If you have a physical or mental disability, a service dog may improve your quality of life. These animals are trained to assist people with retrieving dropped objects, turning on light switches, guiding the blind and providing emotional support for those with severe anxiety and depression. Before you make this important decision, you may want to understand the basics of service dog training and how becoming involved can strengthen the bond between yourself and your canine helper.
- How Long Does Training Take?
You can handle your service dog’s training in a variety of ways. The avenue you choose may depend on several factors, including:
- Your available budget
- The availability of local dog trainers
- The age of the dog
Deciding on these factors before you purchase your service dog may also affect how long it takes to train the animal. For example, if you want to have your dog trained from puppyhood, it can take up to several years before it is fully ready to enter public space with you. If you want to train a fully-grown adopted dog, it may take a bit less time unless the animal has some bad habits you need to address first such as chewing or destroying household items, excessive or aggressive barking or urinating indoors.
- Which Breeds Are Useful?
Almost any dog breed can be a service dog, especially those that work as emotional support animals. If you have a physical disability, larger dogs such as golden retrievers, labradors, standard poodles, and German Shepherds. If you plan to work with a trainer, you can ask him or her about where to find a reputable breeder.
If you plan to try service dog training on your own, consider a breed that is generally more biddable. Some breeds are known for their stubbornness and may be more difficult to train, such as beagles, rottweilers, and some husky and hound breeds. Keep in mind that no matter which breed you chose, patience is often key to successful animal training.
- What Are Training Basics?
Before you can train your dog to assist you with challenging tasks, it will need to understand a few basic commands that will provide it with the proper foundation for becoming a service animal. These commands are mostly tied in with positive interaction with people and other animals, something the dog needs to learn before it can venture out into public areas with you.
If you start off with a puppy, socializing it by allowing it to meet as many people and animals as possible can prevent aggression later on. A reputable, knowledgeable breeder can assist you in socializing your puppy before it is old enough to travel home with you, at about 8-10 weeks of age. From that point, you can begin basic leash training and commands such as sit, stay, no, lie down and leave it.
- Will the Trainer Involve Me?
Because service dogs are usually tailor-trained to the needs of their individual owners, your trainer will likely involve you in much of the process so the animal can learn about your needs. Over time, this can help to form the bond that is always necessary for humans and animals to work together.
Companies that supply service dogs usually involve the disabled person and his or her family in the training process from the beginning. This can be especially important for dogs that are trained to sense seizures or other sudden medical issues. If an organization is responsible for training your dog, you may receive a visitation and training schedule so you can plan visits and ensure the dog becomes comfortable with you.
- How Do I Choose a Candidate?
As you begin your search for a service dog, you may want to keep in mind that some may not be suitable for your individual needs and that others may have issues that prevent them from accepting the training needed. For example, if a dog is naturally nervous or shy, it may not be comfortable being out in public with you all the time. Dogs that are fear biters or that show other signs of aggression are also usually not suitable for service dog work.
Working with a professional service dog trainer can help you understand which possible animals suit your medical situation and possibly avoid dogs that may not make a good match with you. Consider factors such as size, strength and intelligence as well as temperament as you search for your service dog.
- Is an Emotional Support Dog a Service Dog?
While emotional support dogs help their owners feel more comfortable in public places, they are usually not trained to perform the types of tasks that service dogs do and are therefore usually not considered working animals. Recent changes to airline travel and dogs may help you understand the difference.
Service dogs provide assistance, loyalty and reassurance to their owners, but only when properly trained. Register your animal today and provide it with the type of training that can help both human and dog form a lifelong bond.