideas each time we read it!

Here are some links to Clean Run (Leslie McDevitt) website and Youtube channel.  

Also check out her videos with her own dogs on Youtube!

And a summary of the book or DVD (see table of contents, book covers etc)
(type 'Control Unleashed' in the search)
 
A. The Walk
There are two aspects to this behavior: 1. having a person walk by the dog and 2. walking the dog by a person. Work through both.

Practice on several other people individually, increase level of difficulty (may be from friends to strangers or the reverse depending on the dog’s level of sociability.)

1. Start by walking by one familiar person at a distance, decreasing distance at each pass. C/t for any loose leash, or focus on you. As you get closer, you dog may tend to move towards the person. To keep her near you, increase your rate of rewards. Practice on several other people individually, increase level of difficulty (may be from friends to strangers or the reverse depending on the dog’s level of sociability.)
Increase number of people to two, then three.

2. Next ask one person to walk by you and your dog at a distance, then closer. If as they approach, your dog tends to move towards them, try using rapid fire rewards (c/t done in quick succession to keep your dog's attention on you. Decrease the speed over time as they approach and she keeps her focus on you.
C/t can be used as an interrupter and to refocus your dog on you but be careful not to wait too long as you might unintentionally be rewarding moving toward the person. Timing is key here. Better to click to soon (for focussing on you) than too late in this circumstance.

B. People Wearing Different Clothes
Use people of different ages, sizes, clothing (hats, sun glasses, mustaches, carrying bags, add a pillow for a big belly, draped clothing like saris, etc)

C. People Carrying and Pushing Things (sound and motion elements)
Start with one person and one object held stationary. Then moving object a little, then more, then faster. Add sound (such as bag flapping in wind or umbrella popping open)
Train for canes, strollers, wheelchairs, skateboards, shopping carts, etc.
You may need to do some separate training at home first getting your dog to target then learn to push large children’s plastic toys, allowing your dog to interact with a skateboard (motion and sounds) etc.

D. Training for People Carrying Food
Start at home by training “leave it” cue for food, toys and other objects you don’t want your dog to touch when out in crowds. (see Sue Ailsby's Training Levels for a detailed description).

Ask a friend to hold food in their hand and cue leave it etc. Then hold it so it is visible. Then closer and closer to dog nose level. Place yummy-smelling food in a bag and ask a friend to walk by the dog. C/t for keeping the nose away, then for focussing on you.

Use adults, teens and dog-safe children.

Ask dog-friendly strangers to do the same.

E. Adding More People
Next, visit an outdoor public event where dogs are allowed and you can easily choose your distance from the crowds (check out your local community event listings in the newspaper or on-line).

Walk the periphery.
Walk a few steps in and out.
Walk further in and out.
Walk in longer or across to other side.
Spend more time in that environment-bring a chair and sit for awhile.

F. People with Dogs and Other Animals
Train for the animal first using the same process as for moving objects before training for people with dogs (or other animals) in a crowd.

Train each animal species separately –horses, cats on leash, ducks, etc.-whatever you know you are likely to face in your everyday life. See blog post (Distraction 1.3)

G. Go to Events or Training locations Where People Have Their Animals With Them
Start with a single species event such as a dog trial, then a horse event. A 4-H Club Display or County Exhibition can be a great place to test/practice the level of distraction your dog can tolerate after she has had much training.


Start at the periphery as for crowd events. Give yourself and your dog lots of space to escape and know where physical barriers are in case your dog goes above his threshold.

Move to small groups at periphery, before moving to other areas of more dense people and animals. Err on the side of keeping under threshold.

Be Proactive, not Reactive!
Be prepared for any situation and always have a way out planned ahead of time!


Anticipatory Training is the Best Defence
Once your dog and you have worked through the process of training for different kinds of distractions, you will be ready to take on anything. You can use the same general approach if something unforeseen pops up and each new challenge, your dog will respond more quickly. Mix and match the approaches as needed.


For example, one woman in a wheel chair with her service dog was at a horse competition and found herself just above ground level with all the horses running directly at her and her dog, then turning to the side to take a jump. For various reasons, it was not possible to request a different seating location. Her assistance dog was so distracted at first she was unresponsive to cues and would move to the side each time a horse approached, but after marking and jackpot rewarding calm behavior when the first few horses were far away, then marking and rewarding as each successive horse approached a little closer, the dog was resting comfortably beside her chair about 20 minutes later with the horses thundering nearby, ready to be able to offer her help at any time.

