About Dogs

Service dog training can be quite expensive when professionals do the training. Given that the dog’s owner (handler) can learn to train dogs, it not only saves a lot of $$, but I believe that the bond created between the trainer (the owner) and the dog is very important. For instance, I (Dr. Marcie) trained Lennie Dawg, and I chose what I want him to be able to do. Also, I continue to work with him on new things as time goes on. He has been in training for about 5 years now and he still learns new things. The more he learns, it seems, the more he can learn.

Dog temperament, size and habits

  1. Most dogs can easily be trained, but it may take work up front to prepare the dog. See pre-training tips (bootcamp). You will want to start with nurturing a really close relationship with your dog. That will be necessary when you start training your dog, and will create a real bond that you and the dog will rely on during training.
  2. You may want the dog to be at least a medium size dog (25-50 pounds or so), and either sex is fine. Your dog should be spayed or neutered and be current on all shots, and have a city license for the city where you live. Lennie weighs about 28 pounds and is too small to get to most light switches that larger dogs can negotiate with ease. You may want a dog larger than he is so the dog is better able to physically complete the tasks you need, especially if you want your dog to pull you in a wheelchair.
  3. If you are going to train an older dog, that dog will have habits that are counter-productive to your goals, but you can train new habits to replace the old ones. For instance, male dogs typically urinate on trees, flowers, fences–anything. I once had a dog who got excited and urinated on my leg! One thing you will do is train him to only go where you designate. You do not want him to just go anywhere like male dogs tend to do.
  4. Dogs cannot understand spoken language, regardless of what language you speak. However, they can and do learn certain words or short phrases when you say them often to your dog, such as ‘come here,’ ‘lie down,’ etc. They are not wired for human language, so they only learn sounds. When you hear another language and it sounds like gibberish, that is what dogs hear. However, you will use the same word every time for everything your dog does for you. In addition, dogs are very adept at ‘reading’ you through your body movements, facial expressions, tone of voice, volume of your voice, etc. This is why you will have to use the same words every time you want your dog to perform a service for you. For example, the first command your dog will learn is ‘come here,’ and you will say it the same way every time you want your dog to come to you.
  5. Dogs have the same emotions that we do. In our brain, there are several connected brain regions that are devoted to emotions, called the Limbic System. Dogs have the very same limbic system we do, making them capable of every emotion we have. Cats have that system as well. What dogs have trouble with is modulating their emotions, and they are really good a communicating those emotions to you.
  6. Dogs literally cannot become vindictive and while they can plan, their plans are very simple and not threatening to humans. For example, I have heard people say that their dog is angry at them and chewed up their shoes in retribution to getting home late or some other thing the owner did. Your dog cannot ‘get back’ at you because of the complexity of the thought involved in such a thing. Dogs do become bored and a bored puppy will definitely chew on something that you do not want that puppy to chew on, and will do it more when you are late or out for some other reason; that just goes with the territory. I urge you to get toys for your dog and dogs do grow out of all of the chewing. Lennie absolutely loves his toys, and has a very large container of them. He gets them out of the crate regularly and plays with them.
  7. If a dog tries to bite you, don’t adopt that dog. When animals bite, they are feeling very threatened and respond with biting. That will never work for a service dog. Lennie has never tried to bite me, even once. Our little Maltese-Poodle, Bella, will bite if pushed because she was allowed to bite when she was very little. If I would have had her, she would not have continued, but it takes a lot of experience for a trainer to train biting out of a dog. Just do not adopt that dog if he or she tries to bite you.
  8. I hear people all the time saying things about a dog or cat, only having seen the animal once for just a few minutes. Temperament, or personality,  does not work that way. When you find a dog you want to adopt, just sit with that dog and pet him or her. The dog’s response to your petting will tell you all you need to know.

Whatever dog you end up with, or if you train a dog you already have, if you follow the instructions on this site, your dog will serve you well for many years to come.

© 2018 Dr. Marcie Zinn, Chicago Illinois. All rights reserved.