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Should You Make Your Dog Into a Service Dog?

You may have noticed that there are more and more “service dogs” out and about when you are at the store. Walmart and grocery stores are hot spots, and planes are filled with even more of these dogs.

The reason you are seeing more of these dogs is not because there are more people with disabilities out there. Service dogs and ESAs are in the public eye more and more, and some people really like the idea of being able to take their pet everywhere with them. A quick Google search will show you a bunch of companies that will give you an online Emotional Support Animal certification for under $100. While this may seem like a great option for you and your dog, things aren’t quite what they seem.

What is a service dog?

Service dogs are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Tasks are behaviors that are cued on purpose by the hander, and work includes anything that the dog does without prompting. Tasks can include retrieving dropped items, bracing for handlers with balance disorders, turning on a light switch, or helping their handler into and out of a wheelchair. Guide dogs and hearing dogs do lots of “work” where they are trained to make their own decisions to alert their handler to things in the environment.

Most dogs who enter service dog training will flunk out before they reach the end of the program. There are very few dogs who have the right temperament to be good service dogs. Service dogs have a very high level of obedience training and manners in public. They cannot:

  • Try to interact with people and dogs that they meet.
  • Pull on leash, unless required for task work.
  • Bark at, jump on, or growl at people and dogs.
  • Show any fear or apprehension toward anything.
  • Touch anything on store shelves.
  • Pick up food off the ground.
  • Have any history of aggression issues.
service dog medical assistance

What is an emotional support dog?

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are a bit different. ESAs are dogs who have no formal training, and do not perform tasks and work, but provide support to someone with a psychiatric disability through their companionship. They are NOT allowed into any store unless the store is completely pet friendly. Airlines and certain types of housing allow ESAs where they would not normally accept pets. In these cases, ESA’s should be safe in public, non-destructive, and housebroken.

Service Dog and ESA Certifications

Many different websites have cropped up claiming to sell certifications for your dog to be a service dog or an ESA. These sites are fraudulent, and there is no requirement for your dog to be certified in order to be either a service dog or ESA. People have been taking advantage of the current system, so in the future there will likely be required certifications, but they certainly will not be given because you filled out a form online.

esa certification
This is fraud, and you should never pay for ESA certification.

We do recommend that those with service dogs go through and film a public access test with a professional trainer who has service dog experience. While this is not a requirement, it gives you documentation that your dog is exceptionally well trained and can help if you ever have to fight an access issue. We suggest filming all of your dog’s tasks and other relevant behaviors for the same reason.

Can you make your dog into a service dog?

Well the first question should be, do you have a disability? Does your disability require assistance that could be provided for a dog? If yes, then you can consider a service dog. If not, it would be fraudulent for you to claim that your dog is a service animal.

Now if you did say yes to the questions above, we then have to look at where your service dog would come from. Some people want to train their pet dog to do service work, but this rarely works out. It takes about 2 years to fully train a service dog, and most dogs can work until they are 8-9 years old. That working time frame is only 6-7 years if you start with a puppy, but gets even shorter if you are working with an older dog. Many dogs also have minor or major behavioral issues that make them poor candidates for service work, even if they are wonderful family pets.

If you decide to get a new dog to start the process, you really have three options. Option one is to go to a service dog program who will assign you a fully trained dog. These programs have long wait lists, but you won’t have to worry about your dog washing out for not making the cut. Option two is to get a rescue dog from the shelter. There are great dogs in shelters all over the country, but because their backgrounds are generally unknown, they tend to have higher washout rates in service work. Option three is to go to a breeder and get a puppy. This is often the option that we suggest, because it will generally cost you less than a program dog, but you have a background on the parents and can expect the puppy to mature in a certain way.

german shepherd down stay

How does service dog training work?

The first thing we start with a new service dog prospect is basic obedience and manners, plus making sure that they are bombproof around anything they will encounter in the real world. People and dogs can’t be scary, loud noises can’t be scary, and new sights and smells should be ignored in favor of working with the handler. Once the puppy or dog knows their basic commands, we start to raise the bar and ask them to do more challenging things. For example, can they hold a down stay while food is dropped? Can they heel past a child that is trying to pet them? Distractions should be very heavily proofed for.

