Service Dog Training

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Service Dog Training


Service dogs offer support to those who have physical disabilities, mental disorders, and other conditions that make it harder for them to live a normal life.

These dogs can help with tasks such as fetching objects - pressing the button of an elevator or 'open' sign, retrieving medications from cabinets, opening doors, calming during anxiety attacks, and more.


What is a service dog?


Service dogs are highly trained dogs that help people with disabilities by performing specific tasks they cannot do for themselves.

They are also commonly called assistance dogs and helper dogs, depending on the country or state you live in.


As the name implies, they help serve the people that they're assigned to for their daily tasks and to help them live a better life.


Why do people need service dogs



In general, anyone who has some form of impairment can be eligible for a service dog.


For example, if your child has mild autism, a service dog can, and will be greatly beneficial for their mental development, as well as for them to have a playmate that understands them.

Another example can also be that a soldier comes home from a war, and is suffering from battlefield trauma - Anxiety attacks, PTSD and so on.

A service dog will help calm the wounded veteran, and can also alert medical services of a possible medical emergency.


 

Of course, these dogs can be a seeing-eye guide dog or hearing dogs, therapy dogs, autism service dogs, psychiatric service dogs and mobility support animals.


Generally, the term 'service dog' is quite a blanket term, and the above types are not exhaustive - as the world evolves and develops further, we may well need more subcategories of service dogs.

As another example, there have been more and more hospitals employing service dogs (in this case, they're called "therapy dogs") to help cheer patients up, to great effect (source)



Studies have shown that service dogs help to improve independence of those with disabilities by reducing symptoms of their disability!


However, service dog training is not merely done by a trainer - it is a two way street.

It's done WITH a service dog owner, which will also enhance the relationship between a service dog and their handler.



Service Dog Breeds


As to the breed, a service dog can be any breed recognized by its country.

But the most common Service Dogs are Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and sometimes Bulldogs.

So to those asking questions like 'can a Chihuahua be a service dog'; the answer is yes, but it'll be rare and an unusual (due to their temperament).



Some dog breeds will perform better at certain tasks - for example, great service dog breeds for anxiety include Golden Retrievers, due to their naturally high empathy.


Other service dog breeds that are great for children with autism can also include Saint Bernard's, etc.

In other words, there are really no real restrictions as mentioned above - you just need to find the dog breed (or individual dog) that best suits your situation.


The one thing a service dogs needs to be is well behaved, so their owners will have more freedom - this will lead them being able to participate more independently in community activities.



When do you need a Service Dog


There is no definitive answer as to when one needs a Service Dog as it depends on the individual's disability and needs.

Some disabilities or conditions that may require having a Service Dog are: autism, blindness, deafness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and physical disabilities.

It is important to consult with a Service Dog trainer to see if you meet the criteria for needing one.



How Service Dogs are trained


Service Dogs undergo rigorous training which can last up to 2 years, and is an expensive investment.

In general, this training is usually done by service dog trainers who have been working with Service Dogs for many years.


Techniques and working with the service dog owner


And not to discount a service dog's owner role - the owners play an important role in the training process as well:

They are responsible for teaching their dog how to perform specific tasks that will help them throughout daily life, such as providing support during anxiety attacks, neurological disorders, seizures and more.

Having the owner involved with the training also ensures teamwork and a strong bond between dog and owner.

To add, as a service dog is being trained, the people who need a service dog will also need to undergo training  as well.

For example, how to use the service dog leash, or how to handle your service dog in stressful situations.


Socialization


Training service dogs is important for ensuring they are well behaved not only in private and at home, but also in public.

The next equally important part of service dog training is in socialization, which means getting used to interacting with people in public places without being distracted or reacting to external stimuli (such as car horns).

It also means ensuring behave well around other dogs even when off leash, understanding basic commands like 'come', 'sit' and 'stay' (among many others).



Once the training is done, you will find it's easier to take your service dog anywhere because you'll know how it will act in various circumstances, like when there's other dogs around or you 're in a crowded place.


Finding a service dog trainer


There are service dog training organizations in most countries that you can contact who will guide you through the Service Dog process.


However, when it comes to Service Dogs, quality is more important than quantity, so be sure to find an organization with proper Service Dog Trainer qualifications.

Contacting them directly for references or talking to other Service Dog users may help in making your decision.


Another good idea would be asking around people you know, like doctors and nurses at hospitals, if they can recommend a service dog trainer/organization near you.


You could also check online for trainers in your area or country - in general, if you're in the big cities you should be able to find a reputable service dog trainer that can help train your dog to be a service dog for your personal needs.


There are also non-profit groups like the Service Dog Project that trains large breed dogs to assist people with balance and mobility limitations, that you can reach out to.


Conclusion



Service Dogs play a critical role in the life of those who have Service Dog needs.

They can help people with disabilities and conditions go about their daily lives with much more ease, from getting ready for work to going to social events or even shopping at the mall without being too stressed out.

In order to ensure optimum teamwork between service dog and handler, it is important to undergo Service Dog training with a reputable Service Dog Trainer organization.

This not only provides the Service Dog with essential obedience and task training,

but also gives the service dog owner the necessary skills to handle their dog in different situations. 


about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.


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