Sunday, December 27, 2015

How to Choose a Puppy Class for Your Service Dog Candidate

How to Choose a Puppy Class for Your Service Dog Candidate

Starting your puppy out right can make a high difference in both his progress and the final outcome. Every potential service dog needs a solid basis for dog and human socialization and environmental enrichment. The 8-16 week when they first come home covers two socialization sensitive periods and is a critical time to start developing social skills with other dogs and people. Use it wisely.

Look around at your local classes. Visit a class or two by a couple of different trainers before you join them. Ask if they have had other SD candidates in class and then ask for their reference info so you can talk to them.

Choosing a puppy class to take your service dog pup to can be made easy if you have some criterion in mind. Use the list below to see if the class will meet most of your needs for your service dog candidate. It is unlikely that any one trainer will met all the criterion, but the list will help you make your best choice. Feel free to sign up for more than one if the trainer only offers one a week or is missing any key criterion that another class may offer. Above all, be prepared to be your puppy's advocate and be careful to keep all experiences positive. Ask questions about what is the basis of a specific behaviour if it is not obvious to you or if you have concerns. You have the right to obtain (keep your puppy safe) during parts of training you don't agree with. Get him to do other known behaviours during those periods to keep him busy and use the time effectively.

The bottom line is that you are looking for a class that focusses on using the other puppies not only for socialization to continue dog language and bite inhibition skills, but as a distraction that he can be called away from and do other behaviours in their presence. A class that lets the puppies play for long periods, without frequent call aways and then ends only teaches the puppies to be more focussed on the other puppies.

Feel free to print off this page as a handout to give to your trainer to help her understand your needs better. All puppies will benefit, not just service dog candidates.

                                                                                               
Name of trainer: _________________________  website: _______________________________

Address: Location: ________________________________  city: _________________________

Contact info: phone:_________________________  email:_______________________________

How to Choose a Puppy Class for Your Service Dog Candidate

Look for a Class Where:

___1. The trainers focus on simple ways of getting behaviours such as luring with food or capturing with a marker sound to start with, then shaping with slightly older puppies. Force should not be used (pushing a puppy into a sit or down or pulling on the leash).

___2. The puppies are paired off for short spurts of play, then rotate partners. This allows the pups to learn to interact with other puppies of different sizes, fur length and shape and energy levels.
1:1 allows the humans to gently intervene before things get out of hand.  In small rooms, baby gates or Xpen dividers are helpful to keep the pairs apart. Trios can be allowed if each puppy has been successful interactions with the other two singly first.

___3. The humans are on their feet and interacting with their pups (not sitting on the sidelines). Premack Principle should be used during interactions. This means that the puppies learn some simple behaviours like eye contact, sit or nose target to a hand, then allowed to play with a partner for a few minutes, then are called away and asked to do a simple behaviour, given a reward then sent back to play with their buddy. This teaches them good behaviour patterns such as coming away from another dog and focussing on her handler despite the distraction of other dogs. This must happen right from the start.

___4. The trainers teach you about dog body language and what the most common behaviours mean. How do you know when the puppy is not feeling comfortable and when you need to redirect their attention or intervene.

___5. Class is short (45 min or so). Longer sessions are not desirable. In fact, shorter is better as there is better chance of positive experiences for the puppy. Young puppies get tired quickly.

___6. Handlers start learning without the puppies. The human handlers need to learn the theory and practice before applying it on their dog. They need a chance to focus without the distraction of the puppy. This can occur in a human-only session before class starts, and also at the beginning of each class. 10-15 minutes is enough to teach you what you will be doing in class as well as set up the handling expectations for each class and where your starting spot will be. Then you go get your puppy. A family member or friend can be waiting in the car or outside with your pup.

___7. The trainers provide a variety of different environmental enrichment opportunities each session. This could be different flooring, things to crawl over, under and around, hanging things, sounds playing in the background, things commonly seen in life (crutches, canes, children, ladders, wheelchairs or strollers etc)

___8. Children are welcome in class but are supervised by a teen or adult whose sole job is to work with the child on interacting with the puppies. A great opportunity, but needs to be structured.

___9. The puppies are all in a narrow developmental range 8-16 weeks, and are highly supervised. Ideally, at first small puppies should be matched by size, at least until they gain confidence and care with puppies of a different size and developmental stages.