Next we will begin task training and teaching work. This is the area of service dog training that is the most varied. Everyone’s disability is different, and each dog will need to perform different tasks that are tailored to their handler. For example, I trained a hearing dog last year for someone who worked in the school system. In addition to teaching that dog to respond to normal everyday sounds, we had to teach her to also respond to the school fire alarm.

Public access training is the part where we start to take the dogs into different places. Service dogs should act no different at the mall than they do at the hardware store. This part of the training doesn’t begin until the dog is 8-12 months old, because some dogs are not mature enough to handle it until they are nearly a year old.

Below is a playlist of service dogs who have graduated from our programs before. The first dog, Maison, is shown on his first airport trip when he was about 14 months old. You will notice that he does a great job, but makes a few mistakes here and there. The slippery floor was hard for him to hold a sit on, so that is something that we had to go back and work with him more on. This is why it takes 2 years before a service dog is considered completely trained.

Service dogs are an incredible help to those who struggle with disabilities that effect every day of their life. While their training is expensive and time consuming, it can be a life saver for the people who need them. It can be easy to watch someone with their service dog and wish your dog was with you. Just remember that the handler of that dog is only in that position because of a disability that is a daily challenge for them.

Coronavirus and Your Dog

The world has changed a lot these past few months. We are all dealing with this crisis, and some of you may be wondering what this means for your dog.

The first thing that we should mention is that there is no evidence that dogs can become ill from, or spread, COVID-19. To quote the American Veterinary Medical Association…

“To date, there have been no reports of pets or other animals becoming ill, and there is no evidence that domestic animals, including pets, can spread SARS-CoV-2.”

While it is certainly good news that our pets cannot spread or get sick from this virus, there are still a few factors you should consider about this situation and how it could impact your dog.

  • Make sure that you have enough food and required medications for a 2 week period for your dog. This does not mean that you should go out and buy up large amounts of everything, but rather just make sure you have the supplies that you need.
  • Find out if your vet clinic is still open, what their policies are, and do the same for your closest emergency vet. Our dogs don’t know that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and medical emergencies can still arise. Being prepared will mean you don’t have to panic if something does happen with your pet. Please respect the policies of your veterinarian, even if they make things a little more inconvenient for you.
  • Have a plan for your dog if you get sick, have to be quarantined, or have to be hospitalized. Make sure that you have a designated person who can take care of your dog if needed. Make sure that this person is aware of your dog’s routines and needs.
  • Take some time to learn basic grooming skills for your dog, if you have not already. Groomers may be shut down during the period where you would normally get your dog groomed. You can clean ears, clip nails, brush, and bathe your dog at home if needed. Good, consistent brushing can also extend the amount of time that your dog needs to go between getting clipped.
  • You need to make sure that your dog is still getting plenty of activity. If you are stuck inside, make sure to challenge your dog with mental activities. Obedience training, tricks, scent work, interactive toys, and other similar activities are great for this. Please reach out if you need any suggestions on how to incorporate these for your dog.
  • Behavior issues can crop up if your dog’s routine is disrupted. Dogs who get used to you being home might develop seperation anxiety when you go back to work. Make sure to include structured crate time or other alone time during the day for your dog. This may seem silly, but it can make a huge difference in your dog’s stress level when the world returns to normal.

We are offering more content and information weekly to help people get through this very challenging time. Fill out the form below to be added to this program. Items we are covering include: activities for your dog and your kid while school is closed, good interactive toy options for power chewers, burning off energy when you are stuck at home, and having a good emergency plan for your dog.

Service Dog Training Session: Tattle the Golden Retriever

Tattle is a Mobility Dog that we trained for a veteran with MS and PTSD.

Here you can see her working on her “take it” and “hold” commands.

A formal retrieve is a more complicated behavior than it may appear on the surface, and is actually a chain of several behaviors. First, the dog has to be able to identify the right item to retrieve. Secondly, they must go to it directly, and pick it up without dropping it. They cannot chew or play with it, as this could damage the item. They must bring it directly to their handler, and depending on that person’s individual disability, the dog may have to place the item in their hand or lap. The dog must also be able to release the item willingly.

