Friday, December 26, 2014

What Skills Do You Need to Train your Own Service Dog?

What Skills Do You Need to Train your Own Service Dog?

Dedication and Persistence-Training your own service dogs for public access is an ongoing task. There is a reason why it takes dedicated organizations between 12 mos and 2 years to fully train a service dog and why they are worth between $25,000 and $70,000.  Training occurs every day and you will need to travel away from home to teach your dog to ride different forms of public transit, different places etc. You will need to get out of bed on those days you don't feel well enough to do so to provide your dog with her basic needs as well as do training.

Ability to interact with your dog as an equal partner. There are many things you can do better than your dog and many things your dog can do better than you. Working together, you can do anything!

The ability to reject much of what TV dog trainers tell you. They are reality TV entertainers, not knowledgable trainers or behaviorists. Most have no training in teaching people or dogs. Most train based on out of date information and the way they think dogs and people should interact (which may be quite dysfunctional). Dogs and people are two different species and interact with each other as such. Dogs do not expect us to act like dogs and we do not expect them to behave like humans.

Willingness to learn to read dog body language and interpret it based on the context.

Organizational Skills-to create and follow detailed training plans

Ability to see the big picture of the final desired behaviors you want.

Ability to break these behaviors into their tiniest steps to help your dog succeed in learning them.

Creativity to find different approaches than what others use. Your individual disabilities may be a unique combination that adds challenge to the basic training.

Interest in experimenting with teaching dogs. Every day is a different day. You dog's starting point may vary depending on what happened in the last training session or yesterday.

Ability to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them, to change the training plan as you go.

Patience to answer questions from the public and pro-actively deal with people who interfere with your dog while she is doing her job.

Resourcefulness to find, borrow, make, get donated etc equipment for training. Find other people to help you train. It takes a village to train a solid service dog.

Willingness to approach business owners to ask for written permission to access their business we your dog is still in training. Many states and provinces do not give access to Service Dogs in Training. Only trained service dogs are given access based on the fact that they are considered a medical device for the user.

Research Skills
-to determine the local laws that apply to you. Does your dog need to be certified? Do service dogs in training have the same access rights as trained service dogs?
-to find Facebook and other internet support and training groups to help you.
- to find everything else you will need to help you and your dog succeed

Ability to accept instruction from others while learning how to teach your dog.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why Train Service Dogs with Positive Reinforcement?

The bottom line is because teaching with positive reinforcement works effectively and quickly and no physical force is needed. Several service training organizations have switched over to positive reinforcement and have found their graduation success rate has increased from 50-60% to 80-90%. Others have found the length of training time had declined (from as much as 18 months to 6 months depending on the skills required of the dog).

Positive Reinforcement can be done at a distance (via capturing behaviors and shaping). You don't have to be within arm's distance of your dog so it works well for people with mobility issues and those in wheelchairs.

Positive training creates a dog that thinks about what behavior is wanted and needed in a specific environment. It teaches dogs what TO do, rather than just teaching them what not to do. In a service dog, you do not want a doormat. You do want a thinking partner at your side. ]

Dogs work for what motivates them. They must eat. Food is motivating.  Using something that are willing to work for is a smart approach. Why not have them work for their meal? It makes their life more meaningful than just delivering the dish to them.

Note about dogs that don't enjoy eating: They have been trained to do that. Because food is a requirement for survival, it it unusual to find a dog that does not want food. They can be re-trained to like food. This may require you to re-examine your definition of dog food and how you use it.

Food isn't the only thing that can be used for positive training. Toys can be added after the basic behaviors have been taught. Things your dog really wants (such as going out, sniffing, chasing, greeting people, going for a walk etc) and games your dog enjoys can be used to positively reinforce desired behaviors as well.

Using the principles of positive reinforcement builds a fabulous trusting bond between you and the dog.    There is no fear involved.

Shifting to a positive-based training philosophy will change your life. Your daily stress level will lower when you are looking for the great things your dog is doing, rather than focussing on what he is doing wrong.  Learning that you create the social and emotional environment and choose the physical environment your dog lives and works in and the impacts it has on their dog (and others around them)  is eye opening for most people!

You can apply the same principle to your interactions with family and caregivers to create a more positive atmosphere in what is usually stressful. If you are living with a disability, why make it harder than it needs to be?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Two New Clicker Products to Check out for People with Disabilities

Here is a product that makes it easier to hold the clicker in your hand. Makes it hard to drop it and is soft and comfortable to hold, I understand.

Cosy Clicker

This is a ring clicker which is just in the process of being released. Will be handy to have the clicker on your finger. No worries about losing or dropping it.

Clicker Plus (Ring Clicker)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rigid Harnesses put more Stress on a Dog's body than Flexible Harnesses.

While the study was done specifically for seeing eye dogs, the finding applies to handlers with mobility/brace dogs.  This study which suggests rigid harnesses put more physical stress on a dog's body than flexible harnesses, especially on the lower right side of the chest.

(One would think which side gets more pressure would vary depending on which side is the handler's dominant side and which side of the handler the dog is on.) Our dog's physical health and safety is worth looking into.

Health Concerns about Spaying or Neutering Your Golden Retriever Service Dog

Since many people have Golden Retrievers as their service dog, I thought I would include this study. Interestingly, my previous Golden was spayed at 7 mos and was definitely longer-legged than her siblings who were not (conformation dogs). She lived to 12.5 years with no health issues until the very end she had an undiagnosed tumour in one of her nails. We had the toe removed. She died of a multiple bcd to back heart attacks a few months later.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

3AA Assessing Dogs for a Career as a Service Dog video

Here is a 1hr 19 min video on selection of a potential service dog candidate (puppy or adult, purebred or mixed breed, from breeder or rescue). Many things to consider.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Having Trouble with Your Retrieve?

