Three service dogs in training on a ferry
Training a service dog yourself is quite doable even if you have a disability. Our expert on this, Viki, should know - she's been training service dogs for several years to help her and her husband with their respective specific needs.
However, there are also service dog training programs if you don't have the time or skills to train a dog yourself. You can read more about that here.
Service dog Melanie as a puppy
Hannah and Patches, two of Viki's former service dogs
Viki prefers to start out with a puppy so they can really get to know each other and build an unshakable rapport.
A puppy that has been tuned in to you from a young age is also more likely to become a medical alert dog. According to Viki, "Medical alert is considered the holy grail of all mitigation and CANNOT be trained. An example of this is where the dog senses you are about to have a seizure or to lose your balance and warns you before it happens. It is something that the animal does by instinct."
You may wish to rescue a dog - just be aware that they usually have some type of behavior issue, which may require extra training and patience on your part.
You could also acquire a dog that has been trained by someone else. This will likely cost you more but could be well worth the investment to you. You will still need to reinforce the training - it may help to have a checklist to refresh skills as needed.
Not sure which kind of dog you need to get to train as an assistance dog? See service dog breeds.
Basic obedience comes first. The dog needs to be:
Proper socialization is a very important part of training a service dog
These foundation skills must be taught with patience and in a positive manner.
Two other things to consider for raising a well rounded dog:
See below for more advanced service dog training skills.
According to Dog Training Secrets, there are 5 main mistakes that will result in lack of progress when training a service dog or any other dog:
1) Lack of practice or effort
2) Poor timing with rewards
3) Rewarding the wrong behaviors
4) Being inconsistent with rewarding or discouraging specific behaviors
5) Scaring your dog through hitting, kicking or yelling
We would add one more:
6) Getting in a hurry to see results. Training a dog thoroughly in the basics takes many months if done on a regular timetable, and training a service dog to do targeted tasks can take considerably longer.
However, clicker training, done right, can ease the process somewhat.
Virginia Broitman, a follower of animal behaviorist Karen Pryor, advocates using a clicker with a treat to get good results more quickly.
Her approach offers a sophisticated, yet easy-to-understand, training method called shaping, which is also called hands off training.
To see this in action, click on some FREE video previews such as this Video Sample: Shaping Behaviors - follow the directions below:
Click the Play arrow several times - ignore the Buy Now button - wait until the ClickFlicks page show, then wait several more seconds before it continues. You can also access the other videos located on the side of the page in the same manner.
“It's best to have AT LEAST 3 THINGS the dog does for you, if you are asked to demonstrate your need.
I overtrain my dogs; first because it is great fun to teach new things to my partner, and second because some days I NEED the extra help.
As a one-year old, Mildred Isabella, could already help me in the following ways:
We will continue adding items the older she gets...
I advocate you first get a prescription for a service dog from your doctor. Explain exactly what you are wanting the dog for (in my case, to help with balance; get things for me; help me save energy for important things -- like getting to spend time with family instead of being so in pain that I cannot think.)
Some doctors will know right away what a service dog can do for you; some will need education. I recommend www.iaadp.org for a list of things that could help you."
Some research revealed that finding a good service dog training program can be tricky. There are apparently many organizations that make claims to being able to help you with training a service dog but that are, in fact, either not that competent or else want to rip you off.
Note that they may have very good looking websites, promise quick results, or tell you that your dog needs to be recertified every year...
Service Dog Central has several tips on finding a more reputable trainer or program. Here are some highlights:
If your dog is being housed by the program and trained by someone else:
The truth about service dog certification can be found here.
Linda, a woman I met recently, told me how she trained her Min Pin to alert her to low blood sugar situations. She learned how to do this from a website called Diabetic Alert Training University.
The website then has videos that you purchase to show you how to train your dog over a six-month period how to recognize when you are in danger from low blood sugar. The first video is free; the rest are $30 each. You do NOT need to spend $15,000 - $25,000 for this training!