How to Train Service Dogs

A service dog helps individuals with a disabilities other than those who relate to vision or hearing. These fantastic dogs can totally change the recipient's life. They can be used to make people feel more comfortable about leaving their houses or perhaps they can now be less reliant on carers and helpers. Because a service dog can transform the way in which someone lives, the wait list to receive one can stretch for years.

Now there are a growing number of people who are turning to train their own service dog. You will need time and patience and you may also need some help from a professional dog trainer or service dog organization to guide you in the training process. The training itself can be split into two phases. These phases include getting reliable foundation behaviors in place and then working on the specialized service dog tasks.

Training the Foundation Behaviors

Before you start the specialized task training, your dog is going to need solid foundation behaviors to be in place.

First of all, you need an immediate recall, so as soon as you call your dog’s name they should come straight to you. When training the recall, it is essential to consider what is in it for your dog. If every time they come back it is to have their leash put back on, then it is not going to take long for them to start ignoring your recall word. Start practicing in the home, calling your dog dozens of times every day and every single time, reward your dog with treats, a game or lots of fuss. Then you can progress to more challenging environments where you can use a long leash and harness to keep your dog safe just in case they become distracted.

Your dog is also going to need excellent leash manners. They need to walk by your side calmly and wait patiently when you need to stop. Again, practice these skills within your home first. Use a treat in your hand to encourage your dog to take the position you need them to be in and then slowly increase the number of paces you take before they get the reward. If you have a small dog, put cheese on the end a wooden spoon so that you do not have to walk crouched over to reach them.

There will be times when you need your service dog to settle beside you outside the home. Perhaps you are eating at a restaurant or you are waiting for your doctor appointment. Start the training in a relaxed environment first so when you have dinner you can place your dog on the leash and wait. The moment they lay down, praise and reward them. Now, your dog is likely to get up, but that is okay because they can practice again! Slowly increase the time they settle down before you reward them and then you can start practicing in new environments.

Once you have strong foundation behaviors which your dog can perform in all kinds of places, then you can start training for service dog behaviors.

Teaching Specialized Skills

The tasks that you will train your service dog for will depend on your individual needs, but some of the most common skills to train are retrieving items by name and picking up things you drop.

Retrieving Items by Name

There will be times when you need your service dog to bring a specific item to you such as the television remote or a bunch of keys. First of all, think about how you can make it easier for your dog. Some dogs will be reluctant to pick up anything made of metal such as keys, but if you attach a material tab or a small ball to the key ring then it becomes much more comfortable for your dog to pick up.

  • Begin by placing the item on the floor and rewarding your dog whenever they show any interest in it. It will not take long for your dog to learn that when they go near the item they get rewarded.
  • Now wait for your dog to touch or pick up the item before rewarding.
  • When your dog is reliably picking up the item, then you can add in the cue which will tell the dog what it is that you need such as keys or the remote.
  • Then, call to your dog again while you are holding the item.
  • Finally, you can begin to increase the distance and vary the location that your dog needs to go to, in order to find the item and bring it to you.

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Picking up Dropped Items

Now that your dog is happy to pick up several different items, you can use that skill to help whenever you drop something.

  • Sitting in a chair, drop an easy to hold item onto the floor in front of your dog.
  • As soon as your dog investigates the item, reward them.
  • Now repeat the process with several different items.
  • Progress to dropping the item and waiting for your dog to pick it up before rewarding.
  • When your dog is reliably picking up the dropped item, add in the cue, which might be something like "oops!" or "pick up."
  • Now practice with lots of different items so that your dog understands that the cue means to pick up whatever is on the floor.

Set your dog up for success by making it as easy as possible for them to understand what is required. Keep the training fun with lots of rewards and aim for several short training sessions each day rather than one long one.