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Service Dog Training

 

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Interested in Service dog training? We've got you covered, below are the step by step details of this program.

1. It is ideal to choose your Service Dog Trainer BEFORE you ever purchase a dog!  There is a lot of intricacy to the size, temperament and energy level of the dog that we will choose for you, as well as the breeder.  Because we understand that a service dog is not just something that would be nice, but a need for you and your family, and because you are investing a good deal of time and money into this project, we want to take every step possible to ensure the long term success of your Service Dog.  

This is not to say that if you already have a dog that it cannot be successful, skip to step 5 for more information about how to proceed if you already have a dog or puppy.  

2. Choose a Breed- The breed that we will need for a mobility dog will be different from what we need for a psychiatric service dog.  The breed that we need might vary within a mobility dog based on the tasks and help that you need.  By choosing the right breed and size of dog, we are ensuring that the dog will be capable of performing your desired tasks effectively, and that your dog is physically healthy to work for you for as long as possible.  If we choose a dog that is not physically designed for your tasks, his joints can wear out earlier, causing him to have to retire earlier.  

3.  Choose a breeder-  It's very important to use a breeder who is going to allow up preference on picking order, will be willing to refund your deposit if a the desired litter doesn't produce a puppy that is ideal for you, who will allow our temperament tester to come in and choose the ideal puppy for you.  We want a breeder who is going to perform early scent introduction, early neurological stimulation, and exposure to other stimuli during the first 8 weeks of life so as to set your puppy up for the greatest amount of success.

 

4.  Next, we want to choose an appropriate pairing.  The temperament that we need for a psychiatric service dog is vastly different than a seizure alter or mobility dog.  We need information about the temperament and personality traits of the planned parents of the litter to ensure that they have the capability to produce the temperament we need. 

5. Temperament testing-  Whether you purchase a puppy from me or from another breeder, I hire an outside temperament tester to evaluate puppies and help us choose the best match.  Because with litters that I raise, these puppies have an established relationship and trust in me.  So if I try to evaluate them I may not get accurate results, simply because they feel comfortable with me. Proper temperament testing should be performed by someone that the puppies have never met, in a location that the puppies have never been and without me or the breeder too close by as we dont want the puppy to feel a false sense of security if they can smell us or hear our voices.  

Many people think that what we are looking for is a puppy that never gets scared, but this is actually not the case.  If we choose a puppy that rarely experiences fear, then someday when it finally does, it will be a very scary ordeal for the pup, because they do not have much experience working through fear.  We actually want a puppy who doesn't experience a ton of fear, but when it does; it doesn't shut down and disengage, but quickly works through it and re-engages with the stimuli. 

I have also observed that in almost every litter we have one puppy that we think will do great in the temp test, but does not.  This is related to the pack mentality of puppies, when a puppy has his littermates around him he may feel more confident, therefore he may be a leader within his pack when all together, but when separated from his brothers and sisters he no longer possess the confidence to continuously engage with the world under stress.

We also typically observe at least on puppy that didn't stand out when it was within it's littermates, but when separated from the litter it thrives with the one on one attention.  These puppies are typically so stable, that their personalities just don't stand out among it's littermates.  This observation is a prime example of why temperament testing is soooo important!

For adolescent and adult dogs that have already been purchased or adopted, we would perform a slightly different temperament test and whether or not we can test adolescent puppies depends upon the age of the puppy.  Contact me for details to find out how to have your dog's temperament evaluated. 

5. As soon as puppy comes home from the breeder, training starts! Did you know that the first 6 months of a dog's life is the equivalent to the first 18 years of a human's life?  These first 6 months are vital in building and shaping the dog that we need your Service Dog Candidate to be! So training starts right away!  But, because your puppy is not fully vaccinated, you absolutely do not want to take them out and about for traditional "socilization."  We start with weekly puppy training in my home office- a bio secure location to decrease the risk that your puppy could unintentionally contract Parvo, distemper, or any of the primary diseases and or viruses that could be life threatening to your new puppy. 

