Two-Year Rule

The Service and Therapy Dog forum is for all service and therapy dogs regardless of whether or not their status is legally defined by federal or state law, how they are trained, or whether or not they are "certified." Posts questioning or disputing a person's need for a service or therapy dog, the validity of a person's service or therapy dog, or the dog's ability to do the work of a service or therapy dog are not permitted in this forum. Please keep discussions fun, friendly, and helpful at all times.

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Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 12:09pm PST 
I saw this come up in the K-Mart thread - the idea that a dog cannot be a SD until a minimum of either 18 mo or 2 years. I don't intend any disrespect to those posters, but this is a ridiculous notion.

I will concede that it can take about that long before a dog becomes fully trained and socialized to a broad variety of situations, and that certain types of training may take that long for certain dogs. But the idea that this is a minimum criterion to qualify as a SD - well, this is very much akin to saying that only certain breeds, or breeds of a certain height or disposition or age qualify as SDs. That is, it depends entirely on the dog, the handler, the nature of the work, and the situations in which the SD will be used.

Take my SD, for example. She is a seizure alert and response dog. It was never my intent to obtain a SD, but she exhibited alerting behavior instinctively. On my doctor's advice, with about 6 months of reinforcement, we developed this into a very reliable and clear behavior. It took her about the same period of time to learn how to behave in public, i.e. buses, restaurants, grocery stores, the office, etc. - the places I go. At this point, she became a SD.

She's a fantastic SD at that. She has alerted me more times than I can count in all sorts of situations, preventing all sorts of injuries and other problems. And, she behaves like a pro in the situations I put her in. Granted, she already knew her basic commands and had been with me for a few years as a pet. So, we had a head start. But, this idea that it takes a set amount of time to qualify as a SD is preposterous. I'm sorry, but it is.

Now, with that said, I definitely sympathize with where this "standard" is coming from. There are a lot of people who take an untrained family pet, teach it some task which the handler could just as easily do himself/herself, slap a vest on it (or not), and call it a SD. This is frustrating. It is tempting to say that it takes a certain amount of training, but the bottom line is that as soon as the dog is trained to perform some task to mitigate the effects of its handler that the handler cannot perform for himself/herself, we've got a SD.

Now, there are SDs and there are SDs. A dog can work in the home and be an SD, but not be trained/socialized appropriately to work outside the home. This is still a SD. And, the handler is guaranteed access rights with his/her SD even though the dog may not be trained specifically to behave in public, provided that dog can behave so as not to create a disturbance. Many SDs and non-SDs can do this with absolutely no training.

Sorry if this comes on strong. This just pushes a button with me. Every dog, handler, job, and environment is different. Arbitrarily setting a time criterion on training, while well-meaning, redefines "SD" in a way that unnecessarily restricts legitimate SD/handler teams.

My guess is that this is state law somewhere? If so, it is not compliant with the federal law.

Edited by author Fri Feb 3, '12 12:14pm PST


Member Since
Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 12:26pm PST 
I would say that when people say 2 years they are talking about the time from puppy, ie 8 /9 weeks old to SD.
Aidan, CGC

Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 12:27pm PST 
You are probably about to get flamed by a lot of people, so I will just say this- I think it's broadly a maturity thing. A dog at 6 months to a year is still a child, essentially. They are still going through fear periods, growing, and changing. There are reasons there are labor laws for children in the US. The same reason applies to dog training. A 13 year old child CAN work in a factory, but jeez would you really let them? They are not mentally ready for the task. Aidan was perfect at 6 months, at 8 he became much more independent and harder to train. He used to not care about other people, now he loves being pet by everyone. Other dogs are monsters until they're 3 or 4 years. It's different with every dog, and there are exceptions to every rule, but every dog needs time to become themselves.


Lolly girl
Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 12:28pm PST 
Well said Aidan dog
Ginger DSA- ThD TT CGC - &hearts

My Angel
Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 12:45pm PST 
I was wondering the same thing, I'm a little confused about how that works.

Doesn't a lot of that depend on the age of the dog, as well as how much training they have already before "service dog training" began?

