Author Topic: Starting the service dog journey  (Read 821 times)

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Offline KellyColleen

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Starting the service dog journey
« on: October 17, 2017, 04:12:16 PM »
Hello,

While this is my first post I would like to thank everyone on the boards, all of the information I have read has helped my understanding of SD's and their handlers/Partners.

I am just starting my journey of acquiring and training my service dog. So far I have read ADA laws, looked into service dog programs, studied breeders, and made a list of tasks that would help mitigate my disability.

Background Information: I have Fibromyalgia, I was over 10 years ago and have learned to live with my disease. Over the last few years my mobility and cognitive capabilities have steadily declined. I have reached a point where I am not declining further, but am no longer able to do everyday tasks that I used to.

I have bad dizzy spells, very little to no feeling in my fingers, light and sound sensitivity, and terrible all over pain and fatigue.

I am looking into a mobility service dog trained to help me balance, retriever items, help with dizziness by bracing me, help keep people from bumping into me, as well as a few other tasks that are similar.

I am looking for some advise from the community.

I am looking into larger breeds and have narrowed the choice down to a few candidates: Golden Retriever, Standard Poodle, Dalmatian, or a Golden Retriever/Bernese Mountain Dog Mix.

I know that getting a dog from a program would be ideal, as training is tiring and time consuming, but I have tried to get into a program and have had terrible luck as they have very long wait lists and are very picky about who they let on their wait lists.

My questions are two fold:

1) Which breed would you go with? You may also suggest other breeds not listed.

2) Would you start owner training with a trainer who has trained SD's before or would you keep trying to get into a program? FYI I have tried to get into 5 different programs with no success.

Thanks! :paw:

Offline Kirsten

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2017, 04:39:30 PM »
I wouldn't lose a Dalmatian for temperament issues, or a Bernese Mountain dog mix for size issues.  I'm not suggesting Dals have bad temperaments but that they are temperamentally not ideally suited for service work.  They're designed as carriage dogs.

I'd go for a golden or poodle.  I think I'd go for the poodle over the golden because though goldens are very good in obedience they favor pattern training which I'm not fond of and I might get away with more of the style of training I'm used to with a poodle.  Other than this personal preference I think either could be suitable.  Just because I have a training style bias doesn't mean others should or that either breed couldn't produce an equally good service dog.
Kirsten and Tardis
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Offline Kirsten

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2017, 04:41:24 PM »
The main issues with owner training aren't about it being tiring or hard work but that the success rate is much higher going with a program.  The speed of getting an actual working dog is also typically higher with a program than with owner training once you factor in not just training time, but also the amount of time to find an appropriate candidate and dealing with the high probability of having to start over one or two times on average with a new candidate when the first washes out.
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In loving memory of Cole (1/11/99 - 6/26/12)  He gave me back my life.

"The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world -- the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous -- is his dog." -George G. Vest

Offline Kirsten

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2017, 04:46:26 PM »
Would I personally choose to owner train or go with a program?  I have chosen to owner train.  But I'm also an experienced trainer, very much enjoy training, and have particular opinions about how I'd like my dog to work as well as particular opinions about my favorite breed. 

Which choice do I think is likely better for you?  Well, for your first service dog I always advise people to go with a good program.  The first service dog is a steep learning curve and there are a lot of things a good program does to make that more manageable, above and beyond the actual training of the dog.  There's team training and ongoing support after placement.  That first year is typically going to be rough at least in patches.  Having a program who knows your dog inside and out because they chose him (or bred him) and trained him, ready to answer questions and advise and even help with additional training if needed, that's priceless and a significant advantage program clients have over owner-trainers.
Kirsten and Tardis
In loving memory of Cole (1/11/99 - 6/26/12)  He gave me back my life.

"The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world -- the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous -- is his dog." -George G. Vest

Offline ccunnin3

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #4 on: October 17, 2017, 05:03:17 PM »
For perspective: I was denied from about 30 programs before I found the perfect one. Depending on your disability, finding a program may take some time, effort,and flexibilty.
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Offline Moonsong

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #5 on: October 17, 2017, 07:43:50 PM »
As a first time owner trainer - I'd go with a program. When I decided to owner train, my parents were still super iffy about me getting a service dog at all, much less introducing a brand new dog into our three dog + 1 bird home. Plus, in order to afford a new dog, I would probably have to either rehome my current dog or my bird. I was lucky enough that I owned a dog who seemed suitable for service work; he was evaluated by my trainers and they agreed that he had a very good chance.

However, I'm a first time owner trainer and I've made HUGE mistakes. I'm now starting ALL OVER with Max's training because I realized that, while he could do all of his commands and could behave appropriately in public...everything was sloppy. I had to repeat myself sometimes, sometimes he wasn't very accurate, sometimes he brushed me off...etc. So I'm now going allllllll the way back to square one (as in day one of our first obedience class ever all over again) to start over to make everything more solid.

