Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Can My Puppy Become A Service Dog?

 What does it take to Owner Train Your Own Service Dog?

This is going to be a starting post for all of the people that already have a dog and wonder if they can turn that dog into a Service Dog.  This is in no way a complete list of all that is necessary, but more of an overview of some of the most important things to consider.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!)
  4. 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.  
  5. 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. 
If you have additional questions about things that you are considering before beginning to train your own Service Dog, feel free to reach out to me.

Building A Better Bond Client Review

If your still on the fence about registering for the Building A Better Bond Workshop, read this review from one of last year's workshop attendee's.  We have several people who participated last year, joining in the fun again this year!  One of the things that makes this workshop so successful is that we keep it at a fairly small group of people, so everyone gets acquainted and looks forward to seeing the progress that other teams are seeing.  Many workshop participants create friendships that last well beyond the active workshop.  The Admin staff is dedicated to helping workshop participants to become successful human/dog teams and will spend as much time with you as you need!

To: Penny Beeman

I am so excited to watch as Penny Beeman expands her dog training business. I found Penny on a FB group when I was struggling in a service dog training program with my dog-Ruger. I was about to give up after two years of hard work and dedication. Ruger was a challenge to train every step of the way. We went through three trainers-each recommending the other because Ruger needed someone ‘more experienced’. I contemplating quitting many times but I just knew in my heart Ruger and I were meant to be a team. I came across Penny’s class ‘Building a Better Bond’. I hesitated to enroll in the class as I hadn’t completed the program we were already in but am so thankful I enrolled in ‘Building a Better Bond’. Penny’s passion brought our excitement back! Her knowledge and experience helped us work through hurdles and increased our confidence. I also appreciated her commitment to positive reinforcement/force free training. Penny was dedicated to helping us but I could tell her dedication runs deeper. It’s a mission to help humans and dogs understand each other and have a mutual respect of each other. The outcome is easier training through a bonded love. I am happy to announce that Ruger and I successfully completed our service dog training program! Thank you Penny! We couldn’t have done it without you! I’m excited to watch your business grow as you help change the lives of dogs and their people. Much love to you!
--Katrina and Ruger from SC

The Admin staff is here to help you, so if you have questions or concerns please reach out to us!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Service Dog Positioning

Service Dog Positioning Skills

Service dogs (SD) need to be able to move in a variety of positions to be out of the handler's way and other people that may be around them.  A heel or loose leash walk near their handler is often the most important and sometimes most difficult to train.  Often training a heel becomes so important that people forget to train other positions for being able to direct the SD to an out of the way location in relation to the handler.  I use games to teach my dog to be comfortable in a wide variety of positions and put verbal or body language cues to direct my dog.  Early in the games stage, I try to figure out what might come natural for me to say or do when I want me dog to move to a specific position.  If it comes natural for me, it will be easier for me to be consistent in the cue and it will be effortless to do in public when our SD is fully trained.

This video shows a wide variety of positions Azul learned at a pretty young age.  I taught each position independently, then put them all together for a fun focus building game before we went into a public location for PA training.  I always make a habit of allowing my SD to sniff and potty if needed before going inside a public location.  Then I ask for a few quick positions to make sure he is focused and ready to work before going inside.  When we shot this video, we had another SDiT (Service Dog in Training) with us who needed a few extra minutes of sniffing before entering so we played our position game to help Azul stay in focus for the training session.  The boy in this video is one of Azul's favorite playmates so he is intentionally causing a distraction for Azul so that I can practice working around distractions.

Common Positions

When walking in a heel, I will typically have Azul on my right side.  But sometimes there may be something unsafe or too distracting for Azul so I need him to switch to my left side while we are moving.  I use the cue Switch for this and taught it with a hand target that started behind my back and moved to the side I needed him on.  Along with Switch, we use Follow which means to walk right behind me, commonly when we are moving thru a narrow passage.

Under my legs is a position we use mostly in fun and games, but it comes in handy if we are in a crowded area such as waiting in a line.  I make this an exciting place to be with tons of reinforcement available; treats, tug, praise, etc.  This position becomes a default position so if Azul is scared or not sure where he should be, he quickly moves into this default position.  And currently I'm added this to his recall cue so that when he comes to me away from a distraction, he will run through my legs.

Along with the under position, we work on Azul paying attention to the leash and backing out of position so he doesn't get tangled or trip me.  Since I mostly use a handsfree leash when Azul is working as a Service Dog, it's super important to me that he knows how to prevent leash tangles.  This is easiest for us when Azul walks forward into position and backs out of position.  He can be facing me or facing my back.  We also practice holding this position while sitting, standing, and laying down.  The body cue is simply spreading my feet apart for a wider stance.  At first I made deliberate movements with sound, but now a subtle move is all it takes.  We also practice walking forwards and backwards in this positions.

Tuck Under Legs Puppy Tuck Under

Another common position is a Tuck Under my legs while I'm sitting down.  This is most useful in waiting rooms, restaurants, and locations where we expect to be sitting on a chair or bench for a period of time.  I taught this to Azul at a pretty young age by using a food lure to get him into position several times, then also reinforcing it whenever he offered the position.  This position can vary to fit the seat your sitting position.  If I'm sitting in an open chair, Azul can back into position with his hind end under the chair and his head and front legs between my feet.  He can also go under 2 chairs long ways if we are going out to eat with family so he's completely under chairs instead of taking up feet space at a crowded table.  Or we also use this position under a table in a booth so that other people are not accidently kicking or stepping on Azul.

The Positions Game

This video was recorded during a fun refocusing Position Game at a fairly crowded store.  If Azul is distracted and I need to get him to refocus, we can find a quiet aisle or corner to play this fun game to help him refocus.  The game is designed to rapidly move through several learned positions at a quick rate with lots of reinforcement.  I use hand targets to teach most of these positions, and often use a mix of verbal cues and hand targets during the game.  We always start and end the game in a heel position, then change up the order of the positions I ask for.  This video starts in a heel, does a quick spin and spread of legs for the under position cue.  The mistake I made, is that I didn't wait for Azul to finish the spin before giving the body cue for under so he missed it and I give it a second time.  As he backs out of the under position, I spin and start walking again which implies that he should get back into the heel position.  When he is ready for the next move, he looks up at me to see what's next.  At this point I give him the follow signal and start backing away from him quickly.  This tells him to spin and follow me quickly and we can use this if I see something unsafe or a distraction heading our way and I want to quickly get out of the way before Azul loses focus.  Once we've moved out of the way of a possible distraction, I will start moving forward again which is an automatic cue for Azul to return to the heal position.  This video was recorded with the help of another team, so you may see another dog head appear briefly.  This somewhat represents a distraction we quickly can escape from, but this dog is part of a team that we train with regularly so it's not distracting Azul at all.

July Party Schedule

Announcing our Summer Session Special! We are starting with an altered scheduled for July 1st -3rd Monday, July 1st, all of our Group Walker...