I Want to Train My Dog to Be a Service Dog, What Do I Do Next?
There’s nothing straightforward about training a service dog, but that shouldn’t stop you from believing that you can do it. Service dogs are invaluable companions to people with disabilities, and they can provide critical assistance in a range of settings.
If you’re interested in training your dog to become a service animal, you must acknowledge a few things beforehand.
First, you and your pet go through a process that’s entirely different from obedience training. It’ll require a lot of your time and energy, and you’ll need to be patient while your dog learns the ropes.
The cost of training a service dog is typically higher than that of obedience training – partly because of the additional equipment and the required specialist care if you choose to hire a professional to help you.
Despite these challenges, nothing is more rewarding than seeing your dog become a service animal and helping them become a valuable assistant. Your relationship with your dog is essentially taken to the next level once they’ve completed their training.
So, if you’re serious about training your dog for this important role, here’s what you need to do:
1. Figure out if your furry buddy qualifies as a service dog.
Sadly, not all dogs can become service animals. Your job is to find out if your buddy is cut out for the task. To be a service dog, your pet must meet the following requirements:
- They must be housebroken
- They must perform basic obedience commands (sit, stay, come, down, etc.)
- They must be comfortable in a variety of social settings
- If your dog meets these requirements, you can move on to the next step.
2. Age and health matters.
Only puppies at least eight months old and in good health can be trained as service animals. Puppies younger than this typically don’t have the physical or emotional maturity to handle the stresses of being a service dog. Also, service dogs must be neutered to avoid any distractions or issues that might arise during their work. Neutered dogs are less aggressive, and females don’t have to go into heat while on duty. You can’t train dogs with pre-existing health conditions. If you’re not sure about your dog’s health, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian.
3. Proceed to the training process.
Now that you know your dog is eligible for service training, it’s time to get started. There’s no established timeline for completion because every dog is different, but typically the training process takes around 6-12 months. If you don’t plan to spend a dime on professional training; you’re going to have to be the one doing all the teaching. Everything starts with foundational training.
4. Begin with foundational training.
Training foundational skills means teaching them the basic commands necessary for service work. This usually starts with “sit” and “stay.” Once your dog has a good grasp of these two commands, you can start teaching them tasks specific to their work, including socialization. You must build on these skills before thinking about the more complex tasks your service dog will need to know.
Dogs that work as service animals must be comfortable in various social settings. Even if your goal is for them to be of service to you and no one else, they still need to be well-adjusted in public. Dogs that aren’t used to being around different people and environments can easily become overwhelmed and stressed. This leads to them not performing well when they’re needed the most.
5. Introduce new tasks slowly.
As your dog learns new tasks, it’s important to introduce them slowly and gradually. They’ll quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated if you try to overload them. This will lead to them not focusing on their work properly.
Service dogs aren’t only working when they are with their owner. They’re always working, even when they’re at home playing. The tasks they are taught need to be second nature, so they can seamlessly transition between home and work life.
6. Make sure that tasks are dog-friendly.
Teaching them physically possible and safe tasks is one of the most important parts of service dog training. Just because a task is possible doesn’t mean it’s appropriate or safe for a dog to do. For instance, if you intend to teach them how to pick up objects and bring them to you, ensure that they’re capable of carrying those things using their mouth. You can’t possibly train your dog to carry a baby.
7. Use positive reinforcement.
One of the best ways to train a service dog is positive reinforcement. This means rewarding them when they do something correctly instead of punishing them when they make a mistake. Punishing a service dog not only leads to them becoming stressed, but it can also cause them to become disobedient in public. Service dogs are relied on to be calm and obedient; any disobedience leads to them being removed from their work.
8. Be patient and consistent.
Patience and consistency are indispensable elements of service dog training. Every dog learns at a different pace, so there’s no use in getting frustrated with them. As long as you provide positive reinforcement, they’ll continue to try their best. It’s a relationship built on trust, with you being the one in charge.
Being consistent is just as important as being patient. Dogs thrive on predictability, so make sure your training regimen remains constant. If you’re constantly changing the rules, your dog will have a hard time trying to keep up. Remember that dogs easily get confused, so keep your instructions short, concise, and easy to understand.
9. Seek help from a professional if needed.
Not everyone is capable of training their service dog. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t have the time to do it yourself, consider seeking help from a professional trainer.
Last Tip: Never give up.
This one goes without saying, but it’s worth reiterating. Training a service dog is a long and arduous process, but it’s worth it in the end. If you’re not feeling motivated, take a break and come back to it later. As long as you’re always working towards your goal, you’ll eventually get there.