We read stories all the time in the media about how service dogs change lives. Over the years, I’ve experienced first-hand how a dog can dramatically improve the quality of life of those who struggle with a disability. Not only because dogs can help in many ways, but also because they’re so good at telling when we’re having a hard time and need a friend. However, even with the best of intentions, things don’t always work out as expected and sometimes, plans have to change. Oftentimes, the dream of having a service dog is met with a harsh reality: getting a service dog is work. It’s not easy, and it will require a certain amount of effort before you see a positive impact. I wrote this book to help you succeed in your project. With the right information and the right tools, getting a service dog or training your own can be a gratifying and life-changing journey.
Not every person can be a heart surgeon, a marine, or a firefighter. Not every dog can be a service dog. If the dogs only needed to perform in a home environment or in a few familiar places, it would be much easier and cheaper to train service dogs. Many dogs can learn how to retrieve objects, alert to changes in glucose levels or help a person get up. But dogs, like people, have anxieties and fears that can get in the way of their ability to stay focused on their person when in new places. And because service dogs are still dogs, no matter how well trained, they also come with their own set of mental and physical demands.
This book is meant as a guide for any person considering a service dog.
My goal was to provide readers with the most basic and the most important tools to succeed in training their own service dog: how to select the right dog and how to prepare and teach them to work in public places. This may not be the sexiest part of service dog training, but it’s where most people will meet roadblocks.
While the focus of the book is on training, you will also find detailed information on the following subjects:
How much time, effort, and cost are involved in acquiring and training a service dog?
Do certain breeds work best?
Can you train a rescue dog to be a service dog?
What are the laws and standards for service dogs?
How do you deal with the public when out with your service dog?
Is a service dog is the right choice for you?
What can you do to maximize your chances of success?
Here are a few of the points that are detailed in the book.
Assess your situation as objectively as possible
When you’re in need of urgent solutions, it’s tempting to overlook the downsides and focus only on all the positive ways that a dog will help. I will never forget a phone conversation I had with one of our clients who yelled at me: “I got a dog to take care of me, not so that I would have to take care of him!” In that moment, I realized that I had failed to help her understand the essential part that she would have to play in her own success. Having a service dog is teamwork. It’s a team where both the person and the dog need to collaborate and care for one another. It’s a beautiful, incredible, and amazing partnership between two beings, but it can only work when both ends of the leash are fully engaged and willing to work for the other.
If you’re considering getting a service dog to help you or a loved one with a disability, you’re going to face many decisions. Is this the right time? Have you considered the downsides of having to care for a dog? Is your family ready to step in when you’re going through hard times? Will you be able to cover the costs of acquiring and providing for a service dog? These are some of the many questions I have laid out in the book and that will help you in deciding whether you’re ready to move forward to the next step.
Deciding whether to get a dog from an organization or train your own service dog
There are many organizations such as Medical Mutts that will provide you with a fully trained service dog. The biggest advantage is that they will screen the right dog for you, teach the dog the many behaviors needed, and help you develop the skills you need to succeed in creating a working partnership with your new service dog. The organization takes on much of the work, as they will often go through 3-4 dogs for each one that is placed as a service dog and they are experts at what they do. Most organizations will specialize in certain disabilities. Medical Mutts, for instance, focuses mostly on providing diabetic alert dogs, seizure alert dogs, and psychiatric service dogs but will also train for other disabilities. You can find a list of accredited organizations on the Assistance Dogs International website.
The downside of getting a dog from an organization is that the dogs are often quite expensive and the wait time is of long. Depending on whether the organization receives grants or sponsors to cover their overheads, you might need to fundraise $15-25,000. Some will provide dogs for free but in general, the cheaper the dog, the longer the wait time. It’s not uncommon to have to wait 2-5 years for a service dog.
Training your own service dog can be a great way to get your service dog sooner and for much cheaper. You can either do all the training yourself, preferably with the help of a trainer, or get your dog professionally trained. Here’s a link with the options that Medical Mutts provides. The biggest consideration here, as I cover in the book, is choosing the right trainer and the right methods, as there can be significant differences in outcomes.
Getting the right dog
The most important aspect of making a service dog is getting the right dog. You can’t train any dog to be a service dog. The dog must have certain qualities. Dogs must for instance be very social and safe to take around all sorts of people. They must also be confident enough to handle all sorts of environments. If they are too anxious about their surroundings, they will be worried about their own safety and so struggle to keep a watchful eye on your needs. In the book, I explain how breed, age, and background will impact a dog’s ability to be trained as a service dog. I also describe how to test dogs, both puppies, and adults, and how to decide if a dog has potential.
