Your Dog's Manners
There are many tests that a dog can take in his journey to becoming a service dog. The first of these is the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen test. Following that is Community Canine and Urban Canine. These three tests cover most of what I dog needs to know to smoothly inhabit the public world. There are however more things that a service dog will be exposed to then a pet dog.
This set of modules will help you teach your dog most of what he should be proficient at to pass most Public Access Tests that are posted on the Internet.
1 - The basic 6 - Sit, Down, Stand, Place, Leave It, Off
I include sit because everyone seems to think it's a pivotal behavior. Down is useful when you need the dog to remain invisible and inaccessible. Stand is not generally taught in most obedience classes, but it is a necessary behavior with our service dogs. Go to Place is absolutely the most used behavior as you navigate restaurants, the beautician, trying on shoes, going for tea or just hanging out. Leave it is the first step in teaching self control. It's human control but teaches the dog - if used correctly - that when there is something they should avoid interacting with they should walk away from it. Off means "get your paws off that".
2 - Self Control and Impulse Control
Any particular dog has many instinctive motivations to do what they do - finding food, finding mates, feeling safe during rest, not wasting energy on unproductive activities and interaction with others. He consciously or unconsciously controls his environment in order to provide for himself the necessities of survival. Living with humans is an artificial environment and most of the necessities of survival are provided by the humans - usually in abundance.
Self control has many definitions, especially in the dog training world, but what we really are teaching here is not self control, but the need to wait for the good stuff instead of diving for it. We show the dog how to manipulate her environment in ways that please the humans in her life and still meet her needs, stay safe, avoid pain and death and still have fun.
Not self-control, just conservation of energy, awareness of the environment and the things and other beings in it, awareness of other determinism and self-determinism and how they can work together to create a life worth living.
3 - Focus and Engagement
Focus, like attention, should be self-directed. In other words the dog should be choosing to focus on you instead of being cued to. There are times when you are going to ask for focus, but in general, the cues should be environmental and functional not a word or signal. Engagement is what the dog does to show you that he is willing to work with you, play with you, be with you to the exclusion of distractions in the environment. A service dog should be focused on and engaged with his partner - YOU!
4 - Handling Reactivity
Working with reactivity requires an integrated approach designed to help dogs (and people) gain focus, reduce stress, build confidence, and become more adaptable. The goal is to give the dog a new experience of feeling safe, relaxed, and in control while in a challenging environment or in the presence of other dogs or people, which previously would have elicited a fearful response. The other part of the goal is to show the human that staying calm and focused and using patience, consistency and confidence really can help the dog.
With a new technique called "Turn and Face" from Denise Cadelac Mcleod we will show the dog that his partner is going to handle things and he needed concern himself.
5 - The Secret to Loose Leash Walking
The easiest and most natural way to learn loose leash walking is to start the process without the leash. There is too much need to use the leash to control the dog, even with trainers who have been working with dogs for decades. In a situation where you must have a leash by law or to protect your dog from running into danger, you can either use a hands free leash (a leash that goes around your waist) or use Ghost Handling (having a helper hold a long leash of at least 10 feet).
By not using a leash, using a hands free leash or having a ghost helper, you learn where your body should be, how to deliver rewards and that you can actually keep your dog engaged with you instead of trying to exert control over a dog who could care less where you are.
Once you have learned the natural body posture that makes a walk much more enjoyable and your dog has learned that the best place to be on a walk is next to you, then you can add the leash.
6 - Do Nothing
There are instructions galore out there for teaching a dog to relax. Place, settle, relaxed downs. But it's all on cue; rarely does the dog make the actual association that the cue means the dog can actually relax.
I'm not saying that all methods of teaching a settle don't work, all I'm saying is that in order for the dog actually to be relaxed, it needs to be the dogs understanding and choice. If they truly can't relax, then its possible there are other reasons than a lack of training.
So instead of cueing our dogs with this exercise, we are going to do NOTHING. This game works best during times when you are sitting watching TV, on the computer, knitting, or reading a book. This won't stop your dog from getting up and following you to the loo, or investigating the refrigerator with you, but s/he will settle again once you do.