___10. Class has a maximum of 6 puppies of different breeds, shapes, colours and sizes. 4 is ideal. Even if their is a higher trainer to pup ratio, too many puppies is too many puppies to keep track of and the sheer chaos of more than 3 pairs is hard for the puppy and handler to focus in.

___11. Puppies are off leash for the class. This requires a room of decent size so each handler puppy pair has enough room to train.

___12. That puppies are allowed to just sit and watch if that is where they are at. Let them decide when they are ready to interact. They should not be forced to interact. Give them time to assess the situation and that choice helps them to gain confidence.

___13. More frequent sessions are ideal. A trainer who offers drop in classes (with limited group size and consistent handling expectations) many times a week is great. The more frequent the brief exposure to different puppies, rooms and environmental enrichment the better.

___14. The trainer follows a regular room cleaning protocol to prevent the spread of disease. Since puppies may start classes at 8.5 weeks, all of them should have their first set of inoculations.

From: Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs Blog  www.viassistancedogs.blogspot.com 2015

Here's a video that shows a well-run small class of 3 pups.

https://www.facebook.com/aniedireland/videos/1078921092162020/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!

"I Can't Use Food for Training my Dog!"
I hear this comment occasionally when I get new service dog clients. For the vast majority, we are able to figure out why the dog does not want to work for the food they are being offered. Below are some of the most common reasons. 

Why Do We Want to be Able to Use Food?
Having a dog that enjoys working for food helps to speed the learning process as well as offer an alternative to using toys or interaction (like massage, play etc). In the training phase, a dog needs to know she is doing well and food reinforcements are a good way to communicate that quickly and eaisly. Food is something that has intrinsic value to a dog unless he has learned to not enjoy it. Eating is a basic survival need.
In the early stages of training, reinforcement rates need to be high to keep a dog engaged in learning (about 3 to 4 seconds per behavior repetition-Yes you read that correctly! One reinforcer every 3 to 4 seconds!) Giving your dog a toy to play with may slow the repetitions to 1 per 20 seconds or much more. Food is the fastest reinforcer there is. A dog can eat a piece of food in less than 2 seconds and be doing the next repetition soon after. This helps her to do more repetitions in a shorter period of time so she can learn the behavior more quickly than using other types of reinforcement.  It also helps to give you another tool to combine when dealing with high level distractions. Using food, toys and interaction together is a jackpot reinforcement gives you an edge for the highest level distractions!
Not to worry about using food forever, though. Once the dog has grasp of the basic behaviors, toys, play, massage and even other learned behaviors can become reinforcers for behaviors and service dog tasks. Eventually, once the dog fully understands the behavior and can generalize the to many public locations,  the use of the food can be faded except for special occasions. Over time, the value of working with you will build and the relationship and communication between you and your service dog will grow. At that point, you can then reliably use your relationship to reinforce trained behaviors for more dogs. 

There are several common reasons why a dog might not work for food: 
Handler's Philosophy
Probably the most common reason food may not work for a dog is the handler's own philosophy on what is appropriate to use as a reward. Some people believe that a dog should not be paid using food. They believe that the relationship they have with their dog is enough. That verbal praise combined with an ear scritch is motivation enough. 
While that may work for a few dogs, unfortunately, dogs that offer undying devotion for your love without you having to earn it are few and far between. For the vast majority of dogs, until you have taken the time to build a positive working relationship with her, you'll need to use other things in addition to your relationship to motivate her. 
Dogs, like humans, initially do what gets them what they want. Then over time as they learn to master behaviors and skills, they begin to enjoy the activity and interaction itself. In the meantime, food is an easy choice for most service handlers because the vast majority of dogs enjoy eating. Let's not overlook the fact that they need food to survive. 
Some handlers unconsciously undermine their success with food. They don't use the food correctly, or they skimp on the amount. In the early stages of training, it must come fast and be high enough value that the dogs deems it worthy to work for. There is a skill to using food for training. It pays to take time to learn it so you and your dog can succeed together.