During this time we will use the sound desensitization CD to help acclimate your puppy to a variety of loud, obnoxious and potentially scary sounds.  We do want to get your puppy out and about in the world, but we don't want to expose them to unnecessary risk, so you will use the puppy backpack and puppy stroller at this stage.  I provide these items to you at no cost as part of your training package, you can check them out of my library!  This saves you money and prevents you from purchasing equipment that you wont need long term. 

There is a great deal of intricacy and finite detail when it comes to properly socializing you puppy, using videos and weekly teaching I will help you develop your handling skills and build a solid understanding of how to read your puppy, reward for neutral/ positive responses to stimuli and how to respond if your puppy experiences fear.  

6.  When your puppy is fully vaccinated- around 14-16 weeks depending upon your vet's prescribed plan, we begin boots on the ground outings!  This is a vital stage in your puppy's training as he now has the ability to engage with the stimuli, increasing the risk that he can experience fear.  Understanding how your dog thinks and processes information will help you to set your puppy up for success.  We try to be aware of stimuli that could become scary to your pup BEFORE he experiences fear, preventing it but also being prepared to help him work through it if he does become unsure.   

An important aspect of this stage of socilization is understanding the proper balance between exploration and control.  If I ask my puppy to walk at heel, sit and pay attention to me, my puppy has no opportunity to explore and get to know the world around him.  This is not proper socilization, this is early, unnecessary control. Because your puppy is not developmentally ready to use self control, he will need to give ALL of his mental energy to you to produce the desired behavior, which means that he is not observing the world around him.  Later on, as your dog understands obedience and control and begins to observe the world around him, he is much more likely to experience fear because he never took the time to observe or explore that stimuli. 

That's why an appropriate understanding and adjustment of exploration to control is so vital!

We will alternate weekly sessions between my home office- this is where we will teach new material, check the progress of your homework and provide new assignments. More complex tasks need to be taught starting from a very early age, while other tasks will not start until puppy is older. Students receive an email at the end of these sessions with homework adjustments for the next 1-2 weeks. 

On our alternate weeks we will meet in public locations to practice our socialization, to evaluate adjustments to your exploration vs control protocol, and begin to practice and reinforce obedience and tasking concepts in public.  

Timeline: 

The amount of time that it will take your puppy or dog to complete training will vary based upon several factors:

1. The number and difficulty of the tasks that your dog will require.

2. The speed at which your individual dog learns each task.  Some dogs may excel at particular tasks or struggle with others, even when we choose the correct temperament, intelligence and trainability, each dog is still an individual.

3. How much time you can devote to your dog, the more time you spend practicing the homework in between our sessions will directly affect how quickly your dog will master tasks. 

4. Your natural understanding of dog body language ques, some people pick this up more easily than others, but that doesn't mean that your dog will be less successful.  With homework videos submitted throughout the week between our appointments, we can adjust technique, give feedback and improve your ability to communicate with your dog through constant encouragement. 

Benefits of Self Training Your Service Dog:

I used to provide Board and Train for service dogs, but this didn't truly benefit my clients long term.  Training with me weekly, learning your dogs individual body language ques, your dog learning your individual ques, tone of voice, etc. doesn't require your dog to transition between handlers.  It allows your dog to build a relationship with you from the beginning, and gives you the skills long term to work through or problem solve as things pop up.  And lets be honest, things are going to pop up.  Its important to remember that this is a live animal, he or she will have likes and dislikes just like humans do.  Throughout your dog's lifespan your situation can change, you can graduate from college, start a new job, move to a new city, move into a new home, have a child.  All of these circumstances can require you to adjust your dog's training to meet your current needs, so having the ability and understanding to adjust with them, instead of needing to contact your trainer to help you, will benefit both you and your dog in the long term.  (But don't worry, we are always here as a resource for you if you want help in the future)

Cost!  Our program is one of the lowest priced programs in the state.  We understand that by definition, you have a disability, therefore you may be unable to work, or unable to function in the area where you want to work. Because Service Dog Training is generally the most intensive training offered in the industry, it also tends to be the most expensive.  That's why we designed the self training program, we noticed that a lot of the people who really needed a service dog, simply couldn't afford to spend $20,000 to buy a finished dog, or pay $2,000 a month for training.  With weekly/ monthly payments depending upon your budget, we have done our best to make service dog training accessible to as many people as possible.  

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