If you are a canine enthusiast, you understand that our best friends contribute much to the emotional stability of their human companions. Not only do they give unconditional love to owners, they can also provide therapeutic assistance to those with certain disabilities.
Service dogs offer independence to those who are suffering from lifelong illness and help them with everyday activities. The dogs are trained to fill individual needs and help with specific tasks. What types of dogs can be trained to provide therapeutic services.?
There are no hard and fast rules about breed, any dog with a calm and gentle temperament can potentially become a service dog, however Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are typically used as they are naturally compliant and gentle breeds.
What qualities does a service dog need?
What types of disabilities can benefit from service dogs?
- Cerebral palsy
- Spina Bifida
If you are thinking of working with dogs and raising a service dog puppy, either professionally or with your own pet, where do you start, and what do you need to know?
Apply To Different Organizations
Most service dog training roles are voluntary, and there are many charities and organizations that are desperate for people to volunteer and train dogs for those in the most need. Puppies are in high demand, but it’s crucial they are well-trained before being handed over for therapeutic purposes.
A good start is to research online the different organizations and find one that best suits your circumstances. Each organization will have different requirements, but all will require a good level of commitment.
You will need the time and patience to dedicate to your puppy in the home and use the advice given by supervisors in order to train it effectively.
Websites such as dogs.org, canine.org and k94life.org all have useful information about the reasons people need service dogs, the benefits they bring and what you can do to help.
Some organizations will require you to do some in house training before taking on a puppy, although no formal qualifications are required.
Some organizations will offer financial assistance to those raising a service dog, whilst others just don’t have the resources. So whilst you won’t have to pay for the puppy, you will need to pay for feeding, vet bills, classes and any other costs.
Raising a service dog is a real labor of love. So, once you’ve decided where to apply, what’s the next step ?
Puppy Proof the Home
There’s no doubt puppies are hard work and whilst they’re in training you should puppy proof the house to protect them and your home from any damage. You don’t want any distractions from the all important task of training your puppy for their career in providing help to those that need it.
Training pads will help to protect your carpet from any little accidents. Gates will confine your puppy to one place, especially during training. Puppies have short attention spans, so it’s important that you keep the training area simple, so he can focus on learning.
Ensure loose wires are out of reach to avoid the temptation of chewing. Puppies chew everything, and you don’t want any nasty accidents. You should also cover bins and put away toxic chemicals.
You will likely keep your puppy from 12-18 months and should start training immediately when you get him home. Furthermore, you should have enough time to dedicate to this and not leave your puppy alone for more than 3 hours.
Consistency is the key to effective training. Puppies learn through repetition, so it’s crucial to spend considerable time going over basic commands. What specifically can you do?
Although not vital, clicker training is good and can teach your puppy precise movements that can be useful when providing therapeutic care. Use a clicker alongside a verbal command to get your puppy to associate the command with the sound of the clicker and the action you want him to perform.
Using a clicker will improve communication between you and your dog. Using treats is the best way to encourage your puppy to learn. Dogs are very food motivated, so will learn swiftly if treats are in the mix.
Once you have named your puppy, be sure to use it all the time. It’s the best way to focus his attention and build up his responses. At meal time, practice saying his name and then rewarding him with a handful of food. Repeat this 5-10 times at each meal, and he’ll soon associate his name with something good.
If you are using the clicker, use it at the same time. Once he’s got the hang of responding to his name during meals, you can start doing it when you’re out and about.
When teaching the puppy commands, start simple. Sit is the most obvious command to start with. It’s a good foundation for other commands and easy for your puppy to learn. Use a treat to encourage him whilst placing his bottom firmly on the ground, as soon as this has been achieved reward him with a treat.
Once he has mastered sitting, try placing the treat nearer to him without the command, gradually he’ll learn he can only have the treat when you click or give him the ok.
This will teach him control and build the foundations of responding to commands from his future owner. Always keep your puppy by your side and help him focus if he gets distracted.
When teaching him to come to you and walk on a lead, practice is imperative. Walk around indoors to start with. Use a retractable lead and allow your puppy to walk ahead when he reaches the end of the lead and turn around as if walking the other way.
When your puppy comes back to you, use the clicker and give a treat. It’s important to praise your puppy every time he performs successfully. Dogs love praise and will want to please you, so it isn’t that hard to train puppies if you bear this in mind.
Once your puppy is responding well in the house, move the activity outdoors. Start with the lead and gradually spend some time in a safe place with off lead training.
Once you are confident your puppy will return to your side, you can add in some distractions to help your puppy deal with real life situations.
All Puppies need socializing, so they get used to other dogs, humans, children, and animals. But more so with a service dog as they need to be calm and confident to assist with their owners’ day to day tasks and if they get nervous in certain situations their ability will be compromised.
If you struggle with any training techniques the company you’re volunteering for should have some tips and tricks to help, they may even be able to fund some professional dog training sessions to support the process.
Service dogs have a pretty busy life. As working dogs, they need to be health checked and given the green light by a veterinarian. They will do a full assessment once your puppy has reached the right age to determine if he is fit for his life of service.
If you are crazy about dogs and all that they give back to us, raising a service dog will be an experience you won’t forget and an opportunity to provide a wonderful gift to those in need.