Our training program was created for distance learning, so we are not limited by our clients’ location or their physical or financial ability to travel. It provides step by step instructions to work you through the process of training your own service dog, starting with potty on command and basic obedience skills to get your puppy out in public. From there we will lead you through more complex tasks and more demanding social exercises until we finally reach the ultimate goal - to have successfully helped our clients train their dogs to assist them in a variety of tasks that will aid dramatically in the quality of their lives.
Most of our clients have no prior experience working with a service dog so our lessons include the legal and social aspect of working with a service dog in public. The classwork is designed to maintain communication between us. It is our goal to help you resolve issues early and keep you and your puppy headed in the right direction. With this solid foundation our puppies can be working well at home and in public by 6 to 8 months old. They do so well, many people forget they are still young puppies who are full of energy and mischief. They need exercise, play time, chew toys for those new teeth, and plenty of reminders. The thing we love most about you training your own service dog is the permanent bonding. Your puppy grows up with you taking care of each other. They have only known love and security. They grow up with your rules, your environment, your activities and your disabilities. They give you their heart and easily adapt to changes in your life.
The lessons are made up of 10 modules, each of which has 2 parts to it. One part is the hands on training while the other part covers all the legal and social aspects of a handling a service dog. Upon completion you have all the tools you need to work successfully with your service dog including passing the very important public access testing. This program allows you to work at your own pace and we are here to guide and assist if you need any help.
Teaching your puppy to behave is not as difficult as it may seem. Dogs truly do want to please you.
Our training program teaches approximately 35 signals/commands by the time the puppies are 6 months old, and 70 before they are 9 months of age.
Get to know your dog. Find out what treats really get your dogs attention. Alex loves bananas. He will work harder for a banana than any other treat. Discover their favorite place to be scratched. Use bits, cut your treats into small pieces, or use small treats. The smaller the dog, the smaller the treats. Reward, reward, reward for appropriate behaviors. Be careful not to reward bad behavior. No handouts. Your dog already loves you, make them work for their treats.
Teach them cues, short key words or phrases like "good dog", "wait", "be nice", or "leave it". I use a lot of hand signals, and a few sound effects. Kisses, hisses, whistles, and growls. Dogs have excellent hearing, there is no need to shout. We have cats, so our dogs learn early on that a hiss is a warning. I teach them that a hiss means you better stop whatever it is you are doing, and pay attention to me.
Consistency is the most important tool for training. Your dog will learn to read you. If you say what you mean and mean what you say, your dog will learn to obey. If you don't follow through when you ask them to do something, they will learn that too. Timing is also very important. If you are trying to teach your dog a specific behavior, you want to pay close attention to their movements and reward immediately the right behavior, even if it is accidental. That is where clicker training comes in. It can be a little difficult to hold onto a leash, treats, and a clicker. I like to start with simple behaviors that can be done off leash, or attach the leash to your belt loop.
The first step to clicker training is to let the dog know that the click is a promise of reward. Click the clicker, give them a treat. It won't take long before they hear the clicker and run to see what fun lessons you have planned for them. Now watch your pup, when they sit down, click and say "sit, good sit". When they lay down, click and say "down, good down". Expect that they will get up and come for their reward unless you are quick.
You can use your clicker to help with potty training as well. One word of caution. Wait until the pup is finished before clicking. Say, "go potty", just as they start to squat. Just as they finish, click, and say "good go potty outside". It won't take long, they will quickly learn to potty on command.
Once you understand the concepts, There are few limits to what you can teach your dog to do.
I recommend a group obedience class. There is no substitute for eyes on, and instant feedback. Most classes will take pups as young as 4 months of age. In the mean time here are a few things to get you started.
Sit - Stand in front of your dog, move your hand with a treat in it, just above the dogs nose, toward their tail. When the nose goes up the butt will go down. If they lift their feet off the ground, your hand is too high.
* Remember to reward immediately, as soon as the dog sits.
Down - Stand in front of your dog, move your hand with a treat in it, down to the ground. Wait until the dog is all the way down, reward.
Leave It - Put your dog in a down position, place a treat or toy down on the floor just out of reach. When the pup reaches for it, give the command, leave it. You will have to intercede at this point. Keep your hand on the treat or toy. Wait until your dog looks away, or at least settles back into a down position. Reward with a treat.
This is a good time to learn to (psst), quick hiss like a cat. The dogs natural response is to sit back.
