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Service Dog Info Center

Service Dog Info Center

Let Your Service Dog In Training Be A Puppy

Posted by greenribbondog on January 6, 2020 at 11:30 AM

I keep seeing posts online asking for help with a service dog in training that is having difficulty in a relatively unchallenging environment. Often, it's a puppy under eighteen months old -- sometimes even a baby puppy under six months! -- that is being asked to go everywhere with the owner on a daily basis, working or training for long hours. And the pup is having a melt-down over a minor issue. Can we say predictable?


Please let your puppies grow up before putting them into full work! We don't ask kindergarteners to do a full day's school work because they're just too young, don't have the attention-span necessary, and don't have the stamina to do so. We don't ask third-graders to handle calculus when they haven't yet mastered multiplication and division. And tired-out puppies don't have the energy, resilience, or mental focus to learn well or manage potentially scary or chaotic situations when they're exhausted and overwhelmed.


Not only is there a progression of skills that dogs need to master before moving on to more challenging ones, they need to learn each new skill in a calm, low-distraction setting before practicing that skill in a more distracting atmosphere. Jumping ahead on skills tends to leave holes in the dog's training foundation and weaken their ultimate reliability in future situations. Asking them to handle very challenging environments before they're mature enough is asking for failure. Pushing a puppy to work too much too soon is a recipe for early burn-out.


Think a service dog can't get burned-out? You'd be wrong. I once saw a Lab (adult, not a puppy) in a clothing store wearing a service dog vest and behaving well, heeling nicely next to his owner. The problem? The dog was very clearly depressed and unhappy, staring despondently at the floor the entire time, completely shutting out the rest of the world, including – as much as possible while still doing his job – his owner. I still feel bad for that poor dog.


Before you insist on taking your service dog in training with you next time you leave the house, consider how stressful the environment will be, how long your outing will be, whether your pup will be able to take a real break and rest undisturbed sufficiently, and whether the puppy is ready for that specific outing. Yes, INTRODUCE your puppy to new situations, environments, and challenges, but don't over-do it. Take short trips, focus on your pup while you're out rather than your errand, and ensure the puppy has a pleasant, HAPPY experience. Build a confident, secure dog instead of an anxious, nervous wreck that clings to their owner and freaks out at simple things like the lights being dimmed in a movie theater or a shiny, slippery tile floor. Temperament plays a strong role in ensuring a good service dog, but experiences also contribute.


Training can wait until your puppy is mature enough and READY for each step. It shouldn't be a race to get your puppy fully qualified as a service dog in the shortest time possible. That way lies washed-out service dog candidates, failed partnerships, and canine burn-out.


Let them grow up. Let them explore. Let them be DOGS.



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