How to make your dog a service dog? Well, the answer depends on a variety of factors. More than offering us companionship, our canine pals are willing to go the extra mile for us. Aside from melting our hearts with their adorable traits, they can also possess special skills to render us the specific services we need.
From accompanying us in our day-to-day activities to reminding us to take our medications, a service dog can be the extra hands and eyes we need as we take on small and big responsibilities in life. Basically, any dog breed can become a service dog, but it is also important for us to measure a dog’s traits and personality so we can effectively gauge whether a dog is capable of taking on this meticulous role.
Taking a Closer Look at the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Statistically speaking, around 200,000 service dogs are now employed in the US to assist people with disabilities when it comes to performing simple tasks. From calming a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to picking things for the blind, service dogs are valuable life partners that can enable the disabled to live their lives to the fullest.
Service dogs may provide companionship, but they are not categorized as pets. Instead, they are working animals that were trained for the specific needs of their disabled owners. In the like manner, service dogs are different from therapy dogs or canine breeds that were trained to provide emotional support.
Additionally, not everybody is eligible to own a service dog. Fraudulent use of service dogs can equate to a criminal offense under the ADA. Hence, it is important to note that the disabilities that entitle a person to own a service dog only include the following:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological illnesses
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Life-Threatening Allergies
Training a Service Dog
How to make your dog a service dog? As aforementioned, a dog’s traits and temperament need to be assessed first since this role entails heavier responsibilities. While there may be no limitations on the breeds, Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers, German Shepherds and border collies are the most prominent dog breeds that take on this role.
As a guide, below are some of the important steps owners and trainers need to consider when training their canine pal to become a service dog:
Assess the Dog’s Health and Age
Becoming a service dog is a full-time responsibility. Since it is a job that requires 100% attention, owners should take their dogs to their vet for proper assessment before considering training.
Underlying conditions like arthritis, hip dysplasia or diabetes can adversely affect a dog’s capability to handle daily activities. Hence, dogs suffering from these conditions should not play the role of a service dog since this can add up to their stress.
In the like manner, neutering is recommended so dogs won’t have problems as they perform their responsibilities for their owners. In terms of age, service dogs must also be 6-month-old at a minimum before undergoing training.
Test the Dog’s Temperament and Personality
Owners should not factor out temperament and personality when they are deciding whether or not they should turn their canine pal into a service dog. While some dogs are submissive, others fall at the other end of the spectrum as they are characterized by their dominant and aggressive trait.
Ideally, a service dog is neither too dominant nor too passive. Sometimes, it can be difficult to test a dog’s temperament, so experts advise owners to have their dog tested before enrolling it into a training center. This way, owners can save time, money and energy.
Find a Professional Trainer
In the US, certification isn’t required. However, the service animal training community has set standards that every trainer should abide by. This is primary because a service dog has meticulous training needs. Aside from the number of hours it needs to spend on training, it also necessitates expert guidance since its job is highly stressful in nature.
Therefore, owners must not rely on YouTube or tutorials when they are training their dog. Instead, they should look for a professional trainer who has built a good reputation in his field.
To help you set expectations, below are some of the lessons a service dog should learn from its handler:
- Heeling: While ordinary dogs are trained to sit and to fetch, service dogs need to learn how to maintain their proper position regardless of their handler’s movements. Teaching dogs the heeling technique necessitates patience, time and effort, which basically explains why dogs need to be trained by professionals.
- Proofing: Proofing is another technique that requires a dog’s time, cooperation and concentration. During this phase, a dog is taught how to minimize distractions and to focus on a task even when it is in a public place. Also, proofing teaches a dog to always stay alert so it can obey its handler’s command no matter how disturbing the environment is.
- Tasking: Teaching the dog to pick up objects or to remind its human companions about their medication may seem like the most challenging task at first glance, but it is actually the easiest among all three. After learning heeling and proofing strategies, dogs can readily learn tasks that would help them assist their disabled human companions. In addition to that, dogs are taught to practice medical alertness in this phase, making them extremely valuable life partners.
Test the Dog in Public
Once the dog successfully completes its training, owners must test its capabilities in public. Basically, a well-trained service dog does not display aggressive behaviors like biting, growling or barking. Also, it urinates and defecates on its human companion’s command. It is not only obedient, but it is also equipped with good manners and right conduct. Most importantly, it is able to complete tasks that are important in enabling their human companions to cope with their disabilities.
A service dog is more than just a loyal companion; it is an important life partner of people who suffer from disabilities. While they may not have super-sniffing powers, they are the noblest pet companions in the world as they don’t only assist the disabled in their daily tasks, but they also heal their human companions from within by giving them the power to change their life for the better.