How to Train Your Own Service Dog
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How to Train Your Own Service Dog. DIY Service Dog Training Techniques. Complete Guide.

Service dogs are an invaluable benefit to people with disabilities. 

Because of their extensive training, pre-trained dogs from a professional service dog training program or training school are often expensive and also difficult to acquire. 

People in need of service dogs often find themselves on a long waiting list with service dog trainers, often far too long for them to get the assistance they need.

free service dog training

Luckily, there is an alternative option with a low cost: training your own assistance dog! Lots of people train their own service dogs to save money and time. 

Keep reading to learn what you need to know about training your own service dog. 

What is a Service Dog?

Service dogs are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as dogs with specialized training to provide specific tasks for people with disabilities. 

Service dogs typically know how to perform specific tasks such as opening doors, flipping switches, gathering items, or responding to medical emergencies. 

What is a Service Dog

Training service dogs often takes a significant amount of time, which makes them quite expensive to purchase. 

What Do Service Dogs Do?

Service dogs assist their owners with that person’s disability. 

These skilled dogs may perform basic tasks, respond to emotional distress, or guide their owner in the case of visually impaired individuals. 

However, they are typically not trained to protect or defend the owner with aggression, as any dog trained for defense work cannot simultaneously be considered a service dog per the ADA. 

Types of Service Dogs

Some of the most common service dogs include guide dogs, hearing dogs, seizure alert dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and allergy detection dogs. 

Guide dogs and hearing dogs serve the visually impaired and hearing impaired respectively. 

Types of Service Dogs

Seizure-alert dogs can find help for their owner, call 911 using a K9 alert phone, bring medicine to their owner, or move their owner if they are having a seizure in an unsafe place. 

Mobility assistance animals help their owners navigate everyday life by performing basic tasks such as turning on lights, opening doors, and retrieving items. 

Finally, allergy detection dogs can help detect the presence of severe allergies in foods or other items with their powerful noses. 

What Makes a Good Service Dog?

There are a few things you must consider before deciding on a good service dog. Dogs that can be trained to be good service dogs are typically at least six months old and neutered. 

A service dog candidate should also not be too old, as elderly dogs may be slow to react or do not pick up new tricks well. 

The service dog’s temperament is docile and alert. While they should not show aggression or excitement to other dogs, they need to be able to show good manners in public areas. 

Easily distracted dogs don’t make good service dogs as you need them to pay attention enough to help you in times of need!

Finally, consider the specific needs you have. If you need a dog for opening doors or flipping light switches, a Chihuahua won’t be a good idea. 

However, it might be a good choice if the animal is only for emotional support, such as some autism service dogs. 

Best Service Dog Breeds

Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and there isn’t one set breed that makes the “best” service dog

However, there are some breeds that are typically chosen more often than others since they make a good fit. 

Best Service Dog Breeds

If you need a large service dog, breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Great Danes, and Poodles typically learn quickly and have strong instincts. 

If you’re looking for a mid-sized or small dog, breeds such as Boxers, Border Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs, and Pomeranians make good choices. 

These breeds are all highly intelligent and work well with all family members, including children. 

How to Train Your Own Service Dog

Before you jump into your personal training program, you should know that there are three primary types of training your service dog needs: basic, off-leash, and advanced. 

Each of these types has its own importance, so your dog will need all three if it plans to be a service dog. Let’s take a look at each of these types of training. 

Basic Service Dog Training

One of the first things you must do with your service dog is basic training. 

This first step is the same type of basic training you would give any dog, even if they aren’t becoming a registered service dog. 

Basic Service Dog Commands

Initial service dog training involves basic commands such as sit, stay, and lay down for starters. 

Outside of basic obedience commands, you should also teach behaviors such as house training, tether training, and leash training. 

House Training

Your service dog needs to know when it goes out and to go potty at that time. 

Leash Training

It also needs to be taught not to pull on its leash, as service dogs can seriously injure a person if they don’t know this basic type of training.

Obedience Training

Obedience training is the type of training in which you socialize your service dog and make sure that they listen to you. 

You want to make sure your dog is able to handle lots of different stimuli including people, animals, sounds, smells, and locations. 

Being Alone

They also need to learn how to be alone for extended periods of time in case they ever need to stay home by themselves.

You can teach all of these commands to your dog yourself using commanding language, repetition, and treats. 

You can also hire a professional trainer to train your puppy in the basics one-on-one or in larger group classes or training sessions. 

Off-Leash Training

While your service dog needs to learn how to behave while on a leash, it also needs to learn to behave off of a leash. 

For example, if you were to drop your leash accidentally, you wouldn’t want your service dog to run away from you. 

Teaching your dog proper behavior off of the leash helps keep you and your dog safe from harm. 

You should start these training classes indoors so your dog won’t be distracted and can’t run away if they decide not to listen at first. 

Be Patient

Once your dog starts to learn commands off-leash, you can start to slowly bring them into more public places for training. 

Eventually, your dog should be able to focus on you and obey your commands in public spaces without a leash, even with others around. 

This type of training can take a while as you’re trying to fight with the world around you for your service dog’s attention. 

