What are Service Dogs?
Service Dogs are dogs that have been trained to help people that have some form of medical, mental or physical disabilities to carry out tasks that they can’t by themselves.
Types of Service Dogs
There are different types of service dogs: guide dogs for the blind, those that alert deaf people, those that pull wheelchairs, those that carry and pick up stuff for people with mobility issues, those that alert and protect people that have seizures and those that remind people to take their medication. Service dogs are different from dogs that give emotional support; they aren’t pets so are trained and treated differently than pets.
Professional training or owner training – which is best?
A lot of issues have been raised about training service dogs and what it entails but the simple truth is that each dog is trained to meet the exact need of its owner. Just as each disability is different, each dog has trained accordingly.
The training required is long and tough and this is so that the dog is able to perform required tasks on command and also be able to pass the test that would certify it as a service dog. Quite a number of service dogs are specially bred by some organizations that go-ahead to train them before they are paired with partners/clients. These organizations hold their dogs to high standards and they are not just placed with anyone until they fulfill every requirement and pass all the standard tests.
The trend of owners training their service dogs has grown over the years and this is because of a number of reasons. These reasons include the waiting list, the cost and lack of certainty that one would get the dog when needed. However, if you want to train your service dog yourself, know that you would require the services of a professional dog trainer. There are also associations such as the ADI (Assistance Dogs International) that are set up to help you ensure that you cover every legal base as regards service dogs.
Of utmost priority is that all service dogs are trained in skills and tasks that are clear-cut for the owner’s disability and, according to regulation, they must also be house-broken and adept at obeying commands immediately especially in public. To this end, each individual determines what works best for him/her; professional training or owner training.
Characteristics of a service dog
There are dogs that no matter the training they receive, they can’t be service dogs and this is not in any way dependent on breed. There are a set of characteristics that a dog must possess before it can qualify as a service dog. They include the following:
- An eagerness to please
- Ability to be both calm and friendly
- Ability to be touched by anyone familiar or not
- Highly socialized to various environments
- Ability to be alert without being reactive
- A readiness and propensity to follow its owner about
- A quick learner with high power retention
Basic skills to start within training a service dog
No matter the specificity of the tasks that a service dog would be required to carry out, there are basic training that must be given. Do not be overwhelmed by all the skills that need to be learned, concentrate on the basics first and you’ll find the rest would come easier.
Though one cannot categorically say these are the best basic skills to start with and though people differ in their opinions, many service dog trainers that are recognized nationally agree on certain skills. Some of these skills include but are not limited to the ones enumerated below:-
- Clicker Conditioning: This helps to introduce more precision to the training and helps the dog obey promptly and consistently. The click followed by a treat conditions the dog by rewarding obedience. You need to get the timing of the click right if you must reward and reinforce the right response. There are materials such as online videos to help you learn to use the clicker conditioning properly
- Recognizing and responding to its name: Your dog should learn to recognize and respond to its name. This makes it easier for you to get its attention and communicate with it. The response you are looking for is for it to immediately look at and focus on you and come to you. To help reinforce this behavior remember to associate the right response to its name with a treat
- Ability to sit quietly for long: This is achieved by tether training your service dog. The tether is between 14 to 24 inches and one end is attached to a strong object that won’t move, while the other is attached to the dog’s collar and it gives the dog adequate room only to change position and nothing else. This trains it to sit quietly for as long as required and to know what to do once you bring a mat and any restraint that you use for it. It also fosters great self and impulse control and good manners in the dog. One important fact to bear in mind is that your dog should never be left alone when tethered so that it won’t hang itself with the tether
- Obedience Command (SIT): Sit is usually an easy command for a dog to learn and it lays a good foundation for other commands that have to do with positions such as lying on its side and “down”. Use the command consistently and remember to click only when its rump is on the ground. Also, remember to give it a treat for every right response and be lavish with verbal praise and commendation
- Walking on a leash: Your service dog cannot be in public until it has learned to walk properly on a leash. The goal of teaching your dog to walk on a leash is to help it learn to always be by your side, start walking when you do and also stop when you do. The distance between your leash and the dog should be such that you can change direction easily, give it a treat and keep its attention. You start this training indoors and ensure that your dog understands that it has to follow the lead of the leash and not try to go beyond it
Always remember that you would need professional help in training your service dog. Truth be told, you would need to be in contact with a professional all the life of your service dog. However, with a lot of patience and perseverance, you can get the best out of your service dog.