Friday, September 5, 2014

What Kind of Training Does a Service Dog Need?

Service dogs are dogs that are specially trained to perform tasks that mitigate their owners’ disabilities. While many people with disabilities obtain trained service dogs from organizations that train and place service dogs with people in need, some people choose to train their own service dogs. Regardless of who trains a service dog, service dogs require extensive training. It typically takes about 18 months to fully train a service dog.

Service Dogs Must Be Housebroken

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency that interprets and enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act, service dogs must be housebroken. If a service dog is not housebroken, business owners can ask the owner to remove the dog from the premises.  

Service Dogs Need Extensive Obedience Training

Service dogs typically obey a variety of commands, including things like sit, lie down, stay, come, leave it and drop it. Assistance Dogs International, an organization that establishes minimum training standards for service dogs and accredits programs that train service dogs, says that service dogs should respond to commands from their owners the first time a command is given at least 90 percent of the time. Service dogs need to obey commands even in the face of significant distractions. For instance, a service dog needs to sit and stay even when another person is calling to him or offering him food. A service dog also needs to drop food when told to do so. 

Service Dogs Must Be Trained to Behave Appropriately in Public Places

Service dogs are permitted to accompany their owners into public places where pets are usually not allowed, including restaurants, grocery stores, department stores, movie theaters, doctors’ offices, hospitals and other businesses. In order to take service dogs into these places, though, they must be trained to behave appropriately in such places. For instance, service dogs should be trained not to sniff items on low shelves, not to beg for food, not to attempt to get to food on tables or that other people are eating, not to sniff other people or solicit attention from other people, and not to bark or growl at other people or other dogs. Public places are full of tempting distractions for dogs, though, so even well-trained, obedient dogs may have trouble behaving appropriately in these situations. Therefore extensive training is needed to assure service dogs will behave appropriately regardless of what’s going on around them.

Service Dogs Must Be Trained to Perform Tasks That Mitigate Their Owners’ Disability

By definition, a service dog is a dog that is trained to perform tasks that mitigate his owner’s disability. While Assistance Dogs International suggests that service dogs should be trained to perform at least three such tasks, legally there is no such minimum number of trained tasks required. It must be understood, though, that tasks must be things a dog is trained to do. For example, my service dog is trained to bring me medication when I have an anxiety attack, thereby prompting me to take my medication that helps with anxiety. I have trouble thinking clearly during an anxiety attack, so I usually don’t remember to take my medication at that time on my own. That is a trained task. Now, petting my dog when I’m anxious also decreases my anxiety, but that’s not something dogs have to be trained to do, so it is not considered a trained tasks.

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