When you’re considering getting a service dog for you or another family member, or you want to turn your beloved pet into a service animal, you can choose to either have a professional train your dog or to do it yourself. No matter which route you take, there are certain service dog skills your canine companion should have in order to be useful, regardless of the potential handler’s specific disabilities. These are five of the most important skills.

1. Obedience

A dog can’t be a proper service animal if he or she isn’t obedient. Your dog must be able to recognize, understand, and respond to commands. There is no room for error when it comes to people’s safety, so if your dog isn’t doing well with training, try with another one instead.

Part of obedience training includes:

  • Name recognition
  • Clicker training (similar to Pavlov’s well-known experiment)
  • Basic commands (sit, stay, retrieve, down, under, leave it, etc.)

2. Still Behavior

Although service dogs are meant to perform specific vital tasks, they also spend a lot of time sitting or lying beside their handlers. Having the ability to sit or lie still for long periods of time (at least two hours) is therefore important, especially in public surroundings that are uncomfortable or loaded with stimuli. For example, on an airplane, dogs would have to sit or lie down in a confined space for hours. In a crowded auditorium, they would have to be still while others climbed around and stepped over them.

Remaining calm can be difficult in these circumstances, but is absolutely necessary for accommodation. While a business can’t turn away someone for having a service dog, they can ask the person to leave or receive services without the dog if the dog is being unruly.

3. Leash Walking

Much of a service dog’s work involves helping the handler get around or accompanying the person during daily travels. This can involve heeling or loose leash walking, and takes a lot of practice to achieve. With either method, your dog should be able to mirror movements (stop, go, pace), ignore distractions, and control impulses. If restrained, your dog shouldn’t drag, strain, or choke on the leash.

4. House Training

Another reason a business could ask a service dog to be removed is if he or she isn’t housebroken. Incontinency issues present a health hazard, so it is valid grounds for exclusion. Since most people with furry companions need their assistance at all times, a dog who has accidents would limit the places the handler could go. Your dog needs to be able to hold it for a long time, go on command, and tell you when a potty break is needed.

5. Task Training

Once all the other skills have been mastered, your dog then can be trained for the specific tasks the potential handler requires help with. Obviously, these will differ depending on the individual’s disabilities and needs. Some examples of duties include:

  • Alerting of danger
  • Assisting during a seizure
  • Discerning allergens
  • Getting help
  • Guiding movement
  • Providing comfort in an upsetting situation
  • Retrieving medicine
  • Stopping self-destructive behaviors

Other Helpful Skills

These aren’t the only service dog skills your four-legged friend should have. He or she should learn a balance between being friendly and being professional and protective. If necessary, your dog also should learn when to take commands from others.

Keep in mind that your dog doesn’t have to be perfect. Even during training, your dog can attend short outings. If the handler and dog feel comfortable and connect with each other, then they are ready to work together. Once training is done, remember to register your dog though USA Service Dogs for easier recognition and acceptance.