I talk a lot about the amount of work these dogs require, and will continue to for the rest of their lives. When I mention to friends that we are going to a training session, or that I take the dogs out and work obedience with them, they often times just assumed that would eventually end. After all, these dogs have been through 1-2 years of training with some of the best trainers around, so what gives?

Raven working with distractions

Working while Stella takes her horseback riding lesson

I am no expert, nor do I claim to be. But our family has now been utilizing a service dog for a year and a half, and have had a 2nd one for almost 3 months. We have made many observations about these dogs in that time, gained a lot of experience, and we also continue to work very closely with Canine Hope and all of the amazing resources they provide to their families to help keep these dogs working well.

One of the first things you will learn very quickly (hopefully) is that if you are getting a “finished” service dog (meaning the dog has finished all of their training) the training doesn’t stop the day you get the dog home. Some might say that it is only just beginning. Once the dog comes home, it needs to be integrated into your lifestyle.

Is the dog going with you to work? With your child to school? To the ranch while you ride horses? To the kids basketball games? Is the dog going to be your daily running buddy? Riding on the bus or train everyday? All of these things will require time and training.

But beyond that, because eventually the dog will get comfortable in all of those scenarios, these dogs are exceptionally smart, and they love to work. Often times, they are working for praise, treats, some play time, or whatever happens to motivate that particular dog. So in order to keep the interest high, and the dog motivated, we need to do at least a little training everyday. My daughters BS doesn’t drop below 85 (the low range at which Major & Raven will alert) daily, and sometimes weekly. And that low drop alert is when these dogs really got to have what we call a “low party” (treats, toy time, praise, and LOT’S of attention), so we need to supplement to keep them sharp and focused.

Working on heeling with a loose lead and a very small person

We do this by taking scent samples whenever my daughter does go low and saving them for later use. We try to do some scent training work with the dogs a few times a week. We take the sample and put it on a person, or hide it in a scent stick, or under a box, various different ways of hiding it, to let them smell and find it, and then give them their low party.

We also work obedience with them daily. This could be as simple as a daily walk around the neighborhood while working with them on the basics, like sit, stay, heel, come, down, etc. It could also be as elaborate as attending a rally or agility class, and most likely a combination of the 2. Even when we play a game of fetch with the dogs, it is done in a very controlled manner, and is serving a purpose. But the dogs aren’t any the wiser, because some of this stuff is a lot of fun for them.

Working a dog through an agility course at a DAD conference
Major and Stella doing agility. Way to clear the barrels Major!
Working agility in our backyard
Stella and Major working the agility course at a Canine Hope training session

All though the agility course looks fun, there is a lot of training going on. The handler and the dog are working with commands, trust, actions, off leash work, distractions, and at the same time the team is building a bond, which is extremely important. As you can see, not all of this training is tedious, most of it is very enjoyable!

We also spend a lot of our training time out in public. At Target or the grocery store, at the kids school, at the movie theater, at a restaurant, or with the Canine Hope families. Almost everything we do becomes an opportunity for a training session. We are always working on self control, being well behaved, socialization, being non-vocal, but also working through new scenarios to make sure the dogs are capable of working with all of this new stimulus.

Training at the Natural History Museum
Working in Stella’s classroom
On a plane
On a Subway in Boston
At the California Science Center
A fun training session at a Canine Hope event

As you can see, we have a fun time. Even games of fetch as mentioned before, or swimming become training sessions, where we are working on self control, heel, retrieving skills, and getting exercise. These retrieving skills can later be transitioned into things like fetching the meter or getting a juicebox out of the fridge.

At these events, there is a heightened sense. Major loves swimming and fetching, so through a day of this, he has worked extensively on sit, stay, heel, fetch, and self control
Working on flying
Stay, wait, self control, patience, not eating the small boy 😉

We even do a lot of our training right inside our living room. Working on “place”, “leave it”, stay, down, sit and of course a lot of our scent training is done at home. We also teach the dogs “tricks” like bowing or waving, and then after they learn these tricks, we attach them or chain them to other behaviors, like bowing for a low BS, or waving for a high.

Raven working “Leave it”
Major working “Leave it”
Both puppies on “place”

Socialization skills are also very important, and at the same time, we want the dogs to be more interested in their people then in other dogs, cats, or any other animal, so we spend a lot of time training with the other families and their dogs.

Working on “stay”, socialization skills, and distractions
Gone Hollywood!
At the Long Beach Aquarium
At the Arboretum. Again, multiple disciplines being worked on here. No handler, so they are working on stay, self control, sit, and multiple distractions
Sitting pretty

So as you can see, the training never ends. If it does, it won’t take long before you no longer have a service dog, but a really expensive pet. These dogs love to work. They live to work. They want to please us. It’s up to us to make sure we let them do their job.

Team Blackdogsrule

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1 Comment

  1. Great post! Perhaps your next post you could elaborate on what it’s like to fly with a service dog. What have you learned through the experience? What are considerations that you must think about that many people would be surprised to learn?

    Thanks for sharing your family’s journey!