Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
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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member in education and Service Dog Handler.