What Environments will you be Visiting in the Future?
Identify the potential distractors in each environment and work through each before visiting. Intend that each of your visits are training sessions and focus on your dog. It may mean you visit the location without your dog or stay at the sidelines to observe at first. Look at each location from your dog’s perspective. Make a list, prioritize as above and pre-train your dog to not react around those distractors (expose her to those under controlled settings such as at home, in familiar training environments etc.) It may mean you ask friends and family for their help, you may need to borrow equipment for a couple of weeks or ask permission to go into locations during quiet periods or after hours. Be creative and resourceful in gaining access to places. If you ask, and explain what you plan to do, often people are willing to help, if not professionally, at least personally. 

Choose a location where the subject animal(s) are behind a fence, in a crate or cage, tethered on a long line, on a leash being handled by another trusted person, or otherwise safely confined. This is for your safety, your dog’s safety and the animal’s safety.

A. 1. Learning to Work in the Presence of Another Animal
Start with single calm animal at a distance and behind a barrier. C/t for any looking or sniffing in that direction while staying calm. 

Tip: If using the clicker or food excites your dog rather than calms him, try using a calm marker such as "Good" and a neck massage instead of food. You will need to make sure that your dog enjoys a massage at home first, to build value for it. Then practice the massage in a public context for just relaxing before using it in a training context. 

Your dog will eventually start looking at the animal, then back at you in anticipation of getting the reward.

When she is doing that 5 or more times in a row, start clicking the looking back at you. When she is offering that consistently, you can also start naming the behavior “Look” so it comes under verbal cue control. (Tip: “Look” is usually used to get the dog to look at something whereas “Watch” is used to get your dog’s eye contact.)

At the beginning of later training sessions, cue the Look once, then cue simple or fun behaviors your dog knows in quick short bursts of 5 repetitions.

Give your dog a one minute break by moving further away, disengaging eye contact, then move back in and try cuing a few more quick behaviors.

When she is successful with several sessions of that, cue slightly more difficult behaviors.

Next, at that same distance, stop using the “Look” cue and just start cueing the simple behaviors. (Your dog shouldn’t need to look at the animal/person of interest before doing the cued behavior.)
Then try more difficult behaviors.

Next, decrease the distance a little.

Now start cueing simple or fun behaviors your dog knows in quick short bursts of 5 repetitions. Give your dog a one minute break, then try a few more.

When she is successful with several sessions of that, try slightly more difficult behaviors.

Decrease the distance again. Repeat as above.

Before you get too close to the animal, decide what is a safe distance and if or not you want your dog to actually interact.

If you choose to have her interact (generally not recommended until your dog is quick to focus on you voluntarily and able to perform more difficult behaviors in the presence of the distraction), make sure there are other knowledgable people handling the other animal(s), the other animals are still behind a barrier or restrained on a long line.

You must have a plan going into the situation! Watch both animals carefully for body language (to indicate stress levels) and move them apart quickly if they get stressed or things change for the worse.

Apply Premack's Principle to call your dog away from the distraction multiple times to strengthen the ability to ignore the distraction.

A. 2. One Animal-Sound of Animal

In many cases, it is wise to isolate the sound of the animal before the sight of the animal. For example, if barking dogs behind fences or the sound of the collar tags jingling triggers your dog, then start with just the sound. Here is are the sounds of 4 different dogs barking an intruder alert. 


You can use audio clips such as this one, then progress to situations with live animals that you can control. For example a dog behind a window or in a car with closed or partially open windows. Ideally shaded so your dog can't see the barking dog as we want to isolate the sound from the motion. Then use a dog barking behind a solid wood fence far away, then closer.

A. 3. Staying Calm while in the Presence of the Other Animal.
Repeat as above but instead of cuing 5 simple behaviors, cue your dog settle at your feet or on a mat.

For this step, if you haven't already done it, switch to using a calm marker and massage as the reinforcer. 

Start with short periods of time like 5 seconds. Then build up to 30 seconds and a minute. Cue your dog off the mat and pick it up and move further away for a break, then come back and try again. If your dog stay vigilant or gets excited at any point, increase the distance and/or shorten the duration.

Decrease the distance as your dog is able. 

A. 4. Staying Calm while the Other Animal Moves Around You and Your Dog.
Repeat as above except this time you and your dog stay stationary and the other animal is moving on an arc or zig zag to approach you and your dog.  

Having the other animal walk around you and your dog in a settle at the same distance changes things dramatically so have the other handler start even further away.
Only when your dog stays very calm with the other animal very close could they progress to decreasing the arc so they are gradually walking straight toward your and your dog on the mat. 