And even before I decided to start over, it was an immense emotional roller coaster. Constantly worrying about him washing out, stressed by certain behaviors, frustration, etc etc. It's no walk through the park.


If Max were to wash today, I'd go through a program, no question about it. Even though that might mean rehoming my bird, even though that would mean having to convince my parents to allow another dog (no easy task), even though it would mean having to get a poodle (mom and brother have allergies) even though I really don't like curly hair, etc etc etc. I would not want to do owner training again; not right now, anyways. Maybe someday way way in the future after I've gotten a ton of experience training dogs and service dogs (I'm learning to be a professional trainer), but not for years and years.
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Offline JimZorro

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2017, 08:34:12 PM »
If you should decide to go the owner-trainer route, I would suggest that you really focus on temperament when selecting a dog, regardless of the breed.  I have an owner-trained poodle that has worked out well as a hearing dog.  I found this dog by talking with many poodle breeders at various dog shows after reading a book on hearing dogs, and purchased on the advice of a breeder who had placed prior poodles as hearing dogs.  In my opinion, selection of the right dog is 80% and training only 20% in the production of a good hearing dog. 




Offline Suse

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2017, 08:34:03 PM »
I too have a standard poodle that I owner trained because I could not find anyone who was training poodles at the time, and no one who trained for the various things I needed.  I agree with Jim, temperament is so important, and health.   I looked for over 6 months to find the right dog. I passed on so many of them.  One thing that helped with checking temperament was seeing the parents and grandparents and their behavior and training.   Best of luck!

Offline Azariah

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2017, 09:26:29 PM »
If I missed this in your introduction/question I apologize. Do you have background training dogs in advanced working activities - like obedience or agility at a competition level? I think  its harder for someone to owner train without that background - though not impossible with the right support structure.

Dog selection is very important as others have mentioned. Usually best to go with an older puppy as their personality is more solid so what is evaluated is what you'll actually get. There are threads on this throughout the forum. Young puppies can change a lot as they grow. Best to have an independent expert evaluate rather than yourself.

I'd strongly prefer a reputable program over owner training. I had some breed limitations that would have made it even harder to get a program dog as I'm allergic to a lot of breeds....but I still recommend that route. Not only does owner training have a higher risk of not succeeding - it can also add to your pain as you are training. Especially until you learn workarounds to teaching a lot of tasks to not have it cause pain. The textbook way doesn't always account for disability limitations.

On a side note. I have a Samoyed. The two other people I know with Samoyed service dogs have fibro. It isn't a common service dog breed and as a working northern breed can be harder to train and not an ideal first dog for many. But it is interesting that of the three of us I know with service dogs all three have "pain" related conditions and two of the three have fibro.

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Offline missythewriter

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2017, 11:22:54 AM »
Hey there! I also have Fibro--a pretty horrid case of it. Bleh.
Anyway, welcome to SDC!

Something to take into consideration, if you want to owner train, is can you really handle it? With your limitations, will you be able to train a dog, every single day, to be up to service dog standards? If you've never trained an assistance dog before, it is incredibly challenging and incredibly high-maintenance.

How many programs have you applied to? I know of someone, I think on SDC, who had to apply to something like 30 programs before finding the right one, but when s/he found that program, it was perfect. I don't think it's a good idea at all to jump into owner-training unless you have experience training working dogs before. Not just owning dogs and training them tricks, but working dogs; police work, advanced agility, assistance work, etc. It is so much harder than it looks. Very time-consuming, and not even guaranteed to work out. 

Of course, the choice is yours at the end of the day. But maybe keep looking at programs for a little longer, unless you are positive you can handle selecting and training a dog that truly needs an experienced trainer's eye.


Offline SandyStern

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2017, 01:29:56 PM »
You didn't ask for our advice about the decision to train your own dog, but since you mentioned the reason you have moved away from programs, I want to give you another thing to think about.  Yes, program waiting time seems endless.  But you know what? At the end of it you get a service dog who will do the things you need.  If you decide to train your own dog, the only part that will be faster is the acquisition of the dog or puppy!  It will take at least 18 months to complete the training, and at the end of it, odds are that you will not have a service dog, you'll have a pet that isn't reliable enough for public access.  Kirsten did the math at some point and I recall that the odds of successfully selecting the correct dog and getting the training right was less than 5%?  I think that's right.