Some people think they have to carry food around with them for the rest of the dog's life. Not so. If food is used correctly, it is used to train a behavior, then other types of reinforcers are substituted. Anything from toys and play with the handler to real life reinforcers are introduced to maintain the behavior. They might be as simple as getting to go through a door, going for a car ride, greeting someone and some of the trained behaviors can become fun or rewarding for the dog to do. Of course every dog, even well-trained ones, appreciate the occasional food reinforcer.
Unfortunately, there are some in society who say "Training with food is cheating." It becomes a voice that triggers doubts in your success. Whether that voice is from another person, or comes from within, if you want to change it, you are the only one who can.
Repeat after me: "Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"
"Training with food is a useful tool that builds success!"

Free Feeding Practice
One commonly overlooked practice that people do to lower a dog's value of food is to free feed. Free feeding involves placing a full food dish on the ground and letting the dog eat what she wants when she wants how often she wants. While this is convenient for the handler, it removes the dog's motivation to eat and ultimately earn it.  That's why the dish sits there full for most of the day. The food becomes meaningless to the dog and the dog is eating and doing nothing in exchange for it. The food is available at all times. 
A tip to help with food motivation as well as potty issues in a dog of any age is to put the food bowl down twice a day. If the dog doesn't east after 10 minutes, pick it up and try again at the second feeding of the day. By placing it down just twice a day, it builds scarcity for the dog so he will eat when it becomes available. Suddenly the food has more value. Do this for at least a week before you try the next step below. 
Next, measure out the dog's total daily ration of food. Remove the amount you need for training, and divide the remainder into two. So, if you plan to do 50 repetitions over 2 training sessions, take out 50 kibble and set those aside in a treat pouch.  Then twice a day, place the rest of the food into food puzzles and let your dog work for it. Getting dogs to work for their food builds value for it too. It also helps by giving the dog a job to do and burning off mental energy so you don't have to spend hours physical exercising her. Since most dogs enjoy having a job, this gives eating some meaning.

Using Food That is Too Low Value
Often people infer that their dog will not work for food because they use food that is too low of value for the distraction level of the environment they are training in or the level of difficulty or the length of time they are asking from their dog. Using hard or dried commercially made treats away from home usually isn't enough. If the task is too hard or the distraction level is too high, most dogs will  disengage. Use real meats like beef (cooked heart is very high value for most dogs, fresh or canned  tripe too (stinky but high in demand), pork, and lamb. Chicken and turkey work well but do fall apart in bits.
Adding sardine juice or beef gravy stock to other foods increase the value. Squares of hard cheese, cooked omelette squares are enjoyed by most dogs. Dogs with lactose intolerance is actually not as common as it is made out to be and fermented milk products like cheese and yogurt are more easily tolerated. Mashed potatoes or yam, yogurt, thick pea soup, and meaty baby food can all be put into a food tube for easy lickable delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes). Even just adding garlic powder or mixing other smelly foods into a bag of kibble can increase their value enough to motivate a dog to work for it.

Dog will Only Eat "Human Food"
I am talking about dogs who won't eat their kibble but gobble it down if you add leftovers from your meals. Part of this involves your philosophy of not feeding dogs "people food". Let's look at this a little closer. The better "dog foods" are made from food that is leftover from processing human food. The soft portions of a chicken carcasses are removed from the bone and boiled. The fat is melted down. Leftover grain from processing cereal and other human foods is cooked and vitamins, coloring and preservatives are added back in to the mix. The food is then put into a machine, pushed out a hole and cut to make the kibble shape. Then it is cooked and dried. In reality dog food is IS refined people food,  but is it not as fresh or palatable and so often has lower value to the dog.
If your dog is refusing to eat it, she may be bored with the same food day in and out. Giving her a variety of food not only flavors but texture, moisture levels and shapes may help. Dogs developed as scavengers over the last 14,000+ years, eating whatever refuse they could find around human settlement. That involved variety. Like in human diets, it is the variety that gives us the breadth of nutrients we need to thrive. Check out other feeding options for your dog. There is commercial kibble, canned food, moist food, food rolls, raw food, cooked food and there is also the homemade option. All of these may be higher value to your dog an she will be willing to work for them. Do your research no matter what choice you make to ensure your dog is getting what she needs to maintain physical and mental fitness to work as your service dog. Note that not all veterinarians support all kinds of food.
If the refusal to work for kibble is new, check the food out for the best before date and take a sniff of the bag and look at a handful of kibble. Kibble can go moldy in a moist environment and dogs detect pathogens that make them sick. This causes them to refuse to eat. Trust your dog and return it to the retailer with the receipt. If that's not the issue, a vet check is in order. 

