The Making of a Service Dog
If you have ever witnessed a service dog in action, you probably quickly realized what valuable companions they are to their handler. Not only are service dogs a life-altering tool, capable of performing tasks which their handler cannot easily do for their self, but they act as a portal to companionship, friendship and unconditional love. The service dog in action is an incredible sight to behold as they perform human tasks for their person, so much so that it seems like these dogs inherently just understand what they are supposed to do. This mentality leads many to believe that every dog has the potential to succeed as a service dog; however, unfortunately this is not the case. There is a number of very specific criteria which must be met in order to select the perfect service dog candidate, in addition to the undergoing of a very intensive training regimen. The fantastic art of service dog training combines a number of steps, each working in conjunction with the others to create the perfect tool for a very special job.
The first step necessary in creating the perfect service dog is discovering exactly what a client needs from this dog, and exactly which tasks this service dog will be performing. The variety of tasks which service dog programs like ours can train is extensive, including but not limited to: seizure alert, stability, wheelchair assistance (mobility), signal alert (for the deaf), autism assistance, Alzheimer’s assistance, veterans, and certain detection assistance (such as allergy). Service dogs can be placed with a variety of individuals as well, including children, teenagers, adults and veterans. We even place service dogs in facilities such as nursing homes, group homes, rehabilitation centers and more. When searching for the right service dog program, an individual should look for a highly detailed application process. This will help ensure that the service dog program one has chosen is following a thorough method to selecting the perfect candidate. We understand that every situation is different, and a detailed application assists us immensely in understanding each client’s individual needs and situation – both necessary components to locating the perfect service dog.
Once a client’s needs have been determined, it is time to carefully select the best breed for the job. Many dog breeds have been bred to serve a specific purpose, such as herding, hunting, sport or protection. Although temperaments can differ between individual dogs of the same breed, generalizations can be made regarding factors such as energy levels and basic natural aptitudes. Chaos can ensue when an active dog is placed in a relaxed home environment. It is vital that individuals seeking a service dog do not become intent on purchasing a particular breed. Open-mindedness during this process is important – sometimes, the breed you think you want is not the breed you need.
After selecting a canine candidate, service dog trainers will begin to customize the pup to fit a client’s needs and lifestyle. Thousands of training hours are required to fully train a service dog, alongside daily socialization and desensitization to numerous types of environments. This process occurs systematically and can take years to complete. When a dog is rushed into new environmental scenarios they are not prepared for, the result can be devastating and can take a great deal of time to repair. Forming a solid foundation for one’s service dog requires much patience and many short, consistent training sessions. We understand that the process of acquiring a service dog is very exciting, and that the lengthy process required to fully train a service dog can make new owners very eager to welcome their new family member. Bearing this in mind, we find that it helps for service dog trainers to maintain regular contact with handlers in waiting through communicative mediums such as phone calls or social media.
Once your service dog is performing its tasks consistently and calmly in a variety of environments, the process of choosing a service dog “delivery” date begins! There are two primary methods through which clients choose to receive their service dog:
1. The client travels to the service dog trainer: This enables clients to work directly with their trainer for a number of days, learning how to understand their new service dog, correctly cue their dog for tasks and maintain this training while administering effective rewards.
2. The service dog trainer travels to your home: This method is a favorite for many of our clients. It allows for the trainer to travel directly to the new handler’s home, and spend a number of days working with the new handler and their family in the environment in which the dog will be spending most of its time. This option is more customizable than the former, allows for an effective introduction with any other family pets, and still enables the new handler to work with their trainer – learning how to build a bond with, correctly cue and effectively reward their new loved one.
Those first precious moments that one will spend with their service dog is only the beginning of a beautiful and life changing journey. The initial 6-12 months can be difficult for a new handler, as there is a lot of learning and relationship building that occurs during this time. Service dogs require equal, if not more, care and training than pet dogs do. It is vital that anyone interested in purchasing a service dog does their research and understands exactly what a significant commitment this decision is. Although owning a service dog is a momentous responsibility, it is also a life changing decision which often completely transforms an individual’s outlook on life and their perspective on navigating the world.