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How to Train a Service Dog

Service dogs help disabled people
Photograph by Brazilian news agency Agência Brasil

Service dogs help disabled or chronically ill people who cannot perform specific tasks on their own. There are many reasons to owner-train your service dog. Maybe you're a qualified medical professional or dog trainer. Perhaps you're waiting for an organization to accept you. If so, you could consider beginning the training yourself. Before you get started, you should determine your dog's strengths, hone your dog's skills, and review information on testing and, if necessary, certification.

Determining Your Dog's Strengths

Pick out the quietly confident dog in a litter

Since you know you want your dog to be a service dog, assess the litter carefully. Choose the dog who fits with your needs, is eager to please, and is confident, but not overly confident. A dog with this personality type is the most suitable for service. Don't choose a dog that seems shy or anxious. It is essential to find a well socialized dog, as a dog struggling with anxiety issues will make a poor assistance dog.

Work on some basic training with your dog

In order to successfully train a service dog, you have to have a basic understanding of dog behavior and the reward-based training method. You should be able to teach basic commands, such as sit and stay, before embarking on more specialized commands. This will also show you how capable your dog is of learning quickly and how motivated your dog is to obey. Focus on rewarding your dog with praise and/or treats whenever they follow a command.

Research different kinds of service

While guide dogs are the most common service dogs, you can also train your dog to assist people with severe allergies, diabetes, limited mobility, neurological issues, etc. Figure out what kind of dog you'd be qualified to train. Consider hiring a trainer if you don't meet specific qualifications.

You should also consider which jobs your dog's breed and personality qualify them for. For example:

You should have experience training specific kinds of service dogs. Experience with allergy alert dogs does not qualify you to train a hearing dog.

Working as a medical professional or caregiver doesn't necessarily qualify you to train service dogs. For example, experience caring for diabetics does not qualify you to train a diabetic assistance dog.

If you want your dog to be a brace/mobility support dog, they must stand at least 23 inches (58 cm) tall and weigh at least 55 pounds (25 kg).

Research different ways of training the service dog. You can train your dog through a non-profit charity who trains specially selected dogs, organizations who undertake training your own dog, or working with a certified trainer in your own home.

Take care of routine new pet tasks

As with any new pet, service dogs require attention that you must take care of during their first few months. These include:

• Housebreaking. This is requirement for all service dogs. Housebreaking is the process of training a dog that lives in a house to urinate and defecate outdoors. Start housebreaking your dog when they're six weeks old.

• Spaying and neutering. Neutering makes males less aggressive and prevents females from going into heat on the job. Have your dog sterilized between the ages of eight weeks and six months.

• The annual physical. Schedule heart, eye, joint, and other breed-appropriate tests. Have your dog vaccinated and put on heartworm prevention medication. Don't consider your dog for service training if they have joint problems, bone density issues, or diabetes.

If you want your dog trained for mobility assistance, physical fitness and strength are especially important.

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