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I know you have tons of questions about how to properly train your puppy or dog! Let me help you get started with a few training essentials. If you don’t find what you’re looking for or you come up with some questions of your own, please let me know. Making new connections and developing lasting relationships with my clients is a huge priority to me!
Choosing Your Service Dog
May 7, 2021
You’ve decided to go about finding a puppy to train or have trained to become your service dog. HOW do you choose one???
My first suggestion is as simple as this: Need Before Breed. I understand you may have always dreamt about having a particular breed of dog, but you need to consider whether or not that breed can physically perform the necessary tasks to help mitigate your disability.
If mobility tasks are necessary, the size of the dog is very important. It’s not that smaller dogs can or do not make excellent service dogs, but you need to consider their physical limitations. On the other hand, perhaps your disability is such that you need a small dog that can be carried in a pouch to be very close to your heart, for example.
Choosing a dog breed that suits your lifestyle is another substantial factor. Unless you are extremely active, working dogs and herding dogs such as an Australian Shepherd, a Belgian Malinois or even a husky will likely not be your better options.
Do you have a trainer to work with to help you choose your dog? Perhaps you have an animal behaviorist to help. It is so easy to quickly fall in love with a puppy! A trainer or behaviorist will help keep you on track with selecting a dog that has the qualities needed for your disability.
How much time and effort can you (or are you willing to) invest in grooming? Can you afford to have your dog professionally groomed? What is the climate like where you live? Selecting a breed with an appropriate coat or fur type may be crucial regarding your decision.
Now, as you know, only approximately a third of all dogs that undergo service dog training actually “make it” as a service dog. What do you plan to do if your dog doesn’t cut it? Will your living situation enable you to keep him/her as a pet? Will you be able to afford to? What will be the fate of this living, breathing animal?
There are many important things to consider that you may not have even thought about. The dog you choose will not only become your best friend and partner, but you two need to become a working team. This dog could potentially save your life. Please do not make this decision lightly!
First Things First!
April 25, 2021
"When should I start training my puppy? What should I teach my dog first? What's the most important thing I can teach my dog? How many things should I teach my puppy each week?" These are all questions I get asked on a very regular basis!
I recommend you start training IMMEDIATELY! Keep your initial training sessions very short (just three to five minutes) and try to do three or four sessions each day. Understand that your new puppy's or dog's attention span may be rather short from the beginning. Always remember, quality over quantity! Build the duration of your sessions up gradually.
The very first thing I recommend teaching your puppy or dog is focus. This will be key to gaining your puppy's or dog's attention in a distracting environment. YOU have to be the most important thing to your puppy or dog! Focus is very easy to teach. Simply hold a treat between your thumb and middle finger. Bring your hand close to the dog’s nose, say your verbal command (focus, watch me, look or look at me, etc.) and bring the treat up towards your eyes, holding your index finger up. The objective is to get the dog to look at you. Say “YES!” as soon as he/she does it and give the reward. As you progress, expect him/her to look at you for longer periods of time. Start fading out the reward as he/she gets better and better.
Here is a link to a video where I demonstrate how to teach a dog to focus on you:
As far as what is the most important thing you can teach your dog, that’s a tough one! It can vary from one person to the next. For most people, though, I would say the six most important behaviors to teach are focus, off, come, stay, leave it and drop it. These are all covered in my Puppy Training 1 and Fundamentals 1 classes if you need some help with training.
Some puppies/dogs learn much quicker than others, and some behaviors are harder than others to train; so there is no "standard" as to how many things you should teach your puppy or dog each week. For the most part, when I teach my classes, I have you teaching three or four new behaviors each week. If you have the time and your puppy or dog is picking up well enough, you could easily double that! Again, try to understand that your new puppy's or dog's attention span may be rather short from the beginning and always remember, quality over quantity!
A few things to always try to remember are to keep your training sessions FUN! Always, always try to set your puppy or dog up for success. Remember to mark and reward for every attempt that progresses to the behavior you are trying to teach if your puppy or dog isn’t “getting it” from the beginning. This is what we refer to as successive approximation. I’ve heard a horse trainer say, “Reward the slightest try.” I think that sums it up perfectly!
Here is a link to a video I think is a great example of an initial training session with a new puppy or dog:
Best of luck with your training!