TRAINING STEPS FOR SERVICE DOG OWNERS
Please note that these are the recommendations of Pawssible Service Dog Connection and in no way represent a legal or certification process that is recognized by the United States Government. The use of these steps is for Educational Purposes only. These steps are based on personal experience within our organization and the Service Animal Community Best Practices that we strive to practice. All current Service Animal law can be found at online here. Passing these steps does not imply certification or registration by Pawssible. Pawssible does not assume responsibility for the use of these steps.
If you have not already identified an appropriate dog or puppy for service work than we recommend hiring a Canine Behaviorist and using the Temperament Test to determine if the dog is suitable to begin training for service work. Please inform the Behaviorist of what tasks you intend to have the dog perform to mitigate the individual's disability. Example: You would not want to use a dog with a decreased sense of smell for a task of smelling highs and lows of blood sugar but this would not be a problem for a dog that was to be trained for a squeeze for an individual with a sensory stimulation need. Pawssible supports the use of shelter and rescue dogs as a first choice whenever it is possible and the dog can pass the Temperament Appropriateness Test.
If the dog is under 6 months of age than Pawssible recommends beginning to bring the dog into public areas for short outings no more than 4 hours at a time with lots of positive reinforcement. If the dog is under 6 months of age than the dog still may go into public areas that welcome dogs, however, cannot be identified as a service dog in training and allowed to have unrestricted public access until the dog reaches 6 months of age. Here is a link of some national companies that are dog friendly from a resource that Pawssible is not affiliated with. Please keep each visit short and positive as dog’s maturity levels and attention spans vary greatly from dog to dog and at each age so be aware of the dog’s needs. This can be a lot of learning in a short period of time. Please try not to fly with your dog or bring them into a high-stress environment until they are at least 1 year old and have passed their Canine Good Citizen Test (more below). Pawssible does not recommend bringing a service animal in training to a work environment or school environment for full day exposure until the dog is at least 6 months of age and has basic obedience and potty trained.
Once public training has begun (can be done at the same time as bringing the dog into public areas for socialization and exposure in Step 1) Pawssible recommends finding a group training opportunity that has basic manners classes and culminates with the Canine Good Citizen class. In addition, we also prefer that the group classes do not partake in nose to nose contact with other dogs or puppy free play as this is not appropriate behavior for a service animal to learn. Here is a link to the Canine Good Citizen website with training locations and the test criteria.
Step 3: Once the basic obedience and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) tests have been passed, we recommend that the team (service animal in training and handler) go through the Canine Good Citizen -URBAN test as well. This test covers all the CGC criteria in a public and high distractive environment.
Now that your dog has passed all of the Basic Obedience courses you may begin focusing on task-specific training such as opening doors, alerting to dangerous variations in blood sugar or heart rate, mobility assistance, etc. While it is possible for these tasks to be learned in conjunction with other training that the dog is receiving, the bulk of the basic obedience training should be understood by the dog before more complex tasks are added. We do recommend enlisting the support of a professional dog trainer who can help you break down the tasks that you think would mitigate the individual who the service dog is for’s disability if possible as this can lead to a higher success rate using a professional’s support. You can also refer to the Assitance Dog’s International Public Access Test for more information and their recommended Public Access testing criteria.
Pawssible recommends that a service dog be able to perform a minimum of 2-3 tasks to mitigate the individual's disability. This is not a requirement from the US Federal Government however based on where the laws are headed we strongly recommend that you consider doing this. Examples of some BUT NOT ALL tasks that are not recognized as service animal tasks are “the dog makes me feel better” or “The dog does not like to be alone”. One of the two questions that a person may as in public includes “What tasks is the service animal trained to perform?”. So Step 5 is ensuring that your dog has these tasks down and that you practice answering this question and responding appropriately. Also, visit our FAQ Page which includes the FAQ page for the ADA as well.
Remember that both your training and your service animal’s training is ongoing. Every day you must continue to practice tasks learned in each of these steps in order to ensure continued success. Having a service animal is both an incredible opportunity and a great responsibility. We hope you take both very seriously in order to provide both ends of the leash a higher quality of life.
Best practices include keeping immaculate records of all of your animal’s training, hours spent practicing commands and tasks, veterinary records, and completion of courses, certifications, and tasks where they can be easily reviewed and accessible should they need to be brought into court for any reason.
Feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any further support or resources.