Preparing and training the dog for public access
Taking a service dog in a public setting presents very unique challenges. The main focus though must be in keeping your dog safe as well as the public. The standards established by the service dog industry provide a framework that keeps the person with a disability, the dog, and the public in the same space with minimal disruptions. The book outlines what those standards are and how following them is in everyone’s best interest.
Training a service dog is different from training a pet dog. There are very practical aspects to the behaviors we teach. When you take the dog everywhere with you, you might not always have both hands available. You might be shopping, eating, or holding someone’s hand… In obedience training, the focus is solely on the dog and many behaviors are taught from a competition perspective. The minor differences with training a service dog will add up and can make your ability to manage your dog in public more challenging. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The book will cover all you need to know about dog training in general and will focus more specifically on public access training. You’ll find information on public access laws and standards of behavior, as well as tips on how to deal with the public and detailed instruction on how to train the behaviors you will need to navigate the challenges of public access training.
This book is meant as a guide. It’s an informative tool that will assist you in making the right decisions and steer you away from some of the common mistakes. With information on dog behavior and psychology, you’ll gain insight into your dog’s mind and better understand how to set up realistic and practical goals.
What others have to say about the book:
Jennifer’s love and knowledge of dogs is apparent. She writes in clear, plain language that is easy for the lay person to understand. Her training techniques help create a true partnership between handler and dog founded on.
My son and I went through the Medical Mutts group classes to train his service dog, Mya. Jennifer’s training techniques did wonders for not only training our rescue to be a wonderful service dog, but helped build confidence in our son. Our service dog, Mya, helped give my son his life back. Now when we receive compliments on our dog when we are traveling or at my son’s classes or appointments, we can’t sing the praises of Jennifer and Medical Mutts enough. I was so moved by witnessing what a service dog can do to help a disabled person, I joined the board of Medical Mutts so we can help rescue more dogs, help more people and spread more kindness.
Treasurer for Medical Mutts.
Jennifer Cattet has created a valuable resource for anyone interested in service dog training and public access for service dogs. All positive reinforcement trainers will gain insight from her superb book, Selecting and Training Your Service Dog. This is a “must have book” whether you want to train a service dog for yourself, train service dogs for others, or just understand more about service dog work and public access. Jennifer’s wealth of service dog experience shines through in every aspect of training and handling service dogs.
Guide Dog Mobility Instructor of 42 years.
Recipient of the Ken Lord Award from the International Guide Dog Federation
Dr. Cattet’s landmark guidebook propels Service Dog training to the fore of modern-day behavioral science…at last!
This inspiring, pioneering roadmap of Service Dog Training is a “must read” for every prospective, new and seasoned trainer who truly loves a Service Dog.
A breakthrough book to help trainers and pet parents “cross-over” to scientifically endorsed contemporary methods and collar devices is long overdue in the service dog training community. I am honored and delighted to have the opportunity to endorse this important piece of work. Dr. Cattet’s commitment to dog-friendly methods and collars is meticulously supported in an easy-to-read and understand format. Maintaining an unbroken bond and nurturing trust between service dogs and their humans, is absolutely essential to building the teamwork necessary for the unique and special relationship between them. Bravo!
Linda Michaels, M.A., Experimental Psychology Author: The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behavior Handbook
I have known Jennifer for several years and have deep admiration for her knowledge and abilities in training service dogs.
There are many pitfalls in trying to train a service dog, but in this book Jennifer guides the reader through all the issues from legal considerations to how to select and train the service dog.
Inventor of Pet Tutor and President of Smart Animal Training System
Desperately needed for the last 25 years – this book guides through clear and easy to understand language the specific needs, challenges, and training of a public access service dogs.
Julie Shaw, KPA CTP, RVT, VTS (Behavior).
Co editor – Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technician and Nurses
“Dr. Cattet bravely challenges the public’s misconceptions about dog training by explaining the science and reasoning behind positive-based training methods. This book is a must-read for any dog owner, service or otherwise, who is seeking a lasting partnership with their four-legged companion.”
Gabrielle Weinert, B.S. Animal Sciences, MAT, Medical Mutts Client