Service Dog Training

You’ve probably noticed that some people use service dogs for various reasons, whether it’s a noticeable form of disability or something else not as easily recognizable. For example, service dogs are specially trained to help mobility, hearing, or visually impaired individuals.
They can also be trained to detect low blood glucose levels, seizures, or even allergens. It can be beneficial to own a service dog, sometimes even life-saving.
Recently, people have started to appreciate the health benefits of owning a dog like this. Service dogs don't just offer a helping hand to their owners. Their role goes beyond an ordinary relationship between pet and person.
If you'd like to learn more about service dogs and how to train them, keep reading.

Training a Service Dog

Do you plan on hiring a professional trainer, or will you train your dog yourself? Either way, your dog will need to pass the public access test and apply to get a service dog certification and registration.
If you’ve decided to take the matter into your own hands and attempt to train your service dog yourself, you need to fully comprehend the process and implement a strong training plan to achieve your goals.
The following steps will help you better understand the process needed for training your service dog:

Step 1: Determine Whether Your Dog Can Be a Service Dog

Ask yourself these questions to determine whether your pooch can be a service dog.

Is Your Dog Old/Young Enough To Start Training?

Experts recommend that your dog be over six months old. They also need to be neutered/spayed.
Alternatively, if you have an older dog, they might not be suitable for training. This also applies to dogs that suffer from certain medical conditions that prohibit them from being active.

Does Your Dog Get Distracted?

Your dog should have a relatively long attention span to handle the coaching process and shouldn’t get easily distracted.

How Does Your Dog Behave?

Basically, service dog training requires a highly intelligent and confident dog. If your dog isn’t calm and friendly around strangers or other dogs, it might not be a good candidate for training.
Being responsive and alert but not overactive is also a major qualifier. Even more important is being eager to please and willing to learn.

Is Your Dog Too Big Or Too Small?

Consider your dog’s size when thinking about training. If the person with disability needs bracing or help with balance, then a bigger breed will be better for the job.

Step 2: Start With The Basics

Expose your puppy to different environments, sounds and situations from as young as three weeks to teach them to socialize. Then, start with simple obedience commands such as sit, come, stay and heel.
Potty train your dog to “go” on command and only outdoors. Most importantly, train them to behave without the leash just as easily as with it on.

Step 3: Attention and Focusing

Service dogs should be attentive and maintain eye contact with their owner. Train your dog to focus on you at all times no matter what distractions are around.
Also, use treats whenever your dog keeps his full attention on you for a certain amount of time. Then, keep increasing the time ‌for a longer attention span.

Step 4: Specialized Commands

This stage is when you’ll need to take your dog training one step further. This is the perfect time to ‌ specialize the commands you need the dog to follow based on the handler’s disability.
Consider using clicker training for this specific step along with treats and positive reinforcement.
After mastering the more complicated commands, your dog should be able to pass the PAT to assess its competency as a service dog.

Cost of a Service Dog

Owning a service dog can be expensive to the point that people in need of one need to resort to financial assistance programs or fundraising. Training service dogs doesn’t come cheap.
It’s also a long-term process. On average, it takes at least 120 hours of professional coaching for a minimum of six months, plus 30 hours of public exposure.
The good news is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t require service dogs to be trained by a professional. So, if you’re willing to give it your all and train your own dog, you can save money, but not time.

Who Qualifies for a Service Dog?

People who wish to acquire a service dog must submit a written document from a healthcare provider stating that they suffer from a physical or a mental disability.
These disabilities include but are not limited to the following:
  • Paralysis
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • MS
  • Seizures
  • Allergies
  • Epilepsy
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety

Types of Service Dogs

Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks, unlike therapy dogs or emotional support dogs that just need to be big lovable furballs.
Here’s a list of some of the numerous actions a service dog may be able to perform:
  • Alerting their deaf owner when they hear the doorbell or an alarm.
  • Leading their blind owner around.
  • Opening doors and switching lights on/off.
  • Detecting the smell of peanuts, for instance, or any other allergens when needed.
  • Stopping anxiety attacks.

What Breeds are Best for Training?

It's good to remember that service dogs aren’t pets. They’re working dogs that are trained to act differently from other canines. They should be able to ignore distractions, have good behavior, be friendly to strangers, and be obedient and calm under all circumstances.
They’re allowed in almost all public spaces, from restaurants to malls and everything in between. Thus, they must remain under control. In addition, they should be able to keep themselves from responding to different stimulants, such as smells, shiny floors, or lights.
Here are a few breeds that make top service dogs:
  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Portuguese water dogs
  • Boxers
  • Great Danes
  • Poodles
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Border collie
  • Pomeranians
  • Pit Bulls

Conclusion

You can always train your dog yourself. Or, if you think it’s too complicated, contact a professional dog trainer to help you out.
The ADA doesn’t stipulate that your service dog has a license, registration, or even that they pass the PAT, nor is it required by law.
However, it helps ensure your right to bring your service dog into No-Pets facilities. Wearing a special vest or harness isn’t mandatory as well. Yet, it can help distinguish your service dog from all other canines.