Posted on

Baseline Service Dog Training

It will come as no surprise to people who know me that I am reading obsessively on service dog training lately. I thought I’d share, for interest’s sake, the minimum standards for training as put out by Assistance Dogs International. I’ve re-formatted it from the original to show the actual scoring criteria under the item being tested. It’s worth noting that only one of my dogs comes close to passing this, and that’s Beowulf. He would fail and fail hard in the restaurant portion, though. But these are the things that my future Service Dog candidate will be mastering in its first few months of training. Bold items are mandatory. A means “Always”, M means “Most of the time” (more than 50%), S means “Sometimes” (less than 50%), and N means “Never”.

I was actually kind of shocked to discover how low these standards are. As I noted to a friend, it’s worth mentioning that the one dog who comes closest to passing is Beowulf, and he is coincidentally the one dog that I did structured training classes with. Part of it, of course, is also his temperament. Beowulf is a laid-back dog who is not the most confident but does trust his person when that person says the situation is OK.

Anyway, since it will be a couple years before potential service dogs are ready to do weight-bearing work as my Hairy Cane, we’ll have time to perfect these standards. Why aim for just passing, when we can aim for acing it?

DISMISSAL: Any dog that displays any aggressive behavior (growling, biting, raising hackles, showing teeth, etc.) will be eliminated from the test. Any dog that eliminates in a building or shows uncontrollable behavior will be eliminated from the test.

1. CONTROLLED UNLOAD OUT OF VEHICLE: After a suitable place has been found, the individual will unload the dog and any necessary equipment (wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc.) out of the vehicle. The dog must wait until released before coming out of the vehicle. Once outside, it must wait quietly unless otherwise instructed by the Individual. The dog may not run around, be off lead, or ignore commands given by the individual. Once the team is out of the vehicle and settled, the assistant should walk past with another dog. they should walk within six (6) feet of the team. The Assistance Dog must remain calm and under control, not pulling or trying to get to the other dog. The emphasis on this is that the Assistance Dog remain unobtrusive and is unloaded in the safest manner possible for everyone.

__YES __NO The dog waited in the vehicle until released.
___YES ___NO The dog waited outside the vehicle under control.
___YES ___NO The dog remained under control while another dog was walked past.

2. APPROACHING THE BUILDING: After unloading, the team must maneuver through the parking lot to approach the building. The dog must stay in a relative heel position and may not forge ahead or lag behind. The dog must not display a fear of cars or traffic noises and must display a relaxed attitude. When the individual stops for any reason, the dog must stop also.

__A __M __S __N The dog stayed in relative heel position.
___YES __NO The dog was calm around traffic.
__A __M __S __N The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.

3. CONTROLLED ENTRY THROUGH A DOORWAY: Once at the doors of the building, the individual may enter however he/she chooses to negotiate the entry safely. Upon entering the building; however, the dog may not wander off or solicit attention from the public. The dog should wait quietly until the team is fully inside then should calmly walk beside the individual. The dog must not pull or strain against the lead or try to push its way past the individual but must wait patiently while entry is completed.

___YES __NO The dog waited quietly at the door until commanded to enter.
___YES __NO The dog waited on the inside until able to return to heel position.

4. HEELING THROUGH THE BUILDING: Once inside the building, the individual and the dog must walk through the area in a controlled manner. The dog should always be within touching distance where applicable or no greater than a foot away from the individual. The dog should not solicit public attention or strain against the lead (except in cases where the dog may be pulling the individual’s wheelchair). The dog must readily adjust to speed changes, turn corners promptly, and travel through a crowded area without interacting with the public. In tight quarters, the dog must be able to get out of the way of obstacles and not destroy merchandise by knocking it over or by playing with it.

__A __M __S __N The dog was within the prescribed distance of the individual.
__A __M __S __N The dog ignored the public, remaining focused on the individual.
__A __M __S __N The dog readily adjusted to speed changes.
__A __M __S __N The dog readily turned corners–did not have to be tugged or jerked to change direction.
__A __M __S __N The dog readily maneuvered through tight quarters.

5. SIX FOOT RECALL ON LEAD: A large, open area should be found for the six foot recall. Once found, the individual will perform a six foot recall with the dog remaining on lead. The individual will sit the dog, leave it, travel six feet, then turn and call the dog to him/her. The dog should respond promptly and not stop to solicit attention from the public or ignore the command. The dog should come close enough to the individual to be readily touched. For Guide Dogs, they must actually touch the person to indicate location. The recall should be smooth and deliberate without the dog trudging to the individual or taking any detours along the way.

___YES __NO The dog responded readily to the recall command–did not stray away, seek attention from others, or trudge slowly.
___YES __NO The dog remained under control and focused on the individual.
___YES __NO The dog came within the prescribed distance of the individual.
___YES __NO The dog came directly to the individual.

6. SITS ON COMMAND: The team will be asked to demonstrate the Individual’s ability to have the dog sit three different times. The dog must respond promptly each time with no more than two commands. There should not be any extraordinary gestures on the part of the people approaching the dog. Normal, reasonable behavior on the part of the people is expected.

