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Donna Hill's

Service Dog Training Institute


Choosing a Service Dog:
What Do You Need?
(Part 5)

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Click here to see Part 4

41. Can you travel to visit a potential litter or dog?

How far? This may limit the area that you can search for a dog in. Do you have a good chance to find what you are looking for? You may need to be more flexible in the breed or mix if the area is small. 

42. Can you travel to pick up the pup?

Ideally, you have been able to find one within a reasonable distance that you can visit a few times before bringing the pup home. But if not, some breeders will only allow you to adopt a dog if you are willing to come to their place to get the pup or dog. Travel may include long drives in a vehicle, or plane trip with a pup in a bag at your feet in the cabin. Some breeders will ship a pup in cargo as long as the pup is accompanied by a person (doesn’t have to be you or a relative). Add this selection criterion if this is important to you. 

43. Do you prefer and adult or puppy?

With a puppy, you may not benefit for 12 months or more.  An adult may be able to start assisting you within a few months, depending on the tasks you need and how solid the public access of the adult dog already has.  Adopting a 5 to 14 month old adolescent dog is not recommended unless you can get an independent evaluation after the pup has lived in a home environment for at least a month (longer is better) due to being in the middle of a fear period. You have no way to know if fear you see if the dog’s fear is due to past experience, lack of socialization or is part of the dog’s temperament. 

44. Is the dog left-handed or right-handed?

Studies have found that right-pawed dogs are twice as successful as guide dogs. That is because they think predominately with their left brain which is in charge of jobs. They may be bolder and inquisitive. Left pawed dogs tend to be more fearful since the right side of the brain is driven by fear. Use the “First-stepping test” to determine the predominant paw use. Stand the dog with front feet even on a flat surface. Toss a treat forward. Record which foot moved forward first after the dog is standing with both front feet level. Take 10 recordings over about 3 minutes setting the dog up each time and you will have the answer. The more one paw is used, the more likely that paw is the dominant paw. Some dogs are ambitextuous.

45. What side will the dog work off most often? Dominant eye.

If you are right-handed, you may want your dog to work off your left side. If that is the case, you will want your dog to have his left eye as his dominant eye since his right eye is mostly blocked by your body. To determine eye preference, place a patch over one eye and have the dog jump over a low jump. How well he does will vary depending on which eye he is using. The better he does, the more dominant the eye. Make sure the jump you use can be easily knocked over so the dog does not hurt himself if he miscalculates it. 

46. Which way does the fur whorl go on a dog you are considering?

Dogs with counter-clockwise hair whorl on their chest tend to be more confident dogs and are twice as successful as guide dogs. Dogs with clockwise whorls are more anxious. Assuming the experimentor is correct about the use of dogs on the right side of the handler, left-handled handlers may be better to choose a right-eyed dog and train them to work off their right (as in the dog walks on the right side). 


Wondering how to train your own service dog?

Check out our Service Dog Training Institute classes (for both human and dog).
If you want to learn how to train a service dog like a professional, these classes will give you the skills to do so and to train other pet dogs! You learn as your dog learns.

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