What does it take to Owner Train Your Own Service Dog?
- Before you decide to train a Service Dog, be sure to read and become very familiar with the ADA Laws (American Disability Act). You can find general info and the links to the most pressing laws on this page. http://www.yooperpaws.com/p/sd-laws.html
- There are many types of Service Dogs and a wide variety of tasks that trained Service Dogs can learn to help their person. Think about the tasks you want the dog to do considering the size of dog that is most appropriate for your needs. Size is way more important then breed, but some breeds are better at certain tasks. This is something that you might need the assistance of an experienced trainer to help you determine what is best for you. I'm happy to provide that assistance to everyone so feel free to reach out to me.
- The temperament of the dog is a critical factor that can determine whether a dog is fit to be a Service Dog or not. But this also depends on your needs and that of your family. The best characteristics that make training easiest is a dog that is confident in multiple surrounds, has a calm demeanor, and enjoys that act of training. This is almost nearly impossible to predict with a puppy, but there are lots of things you can do with a young puppy to help them develop these characteristics. Some people struggle with young puppies, and chose to buy or adopt an older dog. This has the benefit if seeing the dogs personality and temperament that has already developed, but you still need to really trust the person who has been working with the dog previously because they may not be upfront or even really understand the true nature of that dog. For example: Rescue dogs take a minimum of 3 months to fully relax in their new home enough that their true personality comes out. If you are adopting from a shelter or rescue, they very likely do not have a full history of that dog's past so you may find that you specific needs that need to be addressed or will prevent that dog from becoming a Service Dog. This is such a complex process that you really need to have help from someone who understand canine behavior. A rescue dog that has a mild fear to certain triggers, may be able to overcome that fear with desensitization and counterconditioning. But a rescue dog that is filled with anxiety may never be able to fully overcome the fears that make up their temperament and personality. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that any dog can make it as a Service Dog but a skilled trainer with lots of experience can help you make an informed decision. (Ask me about Cam!)
- Another thing to consider before you begin training is the amount of time you will need to spend training the dog. Programs that supply Service Dogs or follow a Service Dog Testing procedure often require their clients to document a minimum of 200 training hours. This is way under the amount of time it typically takes Owner Trainers who train their own Service Dog. This varies from dog to dog, but I typically spend an average of 200 hrs every 3-4 months for approximately 2 years. And that doesn't typically include exercise & playtime unless the games being played are a part of my training plan. Basically what I'm saying is you can't be successful if you only do the job half way! You need to fully commit to what it means to training that dog if you want them to be successful as a Service Dog. Everyone makes mistakes, even the most skilled trainers like myself, So I'm not saying your training sessions have to be perfect. But if you're not totally committed to the process your success rate reduces greatly. Even just a simple trip to the grocery store takes longer when you have a Service Dog joining you.
- And the last thing that I want you to consider is the attention you will receive with a Service Dog. Friends and family often struggle with your need or disability status which can be very challenging. If you're disability is obvious (your blind, deaf, in a wheelchair) your family may be more accepting. But if your disability is invisible, often your friends and family simply can't understand what it is like to live with your situation so they understand why you insist on taking your Service Dog everywhere. (This is probably going to be a post of it's own at some point because this topic is huge!) Thankfully, I have a very supportive family that tries to accommodate my Service Dog even if they don't fully understand my needs. But that is not always the case. After get passed the attention you will get from your friends and family, you have to consider you will often most likely attract attention from strangers when you take your Service Dog out in public. This can be very frustrating to Service Dog handlers! People will often talk to you about your dog, asking questions you may or may not want to answer. Often people will ask to pet your dog or worse yet, reach to pet your dog without permission. Then there are people that will talk to your dog instead of you, making kissy noises, using baby talk or otherwise encourage your dog to interact with them. You have to be prepared to deal with this. The best way to understand this is to have at least one other skilled Service Dog handler with experience that will mentor you or find a Facebook group that matches your needs and personality that you can connect with. I have a group called Working Paws that can be extremely helpful.