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. See "Dog Selection" for more information on this subject.
Your job starts the day you pick up your puppy. Positive reinforcement should always be the method used for all forms of dog training.
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 do 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?
This is an excellent article if you are thinking of getting a dog to use or train and use for Service, Support, Therapy or a pet. http://promotions.usa.gov/odep/Thinking_Outside_Box.pdf
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