Impact of intense Service Dog Training on dog's personality? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-25-2014, 10:56 AM Thread Starter
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Impact of intense Service Dog Training on dog's personality?

My husband and I are considering sending our 14 month old GSD to a 4 month/onsite service dog training program. I have Parkinson's and am excited about the dog being able to provide mobility assistance at home and in public situations. We are very impressed with the trainer/his results and no questions that our dog would provide great assistance to me.

Our concerns are about what we should realistically expect in terms of changes to the dog's personality/role/interactions with other family members. She is currently very social and interactive with people and other dogs...she fits the Will Rogers sentiment that 'strangers are only friends I haven't met'. My husband is worried that she will become so programmed to work/help me that she will no longer want to play ball w/him in the yard, cuddle with him in the evenings or want to walk with him.

Are these valid concerns? Any thoughts/guidance on what to expect regarding how she will interact with other family members after training would be greatly appreciated.
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-25-2014, 11:44 PM
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My main concern is the mobility training for your female GSD. GSDs are not built for large amounts of weight pushing down on them or for more than a very short period of time. That type of work is best served by a cane, crutches or a walker.

If you are going to use her for light brace work or for counter-balance then you need to wait until her growth plates have closed (around 24 months of age) and she has been x-rayed and evaluated -- hips, elbows and spine. At her age she is still way too young to even begin training for this type of work.

More advanced obedience work and Public Access Training is what is needed at her age. She can also begin some work training but remember nothing that will put a strain on her joints or growing bones.

There is no reason that a working SD should not act like a pet in the home with the handler and other family members living in the home.

When you say send your dog do you mean that she will be staying elsewhere for 4 months? Or will you be taking her for lesson time only?

TJ aka Theresa A. Jennings
Pyro vom Wildhaus aka Kaleb ~S.T.A.R.~
Family Companion, Non-Profit Mascot, In-Home Service Dog

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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-26-2014, 12:20 AM
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Fiona is my service dog. She is great for counter balance. She does well at home and interacts with my mom & friends well, when she is not working.

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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-26-2014, 12:45 AM
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I agree with what TJ has to say. Fourteen months is when she should be starting Public Access training and still be working on obedience. I know some handlers who still use a cane even with their dog there to help them with brace and counterbalance. They can only take so much of our weight without it starting to hurt their joints a good deal.

Personally I would rather be the one doing the training with my dog rather than sending it off. But that is my personal feelings on the subject, since it is your dog and you will be the one who is handling your dog in the actual situations in the end. I have noticed that the service dogs I know are very focused on their work when they're out with their owner, but they still do love and acknowledge those who are in their family. While it is nice that she likes other people, she has to ignore them when she's working! It is hard enough since many people just go up to working SDs and pet them without talking to the handler first.

I wouldn't expect too much of a personality difference in the house or if she isn't expected to be working. Using a specific collar/leash/harness/vest when she's working is a useful thing that I've found to help them know when to work and when to play.
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-26-2014, 08:38 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you for all of the feedback. The goal would be for her to provide brace and counter-balance assistance. Our GSD is also on the smaller side (about 60 lbs) so the feedback on letting her mature to 24 months is great and even at that age I will try and avoid using her to continuously support my full weight (about 120 lbs). We have been doing a lot of obedience training with her (working very well except 'greeting' other people/dogs...she has impulse control issues and wants to jump up to say hello). I will try and find a public access program for her.

We are investigating sending her off to a boarding/training program; I am a life-long dog owner and believe in well-trained/well-mannered dogs, but I am not an experienced dog trainer.

My husband will be very happy to hear that she will still be a family member when not working. She is such a great 'pet' and beloved family member, I would hate to lose that side of her.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-26-2014, 08:56 AM
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We also have a SD, and she knows when the pack is on, or she's given the command, it's serious time, but when she's released, it's like turning on a switch, you'd never know. Careful with letting her be too friendly with people, in the world of SD, you will encounter every type of awful uneducated person who will call your dog activity too them. What we did was first train the idea that "everyone is good, no one will hurt you, everyone is friendly" then the idea that "you pay attention to no one else" now she knows, while in a heel, you can only look forward, or at my wife's eyes. Also work on surprising the dot. You walk it in a heel, and have your husband give it a small child strength tail pull, if she whips back with an open mouth, repeat until she doesn't care, same with petting, and grabbing everywhere, because I can guarantee that you will have a random persons child run up to you in a grocery store and grab the dog, no mater how many signs you have on her.
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-26-2014, 10:28 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you - great tip on training to ignore tail pulling or physical attention. It always amazes me that it is not just children who ignore requests to leave our dog alone - adults can be worse. I will ask adults not to approach us when we are out walking and they will still say 'oh, I love dogs' and still approach...or, worse yet, when they are walking their dogs, they will say 'oh, my dog is sooo friendly' and still approach with their often out of control dog. They do not wait for permission. Ugh...

I have been working with her on ignoring other people/dogs by holding a treat in front of her nose, not stopping and walking briskly by the other people.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 10-26-2014, 10:11 PM
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They will be worse for sure, also, I'd get the dog use to ignoring baby talk, whistling, and clapping
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 11-18-2014, 04:00 PM
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Bit of an old thread, but I'm a former mobility assistance dog handler. Wanted to agree that you do not want to START any physical work until 2 years old, and still then mobility assistance is very physically demanding on the dog so they are never a replacement for mobility device. When Tessa and I started out I used a forearm crutch occasionally, to full time, to mostly wheelchair use.

Tessa was also an extremely social dog. With a dog like this its even more important to be strict about people not petting the dog while its working, and quickly handling people who do so without asking first or despite you telling them no. When the working gear is on, the dog is in work mode and not allowed to interact with anyone else. When the gear is off, its fine. For Tessa she had 2 working harnesses. One she wore out in public and knew she had to ignore everyone when in it. At home she had what I called her "casual" harness where she could still assist me, but knew she was allowed to interact with people, snuggle with my boyfriend if she wanted, etc.

Definitely continue exposing to as many odd situations, and odd walking surfaces, as you can. Do whatever super weird things you can come up with, because just having the dog willing to do whatever you ask is really important. I used to take Tessa and then Emma when she was in training across all sorts of playground equipment, neither ever balked at trying anything I asked them to. And this transfered over to working with Tessa, I can't think of a single situation she balked at. You can start now with learning to ignore other people, such as wearing a vest that says "in training" and "do not pet" and taking her public places that pets are allowed. Pet stores, outdoors, etc and work on ignoring other people and pets. Start small, you could let her greet people in a pet store for 10 minutes, place the vest on and don't let her for 5 minutes, vest off and let relax and play again. Build up. Go to as many pets allowed places as possible. Once the obedience is down solid and public access work in places pets are allowed, find out about the laws in your state for service dogs in training. Some allow them to be allowed everywhere service dogs are allowed, some only when being accompanied by an accredited organizational trainer, some when with owner trainers, and some not at all. Even in states where its not at all you can call specific stores and ask them if they will allow a service dog in training. Just avoid grocery stores and restaurants until training is complete, as health code comes in to play. You can practice restaurant behavior at home with curling up under the table, knowing they are not allowed to eat any food dropped on the floor, working on not being allowed to sniff at food thats up close etc. The tasks are the easiest part, so make sure to focus on the advanced obedience and public access work. But you can also start easy non demanding tasks like opening doors, retrieving items, turning on lights, etc.

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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 11-22-2014, 02:20 PM
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MinnesotaMausi, we sent two dogs out for in board training. One is working service dog and the other is currently growing into the job. We saw no change in their personalities they just acquired some major skills? PM me if you want to discuss our experience.
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