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What Do I Do First?! Preparing Mostly Untrained Adolescent Dogs for Training as Service Dogs



This presentation introduces a foundational set of skills I use to train young, untrained adolescent dogs for careers as service dogs. Dogs are placed with veterans diagnosed with PTSD and/or traumatic brain injuries. These basic “pre-skills” are helpful before starting to focus on more advanced behaviors, such as loose leash walking, task training, and correct behavior in public. While these skills are crucial for a certain type of service dog, I find that they are incredibly useful for foundations for my own dogs, who are sport and working dogs, as well as being house dogs. Training adolescent dogs as service dogs made me realize I was training skills that I previously took for granted in my own dogs!

For the service dog program that I work with, I train adolescent dogs between one and three years of age. Those dogs come from a variety of sources: hunting dog or detection dog sources as well as some dogs raised from puppies in foster homes. These dogs sometimes have a few basic obedience skills; however, for the most part, they are mostly untrained adolescent dogs (MUADs, not a technical term I just made it up). The challenge has been to take them from being MUADs to service dogs that can pass an assessment with the disabled person they are placed with. No dog gets placed without passing an assessment test. But it is ideal to get them ready as quickly and efficiently as possible.

While I have a long career as a dog trainer in a number of fields (SAR, IPO, LE), the potential service dog training process can be challenging. With new MUADs, I sometimes have a “where do I start?!” feeling. But training a series of preliminary tasks/skills/concepts helps me get past that point and into more specific service dog training. Having the dog acquire these skills makes me less frustrated when I try to train the more advanced skills. These skills improve my communication with a new dog. They also make the dog’s transition to a new owner and handler smoother. To borrow a term from other types of training, these foundational skills help create a “started” service dog that is then ready to gain mileage, experience, and more advanced training skills.

While I’ll share what I find to be useful starting points when trying to go from untrained adolescent dogs to service dogs, the majority of them are useful for sport and working dogs as well. This is not a presentation on how to train a dog to be a specific type of service dog but rather demonstrates a series of behaviors I routinely train prior to focusing on more advanced training tasks.

Presented By:

Lucy Newton

Lucy Newton (she/her) has been training dogs and teaching dog training almost all her life. She was a wilderness search & rescue dog trainer, handler and instructor for over 15 years. She trained numerous personal dogs for wilderness search and rescue, as well as land and water human remains detection. She has served as an instructor and training officer and continues to provide training to search and rescue dog handlers and their canines. Lucy also worked for over 10 years as a full-time police sergeant and police canine handler and handled multiple dual-purpose patrol/narcotics canines for her police department. Lucy raised and trained all of her police and SAR dogs from puppies. Lucy was a state-certified police canine training instructor and served as a field-training officer for her department.

In 2011 Lucy took a full-time position as an instructor and trainer for the Randy Hare School for Dog Trainers teaching detection trainer schools and working dog training classes to law enforcement, military, and professional dog trainers. In addition, Lucy has served as a consultant and trainer for a Colorado-based business that trains dogs to detect substances important to conservation research projects.
In 2016 Lucy relocated to North Carolina, where she continues to offer training and instruction to police, search and rescue, working, and sport dog handlers and trainers.

In addition to training dogs for police and search and rescue, Lucy competes in a variety of sports with her own dogs. Her now-retired police dog partner, Steel, has the distinction of having an IGP (Schutzhund) tracking title as well as being an AKC Tracking Champion and a formerly certified police tracking dog. Lucy has titled her dogs in obedience, tracking, and IGP/Schutzhund. She previously served as a National Association of Canine Nose Work judge. She has also taught online courses in tracking and nosework topics for Fenzi Dog Sports Academy since 2013.

Lucy is currently the service dog trainer for American Humane’s Pups4Patriots Program. Lucy trains young adolescent dogs to be service dogs for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress. The dogs reside with her until fully trained and then Lucy conducts a residential training camp where the dogs are paired with their veterans. Lucy teaches the veterans positive reinforcement training techniques, allowing the veterans to understand how to maintain and improve their dog’s training. These training techniques also serve as an excellent mechanism to help the veterans cope with their PTS as well, because focusing on concepts such as rates of reinforcement, correct mechanics and clean criteria, etc. helps mitigate some of the symptoms of PTS.

Lucy has taught a variety of clinics throughout the United States and Canada. Regardless of the training venue, Lucy emphasizes a training philosophy that allows the dog to satisfy their drive and control their access to reinforcement. Her goal is to create happy motivated working dogs that enjoy their jobs and can be accurate and be successful under a variety of conditions.