__A __M __S __N The dog responded promptly to the command to sit.

The first sit will be next to a plate of food placed upon the ground. The dog must not attempt to eat or sniff the food. The individual may correct the dog verbally or physically away from the food, but then the dog must maintain a sit while ignoring the food. The dog should not be taunted or teased with the food. This situation should be made as realistic as possible.

___YES __NO The dog remained under control around food–not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.

The second sit will be executed, and the assistant with a shopping cart will approach within three feet of the dog and continue on past. The dog should maintain the sit and not show any fear of the shopping cart. If the dog starts to move, the individual may correct the dog to maintain the sit.

___YES __NO The dog remained composed while the shopping cart passed–did not shy away, show signs of fear, etc. shopping cart should be pushed normally and reasonably, not dramatically.

The last sit will be a sit with a stay as a person walks up behind the team, talks to the person and then pets the dog. The dog must hold position. The dog may not break the stay to solicit attention. The individual may repeat the stay command along with reasonable physical corrections.

___YES __NO The dog maintained a sit-stay while being petted by a stranger.

7. DOWNS ON COMMAND: The down exercises will be performed in the same sequence as the sits with the same basic stipulations. The first down will be at a table where food will be dropped on the floor. The dog should not break the down to go for the food or sniff at the food. The individual may give verbal and physical corrections to maintain the down. There should not be any extraordinary gestures on the part of the people approaching the dog. Normal, reasonable behavior from the people is expected.

__A __M __S __N The dog responded promptly to the command to down.
___YES __NO The dog remained under control around the food–not trying to get food and not needing repeated corrections.

The second down will be executed, and then an adult and child should approach the dog. The dog should maintain the down and not solicit attention. If the child pets the dog, the dog must behave appropriately and not break the stay. The individual may give verbal and physical corrections if the dog begins to break the stay.

___YES ___NO The dog remained in control while the child approached–child should not taunt dog or be overly dramatic.

8. NOISE DISTRACTION: The team will be heeling along and the tester will drop a clipboard to the ground behind the team. The dog may acknowledge the noise, but may not in any way show aggression or fear. A normal startle reaction Is fine–the dog may jump and or turn–but the dog should quickly recover and continue along on the heel. The dog should not become aggressive, begin shaking, etc.

___YES __NO The dog remained composed during the noise distraction.

9. RESTAURANT: The team and tester should enter a restaurant and be seated at a table. The dog should go under the table or, if size prevents that, stay close by the individual. The dog must sit or lie down and may move a bit for comfort during the meal, but should not be up and down a lot or need a lot of correction or reminding. This would be a logical place to do the food drop during a down. (See #7)

___YES __NO The dog is unobtrusive and out of the way of patrons and employees as much as possible.
___YES __NO The dog maintained proper behavior, ignoring food and being quiet.

10. OFF LEAD: Sometime during the test, where appropriate, the person will be instructed to drop the leash while moving so it is apparent to the dog. The individual must show the ability to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back in its appropriate position. this exercise will vary greatly depending on the person’s disabilities. The main concern is that the dog be aware that the leash is dropped and that the person Is able to maintain control of the dog and get the leash back into proper position.

___YES __NO When told to drop the leash, the team maintained control and the individual got the leash back in position.

11. DOG TAKEN BY ANOTHER PERSON To show that the dog can be handled by another person without aggression or excessive stress or whining, someone else will take the dog’s leash and passively hold the dog (not giving any commands) while the dog’s partner moves 20′ away.

___YES ___NO Another person can take the dog’s leash and the dog’s partner can move away without aggression or undue stress on the part of the dog.

12. CONTROLLED UNIT: The team will leave the building in a similar manner to entering, with safety and control being of prime importance. The team will proceed across the parking lot and back to the vehicle. The dog must be in appropriate heel position and not display any fear of vehicle or traffic sounds.

__A __M __S __N The dog stayed in relative heel position.
___YES __NO The dog was calm around traffic.
__A __M __S __N The dog stopped when the individual came to a halt.

13. CONTROLLED LOAD into VEHICLE: The individual will load the dog into the vehicle, with either entering first. The dog must not wander around the parking lot but must wait patiently for instructions. Emphasis is on safety and control.

___YES ___NO The dog waited until commanded to enter the vehicle.
___YES ___NO The dog readily entered the vehicle upon command.

__A __M __S __N When the dog did well, the person praised the dog.
__A __M __S __N The dog is relaxed, confident, and friendly.
__A __M __S __N The person kept the dog under control.

2 thoughts on “Baseline Service Dog Training

  1. Hee. We would score a pretty dismal fail on the “may not forge ahead” and “may not solicit attention from the public” items particularly.

  2. i find this very interesting, thank you for posting it! i think puppy would do really well with about 2/3 of it. some parts we’ve never attempted/encountered/worked on anything similar. i know he’d fail getting out of the car politely and controlled, but i’ve never asked him to. i dont mind him on my lap, it makes it easier to clip the leash to him. he’s fine with the shopping carts at petco (buying two bags of dog food at one time gets heavy). he’s never been in a restaurant or asked to go under a table. but he’s got a great obedience foundation including heeling and sit/stays. he’s calm, not easily startled, and is eager to please. and when the gentle leader goes on, he’s all business. i’ll be following along with great interest about your experience with a service dog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.