Allergies
Dogs who have food allergies may not enjoy eating since their intestinal tract is upset. They have connected eating to feeling bad and may refuse to eat. In addition, handlers may find it hard to find food of high enough value for training due to the severe limitations of what the dog can eat. If this is the case, the handler must be creative. Perhaps moistening a dry food with water or real meat juices or other real flavoring that the dog is not allergic to. Or if the dog is eating only soft food, it can be placed in a food tube for delivery (try a camping store and look for either squeezable condiment containers, or re-useable toothpaste tubes.)  Try dehydrating soft food to make a hard treat that can be tossed.

Inadvertent Pressure While Eating
This is one that a handler may not be aware they are doing. It can come in several forms. 
1. They are in a hurry to do something and after they put the food down, they put social pressure on the dog to eat. "Hurry up." And then get angry, drop the tone of their voice to tell the dog to hurry. Or, similarly, if the dog drops food on the ground, he is verbally admonished for it. Eating becomes a punished behavior. 
2.  During training, the handler gives small inadvertent punishers as they are delivering the food so the dog quits eating. The dog does what was asked, then is either too slow, or does something that the handler sees as undesirable (like jumping up and grabbing an object during training the retrieve) and then gives a verbal reprimand or pushes the dog out of their space. For sensitive dogs, the handler may not even be aware of the level of impact on the dog. In this case, the dog is connecting the punisher to the trained behavior, or even eating of the food, not her behavior at the end of the training session. The result is a dog that looks like she doesn't want to work for food or can't focus on any training activity very long.

A good test to see if your dog is afraid to eat with you nearby is to have a neutral person (ideally a good positive reinforcement trainer) try training the dog with food. The dog is usually more than happy to train with the neutral person as there is no history of positive punishment. They may also appear less subdued (happier) than with their usual handler. 

Building Value for Toys until Dog is Toy Obsessed
Toys and games are a great thing to have as part of your training reinforcement strategy. Using toys for training can inject enthusiasm, speed and joy into a less motivated dog.  But, some dogs will reject food when in the presence of toys while others can't think when they are within reach. 
Ideally, you want to build value for both so you have many options to choose from when training different behaviors. Some behaviors lend themselves to toys better than food and vice versa. Food can be used to calm an over-aroused dog in training.  Toys can put a dog with low impulse control into over-arousal (excitement level where they lose control).
After training is complete and the behaviors have been proofed, toys, like the food, need to faded.  They can be used when your dog is not working and during breaks in work for your service dog.

Stress
If you find that your service dog in training suddenly stops eating in some locations but will happily focus and work and eat in others, consider her stress level as a cause. Stress can be good or bad (distress or eustress). Arousal level may also contribute to not eating.

At a biological level, if a dog who can eat normally while training away from home, suddenly stops eating, this can be an indication of severe stress. In order to prepare for flight or fight, the stomach shuts down and the blood flows to muscles for running away or fighting. A dog that can't eat is a stressed dog.

Stop training and take the dog out of that environment or, at the very least, give her time to adjust before asking her to do anything. After a few minutes in a safe environment, she should want to eat again. If she can't, you will want to figure out if it is caused by fear or arousal and the impact this is going to have on her as a  service dog. If she cannot function, she will be of no help to you. There are options available (such as desensitization and counter conditioning processes) but consult a profession positive reinforcement trainer for help in creating and carrying out a plan to help your dog overcome the fear or stress.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

New British Columbia Service Dog Laws begin Jan 18 2016

A press release summarizes the changes made to service dog laws in British Columbia.
https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2015JAG0296-002012

Here is a list of the BC requirements to pass as a certified Service dog in BC.
There are 40 very specific criterion that are done on a pass/fail basis.
All 40 must be passed in order to earn certification.
Page 2 and 3 provide a quick summary.
http://www.pssg.gov.bc.ca/guideanimal/pdf/BC-Guide-Dog-Service-Dog-Assessment.pdf

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Never Have a Night Crying Puppy Again!

As a person training your own service dogs, the last thing you need a is a puppy that cries all night. It stresses you out and it stressed the pup out. And it's not a great start on bonding. So…read this article!
I have slept with all my puppies, then phase them out by transitioning them to a crate. Crates are handy for travelling. A tip for small breeds is to roll up a towel or fleece and make a ring. That will prevent you from laying on your pup while you sleep.
The bond that is created when you sleep with your pup is very strong and that is needed for service dogs. A bonus is that you wake up when the pup starts moving around and this makes night-time house training so easy.

