|photo credit: Ben Fletcher Photography|
Service dogs are awesome companions and helpers for people with a variety of disabilities. There are many organizations that raise and train service dogs to assist individuals who are deaf/ hard of hearing, blind/ visually impaired, and physically or emotionally disabled. But did you know it is also possible to train your own dog to be a service animal?
My dog Taden is a black lab/golden retriever mix; she was given to me by a family friend when she was about a year old. I quickly discovered that she was very smart and eager to please, so I thought I might be able to train her to do a few things around the house for me.
The first thing I taught her was to pick up an object I had dropped and bring it to me. This was helpful because I have a hard time bending over to retrieve things. She learned to do the task in just an hour! I was amazed. That’s when I decided to look into what it would take to train her to be a service dog.
What I found out was very surprising. Training your own service dog is easy! In most states, including mine, a service dog does not need to be certified. All they need is be able to follow some basic training standards like not barking, or going to the bathroom in public areas, and perform three tasks that are specifically beneficial to your disability. For example, Taden can pick things up, help me remove my jacket and help pull me in my wheelchair. There are plenty of certification sites out there that lead you to believe you need a piece of paper stating that your dog is a service animal, but they are just looking to make a quick buck.
I decided I was going to try it and purchased two books to help guide me through the process: Teamwork 1 and Teamwork 2 by Stewart Nordensson and Lydia Kelley. These books walk you through some common tasks that service dogs should perform. The books are written by a person with a disability so all the exercises are adapted for people with disabilities. They are great books for basic training as well.
Ultimately, I decided that Taden’s personality wasn’t right to be a true service dog. She loves people and get’s so excited to be pet and have her ears scratched that she gets completely distracted. If I had gotten her as a puppy, training her to focus around a lot of people might have been easier. I could probably still do it, but I have come to love her happy, bubbly personality. She makes everyone she sees smile and I just don’t want to see that go away. She still helps me around the house, and if I ever get another dog I might try again.
If you are looking to train your dog, check out these books; and be sure to check out the rules in your state regarding certification.