Stay - With your dog in a down position, give the command "stay". Take a small step away. If your dog tries to stand up, put them back into a down position. If they stay, step back beside them, wait and reward. Slowly increase the distance, until you can walk around your pup or get completely out of site.
Come - Facing your dog, hold a treat out, take several steps backward. Say, "come", get excited, use your fun voice. Reward
OK, so your dog doesn't get it, they don't like treats, or they like them a bit too much and try to take your fingers in the process.
Get creative! Some puppies will follow a treat to move into position, others will need to be physically placed into the correct position. Give the command just as they are in position, praise and reward.
For overly food aggressive dogs your instant reward might be your voice, or a clicker. Praise instantly, but treat after the fact. They will quickly figure out the promise.
Some dogs are overly sensitive and you must not raise your voice, or be too assertive. Instead of having to correct the dog for biting your fingers trying to get to the food, again treat after the fact. A scared dog will not learn. Some dogs will get frustrated and just go take a break.
Just because your pup is a cry baby does not necessarily mean you are hurting them. One of my little dogs, fully grown still cries at the thought of you scruffing him. So rubbing his neck, or scratching his ears might set him off. What can I say, before we got him, he had a traumatic childhood. If they are still young, it is usually just a matter of building their confidence in their own abilities as well as that of their trainer. Make sure there is not an injury or a medical condition. if in doubt, ask your vet.
Now to the pushy, hard headed dogs. The goal is to train your dog to the point that they work off, or with a loose leash. You may be able to start training with a regular collar, some dogs will learn better in the beginning with a choke chain. Some dogs like chihuahua's have problems with their throat. I use a harness on them, and get down on their level to move them into position. That is where your group class is helpful. Your instructor can correctly show you how to use whatever equipment you need for your specific dog. Check around for a basic obedience class in your area. You may check with your vet or at the local humane society for a good trainer.
My philosophy is to be as gentle aspossible, but as firm as necessary. I will use physical force if need be. I do not use or support the use of physical or emotional abuse.
As their owner, trainer, or family member you have to be the "Big Dog", in all situations. That means being loving and kind, but in control. A Service Dog must never be attack trained. You can not even allow them to growl or bark in public. They most certainly must never snap or bite anyone. That is not to say that if someone actually threatened you they would not instinctively come to your defense.
Take advantage of teachable moments as you go through your day with your puppy. A scrap of meat off a plate can be great incentive to go through all the tricks they know. It usually works better to keep your actual lessons short, and more frequent. Some more energetic pups may need a bit of exercise before they are ready to learn.
Last but not least, you can not teach a dog to not do something.
Give them a positive command, not the negative.
Go potty outside - not don't go potty in the house.
Settle down - not stop jumping around.
Put your head down and be quiet - not stop barking.
Pay attention to me - not stop sniffing everyone else.
Back up - not stop pulling on the leash.
Manners - not get your nose out from under that dog's tail.
Have fun and let us know how we can help.
Training begins the day your puppy is born. They learn from their mother, and from the people in their life. It will make your job easier if your pup has had a good beginning.
Your job starts the day you pick up your puppy. Positive reinforcement should always be the method used for all forms of dog training, even when you have to correct bad behavior.
Potty training of course is one of the first challenges you will face. It is your job to protect your pup from making mistakes in this area. Watching them constantly, giving them ample opportunity to relieve themselves outside, and rewarding their efforts, will pay off quickly. Beyond housebreaking, you will need to train your puppy to potty on command, and while on leash. See our "Potty Training" page for more information on this subject.
Carry supplies (poop bags & baby wipes), even a trained puppy, is still a puppy, and accidents may happen.
Social Training - As early as possible you need to start introducing your dog to people, sights, sounds, smells, and environments. You are not trying to make them comfortable with specific situations, as much as making them comfortable being with you, in any situation. The goal is to take your pup into every conceivable situation they might experience in their job, any place you go on a regular basis, and a few others as they present themselves. It gives you a good excuse to get out and about. Go shopping, add a few extra adventures like going to fairs, parades, carnivals, other community events. These are a great way to introduce your puppy to crowds, animals, and noisy environments. Make sure to protect your pup from harm, but let as many people help as possible. At this point you want everyone to reach out and pet. I know, people are not supposed to pet a service dog. They will, believe me, they will. Your dog must be comfortable with anyone getting in their space, grabbing them from behind, reaching down and petting them, getting down in their face, grabbing their head... You get the idea.
