If you own a dog and want to train your dog to be your service dog, we can help. Valor K9 Academy specializes in puppy training, family dog obedience and, you guessed it, service dog training.

Training is a 5-step process. Let me break it down for you:

Step 1: Service Dog Evaluation

The first step is a comprehensive service dog evaluation. This is where you meet with the trainer – in person or virtually – so that she can gather information about your dog’s history, evaluate his behavior and assess his natural aptitude for service work. As service dog trainers, we are looking for the following key traits:

  • Confident: We need to see a bombproof dog who’s super confident environmentally and otherwise
  • Friendly: We are looking to see that your dog is very friendly towards people (adults and kids alike!)
  • Social with dogs:  We want to see that your dog is friendly (social) with other dogs of all sizes, both on and off leash
  • Motivated: We are evaluating your dog’s motivation for food (called Food Drive) and toys (called Toy Drive) and assessing if your dog has the proper levels of each for the work you have in mind for him
  • Handler focused: Good service dogs are handler focused. We call this Pack Drive. They pay attention to their handler (you!) and they’re attentive to your needs.

During the service dog evaluation, we are also making sure your dog does not have any of the following:

  • Fear
  • Reactivity
  • Aggression
  • Resource guarding

Behavioral issues will disqualify your dog from service work. Most problems can be worked on, but likely will disqualify your dog from service work. A good service dog is confident and social with no semblance of fear or aggression.

The service dog evaluation takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on the age and history of your dog.

Step 2: Foundation Training

The second step in the service dog training process is foundation training. A good service dog has a strong foundation. We build upon this foundation in later steps of training, so it needs to be done well and done right. It is taught using primarily positive reinforcement (rewards) and takes several weeks, or months, of training to accomplish, depending on whether you enroll in private lessons or a board & train. The following is included in foundation training:

  • Introduction to obedience commands
  • Introduction to manners at home and in public
  • Confidence building
  • Good social skills with people
  • Good social (play) skills with dogs
  • Crate training (if needed)
  • Potty training (if needed)

Step 3: Proofing Obedience

Once you’ve laid your obedience foundation, and if your dog is old enough (6+ months of age), it’s time to proof and generalize your dog’s training. Proofing is when we teach your dog obedience around distractions (other people, other dogs and other stimuli). Generalization is when we teach your dog to be obedient in new environments and with new handlers (if applicable). Both of these are important for solidifying your dog’s training. The following is the obedience training your dog will have after step two:

  • Focus on the handler around distractions
  • Responsive to name
  • Solid sit/stay
  • Solid down/stay
  • Loose leash heel with auto-sit
  • Solid place command
  • Manners with people and dogs (neutrality)
  • Off leash come when called (recall)
  • Manners at thresholds (sitting before going in/outside)
  • Crate drills (entering, waiting and exiting crate on command)
  • Leash manners (loose on leash, art of doing nothing)

Step 4: Public Access Training

Taking things a step further, Public Access Training (called PAT) is when we then proof your dog’s training in non-pet friendly stores because your dog is a service dog and not just a pet. This includes grocery stores, doctor’s appointments and more. Your dog is conditioned to wearing his or her service dog vest and is capable of the following:

  • Focusing on the handler only
  • Ignoring people
  • Ignoring other dogs
  • Unbothered by people who reach out to pet without permission
  • Refusing to eat food on the ground
  • Comfortable with elevators, escalators and moving walkways
  • Comfortable riding on buses and shuttles
  • Flight experience (if possible)

Step 5: Task Training

During Step 4, we also begin Step 5: Task Training. Tasks are jobs the dog is taught to do to aid the handler with the handler’s disability. This might include alerting to a panic attack and providing deep pressure therapy. Or it might be providing space to the handler to help with anxiety for individuals with PTSD. It might be alerting to an elevated heart rate or sensing chemical changes associated with diabetes or seizure activity. Task training is what sets service dogs apart from pets. It’s what qualifies service dogs to have full public access rights, as opposed to emotional support dogs and therapy dogs who do not have such access.

Task training is taught one at a time, using positive reinforcement, and once taught, it’s proofed and generalized around distractions and in new environments. Service dogs in-training must have at least one task completed before entering non-pet friendly stores like grocery stores and before using transportation options like buses and airplanes.

Service Dog Training Options

To achieve Steps 1-5 with your dog, the first thing you’ll want to do is get the service dog evaluation scheduled. More than fifty percent of dogs do not pass it. So it is a crucial first step to determining whether or not your dog is cut out for service work. From there, you can choose one of two training options: Private Lesson Training or Board & Trains. Click on each to learn more.

We do recommend a Board & Train first so that we can lay a strong foundation for your dog. And if it’s in the budget to do so, doing 2 or 3 board & trains will get you through all 5 steps. But if you prefer private lessons, that is okay too. You’ll just need to be able to dedicate approximately one hour each day to your dog’s homework, so that you can get through all 5 steps in a reasonable amount of time.

To find out how much it costs to train a service dog, click here.

Here at Valor K9 Academy, we offer the following types of service dog training:

  • PTSD service dogs
  • TBI service dogs
  • Medical Alert service dogs
  • Epilepsy Alert service dogs
  • POTS service dogs
  • Heart Rate Alert service dogs
  • Autism Support service dogs
  • Mobility Support service dogs
  • Hearing Alert service dogs
  • and more!

For more information, you can go to our Contact page and fill out the contact request form. Once we receive your request, we will be in touch within 1-2 business days. Thank you!