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Dear Students,
 
Training your own service dog is not a simple task. It can be done with some assistance.   But you should be very clear about what the process will be like should you decide to move forward.
 
There are a few things you should understand completely before you move forward on your own.
 
1.    There are a number of organizations that train service dogs.  Within these organizations it is an industry accepted standard that 50% of the dogs that they start training will not complete service dog training and will be homed as pets.  Many of these organizations have the benefit of their own breeding program designed with years and years of experience to breed dogs suitable for this type of work.  In addition, they have the benefit of experienced professional trainers to assist them in the training of their dogs.  Considering the lack of training experience and the lack of ability to select a suitably bred dog, many individuals who train their own dogs are likely to have a statistically less chance of success.

2.    Most service dog candidates are released from programs because of some issue with public access.  This is by far the most difficult aspect of service dog training.  While basic obedience is critically important, general behavior and “attitude” about being out in public, is even more important.  The world we live in is very big and very difficult for dogs to maneuver.  Even a well socialized dog can be afraid of loud noises, traffic, shopping carts, men with beards, funny hats, uniforms, costumes, toddlers, music, parades, crowds of people, other dogs, and so much more.  If a dog is fearful of anything in his environment it is not wise (or fair) to keep him working out in public.  If a dog is reactive in any way, (barking, growling, lunging) then they should not be working in public.  If a dog has any medical issues like hip dysplasia or arthritis or chronic stress related issues (hot spots, ear infections, etc.), they should not be subject to the stress of service dog work.  Our dogs may appear to be enjoying themselves all the time, but it takes a trained eye to notice the often subtle messages our dogs send as they try to tell us that something is just too much for them to handle.  

3.    To be covered by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and have the right to take a service dog out into a public place the handler MUST be able to have full control of the dog and must be able to handle the dog on his/her own.  If you are working with a child this is an important consideration.  You must be able to train not only the dog, but also the child.

4.    If you are considering a service dog for a child or for someone working in the school system you need to understand that the ADA covers the rights of people with disabilities to have service dogs in most public places.  There is, however, a great deal of discussion as to whether or not school classrooms are considered public places.  If you need a service dog to go to school, you will need to be sure your school district is ok with that.  If you are sending the dog to school with a child, you will also need to have full confidence that the child can handle the dog through an entire day of school and that he will not need to ask for assistance. School officials, teachers, nurses, waiters, waitresses, and anyone else are, by law, NOT required to assist a person with things like holding, watching, or pottying someone’s service dog.

5.    In order to be considered a service dog by law, the ADA requires that the dog assist his person with a task or skill that is something that the person cannot do for himself.  So you will need to think about what, specifically, you want the dog to do.  By law, simply supplying emotional support is not considered a specific task.  

6.    There are a great deal of people who train their service dogs and then would like to have them certified by a local organization.  If you would like this to happen, check before you get your dog, to see if any local organizations will do this for you.  Certification is not required by ADA, however some air travel requires that a dog be certified by an ADI affiliated program.  Many programs do not want to do this for liability reasons.

7.    Training a puppy is a lot of work.  Training a service dog puppy is dramatically more work.  Puppies (up through the age of two) need training classes and lots of training sessions out in public.  They require a great deal of socialization and it’s useful to have professional assistance throughout the process.  Taking classes is a starting point.  Practicing and working with your dog at home and out in public is also critical to the process.  
 
If, after all of this information, you are still interested in training your own dog, then I would recommend the following:
 
1.    Find  someone in your area with some experience in service dog training to help you select your puppy.  There are puppy tests that can be administered that will assist in the selection of the most suitable puppy.

2.    Work with this person to set up a training plan for the first, very critical, 8 weeks.  You will need to be on top of this and plan ahead.  There is a very small window of critical learning that begins before you select your puppy and continues for a couple months after your puppy comes home.  What you do with your puppy during this time period will help shape his/her personality.

3.    Have your puppy vaccinated in a timely manner (8 wks., 12 wks., and 16 wks.).  These vaccines will keep your puppy safe out in public and in classes.  If your vet tells you not to attend classes or take your puppy out into public, until these vaccines are complete take that opportunity to review the literature on the benefit of early socialization and training vs the risk of disease.  All service dog organizations start training at 8 weeks of age or earlier if they have a breeding program. 
 
4.    Enroll in a good puppy kindergarten class.  Try to find one that has well supervised puppy play time.  Avoid places like dog parks and puppy play groups that are not supervised by certified trainers.  

5.    Continue with your classes.  Don’t stop.  Puppy Kindergarten and eight weeks of basic obedience just gets you started.

6.    Look toward the goal of passing your CGC and understand that passing this test is NOT a marker for a completed service dog.  It is simply a goal along the way.  Dogs that pass CGC have not had any specific training that is required for good public access work.  After passing CGC there is still a great deal of work to do.

7.    Seek assistance from a trainer before a problem becomes big.  Don’t wait.  As an example, the first time your puppy growls and snaps at you when you try to take his toy, talk to a trainer.  We are so good at explaining away problems.  (It’s OK, that’s his favorite toy!)  Be proactive.  It’s not OK.  Act before the problem gets big.  In this example we are talking about resource guarding.  Service dogs cannot resource guard.  If a piece of food is dropped on the floor and a child goes to pick it up, a service dog CANNOT act in any manner that is protecting or guarding that prize.

8.    Get specific service dog training help, either in a classroom setting or from a private trainer.
 
We hope this information is helpful.  We would certainly be happy to have you in our service dog classes should you decide that this is the correct course of action for you.  If you have any additional questions please feel free to give Robin a call at 603-939-2041.  She would be happy to help in any way she can.
 
Robin Crocker

 
www.YellowSnowDogGear.com
     Pawsitively The Best
www.TellingTailsTraining.com
     Dog & Handler Training for a Growing Partnership
www.AssistanceCanine.org
     Providing Assistance Dogs for Lifelong Partnerships

"Dog & Handler Training for a Growing Partnership"

Telling Tails Training Center
Robin's White Mt Dogs, LLC
285 Main St.
Fryeburg, ME  04037

207-642-3693

Email:  yellowsnowdoggear@roadrunner.com

Mailing Address:
373 Green Hill Rd., Center Conway, NH  03813

             

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