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We are training our dog to be a service dog ourselves, because I think the experience for the kiddos and myself is wonderful, and we want to give our time and energy to those in need. I consider it my responsibility to teach my boys to serve others, and we have been blessed with amazing health and a wonderful, friendly puppy, which we can share with other children who are sick. There is a children’s hospital not too far from our house, and I can’t wait to go visit the children with my boys and our dog to make their day just a little better!
I’ve seen the pure joy of children when they meet our dog, Theodore, at parks, and my heart goes out to all those children who are stuck in hospital beds, without the kindness and joy an animal brings. I also want to illustrate to my boys the amazing blessings we have and how it is our responsibility to care for others too. So, we are embarking on training our Cavalier-Poodle puppy to be a service dog. Here’s is my plan to get the training done!
This is pretty obvious, but, I am a huge fan of positive reinforcement. Our Theodore is obsessed with treats, so this makes training really easy. He will do anything for the tiniest bite of something yummy. I chose the Pup-Peroni® Jerky Bites at Walmart because there are two varieties made with real pork, real beef and premium ingredients. Theodore is obsessed with them. There is no grain, meat by-products, fillers, or artificial flavors, so I feel totally comfortable using these as his positive reinforcement for working on his training. I grabbed these at Walmart in the Dog Snacks aisle, and there is an Ibotta offer that saves you $1.50!
I put the treats in a special jar, so he knows we are getting ready to train when I grab that jar. The snacks are easy for dogs to chew and can be easily torn into pieces for smaller dogs as well! Perfect to grab quickly.
Because I am doing this myself, I was able to find sample tests for the certification on YouTube. This made it very easy to make a list of items we need to know, prior to the certification test. If you search on YouTube for ‘service dog test’, you can find a number of videos that go over mock-tests or real tests.
Make A Training Checklist:
From researching on YouTube, I was able to make a list of the milestones we need to accomplish with Theodore. Some of them we can do at home, and others we will practice in public as he gets better at his training. We just started, and so far have conquered sit, down and stay.
The training list involves teaching Theodore to heel on a leash, stop and sit, allow strangers to pet him when asked, ignore other dogs, maintaining control off lead, staying while I walk away for at least 6ft or more. The National Service Animal Registry has more details on these requirements too.
Setting Goals For Each Training Session:
I decided the easiest way to accomplish our training would be to set goals for each session. These include reviewing and new lessons. Our first goals are to review what we know, and help Theodore feel encouraged and excited about what he’s learned. We also offer lots of praise and treats. Then, we can embark on one new task, and repeat that until it is close to learned. He learns pretty quickly, but I think one new task per training session is perfect. In the next training session, the new task falls into one of the review tasks, which we can review over and over as needed.
Having Play Time After Training:
Part of the major reward for Theodore is play time. For us, he just loves to run around and chase my boys. Allowing him to relax and burn off extra energy leaves him feeling super happy at the end of a session and remembering training as a very fun experience. As a previous horse-back rider/trainer, we always needed to leave off on a good note, no matter what, so the animal remembered a positive experience. I believe this is true with dogs as well!
Signing Up For The Test:
Once Theodore is 1 year old, we can sign up for the test. With our training and practice, I will wait until I feel very confident we will do well! Having a deadline will also help me stick to our training, rather than starting and falling off as life gets busy. Paying for and scheduling the test makes us finish the commitment!
Deciding whether your dog would be a good service dog is up to you, because you know them the best. Are they tolerant, patient, love people and overall very calm? Assessing your dog’s personality is very important in the decision process. Our dog absolutely LOVES people, and will do anything for attention and petting. I think he will LOVE visiting children more than the children will love him!