This behavior also replaces long down stays that are generally taught. Again, it's a cued behavior and the dog is not truly relaxed. We want our service dogs to be invisible, not constantly reacting, even if mildly, to the environment.
7 - Strange surfaces
This module is designed to handle two aspects of your dog living in your home and going out in public. The first is simply adding locations to the behaviors you have already trained your dog to do. The second is teaching your dog that no matter where he is, what he has learned still applies. The third is to teach him that surfaces, spaces and environments don't change the rules. The fourth concept is part of early socialization but can be done even with an older dog and that is teaching the dog that odd surfaces, angles and slopes, stairs and elevators are nothing to be feared.
8 - Avoiding the attention of Strangers
It's a sad fact that people seem to think they have the right to touch our dogs, our babies and our stuff when we're out in public. It's a major distraction to our dogs and with some can create the very situation that we have the dog trained to mitigate. These touchy feely people don't seem to care that interferring with your dog could mean injury and possibly death for you because the dog missed a trigger.
It's on us to advocate for our dog, to make sure that we protect our dogs from bullying and other interference. But there are also things we can train the dog to do when strangers decide that the dog is public property or have the need to "just fooling around". The Focus and Engagement module should be done before this one.
9 - It's Wobbly
Car crashes (near misses of other dogs running the obstacle course), wheel barrow rides, jumping over, around, on, through and between anything and everything. These activities build confidence in our dogs. Confidence in their ability to move through strange environments, confidence in how their body parts work and their relationship to the environment, and confidence because of a lack of fear of strangeness.
10 - Car Chores
Some dogs never have a problem with riding in the car, others seem to think it's a portal to another dimension where cats rule. Some dogs never bark at passers by and some never stop barking even if it's just a leaf in the wind.
This module teaches your dog 1. that car rides are the bomb and 2. that anything outside the car is boring.
11 - Door Chores
Like the car, dogs variously slam through open doors, are afraid of doors, crowd you going through doors and other unmannerly behaviors concerning doors and hallways. This module will teach your dog to wait for a release before coming through any door, even interior doors and then refocusing on you to find out what is next. Another module that should really have the focus and engagement module as a prerequisite. This is also one of those modules that you'll find in the Snake Avoidance modules with a snake just on the other side of the door !
12 - Get Dressed
Putting on the harness or vest and attaching the leash to either the harness or collar or putting on a head halter can be a major chore with some dogs. This module teaches your dog that the game of a walk doesn't start until the equipment is settled. The dog will learn to come to "get dressed" or "get undressed", sit and wait for you to put everything on, and then wait for a release before moving.
13 - You Can Touch Me Anywhere
Dogs should experience various forms of handling, especially when they are young. Dogs will be hugged, have their tails tugged on, their ears pulled, examined by a veterinarian, or have their nails clipped. This module is the start for getting your dog use to being touched in every part of his body including doing his nails.
14 - Separation Anxiety
For the most part, a dog with separation anxiety is usually dropped from a service dog program. But with medical alert dogs, you want a large amount of focus and engagement as much of the day as is possible. This in itself can create some separation anxiety because the dog has been trained to "watch" you. The protocol is simple and can be done easily in three weeks.
15 - Crowded spaces
Dogs growl because they are insecure and anxious in social situations. This generally happens when early socialization is incomplete, not done with "happy experiences" as the major focus, or there was a trauma at some point in a crowded space. If the underlying insecurity is not resolved, the growls will become warnings of escalating aggression.
Aside from obvious safety concerns, we must also address the dog’s peace of mind. It is decidedly not pleasant to feel anxious yet be forced to face your biggest fears on a daily basis. If a dog feels anxious around people, it is simply unfair, cruel even, to force the dog to frequent places where there are lots of people. Regardless of the reasons for the dog’s fear, there is a huge urgency to resolve the problem — to rebuild the dog’s confidence — so that your dog can get his life back.
Focus and Engagement, Strange Surfaces, You Can Touch Me Anywhere and Avoiding the Attention of Strangers should definitely be prerequisites for this module.