Introduce your puppy to as many people types as possible. Strangers need to be encouraged to reach out and pet your pup, let the kids hug and kiss them at this point. Remember they are actually helping with training. You want to introduce your pup to all ages, personalities, and ethnic groups, as well as other animals. Shopping carts bumping by, doors opening and closing, wheel chairs, bicycles whizzing past, and skate boards are great. Remember to go for rides, cars, busses, trains, elevators, escalators, anything that moves. Go to the airport, nursing homes, hospitals, and the vet's office. Even if you believe your Service Dog will be limited in their activities, because their partner is limited, this is a critical part of their training. The goal is to build up your dogs confidence. Help them to realize that the world is a safe and fun place to be.
Most of this training takes place when they are very young. Prime social training takes place from 7 to 16 weeks of age. This might start before they are trained to walk on a leash, so you will literally put them in your pocket, carry them around, or let them ride in the shopping cart. A small breed dog may always shop on your lap or in the cart. It is best to keep them off the ground for their own physical and health safety. Avoid dog parks! Young pups are susceptible to disease, be extremely careful to not expose them to other dogs, or where other dogs have been, until they are fully vaccinated.
Parvo is one of the main killers of puppies, it can remain on surfaces, or in the ground for over a year, and is not effected by heat or cold.
Keep your puppy safe. Do not allow them to be harmed during this training. Obviously when the vet gives your pup a shot they will cry. Just like a little kid, there is a reason they leave the Doctors office with a sucker. Leave a scary or painful situation on a good note.
Disability Awareness Training - may begin immediately, or be put off until your pup has gone through several months of training. Many medical or psychological alert tasks can be taught before a dog is physically mature enough to perform more physically challenging jobs. When your puppy suddenly appears to be anxious, or extra attentive, pay attention to your condition. Reward their awareness, encourage their natural alert techniques or train them a specific signal. Nudging or going to get help.
Basic Obedience Training - Is the next step. Even if you plan on training your puppy yourself. I recommend a group class with an experienced trainer as early as possible. It gets your dog used to working in a setting with other people, activities, and strange dogs around. In this class they will learn heel, sit, down, stay, stand up, and come. You will have a chance to practice teaching your dog. A set of expert eyes may pick up things that you may not be aware of. Check with your vet or the local humane society for information about local classes, they are usually very affordable. See our "Basic Training" page for more information on this subject.
Social Service Training - Your pup needs to be comfortable in public, and be able to walk quietly beside you, heel, sit, lay down... Once you have the basics down, you can start having them heel beside you as you maneuver through crowds, past the meat department in the grocery store, clattering shopping carts, cars whizzing past... This is much different than carrying them around in your arms for everyone to admire. They may be very happy to be by your side, but are they paying attention? After all, there are kids to play with, balls to chase, and people to sniff. The goal is to teach them to keep their focus on your needs. They will soon learn the difference between going out to play, and when it is time to work. A service vest is a great tool for teaching them the difference. After a very short time, you will see their attitude change as soon as you put their vest on.
Training Tip - The first time you have them walk through electric doors onto a slick floor, I can almost guarantee that your puppy will freak out, try to run backwards, or sit down. This may sound a bit strange, but just keep walking. I said, JUST KEEP WALKING! Stopping to comfort them only frightens them worse. If you respond to their fear, they will think it is justified. They will likely sit down and skid beside you for a couple of steps, then it is over. You will find this technique to be useful throughout your training.
Disability Specific Training - Even if you started training for some of these behaviors early, it is time to start putting the pieces together. Really start focusing on specific behaviors that will assist with your individual disability. Bringing you your shoes at home is not the same as picking up your keys in the middle of a busy super market, and giving them back to you, or alerting you to a medical condition during a parade. At this point your dog is probably assisting you with your disability, they are also most likely not very consistent in some areas. Because they are doing so well, you will have to remind yourself that they are only 8, 9... month old. Even with the best behaved dog, you can expect puppy behavior to pop out now and then.
Watch for those teaching moments. It may be learning that it is not their job to run over and "pet all the children", or not being able to contain their enthusiasm at seeing another dog. Not to fret, their maturity will catch up with their training. You are still months ahead of most programs. Be extra careful at this point not to get over confident. You still need to keep a firm hand on a dog that is attached to a child, or with someone that might be unstable. Most Service Dogs start this type of training at 18 months, so they are ready to work around 2 years of age. Look for big changes in maturity about then.
Advanced Obedience Training - will give you longer arms. Your dog will learn to be more precise in their movements, and to listen at a greater distance from you. It will help build their confidence and yours.
Are you up for the challenge?