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Considering Making Your Dog a Service or Therapy Dog? Read This First!

Prospective clients approach dog trainers with certain expectations. The upside is that the client has put thought into what they want to get out of training. The downside is that occasionally their needs can’t possibly be met. Basic training is a clear, obtainable goal for everyone. As long as the pack leader is confident and consistent, any dog can learn manners. Behavior issues, unless there is an underlying medical condition, can be resolved with the right trainer and the right attitude. What gets dicey is a person who has acquired a dog with the expectation of training them to be a service dog.


Service and therapy dogs need to have certain traits and attributes to qualify before training. If it is determined the dog has “what it takes” then the work of training begins. Training a service or therapy dog is a long process that requires daily commitment from the owner to ensure proper protocol is met.

Maljalen /
Maljalen /
Temperament Screening

Most trainers will rely on three basic tests to determine whether a dog is a suitable candidate for extensive training. The first test is noise sensitivity. There is nothing worse than having a service dog that will tuck tail and bolt at every loud noise it hears. The second test is the body sensitivity test. This test is to establish how a dog will react to being bumped into or accidently stepped on while “on the job”. The last test is the retrieving test. This particular test shows a dog’s enthusiasm to work with a human and their willingness to be trained.

Basic Training

Instruction starts with basic manners; if the dog can’t behave in public and/or the owner can’t control their dog; it is well within a business’ rights, under ADA guidelines, to request the dog be removed. Basic manners consist of sit, stay, down and leash walking. This is also the time to discourage inappropriate behavior such as jumping on people and barking. Although it should be a given, every service or therapy dog should be housebroken completely, with zero accidents, before beginning the next phase of training.

Advanced Training

Once basic training has been achieved, tested and passed with flying colors it’s time to move on to the advanced training. This consists of a strong sit/stay or down stay allowing the owner to walk farther away or even out of the room without the dog breaking the cue. The dog should respond to voice commands, hand cues, or other types of instruction consistently and avoid distractions while out with the handler; such as another dog approaching or a being taunted by a squirrel. Their focus should be on the handler and on the job.

Not all dogs are cut out to be service or therapy dogs. Not all dogs are cut out to be agility champions or flyball experts. All dogs are, however, heroes to those of us who need a hug at the end of the day or some snuggles when things don’t go right. All dogs are special in their own way and should be appreciated for their unique abilities.




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Written by Renee Moen
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