Here you can watch Tattle while she was in the training phase of this behavior chain. The command “take it” is for her to grab a given item, and “hold” means to gently bite down without chewing the item. If you watch closely, you can see that her confidence is better on softer items like the pouch, and that she isn’t as comfortable grabbing the cane. The cloth wrapped around the cane is to help her out. She can start by biting the softer part, and we can gradually fade it out.

Notice also that Tattle’s confidence grows throughout the session. This is a typical session for this type of skill, and is only 5 minutes long. You can see how much progress we made in that time, and she will do better and better every time she works on it. These skills can take a long time to teach, which is why service dog wait lists are so very long. These skills also require maintenance, which is why owner support and follow up is so critical.

Tattle, back when she was just learning the basics.

Service Dog Training with Kentucky Dog Training LLC

Due to the time commitment required, we take a limited number of service dog clients at a time. We specialize in public access training and proofing of obedience behaviors, but we do offer certain types of task training. There are some types of task work that we are unable to offer at this time, but we may be able to refer you to a colleague. Please reach out to us if you have any questions about service dog training.

Watch some of our other service dog graduates.

Recent Dog Training Graduates

Meet some of our recent dog obedience graduates!

Dixie, lab/rottie mix

Dixie, Labrador/Rottweiler Mix

Dixie is a mixed breed who came to training because she was struggling with leash reactivity and dog aggression issues. Dixie is very social with people, but does not appreciate strange dogs in her space. In addition to working on dog obedience training with Dixie, we also taught her how to cope with stressors. We do not expect her to interact with strange dogs. All we need from her is to be able to tolerate dogs she may see when out and about.

Sophie, Portuguese Water Dog

We generally work with two groups of dogs: those who we are having to fix behavioral issues, and those where we can stop them from ever starting. Sophie belonged to the second group, and is a very impressionable Portuguese Water Dog who was a blank slate for us. She has great food drive and loves to please, and has a lovely temperament. When we got the chance to work with Sophie, we started off by building a solid communication system as well as good dog obedience foundations. Then we took our training on the road, and made sure that Sophie could do all these behaviors anywhere she went.

Luppa, Cane Corso

Luppa came to training when she was 8 months old. Cane Corso’s are a powerful working breed that require training from an early age. Starting this early means that we can instill good habits rather than having to break bad habits. You can see that Luppa has awesome food drive! She also loves to work for praise, and for life rewards like playing with her friends. Luppa was struggling with some skin and coat issues when we first met her, but we were able to help her owners with some dietary changes that helped her feel her best.

Dog Obedience Training in Louisville and Lexington

If you would like your dog to achieve the same success as Dixie, Sophie, and Luppa, reach out to us to schedule your free evaluation. We offer training options to fit a variety of behavior issues, breeds, and budgets.

Training Koda the Golden Retriever

Koda graduated from our main program when he was about 6 months old, and came back for a week long refresher course.

During our refreshers, we are working on whatever individual items that particular dog needs. In Koda’s case, there were a few things that we needed to cover. Koda was young when he graduated, so we were not able to ask too much of him in terms of duration exercises. We were able to increase the duration of all of his stays and places going forward, no matter what the environment.

Koda also had developed a reluctance to jump into the car. He struggled with this when we first started working with him, and we worked through it. After a long break from car rides, he became a little apprehensive about them again, but it only took us about 15 minutes to get him back on his A-game.

We also wanted to fade out Koda’s training tools while he was with us for his refresher training week. Training tools are very useful when dogs are going through the learning process, but we always want to have an exit strategy for the dogs. People should be working towards phasing these tools out as the dog progresses, rather than relying on them forever.

After a week spent working on these skills, we took Koda back home for an in-home private lesson. We showed his owners how to get him in and out of their large SUV, and went on a nice walk with him. There is no better feeling than a relaxing walk with a dog walking on a loose leash at your side, totally in sync with you. We have followed up with the owners since Koda went home, and he is still doing great and is perfectly mannered wherever they take him.

How Do You Fade Out Training Tools?

First of all, let’s establish what we mean by “training tools”. A training tool is any item that we are using to help us establish better behavior from the dog. Most commonly, this is some type of training collar. It could be a slip collar, a prong collar, a martingale, electric collar, head halter, or a Starmark collar. Other training tools can be things like a Pet Corrector or a muzzle.

