So you’ve brought home your new service dog for the first time and you’re excited to train it to become a well-behaved and disciplined companion. However, as the sheer volume of commands and skills that your dog needs to master sinks in, it increasingly becomes an overwhelming endeavor.
Although one may argue that dog training for service dogs varies according to its end job, there are foundational skills that every service dog should learn. So in this article, we’ll focus on these most essential skills that will let you enjoy your service dog’s company and prepare it for further, more specialized training.
1. Making your service dog recognize its name.
One of the very first things that your service dog should learn is to recognize its own name. If your dog knows its own name, you will be able to communicate more easily, capture its attention, and reorient its focus with ease.
The fastest way to do this is by associating the sound of its name with a reward. Simply say the dog’s name and immediately give it a small handful of treats. Do this several times in a row then wait for it to look or move away.
When you say its name again and it looks at you, offer another handful of food. Do this very simple exercise daily and reward correct responses such as looking at you or moving towards you until your service dog learns its name.
2. Teaching your service dog the ‘Sit’ command.
The ‘sit’ command is one of the easiest obedience commands for your service dog to learn. It’s considered to be one of the most basic skills that provides a great foundation for your service dog to master other positional commands such as ‘stand’ or ‘down’.
You can train it by using a treat to lure it into position while adding the command ‘sit’ with a drawn-out ‘s’ to emphasize and make the command more distinct. Once your dog gets into position and its bottom is firmly on the ground, give it a treat.
Alternatively, you can also put the treat close to its nose and then move it up. As your dog lifts its head to follow the treat and sits down to wait for you to give it, say the command ‘sit’ and give the treat.
Repeat this exercise until your service dog understands the command. While it’s still learning, you might need to give treats on random until your service dog gets to the point where it obeys even without being rewarded. Aside from treats, you can also give it rubs and verbal praises after it makes the correct response.
3. Training your service dog to obey the ‘down’ command.
After you successfully teach your dog the ‘sit’ command, it may be ready to learn more challenging commands such as ‘down’. While others report that it is difficult to get their service dog to lie on the floor, it’s perfectly doable with a few tricks.
The first step is to hold a treat and move it gradually towards the floor. As your dog follows the treat and lies to the floor, give the ‘down’ command and give the treat. Do this repetitively until it understands the command and does it even without you giving it a treat.
4. Making your service dog understand the ‘stay’ command.
In a way, the ‘stay’ command is an extension of ‘sit’. So if your dog already knows how to sit down on command, it’s halfway there to learning how to ‘stay’ but it can still take some time.
To train your dog, start by asking it to sit and put the treat close to its nose. Next, say the command ‘stay’ and then slowly walk a few steps away. When it holds its position and stays, reward it immediately.
Meanwhile, if your dog follows you or does something else, say ‘no’ so it can distinguish if the exercise is done or not. It’s important to note that this may require more patience as two commands are being done at the same time.
5. Training your service dog to walk on a leash.
You may find it difficult to take your service dog out in public if it doesn’t have proper leash manners. With this, one of the first things that you should teach your dog is how to walk nicely on a leash. This means it should know when to stay by your side, stop walking when you do, and walk again without wandering around.
You can practice by walking your dog on a leash indoors first. As it walks away and reaches the end of the leash, just turn and go the opposite way. When it comes back to your side, reward your dog with a treat.
Continue this exercise until your service dog pays more attention to you. After some time, you can try to do this drill outdoors.
You can also encourage your dog to catch up by saying ‘hurry, hurry’. Everytime your dog gets your command right and stays in the right position, give it some treats and praise it. After some time, your service dog will understand that it will only get to go places when it follows you and walks nicely on a leash.
Remember, if your dog moves out of place, simply turn and walk the other way to reorient it.
Dog training for a service dog can be a lot of fun for both the dog and the owner. It’s also a good way to establish trust and forge a solid relationship between them.
Always remember that learning these foundational skills is just the beginning of your journey with your new companion. There’s so much more to master to achieve your expectations for your service dog. Nevertheless, it’s always a rewarding experience to see your dog turn into a well-trained assistant who can keep you company every single day.
However, if training your own service dog is too huge of a task that you can’t seem to get right, you can always hire a professional dog trainer to do the heavylifting for you.