Service dogs are highly trained canines who assist people with a variety of health and medical issues. Training to become a service dog begins when a dog is just a puppy, and he must be able to master commands beyond the normal obedience commands that household pets are taught.
Volunteering to train a puppy to become a service dog for someone else is a rewarding task, but it is also a lot of hard work. You will need to spend a lot of your personal time training and may also need to utilize specialized training courses taught by experienced dog trainers. Some important concepts you can expect to teach a puppy in training to be a service dog include the following:
An incredibly important skill that all service dogs must master is the ability to tune out all distractions. Proofing is the process of teaching a puppy to ignore things going on around him, and it can be very time-consuming. You will need to work with the puppy to help him learn how to ignore things such as a squirrel running in front of him, hearing his name called by someone other than you, or being offered food during training sessions. As a volunteer training a puppy to be a service dog, you will need to work on one distraction at a time until the puppy is able to ignore everything around him while you use the sit, stay, down, and heel command.
A service dog needs to be able to stay by the side of his owner and follow his or her movements. Heeling is a concept that refers to training a dog to maintain a relative position to his owner whenever he or she moves. Your puppy will need to learn how to stay right by your side when you move forward or backward or change direction. Heeling should eventually become automatic for a service puppy-in-training, and no verbal commands should be needed by the time the puppy finishes training.
After a puppy masters the concepts of proofing and heeling, he will be ready to be taught specific tasks. The tasks that you will need to help teach the puppy will depend on what type of service dog that he will be. A guide dog will be taught tasks such as object avoidance, while a hearing dog will need to learn to respond to things he hears, such as a doorbell ringing or a smoke alarm signaling. While this may sound hard to accomplish, teaching a puppy these tasks is similar to teaching any type of trick– with time, effort, and practice, your puppy-in-training will be ready to enrich the life of someone who needs a service animal.