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How to Train a Service Dog – Everything You Need to Know

Training a service dog can seem overwhelming given the need for almost perfect execution of tasks and consistently good public behavior. So how do you train a service dog? Our guide offers a step-by-step plan that will help beginners and even professionals. 

Service dogs exist to assist a person with any disability to lead a more independent life. A service dog is specially trained to perform the daily life activities for a differently-abled person to bring a sense of ease into their lifestyle.  For example –

They assist blind people in finding their way around, warn deaf people (especially with familiar sounds like the phone ringing or the doorbell), pull a wheelchair, and pick up objects that may be out of range or have toppled without the handler noticing. Service dogs include psychiatric support dogs, diabetes recognition dogs, blinds, and various others. 

Not all disabilities, however, are apparent. Other activities that a service dog may help out in includes: 

  • Warning a person with a seizure disorder or diabetes of an impending attack. 
  • Reminding a person to take their prescribed drugs on time.
  • Calming a person with PTSD during an anxiety disorder and any other disability-specific functions. 

Service dogs are vital to physically challenged people’s overall well-being. However, the fact that you can train your service dog is something that many people are unaware of. And it is essential to remember that if a dog has been trained to be a service dog, it’s no longer a pet but a working animal.  

How Long Will It Take to Train a Service Dog?

Training for service dogs will take up to two years, and these dogs are usually identified by wearing a vest in public.

Tools Needed to Train a Service Dog

Tools required to train a service dog are:

Collars

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Leash

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Harness

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Head Halters

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Vest

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Dog Boots

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Qualities A Service Dog Must Have

 

Most dogs, regardless of breed or even their age, have the potential to be service dogs. However, there are certain qualities preferred in service dogs.

Service Dogs should be:  

  • Willing to please  
  • Willing to follow the owner/master everywhere
  • Friendly and calm  
  • Always alert
  • Socialized
  • Ready to learn quick
  • Non-reactive to distractions and strangers

Common Service Dog Breeds

The standard service dogs you will find are:

Great Dane

Saint Bernards

Bernese Mountain Dogs

Standard Poodle

Toy Poodle

Labrador Retrievers

Golden Retrievers

German Shepherds

Steps to Train a Service Dog

How to make a dog into a service dog?

Training a Service Dog takes a lot of effort, but it pays off handsomely. You’ll not only have a partner who will make your daily life easier, but you’ll also have developed a robust, caring friendship with a faithful companion. 

The impairment you need to accommodate, the dog’s temperament, and other considerations, all play a role in crafting the training for your service dog.  

Step 1: Is Your Dog Suitable To Be A Service Dog?  

It would be best if you note a few measures to see if your dog can complete  the lengthy and rigorous service dog training program. As a service dog owner, you should consider the following questions:  

How old is your dog?   

Your dog should be at least 6 months old and neutered/spayed to avoid being distracted by other dogs while training. Older dogs with health issues like arthritis or diabetes may be challenging to train.  

What is your dog’s temperament?  

A service dog must be quiet and collected at all times. It should not be hostile toward other dogs, but neither should it be utterly oblivious to them. For precisely the hearing and seeing-eye service dogs, this is critical.  

How is your dog’s attention span?  

The dog’s attention span should be long enough to be attentive for the entirety of the training sessions. If your dog gets distracted in public, it won’t learn the necessary commands. It may also fail to execute its tasks when needed.  

What limitations does your dog have?  

It would help if you considered your dog’s limitations and how that may affect their ability to help you.  For example, a large breed dog is preferable if you need a dog to help you balance. On the other hand, a small dog would be somewhat limited in its ability to help you, given the size disparity. Limitations to consider are physical, mental, and emotional.

These characteristics are crucial in determining whether you should invest in training a particular dog to become a service dog. The best service dogs are quiet and confident, clever, young and healthy, and obey commands well. This isn’t always dependent on the dog’s breed; if the requirements are met,  you can train almost any breed for the job. If your dog does not fit this description, you should consider another dog (and potentially one that is already trained). If it does, move on to the next step.  

Step 2: Start Training From The Elementary Level.  

First, the fundamental skills for a service dog or service animal aren’t too complicated. Service dogs must be socialized with humans and other pets, be well-behaved when not on a leash, and be confident in any situation.  

  • Positive behavior is marked and rewarded in this behavioral psychology training approach. When your dog follows your order correctly, you use a mechanical device called a clicker to signal them, and then you reward them with a treat.  
  • You must check that your service Dog knows his name right after clicker training. Treat is the most effective way to teach this, whether through exercises or hand feeding. Say your dog’s name and give him a tiny handful of treats right away.  
  • The quickest obedience skill for a dog to master is sitting. You’ll reward positive behavior with a treat in the same way. You can also assist your dog by pressing down on his or her bottom with your hand, then clicking and rewarding them so that they understand what you’re seeking.  
  • Socialization is the most effective way to ensure that your dog grows into a friendly and confident adult. Socialization may take place between the ages of 3 and 20 weeks. Several individuals should treat puppies regularly, be acclimated to various sounds, and be taught to be alone (to prevent separation anxiety). Interactions with the dog should be mild and friendly rather than combative. It would be best to keep an eye on them to make sure they aren’t going violent.  
  • Housetraining your dog is not only necessary to avoid messes inside, but it also teaches them to “go” on command in appropriate locations. Getting them a crate provides them with a secure, clean environment. Having them in the crate and then letting them out to go potty immediately teaches them that “going” outside is a good thing.  
  • Leash training is indeed necessary for your dog to understand their boundaries. When it’s safe, your dog should learn to focus on you rather than the things around them.  