When we start a training program with a new dog, we evaluate them to figure out which training tools are the right fit. Not every dog is a candidate for every tool. Once we have the right selection made, we start introducing the dog to the tool and make sure that they understand it. A key part of our transition lessons with owners is making sure that the owners also have a very clear picture of how the tools work.

We expect dogs to use their tools for at least 30-60 days after graduation. This gives the dog and owner plenty of practice time, but really there is no rush. Some people fade tools out in a month, others it might take a year. Koda’s owners had mostly stopped using them, but wanted to make that final step toward getting rid of his prong collar. We accomplished this with Koda, and now he can perform all of his obedience with just a flat collar.

The one caveat that we gave his owner is the same one that we give to all our clients. If your dog is off leash in an uncontrolled setting, you should always have a safety net. Dogs are still animals at the end of the day, and no dog will ever be 100% reliable every time. Our recommendation for off leash work is that the dog either have a long line or an electric collar. Either tool will allow them to enjoy lots of freedom in a safe manner.

Wild: 5th at AWMA Nationals and on to FMBB!

D’Wildcat 16130 IGP3 5th Place

88-89-90=267

Wild went to Maine to compete at the American Working Malinois Association (AWMA) national championship. This was the first time that he had been able to travel to a trial, and was also his first exposure to national level competition. Traveling can take a lot out of a dog, especially when there are big changes in climate. Going from hot and humid Florida to some very cold days in Maine was a big leap! The AWMA nationals is also especially nerve-racking for a handler, because the best of the best are there competing. Wild handled everything in stride, and came away with a 5th place finish.

In tracking, we had some issues on the corners and a slow article indication, but his straight legs were phenomenal. Very consistent and correct work there got him an 88 point score.

On Sunday we were in the stadium, and were the last flight of the whole trial. Some issues in our heeling were the biggest hit to our score, as well as some issues with our fronts and finishes. All in all, the judges awarded us 89 points.

After coming off the field from obedience, my friend let me know that we were actually in the running to make the team. We needed an 89 point score in protection to make the cut, so the pressure was on for me to handle him correctly and make sure he had every opportunity to hit that benchmark.

We had been battling with a guarding issue and a slow sit on the side transports, and both problems showed up, but he still had a very nice showing, and we managed to pull 90 points!

With the performance he put down, we qualified for the FMBB team that will be going to compete in France in May of 2020. This is a lifelong dream of mine, and I am so excited to be taking this journey with Wild.

AWMA Nationals Footage

AWMA Nationals 5th Place

Dog Training Quick Tip: Stop Jumping on People

One of the most common training issues that I see people struggle with is with their dog jumping on themselves and guests. Dogs love to interact with us, and jumping up is a fun way for them to do so. They do not realize that this is an undesirable behavior unless we tell them. Jumping up on people can even be dangerous when it happens with young kids or elderly people.

I see lots of people try to stop jumping by pushing the dog away with their hands or their feet. This is one of the absolute worst things that you could possibly do to stop the behavior. Don’t forget that your dog is jumping on you to get attention from you. You pushing on them is not something that they necessarily see as a punishment, but rather as more interaction from you.

Instead, we need to show the dog that the only way that they get positive interaction with you is by keeping their feet on the floor. We can teach the dog a more appropriate greeting position, such as a default sit. This will encourage them to think before they jump on you. The dog may still need a consequence for jumping, but implementing corrections is something that should be done under the guidance of a trainer. Eliminating jumping allows you to then show the dog the proper way to accept greetings. You can pet and interact with your dog all they want, and they can express their excitement while still keeping their feet on the ground.

We also have to look at the reason for why your dog is jumping up. 9 times out of 10, jumping is a sign of excitement, overstimulation, and overly social behavior. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes jumping can be a pushy behavior that can be tied to an aggression issue. Some other dogs will jump on their owner when they get scared and nervous as a way to seek out safety. An experienced dog trainer can help you to determine the root cause of your dog’s jumping.

