|Barked: Sun Mar 3, '13 2:08am PST |
|I realized I didn't actually address OP's post...
Athena, it sounds like your dog is already a wonderful help to you, which is really great. But as the others have said, a dog who has received no training at all is not a service dog. What I would do if I were you is begin by ensuring you meet the ADA definition of disabled. Since you receive disability benefits you most likely do, but there are cases where people are receiving benefits and are not disabled according to the ADA. If you're unsure if you meet the definition, you can talk with your doctor or other care provider, and they should be able to help you with that.
The second thing you should do is write down a list of things that you have trouble with that your dog may be able to help you with. This is something that your care provider can help you with if you’re having trouble, or the people on the forum here are usually willing to help as well. It’s okay if your dog is already doing most or everything on the list, but my point for you to do this is to make sure that there isn’t something that would be of great help to you that you could train your dog to do, as well as showing documentation that you have thought about it.
The next thing will be to find a trainer. If possible, you will want one who has experience with service dogs; if that’s not possible, you want one that has experience with advanced obedience, like rally, agility, competition obedience. The first thing you want to have the trainer do is an evaluation – see if your dog is even suited to being a service dog. The trainer should be able to tell what areas you need to work on as well as how to train any new tasks that you would like to train.
Regardless of whether you’ll be training new tasks or not, you should work on training with the things Athena already does for you. By this, I mean shape the behavior so it’s exactly what you want it to be, reinforce it so she does it reliably, and proof it so that she will it 90% (or more) of the time in any environment, including high distraction environments that she’s never been in before. Do this with any new tasks that you will be teaching her as well. If done correctly, this will take a fair amount of time.
This part is really important: whenever you are doing any sort of training, even if it’s just five minutes here or there, write it down. Keep a log of all the training that you do. This will help prove that she is trained if you ever have to go to court. Obviously we hope it never comes to that, but it does happen sometimes.
I don’t know where you’re located, but it’s important you find out what your local in training laws are. If you are granted in training rights with Athena, then you need to be sure to follow them until you finish with training (ie, if it says wear a certain color vest, don’t wear a different color). If you are not granted access, then you have to do your training in pet friendly places and with the permission of any place that it is not against the health code for an animal to be there – which is usually anywhere that serves food.
Once Athena has completed training (performing her tasks at least 90% on the first command in high distraction environments without being stressed is a good measure), then you should have a trainer issue a Public Access Test (PAT). There are several different versions of this floating around. A PAT is not legally required but having your dog take one does two things – the first is that it documents that your dog is well behaved in public (which, again, is good if you ever have to go to court) and the second is that it gives you peace of mind that your dog is able to perform well. I do know some people who have their dogs take it more than once (either a week or so apart the first time or yearly) because a PAT is only a “snapshot” of your dog, how your dog is behaving on that specific day. She might be having a spectacular day and pass whereas she might not on any other day, if you understand what I mean.
This doesn’t have anything to do with her training, but I’m mentioning it because I don’t think anyone else has. It would be a good idea to get all of Athena’s health testing. Not just taking her to the vet and having a once-over, but a full blood panel (including thyroid, etc.). It would be excellent if you could get her hips and elbows checked as well, which have to be sent off for evaluation. You cannot use her for mobility or counterbalancing unless you do this as it could potentially harm her – I don’t know if you’re planning on using her for that, I just wanted to mention it.
Remember that service dog training takes a long time, and it’s very important not to rush things. Slow is fast, as they say. Rushing her may cause her to burn out and not want to work – and that is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s excellent that you’re working on Athena’s CGC as that is a good start.
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