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Self-training of Service Dog

4800 Views 12 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  IliamnasQuest
Hi all -

I am at the point in my life where I would benefit by having my dog trained as a service dog. I have rheumatoid arthritis and have good days and bad days. On bad days I can barely use my hands and have multiple joints that are very painful. I've been working with one of my dogs to teach her behaviors that will assist me (picking up items, closing doors, bringing things when my hands/shoulders hurt, etc.). She also has learned to stand so that I can balance with her when my knees stiffen up.

I've been a trainer for about 20 years and have put many obedience titles on my dogs (as well as teaching classes for many years), so I have a background in training that is pretty strong. I actually have two dogs I'm working with. The one I mentioned above is my three year old chow. She is already registered as a Delta Society pet partner (therapy), and has her CD and all three of her rally titles. I printed off the minimum standards for service dogs from the Delta Society website and she meets pretty much all of those already. The second dog I'm working with is a GSD, one year old and not nearly settled enough to do service dog work at this point. But I figure I have time, since Khana can handle things now.

I guess my questions are:

1) Is there any reason why I should have someone else train my dog when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself? I've titled clear through utility obedience and have taught dogs behaviors like opening/closing doors, retrieving needed items, turning on lights, etc. I feel 100% capable of training my dogs to do whatever they need to do.

2) I have an "on again, off again" type of disability. There are days when I can take care of things myself, and other days when it's extremely difficult and painful. On those good days, I want to be able to go out and do "normal" things. How does this reflect on me as a person with a disability? I feel like people will see me on my good days and then think I'm making things up on my bad days. Has anyone else dealt with this? Or is it just no one's business but mine?

I'm not shy about my illness and if anyone asks I'm not insulted and am willing to respond. But it is a disability that isn't always visible - one of those "but you don't LOOK sick" kind of disabilities. I also have a great deal of problem (something that has evolved since I was diagnosed with RA) with anxiety and have given in to the doctor's request and am on anti-anxiety meds now. At least I'm not waking up with anxiety attacks every day now, but I still break into a sweat if I have to talk to someone, especially a stranger. Having my dog with me helps me be more relaxed which is a side benefit overall but not the main reason why I am considering the service dog training.

Melanie and the gang in Alaska
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I am not expert here and by far no but if you are capable to train the dogs yourself I don't see why you need a trainer, you have done alot with your dogs in the past and doing great on what you have right now plus that is alot of money as I am sure you know to train a dog that you can keep to use for yourself or your dogs. I would just keep training them yourself until a time comes when you are no longer able too.

I haven't dealt with anything like you describe but if you feel like talking when someone asks then great but if someone makes remarks because it is not a full time disability then they should mind their own business. As long as you are happy with the way things are in your life then that is great and that is all that matters.

I agree with Janet, go for it.

I am self training and my dog is now 16 months old. She is already amazing and quite a helper for me. I constantly get asked if I am blind since I don't "look" disabled. Besides using my dog for counterbalance, she also alerts me to traffic or people walking behind me. The normal "assitive" devices can't offer hearing alerts.
I am able to get out and about so much easier with the dog, and lots less stressful.

Good Luck.
Go for it Mel, you know your dogs better than anyone else...
and ya know what they say about dog trainers- only thing you'll get
2 to agree on is the 3rd is doing it wrong!
No one can make a determination over the Internet if you are qualified per ADA standards to be considered disabled nor can they make a determination by just looking at you. There will always be people who question your need and that is just one of the things that makes living with a SD hard.

Something you may want to read to help you is this article from Service Dog Central -->
Do I qualify for a service dog

If you do not qualify for a Service Dog you still can train one of your dogs as a skilled companion dog which of course can help you around the house, places where pet dogs are allowed to go, and to those places where you have received prior permission to take your dog.

Also thought you may want to read up on your state laws --> State Law link

As you can see, Alaska does not recognize Owner-Trainers so while training your dog you will only be able to take the dog to places where any pet dog is allowed. You will receive no special or additional benefits from your state during this process.

Whatever you decide, I have no doubt that you are fully capable of training your own dog.
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Thanks, all.

TJ, I did read that page on the state laws previously - I find it kind of ironic because I know of NO trainers in the state of Alaska that are "authorized" to train service dogs. The only one listed under "Alaska" on the Delta Society page is a place in Quebec, Canada .. *L* .. which is way the heck and gone from Alaska. I know there are trainers in the lower 48 states but that provides a huge expense and just isn't necessary for me.

I may have to look into what is required to become "authorized" - I have the skills, I'm sure, but the information I find just doesn't give any clue as to who/what does the authorizing. Does anyone know how to become authorized?

Melanie and the gang
Melanie, I'm going to be sending you a PM later today.
I have been somewhat where you are, except it isn't me with the disability it is my wife.

In answer to your first question, sure you can train your dog. You can look up the long drawn out definitions, but in short if you have a physical condition that prevents you from performing any normal life activity and you have a dog that is trained to perform a specific task that mitigates that disability then you meet what the ADA requires.

I'm not real familiar with Alaska, but Texas also wrote a law about "certified" trainers, but never defined certified... gotta love legislation. Fortunately I was able to obtain the documentation I need to meet the state supreme courts ruling on "certified". But, what may help you in ongoing training once you have a dog that meets the ADA requirement for even 1 task that mitigates your disability, then you can continue training other tasks in public.

If you dog retrieves items and provides a stable platform for standing, and/or preventing falls, it would seem that you would already meet the basics. However, you may want to look closely into your states rulings on any recent cases to avoid any problems, while the ADA is across the nation, each state likes to play there own games and some can be quite dificult to deal with, so do your homework.

Good luck, a self trained dog can be very rewarding as long as it's done right, and it sound like you have the knowledge base and experience to do it right.
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oh, ya, almost forgot.

On the "what will they think" about one day with the dog and one day wife has learned to get some thick skin. People will look at you and wonder why you need a dog and some will be rude about it. The good thing is...what they think doesn't affect your illness or how you deal with it.
Thanks, Jeffrey. We're working on specific tasks and she's doing really well.

I have fairly tough skin, I just wondered how people dealt with this type of problem. I already have people question me occasionally because on my good days I'm out and about doing fairly normal, and people don't always understand that when I'm in a flare, I may be stuck at home barely able to move. And since I'm known in my area as a trainer, I can see that some may question my use of a service dog as just a means to take my dog with me places. In all honesty, most places I go I can already take my dog in (by their consent). So I'm probably just anticipating problems that may not happen .. *L*

I am very glad that I read this thread about service dogs. Thank you so much for the link on state laws. I live in Nevada and am training my own service dog, and so far have not had any problem taking my service dog in training into any stores. We have however, always asked permission, and have usually made our visits short. Good luck to others training dogs for their own disability.
Glad you found us Joan. I just went back and read your intro and must say it was very interesting.

Let us know if we can be of any assistance to you and I'ld like to send you a late welcome.
Joan, I've been pretty successful with finding places that will allow me to bring my dog in so far, too. I ALWAYS ask first. I'm very considerate of any inconvenience to others and want everyone to have a positive experience with me and my dog (so far so good! *L*).

Lately we've been home most of the time as I work through some flares in my joints (hurts to move) and we've been practicing simple things like "bring my shoes!". Funny thing is, the chow that I'm training and my older German shepherd get into this contest as to who can get to the shoes first .. *L* .. last night the GSD picked up a shoe, the chow yanked it out of her mouth and brought it to me, and the shepherd brought the second shoe. I just love these dogs, they entertain as well as assist me!

Melanie and the gang in Alaska
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