If you know that your dog is jumping from just pure excitement, then you can manage this behavior through an incompatible behavior. Simply put, you need to assign your dog to a behavior that they cannot do at the same time that they are jumping, This could be a sit or down stay, but I prefer to use a place command. Place still gives your dog the freedom to wiggle and be excited, but in a way that is more pleasant for your guests and yourself.

charlie-schnauzer
Charlie, working on a place command. As long as he keeps his feet on the bed, he is free to be as wiggly and excited as he wants to be.

As with any behavioral issue, the best way to stop jumping is to prevent it from happening in the first place. When you get a new puppy or dog, be sure to start setting your expectations from day one. If you allow bad habits to start developing, it will be that much more difficult to stop them.

If you are struggling with jumping or other behavior problems, be sure to contact us so that we can help you out.

Should You Do Group Dog Training Classes?

Group classes are one of the most common dog training options for pet owners. Each class generally lasts an hour or so long, and there are anywhere from four to eight dogs participating. The trainer works with everyone as a group, and will follow a set curriculum. Some classes will also include socialization time at the end for dogs and puppies.

Many dog owners will start off their puppy’s life by seeking out a puppy kindergarten class, and then continuing on through a series of group classes. But is that really the best path for your dog?

There are pros and cons to every type of dog training program, and group lessons are no different. Let’s start looking at some of the great aspects of group dog training classes.

Group Dog Training Class Benefits

  1. Cost Effectiveness: Group classes are generally going to be the cheapest option when you are looking for dog training lessons. Because your trainer will be working with multiple people in the same span of time, they can charge each person less. More affordable classes means that this can be the best option for those with a limited budget. You can also generally do more sessions in group lessons than you can in private lessons for the same amount of money.
  2. Built In Distractions: Your dog’s training should be able to hold up no matter what is going on in the environment. When you are in a group class, you are always going to be working around plenty of distractions. Multiple people and dogs working in the same room is a great way to replicate the distractions that you will face in the real world.
  3. Observational Learning: When you do a private lesson, it is just you and the trainer. You can watch the trainer demo things with your dog, but still might not quite get the visualization of how to do an exercise. When you are in a group class, you get to watch a half dozen other handlers working on the same thing. Sometimes just seeing somebody else learning can really help observational learners to figure things out.
  4. More Teamwork for You and Your Dog: When you do group classes, you have just one hour with the instructor every week. It is up to you to practice with your dog throughout the week to make sure that they get enough repetition of each skill. This really helps you to build a better relationship with your dog, and to improve your own training skills.
group dog training classes

Group Training Class Negatives

  1. Less Individual Attention: The instructor of a group class has to divide their attention between multiple people, so there is less time for everyone to address individual issues. This makes group classes less than ideal for those who are dealing with behavioral issues that need a more personalized approach.
  2. Larger Time Commitment: Dogs need regular practice to make improvement on their training. When you are doing group dog training classes, you have to practice daily in between classes. You also have to make sure you are working on your own training skills. Compare this to a board and train program, where you learn to handle a trained dog instead of learning to train your dog yourself.
  3. Potential for Too Many Distractions: While the distractions of a group class can be great for proofing your obedience, they can be too much for a dog who is just learning basic skills. It is much harder for a dog to learn simple skills in a busy setting than it is to learn them in a quiet, controlled setting.
  4. Less Convenience: Group classes require that you drive to a location every week, participate in an hour class, and then go home and practice every day in between lessons. If you were doing private lessons, your trainer will often drive to your home instead and work with you there. In a board and train, you don’t have to worry about getting in all of the repetitions with your dog because your trainer will do it for you.
group dog training lessons

What Dogs are a Good Fit For Group Dog Training Classes?

  • Young puppies who just need to learn the basics.
  • Dogs who need obedience proofing.
  • Dogs who are doing sports like rally, nosework, competition obedience, or agility
  • Dogs who are working toward their Canine Good Citizen
  • Therapy dogs
  • Dogs doing advanced obedience
  • Dogs who have owners with existing training experience

If you think that group classes sound like a good fit for you, contact us to ask about our upcoming offerings.

FAQ: Dogs Shredding Beds

Destructiveness with bedding is a common issue.

This is an especially common problem with working breeds and puppies. It can be frustrating when you spend as much as hundreds of dollars on quality dog beds, only for them to be destroyed. This can also be potentially dangerous for your dog if they decide to ingest material from the bedding.

