This post about my dog Amber is part of a bigger narrative about amazing dogs going the extra mile. Thank you www.dogfencediy.com for making this possible.
Every once in a while I write about my dogs and this is one of those times. Because I had a service dog that I trained, people often ask me how they can train their dog to be a service dog. Not every dog is cut out to be a service dog. There is a very specific set of personality traits that are required, and most pet dogs just don’t have them. Service dogs have to be very intelligent, willful, a bit mischievous, curious, tolerant of people, and willing to learn. Since most pet dogs are chosen for being easy to train and live with instead of willful and mischievous, they fail before they even learn to sit. Keep in mind that this is a great responsibility for a dog and the weight of it will likely shorten his life by a few years. In fact, even service dogs trained by professionals are only able to work four to eight years before they have to retire. Amber worked about four years before becoming too ill from a previously diagnosed condition to continue.
Amber was a Standard Poodle and definitely had the intelligence, willfulness, and mischievous part down cold. In fact, it made her training challenging because she would become bored and start smarting off. However, she learned the important things a service dog must learn fairly quickly. Potential service dogs should start by learning the major commands, such as sit, down, come, stand, and heel. The dog must obey these without fail before being trained in the harder service dog lessons. This is because your dog will be coming everywhere with you and must be obedient and polite. It is a good idea to practice these commands in a park or other public place so your dog becomes accustomed to obeying no matter what the distractions are around him. A good way to tell if your dog is ready to move on to the harder lessons is to take the Canine Good Citizen test offered by the American Kennel Club. When your dog can pass, you are ready to move on.
What are those harder tasks? A good manual to use is the two volume set of books Teamwork: A Dog Training Manual for People with Disabilities. Book one is on basic obedience and book two is on service exercises. Some of the exercises are retrieve, retrieve and carry, find a person, reverse, paws (to teach your dog to put his front feet on a service such as a counter), brace, light (turning the room light on and off), pull (to pull a wheelchair or cart), dress (to have the dog help you get dressed) and doors (to have the dog open a door for you.
The hardest thing to train, though, is intelligent disobedience. This is where many dogs fail. If you tell your dog to help you cross the street and there is a car coming, the dog must refuse to go forward until the car is gone. There is no one trick to teaching your dog this. Amber learned it by observing me and sitting or laying down if I needed to rest or eat. She would also tell a friend there was a problem by nudging the friend, something she never did otherwise.
Service dogs are very helpful creatures. They are a special subset of dogs that can stand up to the responsibly of watching over their owners. Training one is a lot of work. Be sure you are ready to put that work in before you start training your potential service dog.