Tips for Training a Service Dog

Service animals provide a wonderful way for those with disabilities to improve their quality of life and increase their functionality.

One of the best types of service animals is a dog. Dogs are highly domesticated, meaning they have a dependent relationship with their owners.

This relationship and bond create the perfect foundation to provide greater support. Dogs have an impressive capacity for learning and can perform many different tasks, making them ideal for someone needing a little extra help during the day.

One of the biggest obstacles to owning a service dog is finding one. Many training agencies have lengthy waiting lists, hefty adoption fees, and rigorous screening processes. This is primarily because the training for service animals is costly, intensive, and thorough.

You also have the option of training your dog to be a service animal. We’ll explain below some tips to remember as you work with your future service companion.

Master Basic Skills

First, you should spend an abundance of time on mastering the basic skills.

This includes standard commands like sit, stay, waiting for cues, go fetch, and walking to you when called by name. It also includes behavioral skills like knowing not to jump on people and avoiding aggressive behavior.

These basic skills are important for any dog because it determines how well they interact with you, other dogs, and other people. For a service dog, mastering the basic skills is the bare minimum.

There are two important reasons for this.

First, having the capacity to master basic skills shows competence and flexibility. This means that your dog can be trained with enough effort. It also shows that you have the patience to work with your dog as they navigate this process.

Second, many service dog tasks are more complicated versions of basic commands. A great example of this is retrieving medication when a diabetic owner experiences low blood sugar.

This incorporates waiting for a cue (low blood sugar), fetching (retrieving the medicine), and performing the correct response to a cue (barking at the low blood sugar or bringing you the medicine).

Training your dog is an intensive skill that won’t go anywhere without a thorough understanding of the basics. To be an effective service companion, your dog should properly respond to basic commands more than 90% of the time.

Work Slowly

As you begin to progress into more advanced service training, make sure to work slowly.

While dogs are certainly trainable, they are still animals and they have their limits. You must always remember this and avoid overworking them to prevent burnout.

Imagine trying to teach yourself a new skill, hobby, or language. You’ll likely have a great deal of interest initially, but that will gradually wane as you begin to get into denser topics that require greater focus and effort to comprehend.

Dog training is similar. Your dog may be excited to start their training, but they will begin to resist it if it becomes too much.

You may feel pressured to have your dog ready as soon as possible, but thorough training is not a process you can rush. Take your time and accept your dog’s progress as it is.

Focus on Discipline

Throughout the training process, you should focus on encouraging discipline in your dog.

One of the most important characteristics of a service dog is strong discipline. Because dogs are animals, they’re susceptible to animalistic instincts like chasing birds and picking up a very specific stick.

Dogs have many urges that they’ll face throughout their day that can get in the way of being a good service companion. If you need them to always be by your side and provide assistance, then them running off will only make matters worse.

Even the most disciplined of dogs still make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect this trait. Instead, it means that extra time should be invested in developing discipline in your dog.

Good ways of doing this involve showing them temptations like treats and toys and restricting access to them until your dog has demonstrated patience. This teaches them that fighting their urges results in rewards, which leads to greater discipline overall.

Practice in New Environments

Lastly, you should practice in new environments to add depth to your dog’s training experience.

Your dog may be capable of mastering a service function, but can you rely on them to always perform it? What if you’re in an unfamiliar setting that causes your dog to become unnerved and they fail to assist you?

In the example of teaching discipline by resisting temptations, you should practice discipline in other situations as well. Only practicing at home with treats will enforce the behavior there, but they might not have that understanding at the park.

You should take your dog to as many environments as possible to acclimate them to a wide variety of experiences. When your dog has seen an environment, they will have more confidence in the future and this reduces the risk of them failing to help you.

Again, remember to go slowly as you do this. Gradually acclimating your dog to new environments will make them more flexible, adaptable, and reliable when you need them.

Closing Thoughts

Service dogs are an amazing way to overcome the challenges posed by disabilities. They can fulfill a variety of roles and functions, making them a versatile companion for those in need.

If you choose to make your dog a service animal, then you’ll need to provide them with the proper training. A few suggestions to improve this process include mastering the basic skills first, working slowly on new topics, focusing on discipline, and practicing in new environments.

A good service dog will change your life, especially if it’s a dog you already know and love. While your dog can become a service animal, don’t overlook the significance of good training. Putting in the effort when you’re training will pay off later.

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