These skills are the essential foundational skills you’ll need to teach your dog to become a service dog. Teaching them basic obedience commands like “sit,” “heel,” and “down” is also helpful.  

Step 3: Eye Contact  

You’ll need to train your dog on eye contact to test their attentiveness and ensure that they’ll be concentrating on you (and only you) when working. You should enlist a friend’s assistance to divert the dog’s attention away from you and reward the dog with treats every time they concentrate on you for a certain period. To ensure that your dog remains focused, gradually increase the amount of time.  

Step 4: Train Your Dog Off-Leash  

The next noteworthy step in service dog training is to ensure that your service dog is just as secure off the leash as he or she is on it. During your training sessions, your dog must be receptive to you and only to you. To complete this step, remove your dog’s leash (in a regulated environment) and encourage your pet to follow basic commands that you would use when outside. After you’ve done this a few times to make sure your dog knows what to do, you will gradually move out into public spaces when you’re ready. 

Step 5: Train Your Dog Not To Greet Strangers  

The service dog must be focused entirely on you and no one else. This step is critical because you may need immediate assistance. If the dog is rushing around greeting strangers, the dog may miss your need for help.  

  • To do this, enlist a friend’s assistance and instruct them to approach slowly. Make the dog sit and stare at you. If the dog looks at the approaching stranger, your friend will come to a complete halt ignoring the dog. Reward when the dog’s gaze goes to you.  
  • Also, train your dog to evade other animals, meals on the ground, and moving cars. The dog is only supposed to be concerned about one thing: you.  

Step 6: Train Your Dog When He Is Off Duty  

It’s acceptable for your service dog to play in certain situations. Teach your dog a signal that he is no longer on duty. Invite a friend to come over to help you with this. Let your friend bring a dog toy, and when the dog looks in your direction, say the command’ play’ and reward. This permits him to continue approaching.  

Step 7: Public Access Test  

The Public Access Test is the next step after initial training for your Service Dog in Training.  

To make progress as a service dog, your dog must master the following skills in public. When your dog must keep control during the following situations:  

  • Being able to load and unload out of a van.  
  • Entering a building  
  • Using doorways to enter and leave  
  • In a restaurant  
  • The leash is dropped  

Step 8: Specialize Them With Skills  

Depending on your disability, you may choose to teach the dog some specific tasks.For example, teach the dog to alert you whenever your doorbell rings, a phone dials, or a smoke detector alarms if you are profoundly deaf. If you have mobility problems, you will also want the dog to recover small household items for you, such as keys, a remote, or a phone.  

They are well-socialized and trained dogs at this point. They understand simple commands such as “sit” and “stay,” are quiet and responsive both on and off the leash, and can keep eye contact with you. You’ll then prepare them for specifically focusing on what you want them to do.  

  • Hearing Dog Service: Service of hearing Ringing phones, doorbells, and fire alarms would require dog training.  You can accomplish this by having them sit before you and perform a particular action when the sound trigger occurs.  
  • Psychiatric Dog Service: Psychiatric assistance is provided to the owners when animals detect signs of a traumatic event or other psychological distress. Simulate an unexpected panic attack to instruct them; dogs, by nature, will also come over and try to help. When they want to assist, you reward them with treats, and then you change their behavior to take action when they have a panic attack.  
  • Mobility Assistance Service Dogs: These dogs help those who are physically challenged. You can efficiently train Mobility Assistance Service Dogs by rewarding them when they retrieve an item when given word commands. For example, say the object’s name and then point to it to recover it. They will practice until they have mastered the command.  

At What Age Can You Start To Train Your Dog as a Service Dog?

Generally, your dog can be entirely trained as a service dog by 18 – 24 months. Therefore, there is nothing “too early” to start preparing your dog to be a service dog. 

Does a Service Dog Need to be Vaccinated?

Your service dog is not exempt from county regulations that require canines to be vaccinated, tagged, and registered. These regulations are in place to safeguard you, your dog, and your community.

Difference Between Service Dog and Emotional Support Dog

Service dogs and emotional support dogs have been incorrectly regarded interchangeably in the past, even though they have particular essential distinctions.

While both sorts of dogs may give tremendous comfort and value to their owners, service dogs are exceptionally trained to perform a role in public areas for their owners. Emotional support dogs can be taught or untrained, and their presence is usually enough to aid their owners.

It’s also critical to realize that a service dog is a working canine, and because they serve this crucial role for only one person, they are not a pet.

A service dog assists a disabled person. On the other hand, an emotional support dog is a lovely friend who may give its owner tremendous comfort but has not undergone customized training that would enable him to perform certain activities for their owners.

Because of this significant distinction, service dogs and their owners have specific rights in outdoor venues that companion dogs do not, such as the potential to assist owners in all public spaces, with exclusions only if the dog cannot be managed by his owner or is not housebroken, according to the ADA.

Conclusion 

Concluding training a service dog, it is essential to adhere to the training procedures strictly. Training a service dog is not easy, but you will be one of the happiest service dog masters once done. Your pet should be your companion. Train them accordingly. From basic training to specializations, they must master all of it to be rewarded as service dogs.

You have a pet, which makes you more responsible for their lives. Treat them, love them, shower generosity and kindness while training them. These will make them learn and capture faster.   

If your dog already has mastered all the training, then congratulations. You have got a loyal and beautiful companion.   

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