Getting started with a new puppy is always exciting and it’s even more exciting when the owner’s goals are to train the puppy for service work. However, sometimes, owner-trainers have misconceptions about service dog candidate puppies. Moreover, some of myths about raising a puppy for service work may actually harm their pup’s behavioral health. Here are a few of the myths that professional trainers often hear:
Myth: The puppy the owner has chosen will definitely grow up to become a service dog.
Fact: Yes, I dove right into the most frequent myth that’s definitely challenging to address. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way to predict with certainty that an individual puppy is going to mature into an adult dog with the temperament and behavior characteristics needed for service work. It is a good sign that the puppy is happy, confident and loves all kinds of people and animals. However, just because a pup shows those characteristics, does not guarantee that the temperament will remain the same over time. Dog behavior changes during the dog’s development. Sadly, some behavioral traits that are not acceptable in service dogs, like some types of aggressive behavior, do not emerge until the dog matures.
Myth: Service-dog-in-training puppies need to go everywhere with their owner.
Fact: Socialization is important for all puppies however, socialization is commonly misunderstood. Appropriate socialization is not one-size-fits all and takes into account the individual pup’s temperament. Owner-trainers sometimes inadvertently overwhelm and even frighten their puppy in their quest to socialize. Puppies need to be allowed to be puppies and they must have sufficient sleep and lots of unstructured down time to explore the world at their own pace.
A second problem created by this myth is that owner-trainers may inadvertently create separation anxiety by never leaving the puppy alone. There are a number of situations when a service dog may need to be left alone such as for a veterinary procedures, if the dog becomes sick or if the owner has to have surgery. Puppies need to learn to accept being alone in a crate or safely puppy-proofed enclosure –with appropriate chew toys of course.
Myth: Service-dog-in-training puppies should not be allowed to play with other dogs, greet strangers…the list of “don’t allows” goes on and on.
Fact: Service-dog-in-training puppies do not have different basic needs from other puppies. They need to interact with different people, with friendly and appropriate dogs, and explore new places and situations at their pace.
Owner-trainers, like all puppy owners, need education on dog development and information on the different behavioral changes we tend to see as dog’s mature. Owner-trainers often really want to do everything as perfectly as possible for their puppy, so they may need to be reminded to play and have fun with their pups. Puppy-hood is such a brief period in a dog’s life but it is an important time in building that relationship. Puppies are fun and owner-trainers should enjoy their puppies.
Have you heard of another myth about raising a service dog puppy? Please share!