Over the years, we at SDTI have watched many service dogs teams successfully train to working in public together. I thought it would be helpful for potential owner-trainers to take a look at the top characteristics that all the successful teams consistently possess. They are not in any particular order. They are your best bet to set yourself and your dog up to being successful as a working service dog team in the future.
Component 1 Right Stage of Disability
Many people love dogs, may already have one and jump to the conclusion that training their dog as a service dog will solve their problems. Instead, the bigger question should be: Are you in a place with your disability where you are able to support training a service dog and is it the best choice to mitigate your disability?
A handler needs to have a diagnosed disability. They need to be at a point in that disability where they understand how it affects their life on a daily basis and how the disability may change in the future. It needs to be stable or improving at the present time.
The handler must have seriously tried or considered other forms of support for the disability under the guidance of their healthcare providers. There are many lifestyle and environmental changes, new technologies & gadgets and medical and or psychological interventions that will be more time, energy and cost effective than a service dog.
Basically, a service dog should be well down the list for consideration after other interventions, not first in line. Consider how a service dog may augment those other forms of support. How might a dog interfere? What specific tasks might a dog do to mitigate your disability? Is the effort of training a dog to service dog standards worth the value of the tasks?
Component 2 Provide the Correct Environment For A Dog
Component 3 Choose the Right Dog
It is critical to choose a dog that has the characteristics to succeed as a service dog. Start with a healthy dog that has parents who are been tested for genetic diseases and/or themselves been tested at appropriate age and has no history of other chronic diseases or structural issues. A dog with a confident and social temperament who is comfortable in many different environments is key. A service dog candidate needs to be resilient and forgiving to life and training mistakes made by the handler and the public. They need to be able to handle and recover from stress. A dog of suitable size for the desired tasks to be performed and has exercise and mental abilities that match the handler’s life style and mental acuity (not too high or too low). Many dogs fail due to being too active or too smart for the handler. Dogs with undesirable characteristics like fear, aggression, are predatory or excessively friendly are not suitable candidates. Dogs that are too sensitive also fail to be adaptable in public. Dogs with known health issues or unsocialized background (such as former street dogs) who exhibit lifelong fear have all shown to lack the desirable traits of a service dog in the long run. Research has shown us that dogs that had gastrointestinal diseases as puppies (Parvo for example) will be anxious as adults. We offer a series of blog posts to help you find the right dog for the job. If you have a dog, it is helpful to work through the class to see if your current dog might be suitable.
Component 4 Have A Sufficient Support System
Another critical component to success is having a support team. This is a group of people who are not only your cheerleaders but people willing to dig in and help when you are down for the count. Some are available on a daily basis, some offer general support while others jump in on an emergency basis. If you don’t have such a team, you can build one! It takes a village to get a service dog to the point of successfully working in public. Check this link to see what type of help you need to line up.
Component 5 Handler Has Key Characteristics and Abilities
Component 6 Follow a Consistent Program
Service dog owner-trainers who have a long-term training plan and follow consistent program and get help as they need it are more successful than those who dabble and try to create one themselves. Take a look at Service Dog Training Institute’s training program. It trains the handler and the dog not only in behaviours but to prepare the team for a functional life together.
If you score high on all of these, or can find ways to consistently overcome the challenges involved, you are more likely to succeed in training your own service dog to public access working level. If you need help in assessing yourself, your situation or your dog, contact us to book a Zoom session.