How do I Train my Dog to be a Service Dog

Service Dog: How do I Train my Dog to be a Service Dog?

If you are looking for a new dog to help you live safely or if you already have a dog, you should know it is possible to train him or her into a service dog.  Even if you have had your dog for several years, there is a good chance you will be able to train that furry friend to become a service dog.  The challenge lies in investing the time and effort to train your fur buddy to perform service dog functions.  Let’s take a look at the requirements and training for service dogs along with the best breeds.

Service Dog Requirements

Service dogs are not for everyday people without disabilities and limitations.  Rather, service dog training is performed with the overarching goal of the animal serving an individual saddled by a disability.  Furthermore, those interested in a service dog should be aware of the requirements for such an animal.

An individual is eligible for the assistance of a service dog if he or she has a mental, emotional or physical disability.  The service dog is to be trained for certain tasks that make life easier or safer for the individual who has the disability.  The service dog must also be well-mannered and not pose a threat to others.  Ideally, the service dog will be identified as such with an accessory or other item that states he or she is a service dog.  

Every individual with a disability should be aware that onlookers are likely to ask questions about their dog and its purpose.  Even if the dog owner’s disability is clear, people will still ask questions.  Owners of service dogs should be prepared for such questions and willing to answer them.  However, as noted above, adding an accessory or other item such as a collar with “Service Dog” printed on it will make the dog’s purpose that much clearer and reduce the chances of inquiries as to why the dog is always by its master’s side in public settings.

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Service Dog Training

Take some time to determine if your dog or the dog you are considering buying can actually function as a service dog.  Though most dogs have the potential to serve in a service capacity, some are not cut out for the job.  If the dog is especially old, he or she might not be capable or willing enough to learn how to be a service dog.  Some older dogs have health problems such as arthritis that make it difficult to train to be a service dog and function in that role.  

Furthermore, if the dog is too young, it won’t have the patience or ability to learn how to function as a service dog.  The dog should be at least six months old and neutered or spayed.  The logic in having the dog neutered or spayed prior to training is that the procedure ensures he or she will not be distracted during sessions when learning how to work as a service dog.  

Above all, the dog’s temperament matters most.  If the dog is not relatively calm and does not respond well to other dogs and stimuli, he or she will not be a good service dog.  The dog should also have a lengthy attention span that empowers him or her to absorb information in training sessions.  The best service dogs are not distracted by stimuli, meaning they are capable of learning commands without interference taking priority during training sessions.

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When training a service dog, it is important to be mindful of the dog’s limitations.  As an example, an individual who struggles to stand should prioritize finding a larger dog who can assist his owner remain balanced.  The ADA makes it perfectly clear that dog owners have the right to train their own dog.  If you choose to perform the training on your own, start out with the basics.  Bring your dog to other settings to socialize with fellow furry friends.  Housebreak your dog and teach him or her to relieve him or herself after issuing specific commands.  

Once the basics are mastered, it is time to consider leaning on a professional dog trainer for guidance.  A professional trainer will help your dog remain cool, calm and collected even when unexpected events such as a wayward squirrel, a cat or another surprising stimuli appears.  A professional dog trainer will help keep your dog well-behaved when both on and off the leash.   Remove the leash in a controlled space while encouraging your furry friend to obey your commands.  Continue this training exercise and your dog will understand exactly what to do.  You can gradually segue outdoors to public settings after your dog builds confidence.

Professional trainers also help in keeping the dog’s attention on you rather than other animals and people you come across during daily activities.  You can do your part to improve your dog’s attentiveness by holding eye contact.  Continue to maintain eye contact with your dog when other people and animals enter the room or other space.  Have someone else walk into the room and ignore your dog when he/she starts to look away from you. 

If your dog struggles to remain attentive to you or master specific training tasks, consider the merits of service dog's shock collar training.  A brief shock jolt transmitted to the dog’s collar will correct behavior through negative reinforcement.

The specific tasks to zero in on when training a service dog should be tailored to your unique disability.  Instead of transitioning from one concept to another in rapid unison, give your service dog some time to master individual concepts.  Continue to focus on one concept until your dog masters it.  Once that concept is mastered, it is time to move on to the next concept.  

Take it slow when training a service dog, give your furry friend time to absorb the details of each form of support you need and he or she will be that much more likely to remember how to perform each.  When in doubt, consult with a professional dog trainer for assistance with the specific support tasks you need your dog to master.  With enough training, effort and patience, your service dog will be able to do everything from retrieving your phone to responding to the fire alarm and understanding what do to when the doorbell rings. 

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Service Dogs Breeds

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for every type of dog breed to function as a service dog. However, certain dog breeds perform better as service dogs than other breeds.  Above all, zero in on the type of support you need for daily functioning when considering service dog options.  As an example, if you need a dog to turn on the lights, open the door or provide stability for balance, it should be large enough to do so and also capable of jumping if necessary.  The best service dog breeds are calm, do not overreact to stimuli, can maintain a focus, learn quickly and prove attention to their master.  

Everyone in need of a service dog should consider buying one from a group that specializing in breeding and training dogs for the specific purpose of serving their master.  Such organizations tend to charge more than other breeders yet they are also more likely to offer expert assistance when training the service dog.  As an example, Canine Companions for Independence and NEADS World Class Service Dogs provide service dogs to those in need of assistance.

In terms of specific breeds, zero in on breeds known for their friendly demeanor and willingness to provide support.  As an example, Bernese Mountain Dogs make some of the best service dogs as they are large, have a long reach, are gentle, friendly and quite loyal to their master.  Labrador retrievers are also excellent service dogs as they are easy-going, sociable, aim to please and intelligent.  

German Shepherd Dogs are another excellent option in the context of service dog breeds.  German Shepherds were the initial guide dogs back in the 1920s.  This breed is brave, loyal, alert, smart and capable of learning all sorts of different tasks that help support their master.  Additional examples of favored service dog breeds include the Border Collie, the Great Dane, the Newfoundland and the Boxer.

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