Thanks to Jill Breitner of www.dogdecoder.com for the article.
http://www.dogdecoder.com/theres-puppy-pile-cute/

Monday, July 6, 2015

Help with Teaching Loose Leash Walking!

Loose leash level 2 and 3 start today! (Level 1 is available for purchase as it is a prerequisite)

Does your SD have trouble keeping a loose leash among distractions? Learn several techniques to teach the dog to ignore such distractions. The process is broken down not doable chunks so you can see ongoing success that keeps on building.

This is especially helpful if you are training a dog for mobility or balance issues.

Once you have access to class, you have access forever.
Register until Sat.  July 11, 2015
http://dhill1.wix.com/donnasdogs#!service-dog-training/cr8z

Friday, May 29, 2015

BC Government Answers to Questions about Service and Assistance Dogs

A new document has been posted on the Ministry of Justice website. The new legislation has passed three readings but has not yet become law. It is expected that later in 2015, it will.

The current regulations are still posted at the top of the page. Look at the second section with the blue heading for the NEW information.

BC Ministry of Justice webpage

There is some good news for owner-trained service dogs!

Good News!

Service and Assistance dogs are not required to be certified in BC but it is still recommended. This applies to both residents and visitors.

It appears like those individuals/organizations who are authorized to recommend the certification to the government will not have to be affiliated with ADI or IGDF. Designated third parties (who can test owner-trained and recommend certification of owner-trained and out-of-province dogs) will be revealed by the government at a later date.

There is a higher penalty for fakers (people who claim their dog is a service dog but is really a pet, therapy or emotional support dog.) Police officers will be authorized to issue fines to publically-accessible location who deny access if the service dog team has a valid BC ID card.

More effort will be made in educating retail, housing and transportation providers about the laws.

Bad News: 

If you visit a public place with an uncertified dog, there may be delays in allowing you access with your service dog as they have a right to question you as ask for proof that your dog is a trained service dog.

In the case of access difficulty for people with service dogs, if it goes to court, only those with certified dogs will be supported by BC laws and it will be up to owners of non-certified service and assistance dogs to prove that their dog meets the standards. However, their lack of access issue would still be valid under the Canadian Human Right Code.

Monday, May 25, 2015

How Do You Respond?

You are out with your service dog and a child comes running over to pet your dog while she is working. You...
You are standing in a cash line and behind you is a chatty woman who wants to know all about your disabilities...
A retailer asks you to remove your assistance dog. You...

These and other situations can be hard to deal with, especially if you are having a bad day (or are shy or just don't like to interact with people generally due to your disability). Despite this, each and every person with an assistance is an ambassador for people with assistance dogs and set the tone for how people, staff of retailers etc deal with people with SD generally.

What similar situations have you found yourself in and what positive, proactive (not reactive) methods have you used to deal with the situation.  I am looking for some concrete positive examples of what to do, what to say, what you give to people etc. in such situations.

If you have practiced some of these responses before you are faced with them, they will come more easily when you are. It is no different than the extensive training done with service dogs to prepare them for the high level of distractions they may encounter in their job.

Please write a brief scenario in the comments below and specific details of how you dealt with it (what you said or did) and the outcome. I will edit them and add them to the post, if they are appropriate to share.

Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 2

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 2

It is important to try to identify the parts of the training that you aren't enjoying.
What exactly is slowing you down, tiring you out or turning you off?

Once you have done that, you can tackle each part, change what you need to make it work for you and move beyond each. Talk to others to get ideas. Ask on Facebook or dog trainers. Even ask a friend. We all go through it and have different ways to cope that you can try.

What I don't like:
How I can change it:











Here are some other ideas to stay motivated:

1. Take regular days off. Just like us and other work, we need to take 2 days off each week to give ourselves time down to recharge. Training every day takes the fun out of it. Training doesn't have to be done every day and in fact, giving our dogs time off between lets them think about a behavior and progress faster. They and we are eager to get back to training. Burn out is huge among owner-trained service dogs.

2. Find a friend to train with once a week. Working together with someone else helps keeps you committed to scheduled days at different locations.

3. Vary the behaviors you train. Come back a month later and retrain from the beginning but progress further than before.