Here is a great online course you can take from anywhere at a time that works for you.

"The Elusive Hand-Delivered Retrieve: Problem Solving"
Check out the description and syllabus for more details.

Gold students get private instruction for 6 weeks by submitting up to 3 videos a week. They can ask any questions they like. Silver students can ask any questions and bronze students read along what the Gold and Silvers are posting as well as the class instruction, photos and videos.

Cost $65 for the Bronze level class. $130 for Silver and $260 for Gold.

Fenzi Dog Sports Academy

Friday, February 14, 2014

FAQ Frequently Asked Questions


If you do not live in BC Canada, skip to 5. 

1. Does VIAD certify service dogs in BC, Canada? 
No, we help people select and train their own (owner-trained) assistance and service dogs online. The organizations who do certify dogs supply the dogs to the client. They do not train owner-trained service dogs. 

As of Jan 18, 2016, there is a 40 point assessment test that owners can take with their dog. There is a fee and you need to fill out several forms: a BC veterinarian, BC medical Doctor and a general application.

If you would like to apply for a dog that is provided by an organization, you will need to contact each one to see if they are currently accepting applications (some periodically don't as they are full) and to find out if they will certify the type of service dog you need. 

Each of them have their own process. 
  • what their application process is? 
  • are they currently accepting applications
  • what kinds of service dogs do they certify?
  • what their training process looks like?
  • how many hours do you and the dog get?
  • what the training and certification fee? 
  • how often you need to recertify with them? 
  • what do they supply etc?

2. What does the certification process for a service dog or assistance dog in BC, Canada look like and what documentation do you need?

Check this blog post:

3. Here is the assessment test to get certification of Owner-trained service dogs. While the certification is not mandatory under the Canadian law, if the police are called by a retailer, accommodation provider etc the law will be on your side when they arrive if you can show them the provincial certification. Otherwise, it is your obligation to prove that your dog has been trained as a service dog to mitigate your disability and that the team meets BC assessment standards. The retailer etc can also accuse you of bringing a fake service dog into public which carries a fine.

4. What Are the Standards for Service Dogs in BC?
For dogs that are trained through programs, they will continue to use their current testing approach. Owner-trained service dogs will need to pass this 40 point behaviour test. All 40 must be passed in order to earn certification. Page 2 and 3 provide a quick summary.

It is is very similar to the 12 point test given by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) accredited organizations, except the details have been teased out. This is great as it is less subjective by the tester.

5. How do I find a trainer who can help me train my own service dog or assistance dog in BC?
The foundation of a service dog is a healthy, well-adjusted, well-behaved dog who can perform needed tasks in public. Dogs that are fearful or aggressive in any situation will not be certified. Any good positive reinforcement-based trainer should be able to help you lay a good foundation to train your dog.

See blog post

Any of the trainers who are professional members of Vancouver Island Animal Trainers can help you start training your puppy or dog.

Also check out my youtube videos with all of the 'how to' for basic training, advanced and task training videos. The Assistance Dog task videos are at the bottom of the page.

Also, I have developed an online structured training program available for a low fee per class for those who prefer to work on their own or who live in remote areas. Support via web cam (Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts etc) is available.

6. Where can I find a list of tasks?

General Tasks

Psychiatric tasks

7. How to I find out what is on your blog?

Click on the Index 
Topics are usually grouped by number on the post.

Check the right side column for outside links.

or Search the blog. The Search function can be seen in the upper right column of the blog. 

If you have further questions: 
you can book a consult with Donna by phone or webcam (Skype or Facebook) for a reasonable hourly fee. Check out her website here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

3Bb Environmental Enrichment Ideas for SD breeders and Young Puppies Recently Removed from their Litter

Here is a great post on enrichment ideas for young puppies. It can be a challenge at some times of year and locations to get the puppies out and about or for some people training their own SD to get out so here is a great idea to start introducing different textures, sounds and movement at a young age.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Choosing a Harness for Pulling and Bracing

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you start training a dog to pull you in a harness or brace you while walking.

How old is your dog? Make sure she is at least 18 mos to 2 years (for the giant breeds) before you start training her to pull/brace for real. Joints can be permanently affected if training starts too young (before the growth plates have closed), the dog gets injured, or if the pulling/bracing is too strenuous or prolonged during this stage.

Is your dog physically large enough to do the required pulling? Take into consideration the weight of both the wheelchair and yourself. The height and stockiness of the dog may affect her pulling capacity. A shorter stocky wide dog may do better than a tall lanky finer-boned dog for the same breed. On the other hand, if you also need the dog for bracing, taller broader dogs do better as they have the height and width to be more stable for bracing.

Has your dog had her elbows and hips checked (OFA ratings or radiologist readings) to make sure she is structurally sound? Heart, lungs, spine, legs are all impacted as well. 

What will she be pulling and how much weight? 

How much of the time will she be pulling the chair? (occasionally or quite often will help you determine the right harness).  Harnesses that go around under the belly and around in front of the chest are designed only for very occasional use and not for heavy pulling such as up inlines.  
Harnesses that are have a band between the front legs (sometimes in the shape of a Y) and multiple contact points to the body to spread the pressure and are usually quite stiff to give her body support for longer term and heavy duty pulling. 
If the dog is required to pull much of the time, you may need to consider an electric chair as pulling can be very hard on the dog's body.

If you have a giant breed, are harnesses made large enough or will you have to get a custom job? That will add to your cost.

Before you buy, check out several options, try them on if possible and do your research on the requirements of the pulling/bracing job and impacts on the dog.