For example let's say two people acquire dogs they plan to train as service dogs. One is an 8 week old puppy. Another is a 3 year old adult.
Do both these dogs need 2 years of training to be a service dog? What if the 3 year old has already gotten a CGC, been through advanced obedience training, is taken into public(in pet-friendly places) regularly, and has the skills where it would pass a Public Access Test if given? If someone just got that 3 year old dog is it going to take 2 more years before it will be able to be considered a fully trained service dog?

Wouldn't it be correct to say that a dog from a service/guide dog school is not really in service dog training until after they are given up by the puppy raiser? From what I have read (I've looked into this as something I might like to do myself) the training the puppy raiser does generally basic obedience, manners and socialization type stuff? I do not believe the service dog training schools take 2 -more- years to train every service dog they provide after this?

In fact I tried to look for info on this online, I found info from one guide dog schools that said the same thing- puppy raisers do socialization and basic obedience: "It will be your responsibility to socialize the puppy as much as you can" and "Puppy Raiser is required to teach the puppy basic obedience"; and after the puppy raiser gives the dog back: "Formal training takes about four to six months". Another school: "At 15-18 months, they begin their formal guide dog training (which takes 2-3 months)."
Also from a guide dog school's FAQ: "They meet their blind partner usually when they are around 1-1/2 years old and the two train together for anywhere between two weeks to 28 days." So is it really accurate to say these dogs have been in service dog training for 18 months, when they are only 18 months old?
I am using guide dogs as an example here only because it is the easiest to locate legitimate schools and information about this type of service dog. I did a quick look at CCI's website and they say: "The dogs are returned to their regional centers at approximately 14 months old and begin a six- to nine-month program of professional training."

So if someone acquired an adult dog who already had a lot of training and socialization, would it take 2 years before the dog is a service dog?

I grin from ears- to chin :D

Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 1:37pm PST 
Keep it helpful and positive - I like giving this subject a thought.
Yes, it certainly depends on the age of the dog, disposition, experience, etc..

Hope it will be a positive and interesting thread flowers
warm wishes, sonja and the girls

I miss you, U
Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 1:56pm PST 
I am the original poster that Zoe is referring to, so I think it's appropriate that I chime in here. smile

The "1.5 - 2 years" rule that I originally picked up here is, I believe, based on how SD programs train their dogs, and does include socialization & basic obedience by puppy raisers. The fact that I referenced it is nothing against OTs - I am not totally crazy about the program way of doing things - but when you figure that program trainers haven't just trained one or two dogs, but hundreds - well, you have to figure that they chose that period of time for some reason other than having picked it out of a hat.

Even with older dogs - as Zoe points out herself - the amount of time to train a dog from well-trained pet to SD is going to be measured in months, not days or weeks. Happy (I think it was) also posted recently that it took her 8 months to take a dog from pet to SD, and Happy is someone whose training expertise I admire a lot. So in both these two cases (Zoe and Happy) there was X months of pet training plus 6 or 8 months of SD training. That sounds like it very possibly comes close to or exceeds 1.5 years of training total, so doesn't particularly contradict my statement at all.

And Aidan addressed the issue of adolescence very well. Anyone who knows much about dogs should know that they need time to grow up mentally and physically. Anyone who puts their dog into service full-time at six months of age is running a big risk of burnout.

Finally, I've dealt with a lot of dogs over the years as a obedience class instructor, rescue volunteer and vet tech, and it's been my observation that perhaps only 1 in 100 dogs knows how to sit on command (I'm using sit as an example because I consider it just about the most basic command there is). That implies that the answer to the question "How long will it take to train my dog as an SD?" will be 1.5-2 years 99 times out of 100 (since 99 times out of 100 the owner will be starting from scratch).

In other words: it's a generalization, meant to be illustrative; please don't take offense if it doesn't apply to your situation.

Edited by author Fri Feb 3, '12 2:10pm PST


The Boy Wonder
Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 2:46pm PST 
First Thank you No Name... that compliment was really a high point in what has been a less than stellar day.

Second. I think two years is rather fluid but at the same time I think any dog Under 18 months - 2 years is really not mentally mature enough for the full time strain or for their handler to let down their guard. Yes the training can be done faster with a well trained, well socialized dog, but at the same time you don't want to rush it.

I'd stick to that time frame for an owner trained dog (especially on an open forum) because I have seen a number of cases where someone took a dog that was only 6 or 7 months old and slapped a patch on him or her and decided that was enough training. And that sort of behavior not only puts you and your pet in danger (defiantly what I'd call a pet at this point) but also the general public. Add to it that it makes All owner trained service dogs look bad, and we have enough problems as a community without adding this to the mix.