B. Multiple Animals
When your dog is able to work with you fairly close to one animal, add a second and work your way from the beginning through the same process. Remember that adding a second animal may change the dynamics of the group so progress more slowly. Add a few more animals in the same way.


If you notice any predatory behavior on either your dog (intense staring that you cannot break, lowering of head, stalking especially silently, or the other animal toward your dog, stop the training and get professional help. Have your dog assessed for the degree of prey drive. A dog that have high prey drive towards other animals will not make a good service dog candidate for use in public places. This is a dog that will always have to be carefully managed in public and that defeats the purpose of your dog helping you. Instead, you would have to become more vigilant when you are out with him. Other animals can appear at any time in the most unexpected places. 

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, an object could be a ball, balloon, bicycle, skateboard, shopping cart, car, vacuum cleaner, riding lawn mower, garbage truck etc.)

For safety and the confidence of you dog, always stay with your dog, within leash length. Never leave your dog unattended (especially if leashed) when a human-operated object is in the area (with or without the human presence). There is too much risk of unknowing people making mistakes that can scar your dog.

A. Smelling & Touching the Object
Start object stationary at a distance that is below threshold.

Work closer in small increments until dog is in nose touch reach. Sometimes, you may need to approach the object directly. For example if your dog is focusing on a strange-shaped rock, it might be better to walk directly to it and touch it yourself, then let your dog interact with it. With a noisy or dangerous machine, it would be better to take a slower approach described below.
Other times it is better to slowly move towards it and c/t for any calm behavior and focus on you. When you arrive there, allow your dog to interact with it: sniff it all around, (approach from various angles), nose and paw target it, push it, stand on it -whatever is appropriate for that object, your dog and their physical safety, and social environment the object is in.
When your dog is able to stand or sit calmly nearby the stationary object, try cueing several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, glance at you, sit, etc that you dog can do easily or enjoys doing, Of course click and treat for attempts and good responses.
Next, play with a toy near the object.
Now ask for more complex behaviors-downs, short recalls, heeling, longer duration eye contact, and some service tasks (appropriate to environment).
You can add distance and hopefully your dog will be satisfied she knows what the object is and will ignore it and respond to your cues. If she does not, keep working her near the object or approaching other similar objects in the same way in other locations. Your dog should soon generalize that the object is an object, no matter where you are and not worthy of interest.

B. Hearing the Object
Add some distance, find the sound threshold and work below it and have a helper make it move with its sounds (bicycle bumping over gravel, brake squeaking etc) or turn the object on (if motorized) but keep it stationary.
Move closer to the object as dog becomes comfortable with the sound.
Cue several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, sit, etc that your dog can do or enjoys doing. Play with a toy near it. Now ask for more complex behaviors and some service tasks.

You can add distance and hopefully your dog will be satisfied she knows what the object is and will ignore it and respond to your cues. If she does not, keep working her near the object or approaching other similar sounding objects in the same way in other locations. Your dog should soon generalize that the object is an object, no matter where you are and not worthy of interest.

C. Watching the Object Move
Again start at a distance and ask someone else to move/drive the object.


Start at a very slow speed. Increase speed as dog can handle it. When dog can handle the object passing by and is deferring to you, cue several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, sit, etc that you dog can do or enjoys doing.

Next, play with a toy near it.

Now cue more complex behaviors and some service tasks.

Move closer to the object. You move to it first, as it may trigger interest or fear on your dog’s part. You want your dog to feel she has choice in approaching the noisy object or moving away. This will give her a sense of control and confidence. If at any time, she wants to move away, go with her to just below her threshold distance. When she is comfortable with that and able to focus on you and successfully carry out simple cues, direct the object to move parallel to her, then on angle, then more towards you and your dog.

Progress slowly and stay under the dog’s threshold if at all possible to build success. At each step, start with simple cues, progress to playing, then to more complex behaviors.

D. Unpredictability
Ask the other person to be less predicable in driving by, towards dog, fast, slow etc.
Cue several simple cues-nose touch, paw touch, sit, etc that you dog can do or enjoys doing.

Play with a toy.

Next ask for more complex behaviors and some service tasks.

Move towards or away from object as needed for your dog’s success. Reward for staying focused and completing tasks!

E. Generalizing to other Locations

Set up situations where you and your dog encounter the object in other environments. Be ready for a training session as needed. Remember to decrease your criteria whenever you change a criteria (such as speed, loudness of sound, environment the object is seen in etc).