Offline Kirsten

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2017, 01:57:36 PM »
The math I did was based on more than a decade of data from a large program that was selecting dogs from rescues and shelters and they had similar data from when they switched to breeding in house for a specific purpose.  If you know what to look for (ie have years of experience selecting candidates for service work), you probably have about a 50% success rate with the selection based on temperament and health screening, but prior to the start of training.  That part of the data remained the same regardless of whether the dog was purpose bred or rescued.  What was most interesting though was that less than 1% of adoptable animals (pet quality animals) turned out to be suitable for service work even though they were suitable as pets.  So what are the odds that someone without expertise in choosing a service animal candidate will succeed in choosing a suitable candidate?  About 1%.  If about 50% of expertly selected candidates wash out during puppy raising or even as late as during task and public access training, what is an owner-trainer's chance even with a perfect candidate?  Less than 50% because they do not have the advantage of experience and specialized training to do the job.  In reality, I've observed the typical first time owner trainer go through three dogs before getting the hang of it.  Not every one of them of course, but that's typical.  The learning curve is very steep and the stakes are high.  Most owner-trained dogs that wash out wash out over temperament rather than training, ie incorrect candidate selection.  I figure about 99% do not fully understand the difference between behavior and temperament.  Behavior can be modified with training, but temperament does not change or improve with training.
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Offline Azariah

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2017, 02:56:49 PM »
To give context on the timing for owner training. I got Serenity at 8 weeks. With the exception of a couple times I was out of town I have been able to train "something" daily with her - even if just a few minutes at a time. I've got extensive experience doing obedience training - over a decade. Serenity is just at a year and I'd say we are maybe halfway to where I'll need her to be as a service dog. It took a solid two months of daily training to get a reliable retrieve of a dumbbell in a home/familiar environment and we haven't started to generalize that to public settings or different types of objects. And that's just one of the tasks I need.

So I agree with others that while the program wait times seem long (and they are) it can actually be faster in the end than owner training. The trick is finding a reliable program that you qualify for.
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Offline missythewriter

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2017, 04:34:57 PM »
Behavior vs temperament is such an important distinction. For example, my pet dog, Josie, is very apprehensive of strangers and very anxious. That is her temperament. Her behaviors exhibited from that temperament were obnoxious, ear-splitting loud barking at the door, and growling when men come into the house. I changed her behaviors to show her that instead of yapping at the door, I was okay with a couple barks, but then wanted her to run to me. I changed her growling behavior to instead be silent, and go in her crate, her safe space, when nervous. Is she still anxious? Yes. She hates when unknown men come into our house. Is she still nervous at new sights, sounds, and situations? Absolutely. That is her temperament. I can let her know what behaviors I'm okay with her exhibiting from that anxiety, but her temperament is still the same. And the problem with novice dog owners/service dog trainers is that they can't make that distinction easily between temperament and behaviors.

Adding on to Azariah and Kirsten: If you get your first prospect, and they're training well, they're a cute puppy, etc. etc. Let's say that dog, at eight months old, exhibits some serious prey drive. You work on it and work on it for about four or five months, but it doesn't seem to be getting any better, and it's actually gotten worse. You consider this dog unfit for service work, and wash them out. That's a year of training gone. Let's say it takes you three more months (very short time) to find your next prospect. Now, this prospect gets to be . . . let's say fifteen months. They're pretty close to being fully trained. But they develop a serious health condition, and have to be washed. That's another year and a half, to waste. You get a new prospect after three more months, and this one takes a full two years to train. Based on the average Kirsten gave, there's your trained service dog. But getting that service dog would have taken four and a half years to fully train. And how much money have you spent, at that point? For all the dogs' necessities, purchase prices, professional training, food, toys, treats, etc.? Thousands of dollars.

A lot of programs can get you a dog between six months and three years. A lot of programs can get you a dog for free, through fund raising that they will either do themselves, or help you with.

I want to owner train, because I have lots of knowledge, experience, and will have professional help throughout the training process. I want to owner train because I am okay with a dog, even two or three, washing out. I have the money and the time for that. If you are not okay with taking four, five, even six or more years, and spending the amount of money to raise three or more puppies, to get your first, fully-trained service dog, you may want to consider a program dog a little more. Just some food for thought.

Offline Skipping

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Re: Starting the service dog journey
« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2017, 06:35:12 PM »
Kelly, I cannot offer any help since I'm pretty much at the same point you are in (almost--now have the new dog, praise God! She's wonderful, learning quickly). But welcome, and I hope this is a positive and beneficial process for you.

I will comment that I've had Dalmatians. A few things I would offer is that some are actually pretty small (not likely good for stability), and in my experience Dals are self serving (often brilliant, but only if it serves their own purposes) and sometimes aggressive. They were actually used as guard dogs, running under stage coaches to ward off, and attack if necessary, thieves. I had one who was the biggest sweetie and was "safe" even around small children, but then he would attack my dad if he tried to wake me. They also need extensive exercise, steady and long trotting, or they go a little nuts and have the temperament issues that most people identify them with. I apologize to anyone out there in love with Dals and who may have an exception; we've just had multiple Dals in my family because they are in fact great dogs, just not great service dog candidates in my opinion.
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