The first thing that you need to evaluate when deciding why your dog shreds bedding is to look at their age. Some puppies can handle having plush bedding, but others lack the maturity to handle it until later into life. Think about your puppy’s toys that they play with. Are you giving them stuffed toys? Do they shred and destroy them? If so, your puppy probably doesn’t think of your dog bed as anything other than a giant stuffed toy.

Is your dog destructive in general, or do they just have this problem with dog beds? If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety and destroys multiple things in the household, the issue is not isolated to just bedding, and needs to be addressed separately. Another common cause of dogs shredding beds is boredom and excess energy. Make sure that your dog’s brain and body are both tired before you give them access to their bed.

And let’s face it: tearing stuff up is super fun for your dog. One of the simplest solutions when somebody tells me that they have a problem with dogs shredding beds, I generally tell them to go out and buy a Kuranda bed. Kuranda beds, especially the aluminum ones, are very durable, easy to clean, and are not as enticing to tear up as plush beds.

Another thing that you can try is to give your dog something else to keep their mouth occupied when they are on their bed. Stuffed kongs, dog bones, and other interactive toys are an excellent way to show your dog that there are better things to chew on.

Dog Aggression in Rescue Dogs

A Common Problem

One of the most common issues that crop up when rescue dogs enter a new home is dog aggression. This is a problem that is not only frustrating, but can be potentially very dangerous. The intent behind the aggression that a rescue dog might display can vary greatly. Some dogs will bite just to get other dogs out of their space because they do not want to co-exist. Other dogs have the intent to do serious harm, and will not stop at just a bite.

When dog owner’s see dog aggression in rescue dogs, a common assumption is that the dog was a victim of a previous traumatic experience. One of the most popular stories with rescue dogs is that a dog who is fearful or aggressive toward other dogs was a former bait dog. This is a story that has been very popularized in the media, but it doesn’t have much truth in these situations. Bait dogs very rarely survive being a bait dog, and if they do, they have extensive injuries.

One type of experience that can cause aggressive behavior toward other dogs is being attacked by a loose dog. This problem is all to common all around the country, and most people who walk their dog regularly have had some kind of experience with loose dogs running up to them. This situation can absolutely cause a dog to develop insecurities when they see a dog out in public.

Lack of socialization also explains many cases of dog aggression in rescue dogs. It is normal for a dog to react poorly to things that they have not been exposed to when they were in their crucial early socialization period. Dogs that end up in rescue may have missed this window for a variety of reasons. Hoarding and puppy mill situations typically mean that the dog has never left the same place it was born in. Other dogs may end up abandoned or neglected a young age, or they could simply have been with someone who did not commit the time to give the dog what it needed as a puppy.

dog socialization
Socialization is key in showing your dog proper dog communication skills.

Experience vs Genetics

However, there are plenty of dogs who have had less than optimal socialization who still do fine when they see a strange dog. The same can be said for dogs who are generally good natured and get charged by a loose dog. When these triggers cause significant aggression issues, it generally means that there is also a genetic component. Most working breeds have a genetic tendency towards same sex aggression toward other dogs. Terrier and livestock guardian breeds are often naturally inclined to have a zero tolerance policy for strange dogs all-together.

It is important to recognize which things are experience related, and which are due to genetics. We can never make a dog forget what has happened to it, but we can provide lots of good experiences and show the dog how to work out of their issues. Genetics are a different story. Dogs with genetic dog aggression can be managed, but they are who they are.

How Misunderstanding Dog Aggression in Rescue Dogs Can Hurt

Many rescue dogs end up in the wrong home or in bad situations because the reason behind their issues is misunderstood. Well-meaning people may take a dog who is genetically dog aggressive and try to socialize it by taking it to the dog park. This is not only dangerous for the other dogs in the park, but it is unfair to the dog. That dog does not want doggie playmates, and trying to have them make friends is against their nature.

The idea that a dog has had bad past experiences can also lead to trouble. Unfortunately, there are bad things that will happen to some dogs over the course of their life. This can lead you to want to shelter your dog and to make excuses for their behavior. This also does a disservice to your dog, and prevents them from moving forward. Instead, you should acknowledge your dog’s past while working with a professional to build a plan to get your dog through their issues.