Can you see the pattern you are building here?
 
Listen to the Audio version of this blog post.
 
Be Flexible
Remember that despite your best planning, no plan will occur exactly as it is laid out on paper. You, your dog and the distraction or environment will demand that changes be made on the fly. Below are training plans (think of them as frameworks if it helps you be flexible) to get you started. Please adapt or modify them for your own dog’s needs. They can be used for basic beginning training or training problem areas or anything in between. Each stage may take one training session or many, depending on you, your dog, his previous training and experience with similar situations, the object, animal or people involved and the environment where training occurs. Don’t forget, you will be clicking (or marking) and rewarding for calm behavior or focus on you at each little step.

Your Dog's Perspective
When training a dog for distractions you need to think from your dog’s perspective. Dogs learn about the world using predominantly their senses of smell, hearing and sight. So these senses are what will capture their attention. Which sense is predominant is usually determined by the breed. So for example, sight hounds are usually triggered by the sight of things moving quickly, scent hounds are triggered by interesting smells, while more reactive dogs (like terriers), tend to be more sensitive to sounds. You may need to spend more time on your dog’s preferred sense than the others but you want to make sure you work on all three separately, then together. Be creative-ask others for ideas if you run into a real challenge for your dog.


Work on Only One Aspect of a Distraction at a Time
Break down each distraction into its simplest parts and work each one separately. Once success has been achieved with each one, then you can start combining components. This is what is known as raising the criteria or splitting the behavior.


Set the Scene
Also remember that if you are calm, your dog will be too. Take a helper to help setting up the training equipment or the environment, provide moral support for you or to interact/distract/direct members of the public as required. Give them clear guidance what EXACTLY you want them to do. (Stand up straight, avoid eye contact with dog, explain to public what you are doing when they reach a specific spot etc). Thanking them afterwards or taking them out for a coffee etc goes a long way to having them help you again-think positive reinforcement for humans!


Remember to Reward
At each step of the training, start by click and rewarding desired behaviors. And don’t forget to jackpot reward (a handful of 8-10 treats delivered one at a time) your dog when she does something that is new or a breakthrough for her. This keeps her interest and also motivates her to focus on you, not the distraction.


How Fast will My Dog Progress?
How quickly your dog progresses through each step depends on her previous socialization to the objects/people/animals/environment (that is why it is so important to socialize them during the critical period of 7 to 16 weeks), current level of training/teamwork, motivation for reward, general resilience to new things and places, and overall confidence level among other things.

What is a Threshold?
This is the level at which your dog can no longer stay calm or focused on you with that object, person, animal or environment. She will show a few signs of stress (positive or negative) such as taking treats harder than usual (but can eat), ears forward and listening to object, eyes open wide and looking at the object -but can still be redirected by a cue or sound that you make. She should also be able to complete simple task such as sit, stand, down and nose targeting your hand. You want to start with your dog under threshold and keep her there as she learns to deal with distractions. Going above the threshold causes the training process to take longer.
 
Tiny puppies, rescue dogs and even the most focused and well-trained dogs have things that distract their attention from their job of focusing on you. So how do you add distractions to your dog’s training program while helping her to be successful?

The most effective trainers use a slow carefully thought out 4 step process.
1.Desensitize your dog to the triggers,
2. Counter condition her to them (changing how she feels about it) and
3. Train her to interact appropriately with them while giving you eye contact
4. Respond to your cues to do behaviors and tasks while in the presence of the distraction(s) then defer back to you.

All four are techniques that work best in combination for service dogs.

With some dogs, you can progress very quickly through a planned distraction. With others, you may need to spend much time at each step of a slight increase of distraction. It all depends on how much value you dog put on that particular distraction, or the combination of distractions.

You must remember that a distraction is not only something that captures your dog’s attention and draws her focus away from you, the distraction may also cause stress (anxiety, fear, excitement) in your dog. You must work through the emotional response first, (using desensitization and/or counter conditioning) before your dog can offer her attention to you.

In the first stages of training anything new, give your dog a chance to improve. If he starts at about a 30% success rate, he should quickly progress to 80% success. If his success rate is lower than that to start, or he doesn’t progress rapidly, you’ll have to break each step into smaller steps he can achieve. The same as with task training, it is the trainer’s job to help the dog succeed.

