A service dog can be a real asset, but the expense in training prohibits many people from actually having the help they need. In addition, there may be a long waiting list, making it even more difficult. Some people have trained their own service dog. Although it does take time, it is a rewarding process which makes the bond between your canine friend and yourself even stronger.
Assessing Your Potential Service Dog
First, you need to choose the right dog. Choose a well-trained puppy that’s a little older, six months to a year that is in good health. You want a dog that is intelligent and trainable. Look for a confident dog that approaches you without fear, but isn’t growling or dominant. The dog should be quick to react to simple commands, like sit or down. It should also be confident in social situations and not be overly protective of you. A dog who wants contact with you is more docile and will be a better choice. The breed of the dog isn’t necessarily important, it’s really the temperament of animal. Your dog should also be spayed or neutered before working as a service dog.
The first thing you and your dog need to work on is basic command skills. As this is the foundation of further training, it might be beneficial to seek the help of a professional during this stage. You don’t want to teach your dog bad habits or overtax your animal. It’s even more important with a service dog, because ultimately, this dog will be keeping you safe. Your canine buddy should have impeccable obedience skills, both on and off leash. You should also teach your dog a cue to let them play and have fun. Clicker training is one way to train, but you may want to have small treats as rewards in the first stages of training.
You will also need to make sure your service dog knows not to sniff other animals or people. This includes cats and squirrels, food on the ground, and cars that can be distracting. You will need to have a friend help you with this step. Start out by having the friend walk up to you while the dog is looking at you. If the dog looks at the friend, the friend stops and ignores the dog. Then, when the dog turns back to you, reward the dog. Repeat until the dog understands that paying attention to you gets rewards.
Teaching Special Skills
Which skills you teach your service dog will depend on your own disability. You may need to break tasks into smaller steps so that you don’t overwhelm the dog. Dogs are smart, but they can only process so much information at a time. If you are teaching your animal to bring you your keys, then first you need to teach it to respond to the word keys. Once it understands what the keys are, then you can teach him to pick up the keys. You may need to make your keychain accessible to being picked up by the dog’s mouth. Maybe place a soft toy on the ring. Only train for about five to ten minutes at a time, and keep it fun and rewarding for the animal.
Certify Your Service Dog
Although you are not required to register service dog, it is a good idea to make it easier for others to identify your animal when you are out in public. We offer lifetime service dog certification that comes with an ID and certificates along with information about flying with your service dog or renting an apartment. We have information about your rights and your service animal, which helps you to be more confident when you’re taking your dog out.