B). Choosing the Wrong Dog for the Job
Owner-trainers need to start out with a dog with the most solid temperament and health that they can find. Starting with anything less decreases their chance of success.
1). Choose a dog with a known genetic and behavioral history.
Find a quality breeder for a pup or for an adult dog that has been returned to a breeder or a retired conformation dog the breeder is looking to retire.
Behavior issues related to temperament are the most common reason a dog is removed from training for public access. Look for a dog with friendly, biddable and bombproof parents. Look for a dog that was raised in a home environment with attention to socialization with people of all ages and other friendly known dogs. Environmental enrichment for the puppies to grow the little brains before you start working with them. Health tests on the parents.
2). Health issues.
When adopting an adult dog, have that dog screened for health issues common to the breed at 2 years of age. That way there won’t be surprises down the road where you have to retire the dog early. If you are getting a pup, make sure the parents have been screened and passed for the same health tests by recognized bodies, not just any veterinarian taking a passing look at the dog.
3). It can take screening as many as 400 adolescent shelter or rescue dogs to find one that has suitable health and temperament for a service dog.
These usually have an unknown socialization, behavior and health history. They may come with unseen traumas. Avoid adding a rehabilitation project to your list of jobs and costs.
Even starting with a shelter puppy is risky, not only for lack of health and temperament history but if the mother suffered any stress during gestation, the pups are likely to be anxious later on due to the high cortisol levels they developed with in the womb. Young adolescents that were not adopted until after the socialization window closed are unlikely to have gotten suitable exposure to the world while they were in the shelter.
4). Be especially careful to choose an emotionally sound dog who is emotionally resilient and physically insensitive if you are training your dog for anxiety or PTSD.
For these, it is recommended to start with a dog that is at least 18 mos of age so you can see the dog’s temperament.
Alternatively, consider asking a friend or family to raise a puppy to that age for you. Pups exposed at a young age to people with anxiety tend to either become supersensitized or learn to ignore the anxiety or PTSD unless (and sometimes even if) they have a bombproof temperament. Steer away from breeds and individual dogs that are emotionally, sound and physically sensitive. That’s why the three most common assistance dog breeds are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and standard poodles. As a breed, they tend to be emotionally and sound insensitive and physically robust and resilient. They are also the most commonly available breeds so you have the best chance to find a good example of the breed.