The rule of 4 comes in handy here. If your dog is not successful, break that step into 2 smaller pieces and then each of those into 2 smaller pieces. Once your dog has achieved 80%, it’s time to increase the criteria. Remember that several short sessions are better than one long one. Give him play breaks, crate him, or take him out of the stressful environment if you plan to be there for a longer period- for example if you must drive a distance and want to make your time at the location worthwhile. Don’t forget, it takes a lot for you to focus as well, so you need a break from your dog too!

When your dog can calmly focus on you and do some simple behaviors (nose touch, sit, a cued glance, etc) for you with the distractions nearby, it is time to move on to asking for a progression of more complex service-oriented tasks. Work towards his returning his attention to you after each task. The click or mark and reward will help with that, but by intermittently rewarding for eye contact, you can have a dog that is attending to you.

General Rules of Distraction Training:
A. Set your dog up for success! The key idea here is that the increments of change must be small enough that your dog can take them in stride. This is called working under threshold. If your dog starts to become distracted and I unable to complete the behavior or task you cued, you have raised the criteria too fast for her needs. That is an example of working above threshold.


B. Remember to use high value rewards when adding a high value distraction or one that she has never trained with before successfully.

C. Use distance as your friend, then decrease it in small increments as your dog demonstrates he can handle being closer to the object/animal/person.

D. Start with low value distractors and increase in slightly higher value steps. You will need to brainstorm a list of things that capture your dog’s attention (smells, sounds, things he sees) and prioritize them. If you can separate out the pieces of each distraction: for example a horse: sounds of neighing, smell, sight since for some dogs one of these will be more of a trigger than others and you will need to work separately on it.

E. Start with stationary things, then add a slight motion and move to greater motion.

F. Start with quiet things, then increase sound in small increments.

G. Start with non-smelly objects and increase the intensity of the smell. For example, instead of using a live bird, pet it first and c/t for your dog smelling your hands and staying calm. Next wrap the bird in a towel for a few minutes and lay the towel down where your dog can smell it. Present the empty cage for your dog to smell. Then add the bird.

H. Start with one distraction, then add another, in increments of one or two as you dog shows you she can be successful with it.

For Locations with Multiple Distractions

i). Train a few of the distractions individually first, then together in various combinations, if possible.
ii). Start in a familiar environment if at all possible, then move to less familiar location to continue training.
iii) Train at the location when no-one is there to build familiarity with the physical environment.
iv). Start at the periphery of a location, (walking on the edge of the action, for example, before moving slightly towards the center.)
v). Start with low density (for example, choose events with fewer people more spread out, then progress to slightly more dense situations (move to an area in the event where people are closer together or a more popular event).

Over-Training
Train for the worst-case scenario and you will also be prepared for anything! This is called over-training. Since working in public can be so unpredictable, it is important that we train way above any expected criterion for distraction level. We do not want to floor or traumatize our dog, but by incrementally increasing our distraction criterion, we can bring our dogs into the realm of bombproof (assuming they have a resilient temperament to start with.) 

Proofing For Distractions
In order to keep your dog current, it is a good idea to refresh training uncommon distractions periodically. How often is up to the time you have and how reactive/focused on you your dog is or you can refresh training for specific distractions before you intend to revisit a location.
 
Your dog can be taught to alert to many different sounds using the same alert behavior. Start from the beginning with each new sound, pairing the sound with the desired behavior. Then train your way through the process.

The more sounds you train for (each trained separately until the behavior is complete) the faster your dog will generalize the behavior to that sound. For example, when I started training Jessie for a door knock after learning the wake alarm, the first behavior she offered was a nose nudge.

In this situation, Jessie was also offering the nose nudge as a default behavior in a situation where she didn't know what I wanted. She was smart enough to try to offer the sound alert behavior in response to a new sound. THIS is what generalizing is.

If those first few sound alerts of the new sounds are immediately reinforced, you’ll get the alerting behavior for the new sound more quickly. If you ignore them or don’t reinforce them, your dog will be confused and not be confident in what you are asking her to do and may offer other behaviors.

If you do not use some specific sounds on a regular basis, you will need to review training on a monthly basis to keep the behavior current.

What other ways can a one and two way alert be used by Assistance Dogs?
 
Question:
"I'm wanting to train my dog as a diabetic alert dog being that I'm insulin dependent. My question to you is what training tools do you use to teach the dog how to detect low blood sugar & high blood sugar (sensing)? I've asked numerous trainers on youtube this question, but no one has responded. My dog already does the targeting exercise with flying colors thanks to you and your video. Can you help me? TY :)"
Answer:
Most people use a Tshirt or other clothing that has sweat on it from when they had a low blood sugar reading as the training object and store it in a sealed plastic bag like a ziplock when not using it.

