Creating Realistic Expectations for Task Training

The Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches answer a ton of questions when it comes to Service Dog Task Training.  Many tasks actually begin as fun games & tricks then are fine tuned to become the actual task that mitigates a disability.  This is often one of the hardest parts of training your own Service Dog(SD).  Often problems arise when people set unrealistic expectations for their Service Dog in Training(SDiT).  Therefore the Canine Coaches wanted to offer this free resource to all those owner trainers out there who may be struggling with task training.

Task Training for Young Puppies & Adolescents

This is probably the biggest struggle for first time owner trainers or those with less experience.  Programs often won't do any task training until a dog is at least 18 months.  Some trainers are adamant that you must meet X,Y,Z criteria before you start any task training.  The problem with this thinking is that often the owner feels the need to get at least 1 task under their belt to feel like they really have a SDiT.

While it is extremely important to not rush through training or put too much pressure on a young dog, we wanted to help people understand why certain tasks need to wait for a dog to mature while also giving people some simple things they could do with young dogs to get started.

Common Task Foundations

There are absolutely some task foundations you can teach a young dog.  Targets such as a nose/hand touch, chin rest, and paw targets can be taught at a very young age.  Many medical alerts that are taught to mature adult dogs use some type of target as an alert behavior.  Positions in relationship to the handler such as heel position, between the legs position, standing in front or behind the handler, etc.  While standing in front, behind, or doing an orbit, common tasks designed to block or create space should not be paired with the environmental predictor for the need of that task until a dog is mature, you can easily get the dog comfortable in moving into those positions as an adolescent.  Tasks that involve scent training and mobility should officially be taught to mature adults and yet there are early foundations such as find it games and retrieving dropped items that can be taught to a much younger dog.

Our rule of thumb when it comes to task training is any task where you put a physical or emotional strain on a dog absolutely needs to wait until a dog has become mature.  

Common Factors

This involves Psych tasks surrounding anxiety, PTSD, self harm, etc that place an emotional strain on a young dog.  As owner trainers is imperative that we protect our young dogs from exposure to our high emotions or we can cause our dog to be fearful, protective, or simply burn out before they fully working.  This is especially difficult because many owner trainers experience less issues simply from having their puppy with them, which makes them risk harming their pup's confidence and optimism by placing that puppy in situations they have not yet been prepared for.  This almost always leads to problems further down the road that may or not be able to be recovered from.

Mobility tasks that involve any type of weight baring tasks such as bracing, guiding, counterbalance, forward momentum pull, etc. can easily harm a young dog.  It's important to wait for growth plates to be totally formed before putting these pressures on your young dog.  Some of this is dependent on your dog's breed and the amount of support you need.  An adolescent might be able to handle a light forward momentum pull with a soft handle or rear clip leash but a heavier pull would not be safe before the dog had fully developed.

For those who are hearing impaired, it's important to note that most dogs go through a fear stage (1 of many in adolescence) around 8-10 months old where the young dog starts paying extra attention to sounds.  If the owner has brought special attention to noises before this point, this often heightens this fear stage to a point that the dog is now hyper aware of sounds in their environment.  And since people can not hear as good as our dogs, it can be especially hard for us to desensitize to a sound that we can't here.  So again, tasks relating to any type of sound task, especially environmentally driven sounds such as oven timers, knocking on doors, or other sounds that create alert behaviors should absolutely be put on hold until after the fear periods are over.  While some early and fun foundational training like teaching the young dog to recognize when a family member calls the handlers name could be taught earlier as this is more easily controlled during the training stage and done in a stress free way using games.

The Crazy2 Calm Canine Coaches Penny Beeman, Cindy Campbell, and Elliot Brooks have put together this video to help explain this better to help you as an owner trainer learn how to set realistic expectations for your SDiT by setting them up for successful task training.

Additional Resources offered by Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches

This group is organized by topic making it easy for you to find exactly what you are looking for!  Many tasks are useful for multiple disabilities and there’s also different ways you can train each task.  

Current Tasks Include:

  • Medical Alerts based on observed actions & biological scent changes.
  • Hand delivered retrieve for dropped items & specific items such as meds.
  • Mobility Tasks 
  • Deep Pressure & Heat Therapies

We also have some topics for “frequently asked” issues including training for public access, public transportation such as flying, game based learning, target training, and common training issues.