The Alexandria Dog
Training Company LLC

  Alexandria, VA

Service Dog Info Center

Service Dog Information Center -- Choosing, Training, and Handling Dogs as Service Dogs or Psychiatric Service Dogs

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Let Your Service Dog In Training Be A Puppy

Posted by greenribbondog on January 6, 2020 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

I keep seeing posts online asking for help with a service dog in training that is having difficulty in a relatively unchallenging environment. Often, it's a puppy under eighteen months old -- sometimes even a baby puppy under six months! -- that is being asked to go everywhere with the owner on a daily basis, working or training for long hours. And the pup is having a melt-down over a minor issue. Can we say predictable?

 

Please let your puppies grow up before putting them into full work! We don't ask kindergarteners to do a full day's school work because they're just too young, don't have the attention-span necessary, and don't have the stamina to do so. We don't ask third-graders to handle calculus when they haven't yet mastered multiplication and division. And tired-out puppies don't have the energy, resilience, or mental focus to learn well or manage potentially scary or chaotic situations when they're exhausted and overwhelmed.

 

Not only is there a progression of skills that dogs need to master before moving on to more challenging ones, they need to learn each new skill in a calm, low-distraction setting before practicing that skill in a more distracting atmosphere. Jumping ahead on skills tends to leave holes in the dog's training foundation and weaken their ultimate reliability in future situations. Asking them to handle very challenging environments before they're mature enough is asking for failure. Pushing a puppy to work too much too soon is a recipe for early burn-out.

 

Think a service dog can't get burned-out? You'd be wrong. I once saw a Lab (adult, not a puppy) in a clothing store wearing a service dog vest and behaving well, heeling nicely next to his owner. The problem? The dog was very clearly depressed and unhappy, staring despondently at the floor the entire time, completely shutting out the rest of the world, including – as much as possible while still doing his job – his owner. I still feel bad for that poor dog.

 

Before you insist on taking your service dog in training with you next time you leave the house, consider how stressful the environment will be, how long your outing will be, whether your pup will be able to take a real break and rest undisturbed sufficiently, and whether the puppy is ready for that specific outing. Yes, INTRODUCE your puppy to new situations, environments, and challenges, but don't over-do it. Take short trips, focus on your pup while you're out rather than your errand, and ensure the puppy has a pleasant, HAPPY experience. Build a confident, secure dog instead of an anxious, nervous wreck that clings to their owner and freaks out at simple things like the lights being dimmed in a movie theater or a shiny, slippery tile floor. Temperament plays a strong role in ensuring a good service dog, but experiences also contribute.

 

Training can wait until your puppy is mature enough and READY for each step. It shouldn't be a race to get your puppy fully qualified as a service dog in the shortest time possible. That way lies washed-out service dog candidates, failed partnerships, and canine burn-out.

 

Let them grow up. Let them explore. Let them be DOGS.

 

 

Service Dog Wash-Out Factors

Posted by greenribbondog on December 14, 2019 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Automatic Wash-Out Factors For A Service Dog:


Choosing a puppy, then putting your time and effort into training a dog who is a strong candidate, manages the challenges of service dog work easily, and enjoys the work asked of him, makes for a far more successful pairing as the other half of a service dog team than a dog who displays any of the factors that indicate a decision to wash-out that candidate is likely inevitable.

Too many people, when they realize that they would benefit from a service dog, decide to turn their family pet into a service dog, regardless of that dog's natural inclination and suitability for the job. Before you start down that path, consider if your pet shows any of the undesirable behaviors below, and get the objective input of an experienced service dog trainer who can help you determine if your dog would be a good candidate for the position.

A dog that displays the following behaviors is not an ideal candidate for a career as a service dog and will quite likely prove to be a frustrating dog for the service dog recipient to deal with over time, even after many months of training.

  • Aggression towards other dogs or people
  • Fear of strangers
  • Separation anxiety
  • Nervousness, anxiousness, easily-stressed personality
  • Excessive startle response or slow recovery to loud or sudden sounds or visual stimulation.
  • Submissive urination (after the age of 5 months)
  • Lack of, significant difficulty in, unreliability of housebreaking
  • Food aggression, possessive of food or toys not easily and promptly remedied by training
  • Slow to recover from human “offenses” (slow to forgive/holds grudges; i.e. pulls away, withdraws from contact after any kind of minor pain or discomfort – restraint, nail-clipping, an inadvertently stepped-on paw, etc.). A stable dog's natural reaction to minor discomfort caused by a human is licking, wagging, and appeasing behaviors, not withdrawing.
  • Significantly body-sensitive and retains this tendency in spite of training/desensitization – the dog doesn't like paws, ears, or tail touched.
  • Strong tendency towards aloofness with handler/owner – dogs that don't relate well with humans tend not to be good candidates.

A service dog has a stressful, difficult job which is hard enough, with long hours and frequent challenges, that insisting that a dog not plainly suited for the assignment take it on and do it anyway is not a good plan for you or for the dog. A dog needs a stable, confident, easy-going personality to handle the many daily stresses of his job as a service dog. It's frankly not fair to the dog to ask that he constantly deal with situations that he finds unduly stressful.

Just as a person who truly hates public speaking is not going to enjoy a career that requires daily speeches as much as a position without this burdensome task. Requiring a dog who finds common tasks of a service dog – such as visiting strange places or being around crowds – grueling is not the kindest option for that dog, nor the best fit for the service dog recipient.


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