Others breathe on a pad when their blood levels are low or high and seal it in a ziplock type bag or small vial.

Still others prefer to soak a small cotton pad in their saliva as they are having a low. These probably store the best for training purposes and are more accurate for the dogs than using sweat.


If you can get a blood sample, that works well, especially if you can test and know how high or low it is. Blood samples, however, break down quickly so are not as accurate. 


Dogs can be trained to alert to any sugar level you choose. You don't want the sample reading too low when the dog alerts, as you want to be alert enough to be able to still help yourself. Most people use a reading of 70-80 to train their dog asthey are still functioning and able to help themselves. 


In our training videos, replace the sound with the scent. Let the dog smell a small sample of the blood ( in a vial or other quick opening and sealing container) before cuing the alert behavior during training. Most dogs catch on to this quickly since they are so scent-oriented.


Please refer to our 4 blog postings (pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4) and embedded videos on training a one and two way alert.


Good luck!
 



How to Train a One Way Diabetic Alert

 
Ideally start by training with the actual diabetic person or you will have to retrain the dog to alert to the other person later.


1. Train and practice the alert behavior separately.


For example: use targeting to teach a nose touch on your leg. Shape it into a hard nose nudge just above your knee. An easy position to start training this behavior is with you in a sit. Then when your dog is successful, change your position to a stand, squat, sit on the floor, face the dog, turn to your side, turn your back etc until your dog can nose nudge you in any position. Add distance.


2. Present the smell of the sweat or blood sample. Click and treat your dog for any interest in the smell (sniff, lick etc). Do not c/t a bark or other noise! Place the smell on your lap, on the ground and other places and see if the dog seeks it out to sniff. When your dog is consistently indicating that she smelled the smell, go to next step.


3. Present the smell and immediately cue nose nudge. (sniff, cue 'touch', dog nose touches, click as nose makes contact, then reward)


4. When your dog is offering nose nudges consistently, fade the cue (touch). Present the smell alternating using the touch cue and not and see if you get the behavior. After several repetitions, the smell alone will trigger the alerting behavior (nose nudge). If not, keep practicing with the cue. Now the smell has become the cue to do the alert behavior. Practice this until your dog nose touches after sound 8/10 times before moving on.


5. Change positions from sitting to standing to facing towards dog and away. Practice crouching, sitting on the couch, sitting at the table, laying down on your bed and other places you might normally be when a low or high blood sugar might occur. When your dog is successful at this level, try doing other behaviors such as pretending to do the dishes, talk on the phone, watch TV etc. while presenting the smell.


6. Next add distance in one foot intervals. You can throw a treat away from you to get the dog away from you. Present the smell beside you.


7. Change positions where the dog is in relation to you (the source of the smell). For example, throw a treat down a hallway, around a corner etc. Then present the smell.


8. Adding distractions such as one, two and more people in the room, TV or radio on, a person standing between you and the dog, person engaging you in conversation etc.


9. Ask a helper to be nearby as a distraction when you present the smell on your body. Decrease distance at first, increase it as your dog is successful (to say where the dog is laying on her dogbed and alerts you from there).

Your dog may want to go to them to alert first. Ask your helper(s) to ignore the dog by avoiding eye contact, not responding to the alert, not petting or otherwise distracting the dog etc. You then give your alert cue "touch" and your dog will come to you to alert. C/t.

You will need to practice this several times before the dog understands that it is only when she alerts you that she gets rewarded. Adding other helpers in the room and training the same way with all of them (prepare them as to what you want them to do if they dog alerts to them). With many repetitions, your dog will learn to search only you out in a crowd.


10. Use a timer to cue you to present the smell on you at unpredictable times during the day. Ideally, try not to let your dog see you set the alarm or she will anticipate that you are doing it. For example have it set to go off when she is relaxing next to you, or on her bed, when she is playing quietly with a toy, when she is sleeping lightly, when she is sleeping soundly. Ideally, she should jump up from a sound sleep and run to you to give the alert. If she is sound asleep, she may hesitate and she may be disoriented, but give her up to to 6 seconds the first few times (count one one thousand, two one thousand in your head) to assess what is going on and to start moving towards you before helping her by cueing the 'touch' cue. Do not say the cue if she starts moving towards you before that time. As she gets more practice, allow her less time decreasing in one second intervals (but always allowing at least 3 seconds to orient on her own).


11. Generalize the behavior by training at different locations, starting from the beginning at each location.

 
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