4. Randomly draw from a list of behaviors you need to train and train that behavior for several sessions. Draw a new one and train that. Work your way through all of those and repeat until you get to your progress goal for each behavior. When you finish one, add another in to take it's place. The somewhat unpredictable nature of the process keeps you interested.

5. Teach someone else (whether by explaining or writing it down or making a video) how to train a behavior you aren't enjoying or are having a challenge with. This will help you think form another's perspective and you may even come up with a solution or a new way to teach it.

6. Train one aspect of the behavior that you enjoy then leave it for a bit. Come back to it later.

7. Break behaviors or tasks into smaller steps. Identify your specific challenges and break those down into 4 steps, the again another 2 each.

8. Research other ways to teach a behavior or generalize or proof it. Do those as they may be more fun! 

9. Make a training plan and tick off or fill in the steps you have accomplished. This gives you a quick visual reinforcer that you are making progress!

10. Add what you are training to your computer calendar for the next week or month. Then you get reminders the day before and you can mull it over in your mind. This allows you to adjust it as you go along. 

11. Do a simple version of the task. Come back at later date and teach more complex version.

12. Use a 'snakes and ladders' approach on ourselves. Train to your goal for a few days, then do a shorter training day. Go back to a longer day. This way you get mini breaks but still move towards your goals.

13. Work on concepts rather than behaviors. It's a bigger picture approach. Once your dog understands the concept, she can learn  new applications of it much faster.
For example: teaching distance as a concept
If you teach the distance aspect of several different behaviors all at once, the dog will understand it faster.  Each of these behaviors have a distance element: nose target, paw, sit, down, crate, mat, jump, retrieve. If you train each behavior to 10 feet, your dog will solidly be able to do a behavior at that distance. Train each one to 15 feet. etc.

14. For public access training, start with what is doable for you.
Maybe one day a week is fine. Even when you are doing mostly public access training, do only a maximum of 3 days each week. Adding transportation to and from the pubic site adds stress. You need to account for that. You will be more relaxed and so will your dog if you give yourself time to recharge between by staying closer to home. Plan the further location like field trips. Pack a lunch.

15. For public access training, invite a friend to be a helper. They can run interference from people and dogs, taking the focus off you so you can focus on training.

16. Collect and store all equipment as close as possible to where you train at home or stored in a trunk when you do public access training. Have to carry and set up equipment every time can be very demotivating. You may need to be creative and store some equipment in unusual places. Get permission and focus on training those behaviors in a short period, then remove the equipment and go on to other behaviors.

17. Prepare treats in bulk once a week. Bake, cut up and freeze them into training session sized portion. Sandwich bags work well. If treat preparation gets you down, splurge and purchase good quality pre-cut treats once in awhile. Search out easy to make recipes. Or easy to make treats. My dogs works for cut up vegetables like cooked carrots and yam, raw cucumbers and zuchini, frozen peas. Partly thawed slow-cooked kidney beans. They also enjoy Cheerios, squares of beef fat (instead of cheese), yogurt, thick pea soup and gravy placed in tubes.


What other things do you do to keep yourself motivated to train?  Share them in the comments section.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

How to Stay Motivated while Training Your Service Dog Part 1

Many people embark on a dream to train their own service dog. Along the way they get bogged down, tired, life happens or their medical issues flare up and all contribute to them taking a longer than planned break from training.

What can you do to stay motivated?

Reinforce and Reward Yourself!
Before you scoff at this idea...
When you go to work, you get paid, right? Why shouldn't you get paid to train your dog as well? If your boss offered you the opportunity to do your job without getting paid, you would do it right? Wrong! So why are you asking yourself to do another job without payment? Payment comes in many forms. We'll get into external motivation versus internal motivation in a minute, so bear with me.

The first thing we need to address is that we humans need both reinforcement and rewards to start and keep up behaviors just like our dogs do. Training is one such behavior that can be reinforced and rewarded. Explained simply, reinforcers occur immediately after a specific behavior has occurred. They increase the possibility of the behavior happening again. Rewards occur after a series of behaviors have been completed and reward the whole process, rather than one specific act. A hug given immediately after someone is assertive on behalf of someone else, is a reinforcer. A $200 bonus received at Christmas time is a reward.

