More and more, people with disabilities are choosing to train their own dogs for service work. Some of these people will go to a reputable and responsible breeder to find a puppy for this type of work. Others will go to a shelter or rescue group. So with that in mind, here are some things for breeders, shelter and rescue volunteers and staff to consider before they place a dog or puppy in the home of someone planning to train the dog for service work.
- Service dogs are expected to work in complex settings, crowded environments with exposure to unfamiliar people and dogs. Any aggression at all: growling, barking, so forth is a rule out for service work and a potential liability and safety risk. Dogs that may bark at unfamiliar people, are timid, “need time to accept a new person” or may show aggression to an unfamiliar dog are not suitable for service work. Confident dogs that love absolutely everyone and are happy in a wide range of situations may be appropriate to consider for service work. Service dogs should be relatively “easy to train” so independent breeds and easily distracted individuals are usually not appropriate for service work.
- No one can ethically guarantee that a puppy is going to mature with traits needed for service work – not even if many of the dog’s relatives are working as service dogs. No one can guarantee that the temperament of an adolescent dog will remain the same over time. Newly adopted rescue dogs or shelter dogs can take weeks to months to show their true temperament (even if they are in foster homes). What will the person do if the dog is not suited for this work? Will they keep the dog as a pet? Are they going to be devastated and then rename the dog “Disappointment.” Seriously, you want the person to be happy with their dog so doing a bit of education up front is important.
- Service dog training should be done with qualified professional support. Training a dog to this level is an advanced skill and there is increasing media coverage of inappropriately trained dogs being taken in public places as service dogs. Inappropriately trained service dogs in public places makes access harder for people with disabilities who need service dogs and have their dogs properly trained. Someone placing dogs or puppies as service dog candidates in homes is in a position to make a difference by asking some questions before placing the dog.
Want to learn more? Here is a short webinar with information on terms used in the service dog community. If you are a training professional interested in learning how to support people with disabilities training service dogs, learn about our Service Dog Coaching Certificate™.