Jinx [JLS DORI HARTLEYS CRYING SKY CGC, TDI] demonstrated excellent understanding of Guide Dog task
training from an early age and proved a willing pupil. He has been a delight to train. He worked hard in
his obedience courses, and passed his CGC to unanimous praise. He actually earned the more difficult TDI
certification first, acing that test easily. He has taken some review courses to enhance his attentiveness,
and will continue to practice advanced skills. Jinx has successfully completed most phases of formal Guide
Dog training, has begun light work with supervision as a Guide Dog and will soon graduate to become my
working Dalmatian Guide Dog. He's currently learning simple retrieval tasks as well. In his spare time, Jinx
enjoys workouts on his treadmill and romping with his cousin, Ebony; moonlighting occasionally in the AKC
Ebony [JLS DONNA SUMMER BAR NONE] was chosen for her stellar temperament to also become my Guide Dog.
She has been a phenomenal puppy to play with and raise. Her attitude says "I can do anything you ask of me,
just show me how!" Ebony is a star student and very smart! She graduated from Puppy Kindergarten class, and
has nearly completed her basic obedience, at which she has excelled. She has begun Guide Dog task training
[consisting of putting word cues together with obedience moves such as turns] at entry level, and her sheer
enthusiasm for training, as well as her remarkable focus, is breath-taking. She will continue on to
intermediate and advanced obedience classes in the Spring and Summer of 2008 before continuing with Guide Dog
training. We anticipate great things, so watch for more to come!
|The Service Dog begins as a SDC, or Service Dog Candidate. He remains a candidate until he
has reached an approximate age of at least 7 months or older, has mastered basic house manners, learned to
eliminate on voice command, been socialized thoroughly, passed a puppy class and a basic obedience course.
At this time, he will be further evaluated, health screens done or scheduled, and training plans can be made.
Socialization and reinforcement of basic obedience training continues as he matures, and he starts
He then generally becomes a Service Dog in Training, or SDiT, provided he continues to succeed. For a
candidate who began this process as a puppy, its fairly common for task training to be completed by about
aged one year, because this is one of the easiest parts to teach a Service Dog, and 7 to 11 months is an
ideal age at which to teach such skills. Task training continues until completed [some trainers may say its
never really done!] and it can be refined further later. The SDiT also focuses more on solid basic obedience
as task-training is integrated with his foundation training to his particular job, and he is progressively
exposed to busier environments.
He is tested repeatedly on his manners with other dogs and with an assortment of people in a variety of
places; any problematic areas are assessed and addressed in training. He learns to focus on his handler as
his attention span develops or increases. Typically, this is the longest phase of the process. He takes at
least one more, intermediate or advanced obedience course, perhaps several of them if the trainer wishes to
concentrate on particular skills. He will take and pass the CGC, sometimes get Therapy Dog certification, and
generally rack up obedience experience in group and real-world settings. He has begun to master grooming and
handling manners, continues to practice learned skills; and is beginning to show his personality and potential.
Puppies are like caterpillars: You don't quite know who they are until the butterfly emerges!
As the process escalates in intensity with added hours in training, assessments, tests and evaluations
are stepped up, and criterion for continuing becomes more stringent. The intermediate SDiT can be introduced
to preliminary Public Access by visiting places who welcome leashed pets, such as pet and feed stores; this
should have begun with puppy socialization, but it continues at a higher level with the SDiT being asked to
perform basic or intermediate obedience and/or some task training in these environments, with gradually
escalated distractions. Dog show experience is a plus, especially in obedience; and socialization practice
continues. Emphasis sweeps between maintaining core skills, sharpening these skills, and systematically adding
new skills with greater complexity across the board.
All this is carefully balanced by the trainer who also must protect the young dog from negative
experiences at critical points, continue to progressively expose him to more challenging environments, and
monitor his growth and health. He also gets a great deal of interactive play-time to offset the intensity of
his training and bond with his partner and/or trainer. The dog tells his trainer when he's ready for more; the
trainer must be able to read the dog accurately, keep his interest and enthusiasm, work on effective
communication, plan toward the bigger picture and break sessions and tasks into attainable increments,
setting the dog up to succeed.
