A lot of time and effort goes into training your own Service Dog, so you must be up for the task. It is possible to adopt a trained Service Dog, but the waiting list can be as long as 2-5 years. Here is a list of things you should take into account when training your puppy to become a Service Dog.
What is a Service Dog?
A Service Dog is a dog that has been trained to perform a specific task to help a person with a disability. They are trained to a very high degree to benefit their owners' specific needs; therefore, they can be quite expensive and waiting lists are long.
This can make it very difficult for some people to get a Service Dog when they may really need one. It also makes it impossible for some people as they just do not have the money. This is why it is becoming quite common to train your own.
There are a few factors you must consider before training your puppy to become a Service Dog:
No.1 - Is my puppy capable of being a Service Dog?
Not all dogs are capable of being effective Service Dogs. If it doesn’t work for your dog, it just doesn’t work. If your puppy is too difficult to train and doesn’t want to do anything for you, it can become upsetting and stressful for you.
The breed of your puppy can also have a big effect on whether it is able to be a Service Dog. Some breeds just don’t work. The best and most common breeds for a Service dog are:
◉ Labrador Retriever
◉ German Shephard
◉ Border Collie
◉ Bernese Mountain Dog
◉ Boxer, and more.
If you do not have a suitable breed for a Service Dog, there is a chance it will not work. The breeds listed above have the suitable traits and temperaments for the job.
You should also have quite regular checkups with the vet in case there are any health conditions. This can affect your dog's learning ability and happiness, so this is important (for any pet in fact).
Your puppy should be calm, motivated, a good listener and learner, confident and well-behaved. Of course, every puppy can get hyper at times and have fun, so this is fine.
No. 2 -What age do you start the training?
Some people prefer to start training their dogs to be Service Dogs when they are 1.5 to 3 years old. This is so you can get to know your dog's temperament first and know if they have the capabilities of being a Service Dog. But if you train your dog from a puppy you can shape your dog's behavior and grow with them. This gives you some sense of control over the puppy’s temperament from a young age, making it easier for you to train them to become the Service Dog you are looking for.
Generally, basic training starts for a puppy from around 8 weeks. More advanced training is delayed until around 6 months of age. It is up to you when you want to start training your dog. If you notice when you start that your puppy doesn’t seem particularly ready yet, leave it for another few weeks and try again.
How to Start
Your puppy should be able to socialize. You can help them with this by taking them on frequent walks and get them used to be out around people and the public. It is also a good idea to have new people come to your house, so your dog gets used to meeting new strangers. The more your dog gets used to this, he will learn not to get too excited around people, like in public, as a hyper, excited Service Dog in public gives off a bad impression. Your puppy should not be shy or skittish. Shy dogs are not suitable to be Service Dogs, as they should be comfortable going everywhere with their owner without becoming frightened or anxious. It is also vital that your puppy is house-trained and well potty-trained. If your puppy urinates or defecates in public, this gives off a bad impression. These are necessary skills your puppy should have.
Your puppy must be well-behaved on a leash. They should always listen to your commands and respond accordingly. Teach him to be used to being on the leash. You can do this by putting the leash or harness on throughout the day when you are in the house. During this period, play with your dog and give him treats. This will teach him to like the time he has a leash on as he will associate it with fun and treats!
Your puppy should be able to focus on you. A great, efficient way to teach your puppy to focus on you is by using a clicker. Your pup should know that the clicker means they are doing a task right and they are going to be rewarded for it. Call your dog's name. When they look at you, click and reward with a treat. Next time, call your dog, get them to look at you for just a second, then click and reward. Keep doing this, but every time make your dog look at you for just one second longer until they know you are making them look at you and focus on the treat. Your puppy should eventually be able to look at you and focus for about 10 seconds.
Once your puppy has mastered the tasks above, he may be ready to learn specific skills to help the person in need of service. The task completely depends on what you need a Service Dog for, which could be for physical impairments like blindness, to a psychiatric disorder like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Your training sessions should never be too long. This will take the fun out of it and bore your puppy. You will see better results from more short training sessions than less boring long sessions. Also, be sure to take it slow and steady for your puppy.
Should your Service Dog wear a vest/harness?
If you want, you can train your puppy so that when their vest/harness is on, it is work time. And when the vest or harness is off, it is rest time. This can be done simply by just putting the vest on before you begin the training and training with it on, then taking it off after or at the end of the day.