Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year's Resolution: Train My Own Service Dog

While everyone else with a blog has been spouting of their New Year’s Resolutions as if they are a grocery list, I have remained silent. This is not because I have no resolutions or because I am embarrassed of them.  It is because I am afraid of failing.  I am not that great at finishing what I start. In order to avoid that awkward moment when a loved one asked me how my goals are going and I answer that I have given up, rattling off one or two bullshit excuses while they smile, thinking: I knew she wouldn’t do it.”; I usually opt not to tell anyone at all. This year, it’s the same. I have made a few resolutions and I didn’t plan on sharing any of them.

There is one though, that I became really excited about, one that I have given a lot of thought to over the last few months. I have already invested some money into the project, and solicited the help of others. I also posted it publicly to my facebook page, which means I have to do it or suffer through the public humiliation of having failed. I can already feel myself backsliding under the pressure. So I decided to create more. I am going to blog about it.

So here it is: I want to train my dog Taden, to be a service animal.

I know. It seems huge. To some of you, it might even seem crazy. I mean if I want a service dog then I could just apply for one right? Chances are I wouldn’t be denied, so why go through all the trouble?

Service dog agencies have waiting lists and there is often a cost involved, plus traveling, which without a license is difficult for me; and, well, at the risk of sounding like one of those mother’s that blogs every time their kid takes a crap in the toilet; Taden is special. She really is. And she is cute as heck, seriously, just look at this picture my friend Ben over at Ben Fletcher Photography took of her:

I have had her for about 2 and a-half years. She was a little over a year when I got her, and although she knew the basics and was house broken, she had not bonded with me and the first few months were rough. She would bolt out the front door, jump on our guests, had no recall unless you could whistle, would steal food off  plates, try to carry the cats in her mouth and could not sit still for anything. I almost gave up, and then, instead, I started over.

I pretended she knew nothing and retaught her “sit”, “down”, “off” “leave it” and “come.” I bought a head halter, took her on walks and taught her to walk beside me. She did amazing. She learned so fast it was insane. In one evening I taught her “go to bed” the next I taught her “pick it up” she still does both every time. A few months later I taught her “pull” and used it to have her help take of my jacket. She is very attentive to me and is always by me when we are at home; she always has to know where I am and what I am doing.

I often have moments during the day where having Tay with me would help, like when I drop something under my desk and can’t retrieve it, but I never really gave much thought to officially training Taden until recently. Now that my Mom has moved out of the house, Taden is alone for most of the day. She is bored, and I feel guilty. While talking to a friend about it the other day, she said, “Well, why don’t you take her with you? You did train her to help you after all.” I realized that bringing Taden with me to work would benefit both of us. But I didn’t want to be irresponsible about it. She is well trained, but not at all ready for public situations.

I did some research, and found that federal law requires no certification for service dogs. As long as you are disabled and your dog performs tasks specific to your disability then the dog is considered a service animal and you are covered by the ADA. Crazy isn’t it? However, they do need to meet some minimum requirements.

So we’ve begun training. I purchase two books Teamwork l and Teamwork ll by Stewert Nordensson and Lydia Kelley and going through them with Taden. She already has many basic obedience skills down but we are working on “wait” right now. Our biggest challenge is going to be training her to ignore other people and distractions, but I have confidence that she can do it. I know it will take a while, most training places say 2 hours a day for 6 months so I think it will take me at least a year to have her ready. But I am excited about the prospect.

My goal for Taden is that she be able to pass the Public Access Test in a year, (even though no such test is required in the U.S) that way if she ever does need to be certified, we won’t have a problem. My goal for me is to work with her a little bit every day and to do a blog feature about both our accomplishments and our failures at least once a month.

Here it goes; hopefully, I won’t embarrass us both and this post won’t come back to haunt me.


  1. FYI - I have a friend whose mom has problems with anxiety in public situations. Her doctor gave her a "prescription" for her dog (which like your dog was not trained by someone like PAWS) which states that her dog is a service dog and is a service dog specifically for her. Good luck with your training! I think dogs are so attentive to their owners needs. I have another friend who has hearing issues and has an untrained dog who always alerted her to when the doorbell rang or when the baby was crying. It is so amazing to me... how does the dog know my friend can't hear as well?

  2. Hi, I think I found your blog through some kind of blog carnival or disability-related thing. Good luck with your owner training. I got my guide dog from a program, but I know several people who OT and probably have tips and stuff. and are the two I can think of right now, and I can give you more links if you'd like.

  3. I have this as a goal too. I have trouble holding treats in my hand. I drop more than get in my dogs mouth. It's not helping him learn. And the clicker. He loves it n I can't hold it. Any tips?

    1. Teamwork, the books I am using has several suggestions for this. One is to put the treat in your mouth and feed them to the dog that way. I would suggest buying or borrowing copies of the books. The links above should link to where you can purchase them, or try amazon.

      Good Luck!