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.