Q: In preparing for my pup (golden retriever) What equipment/accessories do I need? I have also been fortunate enough to gain a mentor and support person who is a qualified dog trainer. With her help I would like to write up a training plan for all but tasks at this stage. Do I need a dog school, if yes what do I look for? How should training progress? What are the dos and don'ts of assistance dog socialisation? Do you have any suggestions/warnings about a socialisation program for my pup when I get it? A: The first thing to ask yourself is what task(s) will your dog need to perform to mitigate your disability. If your dog is suited for these tasks then obedience training, AKC Canine good citizen training and public access training needs to be your daily focus in addition to socializing your pup. The equipment needed will depend on the dog at first. Since your pup will grow very fast over the next 9 months, don't invest a lot of money on things like collars and leashes as they are all temporary for now. A simple collar and a 4 foot long leash is all you need at first. I also recommend a chain linked martingale (no slip) collar click to see example or an easy walk harness click to see example if you find that the dog really pulls when learning to walk on a loose leash. Your dog needs to learn to be under your control by voice command. Your leash has nothing to do with controlling your dog. Service dogs respond and work by voice command only. The leash is not used to control a service dog. Never use a choke chain or pinch collar to train your service dog. Those old school methods are out dated and unacceptable. If a dog needs these tools to be controlled then it does not have the temperament needed to be a safe and reliable working service dog.
You mentioned that you found a qualified dog trainer. Be sure this person can also train a rat or a dolphin with the same methods they will be using on your dog. Click here for video. If they do not use operant conditioning and classical conditioning as their main method of communication and training then find a qualified animal trainer who understands animal behavior and learning theory so they can teach you to do the job right. Click here for video. Traditional dog training methods are not the way reliable service dogs are trained. Service dogs must be motivated not intimidated to do their jobs. I recommend ordering this DVD and watch it with your trainer click here to learn more about how service dogs are trained and placed with the right recipient.
Your puppy should begin training right away. Your training plan should start with you and your trainer understanding and practicing operant and classical conditioning and the ABC's of learning Click here. If you need tasks like retrieve or open/closing doors, I highly recommend teaching these now since puppies learn those tasks very quickly. Obedience training and socialization around as many people, pets, sights, sounds and smells as possible is critical. All these interactions must be positive experiences. Use treats to keep it fun and interesting for the dog. Basic obedience such as walking on a loose leash, sit, down, stay, release, here, watch me, come (the recall), get it, bring it here, give, drop it, leave it and heel should be your focus as well as passing these 2 tests without treats and only by voice command by the time your dog is 1 to 2 years old.
So, as you can see you have a lot to teach. These things are very easy if you know how to train the brain. If your puppy happens to be one of those few who has the right personality and temperament to do the job, then your puppy should have all this experiences by the time it's 6 to 8 months old so you can use the next year working on improving these skills so the dog can be a reliable service dog by the time it's 2 years old. The dog must be able to perform all it's tasks and obedience skills when ever and where ever you ask him to regardless of environmental distractions.
Finding a group puppy training class to socialize your puppy in that uses positive reinforcement is a great avenue to start out training the brain how to work with distractions. Socializing with many different breeds of dogs and puppies safely is also a must. Be sure to only socialize around safe animals. Always make training and socializing fun and rewarding and your dog should become a well balanced adult. Negative experiences can set you back, but should always be seen as opportunities to help you judge if the dog can handle the demands of being a working dog. If the dog can't cope and recover from negative experiences then he should not become a service dog. A service dog must be able to deal with stress and still work.
Depending on the breed, a vet should clear your dog's overall health, heart, hips and elbows before putting an assistance dog to work.
Q: I'm in phase 1 of training my psychiatric service dog. I started with her training and socialization when I got her at 7 weeks old, she was really good! And somewhere along the line she realized she was a chihuahua. She vocalizes whenever someone talks to her when we are out and about and I'm just wondering what kind of response I should be giving to let her know it's not ok but doing it the right way. I have a prong collar I use when we go out because she acts much less vocal when she wears it and pulls less. So when she barks she will sometimes get a correction with it, but I don't like using it in public because of the looks I get. A: Something to ask yourself about this behavior is whether or not she is guarding you as her possession or is she just barking at people because she is uncomfortable. If she guards you at home then this might be the root of the problem. If so, that's a different training session then what is suggested below. Let me know if this may be the case and I'll give you tips for that issue.
Think of everything your dog does consistently as a pattern the dog has been pre-conditioned to automatically do either through training or out of habit. When you find yourself delighted with your dog's consistent behaviors (like going potty outside or NOT barking at people) think of those as desired patterns. When you find yourself annoyed with a consistent behavior then think of it as an undesired pattern. Behaviors that are consistent are just patterns. Some are good some are not.
Many dogs get stressed when people hover over them then reach out to pet them. After awhile this becomes viewed as an invasion of space or as a threat to the dog. These are natural responses to the dog. In order to change the response you must make these events more positive in the dog's mind. Since the behavior was not eliminated when it first began, the dog's brain has become conditioned to react that way over and over again. To recondition the brain it is best to make the experience pleasant for the dog rather than make it unpleasant since greeting people needs to be a good experience all the time.
In other words, if all you do are corrections that cause the dog discomfort when training it to like people, the dog will just learn to practice avoidance behavior or become more and more anxious about meeting people. Our training does not allow the use of prong collars or choke chains to train any assistance dog. So, I am glad you are uncomfortable using it and you know how bad the prong collar looks on your service dog. They are inhumane and are used by trainers seeking short cuts in place of actually putting in the patients, time and consistency it takes to properly train their dogs. These are very old school and out of date methods. I suggest starting a new chapter in bark control training and take off the prong collar.
Make these encounters pleasant for the dog. A good place to practice this is in a pet store since animals are allowed there and barking or growling is not unusual to the public and their employees in this setting. This will allow you to relax since it's not as big a deal in a pet store. Also, dog's are incredibly sensitive to their handlers energy and you might not realize it but you are sending signals to your dog that you too are uncomfortable in these situations, thus causing your dog to become in sync with your energy.
I suggest using real chicken or mozzarella cheese to override the dog's emotions with scent. Overwhelming the nose will usually cause a food motivated dog to try and figure out what it needs to do to gain access to the reward. As long as you are sure she will not bite anyone, let people know your dog is getting use to socializing and they can help by giving her a treat. They don't have to know she is a service dog. Be sure to mark the good behavior by telling your dog what a good girl she is when she responds appropriately.
Make it fun and you should be able to recondition her. But consistency is the key. I'd go to the pet store to train her at least 3 or 4 times a week if you can and try to avoid taking her places you think she is going to have a hard time with until she starts responding the way you want her to. If she keeps getting exposed to the stress of you and her being nervous about her barking at strangers it could counter act what you are trying to recondition.
Your other option is to purchase a sonic barking control device that emits a sound only the dog can hear as an unpleasant consequence to her barking. But I'd go the positive way since this will train her to like people instead of just stop her from barking at them and still leave her feeling uncomfortable.