Friday, January 2, 2009

3. What Makes a Good Service Dog?

In Home Tasks
If you are considering in-home work only, almost any healthy dog of suitable size for the task can be taught some simple tasks. Your dog can even be 'stubborn', fearful or even what you consider to be dumb if you use our methods! Once you both learn how to learn and work together, you can progress to more complex tasks. All it takes is a little time everyday and some understanding of how dogs learn.
Public TasksIf you want your dog to also accompany you in public to mitigate your disabilities, (certified or not) your dog needs to have a sound temperament, be in good physical shape, and be an appropriate size for the tasks you are requesting. The dog MUST have been well-socialized to people, other dogs, animals and all environments you plan to go as a working dog. Basically, having solid behavior in public is the foundation of any dog used as a service dog for public access. The Canine Good Neighbor test run by the CKC is a good way to determine if your dog might have the basic training needed to start working in public (see links and an upcoming blog).

It also depends on what tasks you want your dog to do.
A hearing dog, for example, needs to be alert to sounds and active enough that he is willing to jump up from a sound sleep to let you know someone is knocking on your door or that your morning alarm is sounding. On the other hand, a mobility dog does better if they have a calm enough temperament that they can lay under your chair until you ask him/her to help you. A corgi would not be suitable to help you brace yourself as you stand because it would put too much strain on his back, and it would be hard for a large mastiff to retrieve small dropped objects without mouthing them.
It’s really about having a good match between the dog, person, situation, and tasks required.

Other Characteristics
To see if your dog might have potential for public access or if you are considering selecting a dog for service work, choose for temperament, health, size, exercise and grooming requirements, not by breed (mixed breeds can do very well). Even within a particular breed, individual temperament (avoid pups with fearful or aggressive parents), health and exercise needs vary. To get a good idea of the temperament and other behavioral indicators of what a particular dog, try temperament testing and take a knowledgeable dog person who understands what is needed for your particular disability. Here is a link for a
puppy temperament testing. Also check for online temperament tests for adult dogs.
A great book that includes temperament testing for shelter dogs is "Lend Me an Ear: The Temperament, Selection and Training of the Hearing Ear Dog".
Remember that the tests are only an indicator and only time and training will decide if that dog is suitable for the job you need him or her to do so choose carefully. Only you have the final say in which dog you bring home.

More than 50% of assistance dogs trained by organizations are removed from the program before graduating. Fearful dogs are among the first to be declined.

See all other posts numbered 3 for more information on selecting a good candidate.