What is Reinforcing and Rewarding to You?
Just like we would for our dog, we need to make a list of what foods, things, activities, people and events are reinforcing to you. Make sure to include some from each group. Include some of small value, medium value and high value. The low and medium items are used as reinforcers. The high value ones will be reserved as rewards for bigger accomplishments. Prioritize them least to greatest value to you in their separate groups.

Next, make an overall training plan for your dog. Start with today's date and end with your goal date in the future when your dog will be ready to help you as a service dog. If your area needs the dog to be certified, that would be your end date. If you want to use the public access test as your end date, use that!  Click here to see a more detailed post on creating a training plan.

Go ahead and reinforce your self for taking the first step of making the plan! Have a special coffee, eat a piece of chocolate. There, doesn't that feel better? Reinforcement is delivered as soon as the desired behavior is done. Finish writing down the first step of your plan, eat your chocolate.

Take the Next Step
Identify the foundation skills your dog needs to be able to do both at home then in public no matter the distraction? List those.

Here's a few:

behavior
at home
in public
sit


down


recall


leave it


nose target


loose leash walking


settle/relax


be handled by a stranger


ignore other dogs






Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks does your dog need to do to mitigate your disability? List those.

task
at home
in public
alert you to a doorbell ringing


pick up a dropped item



do deep pressure therapy to you






Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

What tasks or behaviors are not needed but you think might be fun to train? List those.

task or behavior
at home
in public
pivoting from in front of you


backing up






Now assign a variety of rewards in each column.

There's a good start on a reward plan for yourself!

To incorporate reinforcement into the plan, break down each of those behaviors into their smaller training steps and choose reinforcers for each one. Even if your dog isn't as successful as you like, reinforce yourself for doing the training that day! Be kind to yourself (use a higher rate of reinforcement on yourself when you start losing motivation for a specific behavior) and motivation will come!

Behavior: settle/relax
relaxes on dog bed or mat voluntarily

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

relaxes on bed voluntarily in new location

settles on mat until released by cue

relaxes on mat on cue

settles on mat on cue near chair in new room

settles on mat near chair in yard




Another way you can apply Premack principle is to do a training session of one behavior you enjoy less to train, and alternate that with a behavior you enjoy training. It works! 

What other creative ways can use use Premack Principle on yourself?

External Motivation vs Internal Motivation

Back to this. The difference between these two is interesting. They have a relationship. External reinforcers and rewards can be things, objects, games, activities, travel, interaction with people, another person's approval etc. Internal motivators are feelings that you get from inside yourself when a step, task, job is completed or your dog figures something out on his own.

When you start out using external motivators, then apply them to yourself intermittently (ask for more of the same behavior to earn a reinforcement (called two-fers and three-fers in dog training) , the activity that you are being reinforced for becomes reinforcing with application of the external reinforcers. When you start to see a change in your dog's behaviors in specific situations, you feel good about it. Those feelings, caused by your dog's change of behavior, lead you to be more motivated to train your dog as you want to see more behavior change and feel better about the fact that "Yes! you CAN do this! "

This process is explained by the application of the Premack Principle that is the most powerful tool in a trainer's toolbox. Premack Principle says that if you pair a lower likelihood behavior with a higher likelihood behavior, over time the lower level behavior will increase in value to the learner. Sometimes becoming equal in value to the higher value behavior.  So pairing a lower likelihood activity (training in public) with a higher value activity (going out for coffee with a friend afterward), you increase your enjoyment of training.


Ultimately, the process of doing the activity becomes internally reinforcing. Internal reinforcement is when we do specific activities for the satisfaction or pleasure of doing them. No external rewards are necessary to do them. Over time, little things become internal reinforcers. The fast that your dog CAN do a specific behavior that he was having trouble figuring out. That your dog CAN do the same behavior in a pubic place! Voluntary eye contact from your dog. that makes you feel good! The feeling of pride when your dog helps you for the first time in public as a service dog in training learning public access. Many, many such things will become reinforcers to keep you motivated if you start incorporating external reinforcers into your training plan. 

For me, in writing these posts, I am reinforced by the feeling of satisfaction that I get when I hit the "Post" button on the blog. It is one step in being able to help others. I then Premack myself by having lunch of something I enjoy eating.  I get rewarded when someone lets me know that the post was helpful to them!

Watch for Part 2 for more ways to keep yourself motivated to train your service dog.