I'm not a huge fan of program trained dogs anyway, I think at that age and with a trainer that doesn't know the dog you can see a lot of problems that have been masked. Then you add to it programs that follow the guide dog model and pick a shelter dog up and figure they can add 4 -6 months of 'polish' and have a trained service dog.

I have always maintained that it takes around 6 months for a shelter dog to 'settle' enough for you to see their real personality. This has been a really big concern of mine for a while with the number of programs providing psych dogs to veterans in the past few years.

Keep in mind... Guide dog schools may only put that many months of training on their dogs. But they've been breed from good genetic stock that the school can guarantee. They have been raised in a good home environment and given solid basic training (I think many schools are requiring puppies come to regular training classes now). As well as having a Known background with puppy raisers who are carefully selected. And even then not all of their dogs that go for final training make it.

I haven't seen but one of the newer War Dog programs that even mention wash outs. When taking a dog of unknown training, unknown lineage, and largely unknown temperament you are Going to have wash outs, and you are not going to be able to polish training in 6 months or less. At least not and put a dog Safely out on the street working.

I think this is where the rule comes from. And I don't think any of us mean to imply that it can't be done in some situations quicker, but as a rule I think it's safer to stick with 2 or so years of training. That is generally the rule I go with when talking about service dogs to the public. It brings it home to them exactly How much training is required.
Harley, SD,- CGC, TDI

Super Service- Boy!
Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 3:47pm PST 
The 18 mo - 2 year rule is the amount of time it takes to train a dog when starting with a puppy. That is because the dog absolutely has to be mature and passed their fear periods before they can be/should be considered a fully trained service dog. Growth and development is not something you can rush. The last fear period (which occurs between age 18 mo - 2 years) tends to be the worst and can ruin a service dog, and a dog will absolutely need to be in training through it.

When starting with a dog that is older, has a strong background in obedience, is mature, etc... it can take a lot less time because a lot of that time is waiting for the dog to mature and you're already there when starting with a mature dog. But, if starting with a mature dog, you have to beware of any bad habits that may have to be untrained and make sure you know the health history.

Plain and simple, you can not rush service dog training. It IS a long process.

Barked: Fri Feb 3, '12 3:54pm PST 
I "2-year rule" just means that if you start with an 8-week old pup, they won't be a service dog before the age of about 2.

That one guide dog school that was quoted listed a very early age. There is one school (GDB) that does go through the process pretty quickly and graduate dogs at about a year-and-a-half. My current school keeps dogs with their raisers until about 18-months and then has AT LEAST 6 months of "formal" training, so graduates the dogs at 2.5-ish years. Puppy raisers are mostly responsible for obedience and socialization, but we also do train some aspects specifically related to guide work.

In terms of constructive suggestions, there is no way a 6-month-old dog can be a SD. Like somebody mentioned, they are still learning and growing at that point. I am a puppy raiser for a guide dog school and have raised many, many puppies, most of which were perfectly behaved in public at 6-months. Some continued to be perfect, and some went through an adolescent period where they would NOT be suitable for public access. It is my firm opinion that using a 6-month-old service dog is irresponsible not only for yourself (if the "SD" becomes unreliable during adolescence) but irresponsible to the public (using a "teenager" SD) and other SD users (saying a puppy is a full SD will create access problems for others).

I have extensive experience in the service dog world, and I would go so far as to say that if you are ever brought to court, you will lose because nobody with any experience at all will ever say that a dog can be a SD at 6-months. I don't mean to be harsh; I am saying this for your own benefit. A 6-month-old dog is simply NOT a service dog. Please slap the training patch back on until your dog is an adult.

Obviously, if somebody obtains an adult dog who has already had obedience and socialization, it will likely not take 2 years to become a SD.

EDIT: WHOOPS! My bad. I apologize to the OP; I thought you were saying that your dog was 6 months old and was a SD! shock Upon re-reading your post, your dog had 6 months of SD-specific training in addition to a solid obedience foundation. This is quite possible, depending on the situation. Please accept my apologies smile

Edited by author Fri Feb 3, '12 3:59pm PST

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