Make sure you give your service pup the attention it needs to listen to you and only you while you train it. 

Advanced Service Dog Training

Finally, advanced training is the most intense training for service dogs. This is the training level that teaches service dogs specific behaviors to help their owner in times of need. 

Guide dogs can be taught to guide, and allergy-detection dogs can be taught to detect specific smells through this additional training. 

You’ll have to consider exactly what you need from your dog before beginning to engage in specialized training. 

Some examples of ways you can train your dog specifically are described below.

Guide Dogs

Guide dogs, like most dogs, learn best from positive reinforcement. Most guide dogs are taught to guide using treats, toys, affection, and clicker training. 

Guide dogs must learn to ignore distractions, walk slightly ahead of their owner, walk in a straight direction, and stop at street curbs to keep their owner safe. 

If you live in an area with public transportation, you will also have to teach your seeing-eye dogs how to navigate vehicles such as trains or buses. 

You should also train your service dog to navigate specific routes you take, such as to work, class, or the store. 

After several months of training, your dog will be ready for service work regularly. 

Allergy Detection Dogs

Allergy detection dogs are essential to people with life-threatening allergies. These dogs must be trained to identify specific scents and rewarded upon identifying them. 

After introducing the smell of choice to them, slowly work in outliers that aren’t allergens. 

As your dog continues to identify your allergen of choice amongst the groups of outliers, continue to reward them. 

Soon, they will be able to detect your allergen easily even amongst complex smells. 

Make sure you teach them a specific command, such as sit, for them to do clearly once they find and identify an allergen. 

Autism Service Dogs

Autism service dogs are unique as they typically help autistic children and adults cope with aspects of their autism. 

For children, autism service dogs can help improve their sociability, teach them responsibility, expand their vocabulary, and decrease stress. 

These can also help adults with autism, but for the majority of adults that have an autism service dog have them to intervene during emotionally distressing situations. 

Autism service dogs are trained to identify stressful situations or negative behaviors and intervene to de-escalate the situation. 

This may mean interrupting self-harm or soothing their owner during an emotional episode. 

To train an autism service dog, the most important part is socialization. These dogs must be friendly, docile, and sensitive to the emotional needs of their owners. 

You will have to train them to identify harmful behaviors and emotions and reward them for responding properly to them. 

Hearing Dogs

Hearing dogs must be trained using audio-response training. 

Since your dog will essentially act as your ears, they need to recognize specific sounds and learn ideal responses to those sounds. 

For example, the sound of a doorbell may result in your dog running to you and putting a paw on your lap. 

Starting off, you’ll want to reward your service-hearing dog for responding to the sound cues you want. This helps it pay attention to specific sounds as it recognizes them as “important.” 

In the next step, you’ll have to train the dog to perform new tasks in response to each of the sounds. 

An alarm ringing may be a nudge on the side, while a fire alarm may be both paws on your knees. 

Hearing dogs have an incredibly complex job as they must be able to recognize dozens of unique sounds and remember individual responses to each sound. 

Luckily, many eager training dogs pick up on it quickly and you can have a fully trained dog within six months. 

Related Service Dog Questions

Is there one dog breed that makes the best service dogs?

No, many different breeds of dogs make excellent service dogs. Some of the most common choices are Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers. 

Smaller choices include Pomeranians and Dachshunds. 

How many different types of service dogs are there?

Eight primary types of service dogs exist. These types include autism service dogs, diabetic alert dogs, seizure response dogs, hearing dogs, and guide dogs. 

Allergy detection dogs, PTSD service dogs, and mobility support dogs. 

With so many different types of service dogs out there, it’s often possible for you to find a type of service dog that suits your needs. 

Are emotional support animals considered service dogs?

No, emotional support animals are not considered service dogs. 

Though these emotional support dogs can be used as part of a treatment plan or as therapy dogs for different psychiatric conditions, they are not typically trained as service dogs. 

Since they don’t require specific training or have to do specific jobs, these therapy animals are not considered service dogs. 

For those needing a service dog for psychiatric conditions or mental disabilities, a psychiatric service dog or other psychiatric service animals are an option. 

Can my service dog go on an airplane?

Yes, a fully trained service dog is allowed on airplanes. 

You just need to check any travel guidelines or requirements, such as necessary service dog certifications, paperwork, verification, or quarantine. 

If necessary, airlines will allow you to travel with up to two service dogs at a time. 

When did service dogs become commonplace for people with physical disabilities?

Service dogs became nationally and legally recognized in the United States once the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by the US Department of Justice in 1990. 

Before that, service dogs existed but did not have any legal recognition. 

Where can I find a suitable service dog?

You can find a future service dog just about anywhere. There are lots of different options to become a service dog owner

Try finding a shelter dog from local animal shelters, or reach out to breeders in the American Kennel Club. They may be able to help you find a good candidate for service dog work. 

Training Your Own Service Dog is Possible

Now, you know how to train a service dog on your own. Make sure you remember to train them for the exact tasks you need them for and always reward them for being the best. 

For more information about some of these dog breeds, take a look at our other dog articles!

How to Train Your Own Service Dog book

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