labrador service dog

Service Dogs 101: Part 1

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by Shanna Stichler

Hello again, Tevra fans! September is National Service Dog Month, so to celebrate, we have a special treat in store for our faithful followers. This post is going to be part one of a series called Service Dogs 101.

We are going to discuss what it takes to turn an adorable puppy into a confident working service dog. In this post, we’ll go over what to look for in a service dog candidate. Next week, we’ll cover the puppy raising process and follow that up with an overview of formal task training. Finally, we’ll wrap things up by spending a little time focusing on the human side of the equation. Our final post will give a general idea of what goes into teaching how these exceptional dogs and their new humans will work as a team and form a strong lasting bond with one another. We will take time to answer any lingering questions you, our readers, might have about life as part of a service dog team.

SERVICE DOG BREEDING PROGRAMS

So, without further ado, let’s talk about service dog puppies! Generally, larger or more established service dog training organizations have their own breeding programs. Smaller agencies often purchase dogs from reputable breeders until they are able to start an in-house breeding program. Some organizations have their own breeding stock while accepting the occasional dog from other sources in order to maintain genetic diversity. The most common breeds used for service work are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds.   Many agencies tend to cross-breed Labradors and Golden Retrievers because this combination tends to be particularly well-suited to service work. Standard Poodles, Dobermans, Viszlas, and Boxers have also been used with varying degrees of success.

WHAT GENDER IS MORE SUITED TO SERVICE DOG WORK?

Often, people want to know which gender makes the best service dog. Generally, both males and females make excellent service dogs. Some handlers prefer one gender over another, but the only time it really matters is if a larger dog is needed in order to perform weight-baring tasks. In cases like that, the boys tend to be a safer option.

WHAT ARE THE ATTRIBUTES OF A SERVICE DOG?

Ultimately, temperament is the main factor to consider. Puppies usually undergo a series of temperament tests at around 7 weeks of age to determine which puppies in each litter have the most potential to become successful service dogs.  Puppies are exposed to sudden noises, unfamiliar people, and different surfaces. Generally, the ideal puppy notices the novel stimuli and is curious about his surroundings. Puppies should be interested in and willing to engage with strange people, without becoming overly pushy or mouthy.  A natural retrieve or interest in carrying toys tends to be an indicator of good work ethic and a desire to learn from humans.  Each service dog school has its own puppy testing protocol. Generally, the ideal service dog puppy is confident, curious, and people-oriented.

WHO ARE PUPPY RAISERS?

Most puppies will be placed with carefully selected volunteers, called puppy raisers, shortly after puppy testing, at around 8 weeks of age. Generally, service dog puppies spend from 12 to 14 months with their puppy raiser families to learn good house manners and basic training specified by the guide dog organization. The puppy raisers are encouraged to give their puppy as much exposure as they can to new people, places, and situations.  The situations that they will encounter will help prepare the puppy for their future advanced training and ultimately with their human partner.

We’ll spend some time covering the puppy raising phase of service dog training in our next installment! Do you have questions about anything we’ve discussed above? Feel free to ask us in the comments!

Tevra Brands is committed to “Helping Dogs Help People”.  Tevra partners with Leader Dogs for the Blind to help people who are blind or visually impaired “Live a Life Without Boundaries”.  To learn more www.tevrabrands.com

*photos courtesy of Leader Dogs For The Blind

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