What Does it Take to Train Your Own Service Dog?
Training your own service dog or assistance dog is a challenge for anyone, never mind a person with disabilities. You need to know what you are getting into before you commit to the process.
Below is some basic information about service dogs to consider before you decide.
Requirements for a dog to be recognized as a Service Dog
by the International Association for Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP):
Dog must have a MINIMUM of 120 hours over a 6 month period or more (average dogs take 18 months or 540 hours)
AT LEAST 30 of those hours must be in public places
AT LEAST 30 of those hours must be in public places
The Assistance Dog International (ADI) recommends a minimum of 3 tasks specially trained to mitigate disabilities.
The average working life of a service dog is 5 to 7 years.
CHARACTERISTICS of a Successful Service Dog Trainer
Here are some characteristics of a service dog trainer. Do you have enough of these to be able to succeed? Are you willing and able to develop some or find human helpers who can help you with them while you train your service dog?
- Flexible in your date to complete service dog training. If you have a disease that periodically debilitates you, will need to allow yourself to time to recover. That means your dog gets a break and your goals will be set back.
- Ability to follow printed directions and problem solve as you follow them.
- Good record keeping habits. Documentation of training both general, public access and task specific is required for service dogs.
- Dedicated to the task with a strong work ethic, motivated and patience. Training a service dog doesn’t happen overnight. There can be setbacks and major hurdles to cross with the dog.
- Ability to work to your own with little supervision. Because of the nature of the internet, videotaping etc, you will not have a supervisor peering over your shoulder or pushing you. You will need to schedule regular training sessions with your dog and post videos and questions at least 3 times a week. You will need to set goals and follow them. You will need to find ways to get you and your dog to public places to practice for public access.
- Have a genuine love for and respect of animals. Your dog is a live being and will have down days and well as days when he exhibits brilliance. This love will help you empathize when you need to take a look at life from his or her perspective. Empathy and understanding goes far to building a strong relationship.
- Have had daily access to animals both as a child and an adult. This helps by giving you some background to draw form to create realistic expectations of what life is like living with a dog. A service dog is a more intense experience than a pet as they expose you to many more issues.
- Have been involved in puppy raising in the past. This will give you a more realistic expectation of what it is like to live with a puppy, the stages of development and what they can learn at what age. A 6 months old dog is still very much a puppy. Even an 18 month old dog is still an adolescent. Most dogs are not fully physically or mentally mature until at least 24 months. A realistic time frame for most dogs to be ready for public access is by 3 years unless you are a dedicated professional trainer.
- Lifelong Learner. Training a service dog involves learning many things you never thought you would need to know or do. You need to have curiosity, a need to seek out information as it applies to you. There is always more to know. Being resistant to new information will impede your progress.
- Resourceful. Can you source objects needed for training? Can you rustle up and human helper at times?
- Source of income. Raising a puppy to a service dog and maintaining pne to retirement is not a cheap endeavor.
- Can you be assertive? "Assertiveness is standing up for your right to be treated fairly. It is expressing your opinions, needs, and feelings, without ignoring or hurting the opinions, needs, and feelings of others." Do you mind asking for permission to access public areas for your service dog while he is in training? Even after training is complete, bringing a service dog into public place where dogs are not normally allowed may increase the number of conflictual interactions. Can you explain your rights without blowing up? Can you politely tell the public your dog is working. Educating others about public access laws is a constant job.
- Ability to maintain credibility in the service dog world and in public. Appearances are important. The gear you use on your dog tells much about your relationship and degree of training. Grooming is important. Is your dog clean and odor free when in public?Making sure your knowledge of dogs, their health and laws is current is key. Using language that is appropriate for the audience and demonstrating knowledge of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA-US only), Human Rights Laws and state/provincial laws goes a long way to build credibility. Carrying a business card with weblinks and phone numbers can be useful.
- Ability to be unbiased about issues such as when your service dog in training dog be spayed or neutered. Spaying/neutering too young can negatively affect their health, growth and over all behavior. Spaying/neutering too late can increase chances of health issues such as cancers.
- No previous history of violence towards animals or people. If you have this, you at putting your potential service dog at risk both from you and by being removed from your service. This also risks a charge by the SPCA and other animal protection services.
- Ability to meet the social, mental and exercise needs of a dog. Whether you do this yourself or have a family member or hire another person to do this, your dog’s needs must be met.
- Are willing and able to use food to train your dog (kibble, commercial treats, real meat etc). Meals will be given twice a day minus the amount needed for training to keep your dog at a good weight. Toys, games, personal interaction and natural reinforces are also used in later stages of training.
- Have realistic expectations of the lifestyle with a service dog, and the potential for failure even after they are trained. Many owner-trained dogs are removed from training due to fear, aggression, health issues that develop or inability to cope with the ongoing stress of being a service dog. Consider what would you do with a failed dog or a retired dog? Rehome him? Keep him and train another? Look at your disabilities, income, housing etc and consider how those would affect your decision.
- Meet all ethical considerations as outlined by assistance dogs international (ADI)
- Are able to work with your dog 1-2 hours per day 5 days a week for minimum 6 mos (120 to 540 hours) (most people need 18 to 24 months) and beyond as well for more in-depth training.
- Able to get out of your home to socialize and train your dog on a regular basis.
- Have access to transport with dog to public places (vehicle, public transit etc).