Service Dog Training – Things You Should Know

 Things You Should Know About Service Dog Training Before You Get Started

Are you looking to get a service dog for yourself or a loved one? Thus far, we have covered many different dog obedience training tips, and many of you have asked for information on service dog training. We have previously posted about dog therapy training; please note that this is different than service dog training. An animal that has underwent therapy training is able to assist in the treatment of an individual’s social, emotional or cognitive functioning and  are common not only in dogs, but also in cats, farm animals as well as marine animals. On the other hand, the term service animal refers specifically to a dog that has undergone specialized training to perform tasks that will assist and benefit an individual with disability. The individual’s disability can be in various different forms, including vision, psychiatric, intellectual, physical and/or other mental disabilities. In other words, service animals perform functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform himself. And because the disabilities are unique to that individual, another general distinction between a dog that has been through therapy training and service dog training is that service dogs are usually trained in a way to cater to the needs of a single individual. On the other hand, animal-assisted therapy can cater to a specific community’s needs.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses that serve the public such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores, are prohibited from discriminating against persons with disabilities and this act also provides the right for people with disabilities to bring their service animals into business premises. It is important to note that dogs which provide assistance to an individual with disabilities are considered service animals under the ADA whether or not the dog has gone through service dog training programs, is licensed or certified.

Service dog training allows dogs do work and perform tasks to assist the disabled. These tasks include, but is not limited to: i) alerting individuals with hearing impairments, ii) pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up objects for persons with mobility impairments, iii) helping individuals with mobile impairments with balance and iv) assisting individuals during seizures. In addition, similar to animal-assisted therapy, service dogs provide emotional support to individuals. Dogs who undergo service dog training are trained in a way to perform actions based on a specific stimuli he receives from the disabled individual. As an example, service animals help distract individuals when they become anxious or engage in other behaviors related to the person’s disability.

Is your dog suitable to undergo service dog training? Similar to therapy dog training, dogs who want to become service animals need to have certain characteristics such as good temperament, good health and good obedience. Common service dog breeds include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers due to their natural temperament. However, any breed, even mixed breeds are capable of becoming a service animal; it really depends on whether the dog possesses the desired traits.

Types of Service Dogs

There are many different types of service dog training suited to meet the needs and assistance required by individuals with disabilities. Let us go over a few of them:

1) Psychiatric Service Dogs

This type of service dog undergoes training to provide support to individuals with psychiatric disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. This type of service dog provides environmental assessments to prevent paranoia, signals behaviors to prevent self-injuries, provide reminders to take medication, as well as assist in guiding the individual away from stressful situations.

2) Service Dogs for the Blind

This type of service dog is probably most commonly known to individuals. Service dogs for the blind are trained specifically to help guide individuals who are blind or who have vision impairment.

3) Incident Response Service Dog

A service dog can also be trained not only to respond to emergency situations, but also carry out a defined set of commands to provide notification of the individual’s condition. Such service dogs can also be trained to alert family members or press a medical button to call for an ambulance as well as to open the door to direct help towards to individual.

4) Allergen Detection Service Dog

These service animals are trained to sniff out and detect particular substances based on the individual’s allergies. Once such allergens have been detected, they are trained to alert and notify their handler or someone nearby.

5) Mobility Assistance Service Dogs

As the name suggests, this type of service dog is specifically trained to help provide individuals with equilibrium or vertigo or mobility limitations related disabilities. This helps disabled individuals to lead more independent lives by the service dog’s provided balance, stability and wheelchair support. Such service dogs can also be trained such that when the handler points a laser pen at an item that he can’t reach for, the dog retrieves that particular item.

6) Autism Service Dog

Autism service dogs provide support to persons with autism, helping their handlers process sensory information. This is because individuals with autism are often faced with sensory “overload” and have difficulties in determining the most urgent stimuli. In other words, individuals with autism do not connect well with their environment, and therefore, a service dog can help become the mediator between the individual and his surrounding stimuli.

These are just a few examples of the types of disabilities that service dogs can help individuals with. Note that dogs can undergo service dog training to provide assistance to individuals with more than one disability. As such, the training service animals receive can be uniquely crafted to meet the needs of a single individual.

Service Dog Training – What Is It?

In general, the service dog training process can take anywhere between 1.5 to 2 years. For a good chunk, training a service dog is similar to the techniques and tricks that we have went over thus far. To have an overview of these tips and tricks, head on over to our homepage. In addition to these training techniques, service dogs will need to undergo more specialized training in order to assist their handlers with their disabilities. Professional service dog trainers have broken down the training of service dogs into three main components.

The very first area that service animals need to train in is in maintaining its relative position to the handler. In other words, if the handler moves to the left, the service dog moves to the left as well. While doing this, it is important to train the service dog to ensure that it maintains the same distance from its handler. This is especially important for mobility assistance service dogs (see number 4 above) as individuals with mobility disabilities require service dogs to assist in balancing, stability and wheelchair support. The typical command that service dog trainers use is “heel” which once is directed, should let the dog know that he should continuously remain a relative distance from his handler.

Secondly, service animals are often trained to remain focused and to resist distractions as the handler’s safety and health often lies in the hands of service animals. This type of training is also known as “proofing.” This training helps service animals focus on the safety of the handler rather than the surrounding distractions which is especially important in public areas where distractions can be everywhere. Dog trainers often provide a cue to service animals as to when they need to remained focus and times in which they can relax. This is usually done by using positive reinforcement training techniques to train service dogs to remain focused when they have their gears/vest on and relaxed when it is taken off. In many ways, the process of “proofing” a service dog is alike with clicker training: always start the training in a calm and quiet environment before training your dog in public areas. This provides time for the dog to become familiar to the training routine and gradually become desensitized to other ongoing distractions.

The third area of training relates to task training, which will be specific for each dog in order to carry out certain tasks to support individuals with disabilities.

Nevertheless, one can take away a lot from the experience of training their house dogs and apply this experience to training a service animal. It is important to note that strategies such as positive reinforcement training is essential in all types of dog training.

 Where To Get Service Dog Training?

There are two ways for a dog to get service dog training: through a program and owner-trained. There are many pros and cons to both approaches but here are some of the major points you should consider:

Program-trained Service Dogs

+ Most programs breed and raise their own puppies and therefore are brought up for the goal of becoming a service animal

+ Professional dog trainers have tons of experience in training service dogs

– Program-trained service dogs can be very costly

Owner-trained Service Dogs

+ Can train the service animal to meet very specific needs

+ Can be part of the dog’s puppyhood

+ Significantly less expensive when compared to program-trained service dogs

– Often unsure if the dog is suited to become a service dog

Just like the decision of training your own dog or hiring a dog trainer, one will have to weigh in on the pros and cons and make the decision. There are no right or wrong decisions given that one option may be more suited for your needs compared to the other.



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