The final phase of SDiT is distraction-proofing, or learning to focus on the handler in any situation in
very busy environs. Again, this started with puppy socialization as the pup was exposed to many different
things, people and places; the pup was briefly exposed in a casual manner, the new SDiT is exposed and asked
for fundamental obedience, whereas the SDiT about to "graduate" may be exposed and asked for advanced obedience
or to perform tasks chained together in sequence. This phase doesn't ever actually end, as the Service Dog must
stay solid in these areas; this happens by repeated exposure over long duration.
An example of socialization and proofing in different stages might look something like this: At a public
playground, the puppy [socialization] is walked at a distance from the mildly busy area, where he is
unconcerned, for only a few brief minutes. He is gradually brought closer and given treats by the kids as he
becomes more comfortable, or if he is already really friendly, he goes up to them briefly then leaves to play
with his handler. The beginner SDiT might be asked to walk at heel past several people, he may be distracted
but will go ahead and remain under fair to good control. The advanced SDiT can breeze through this crowd with
sharp focus on his handler, ignoring the other people, and will downstay amid the commotion if asked.
The trained Service Dog's practice might be to not look at people doing gymnastics, waving flags or
calling his name and charging up to pet him. The trainer gets more creative in challenges as the dog progresses.
To keep the SD happy and willing in his work, training is approached as a fun game, positive interaction and as
a series of puzzles for a dog to solve to earn rewards. Everything can be approached as a game, and the dog is
encouraged to engage with his trainer and to want to play to learn the object of each game and earn the reward,
which can be any number of things. Service Dogs work for rewards, too; but their rewards are most often praise or
rest; clicker training can be very useful also. Keeping the dog motivated is key.
Once the SDiT has passed these milestones, he may become a Service Dog. He should take and pass the
Public Access Test and work regularly to reinforce his training, practicing core skills as well. He will
have regular health care and grooming, and every aspect of his management and maintenance is meticulously
attended to. He will also get regular time off to play and be a dog, but is supervised and safeguarded to
protect him, because an enormous amount of time and money has gone into making him a Service Dog. Training,
classes and private trainers and addressing health screens and maintenance are the main expenses but the real
investment is time and work.
Guide Dogs [also sometimes called Leader Dogs] work as a team with their human partner to navigate
obstacles, guide the team through traffic, avoid overhangs, stay on a straight path and alert to uneven
groundsurfaces. This is done entirely on voice commands. The dog has verbal cues for turning one-quarter to
one-half of a circle's diameter in each direction, to pivot, back, step up or off, stop, go forward, park,
and in the concept of "intelligent disobedience," to use his own judgement to disobey a direct command if it
would place the team in danger.
The human member of the Guide Dog team is responsible for navigation--knowing where he is and where he
wants to go to--he then directs the dog to go on, and the dog safeguards the journey. Most blind people
have some degree of sight, but not enough to maintain their balance or move in a straight path while
navigating. Different navigation skills are used depending upon the degree of sight present and the
experience of the team. The terms Seeing Eye® Dog and Pilot Dog® are registered trademarks of the schools who
use them, and are only used for dogs graduated from those schools.
A Mobility Dog often accompanies a person in a wheelchair to help retrieve out-of-reach items, steer,
and balance with transfers from wheelchair to bed or chairs. Some Service Dogs are cross-trained, usually
having one primary specialty and then may be asked to perform pieces of another, such as a Guide Dog who
will also retrieve his handler's dropped keys on cue. Hearing Dogs alert to the ring of the telephone and
doorbell, and warn of a person's approach.
Therapy Dogs are not considered Service Dogs under the ADA, but some states recognize and grant them
some privileges depending on their situation. A Therapy Dog's main task is to assist in human rehabilitation,
education, or provide relief to managed-care persons such as the ill or elderly. Therapy Dog training and
testing can be a useful tool in conjunction with some aspects of Service Dog work; usually the trainer uses
it to target a particular set of skills or to widen the dog's experience.
~ Christi © 2007