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Blog - assistance dogs

Training Your Own Service Dog

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Training your own service dog is no easy task. It takes a lot of commitment and patience, but the bond that will be formed between you and your dog will be a strong one, and I believe it makes for a better team than if someone else trained your service dog for you.  The first step in any service dog’s training is basic obedience and socialization. Your dog must have be well trained in basic obedience and be well socialize before you can even proceed onto any other training. 

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You must teach your future service dog to walk quietly by your side, not pulling and walking you. Your dog must come when called, sit, stay, and learn to watch you and pay attention to you at all times. He must learn to focus on you and ignore the cat that is crossing the street in front of you, or the squirrel that just scurried up the tree, or the dog that is barking at you as pass by.

 Your  service dog  must also be well socialized with people and other animals. You don’t want a  service dog that bites or picks fights with other dogs or growls at people.  When training your own service dog you teach them to be friendly and have good manners.  Socialization doesn't just stop there either. As a service dog  owner you will be taking your dog everywhere you go, it must learn to go up and down stairs, ride in an elevator, train, airplane, get on a bus, be comfortable in crowds of people like at carnivals, not be startled by loud noises or afraid of motor vehicle traffic with cars blowing their horns, use escalators, revolving doors, etc, etc, etc. 

I think you get the point…..your service dog will encounter many things out of their normal comfort range, things you encounter every day, but they do not, and it will be up to you to make sure they get as comfortable as you are in whatever environment you take them into.  This takes a lot of work and patience to train your own service dog and not every dog is suitable for the job.  

I started training my dog at 12 weeks old, taking her everywhere I went and introducing her to as much as I possibly could while at the same time instilling her basic obedience training over and over and over until it became second nature to her. Socialization and basic training should be the only thing you should be teaching a puppy under 8 months old, you don’t want to frighten them with too much stimulation. 

Dogs are as individual as people and you should consider some some factors before trying to train them as a service dog. Potential service dogs must be willing and eager to learn and young enough to accept new and distracting situations. Older dogs can be set in their ways and not like their routine disturbed. You may have trouble teaching them and they may become overwhelmed by too many changes in their life.  Temperament is a very import factor. You can’t take a dog out in public that is too shy or too aggressive. 

According to ADA requirements for a service dog are:

"A service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Tasks performed can include, among other things, pulling a wheelchair, retrieving dropped items, alerting a person to a sound, reminding a person to take medication, or pressing an elevator button.."

I do suggest you get a service dog vest with a service dog patch sewn on that indicates your dog is a service dog in training as you train your dog.

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In a recent trip from New York to Florida with my service dog, a trip I take quite often, I found that I had encountered more uneducated people about service dogs than I have ever encountered before.  My dog is always wearing a bright red service dog vest that is clearly marked with large black [...]

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