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Service Dog Quest: Measure Current Training

Last week, we introduced the 2014 Service Dog Challenge. We had you identify some areas you and your canine partner could both improve in and write them down for safe keeping. This week, it’s time to actually get the ball rolling! Welcome to Week Two of the 2014 Service Dog Challenge, and we’re glad you’ve decided to join us.

There are many ways to get to the same place and just because someone is traveling a different road than you are doesn’t mean they’re going the wrong way. Regardless of how you’re getting there, it’s difficult to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. 2014 Service Dog Challenge

Last week, we figured out where you’re going. This week, we need to cover where you’ve been. Go ahead and grab your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training (SDiT), your 2014 Service Dog Challenge binder/notebook/file (for more info on that, check out the Week One post), a pen, and whatever you usually train and reward your partner with, be it toys, treats, tug or something else. Also grab a way visually grouping items on paper – this can be highlighters, colored pencils or crayons, a pack of small stickers or any other method that works for you.

2014 Service Dog Challenge: Week Two

Week Two Goal: Identify the behaviors your Service Dog or SDiT knows and to what degree she knows them

Week Two Focus: Your Service Dog’s current level of training, manners and distraction proofing

Week Two Instructions and Checklist:

1. Consider your Service Dog’s or Service Dog in Training’s current level of training, public access and distraction proofing. Only think about what she actually knows and has experienced, not what you hope she will.

2. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of a paper. Label one column “Distractions” and one 2014 Service Dog Challengecolumn “Rewards.”

3. Write down 10-20 things, environments or circumstances your Service Dog or SDiT finds distracting in the “Distractions” column. It’s ok if she has already mastered or been “proofed” to some of them, but be certain to include at least a few that still need some work. Examples may be, “Ball Games,” “Other Dogs,” “Small Children,” “Food,” “Thrown Toys,” “Crowds,” “People Playing Games,” “Skateboards or Bicycles,” or “Moving Objects.”

4. Write down 5-10 (or more!) things, activities or actions your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training finds rewarding in the “Rewards” column. If you’re struggling to come up with more than one or two, check this article out for more reward ideas. Remember, anything your dog finds rewarding is a reward, be it food, a quick game of tug, a gentle massage, a car ride, running and playing with another dog, going for a swim or anything else your dog finds inherently pleasurable.

5. Review the guidelines and recommendations for using food as a training reward if “food” of any kind is included on your list. As all dogs must eat to stay alive, most have a pretty strong attachment to food on some level. Food is a basic necessity of life and whether or not you actively utilize it in training your partner, it likely deserves a place on your rewards list. Glance quickly over the guidelines to be certain you’re utilizing food as a tool and reward and not a bribe.

6. Number your rewards and distractions from highest to lowest. The smaller the number, the less distracting or the less rewarding something is. For example, one of my dog’s lists might look something like this (I highlighted my dog’s top and lowest rewards/distractions):
Service Dog Challenge Rewards and Distraction Example

7. Make a list of every behavior your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training knows and can perform reliably in a distraction free-area on cue alone, without luring, guiding, assistance or multiple cues. Include behaviors like “Load Up” to get in a car, “Up Up,” to jump on furniture, or other “incidental” cues your partner responds to regularly. Also include words your Service Dog or SDiT knows like “ride,” “bye bye,” “cookie,” “crate,” “bath,” or “ball.”

8. Make several copies of your list. If you don’t have a photocopier, you can make copies at the Service Dog Rewards and Distractions library or at many office supply stores. If that’s not possible, then just leave enough space to one side of your list for several check boxes. Keep one copy for the rest of this week’s challenge and place the others in your 2014 Service Dog Challenge binder.

9. Test your list. Place your treats/reward items on a nearby table or shelf for easy access and bring your partner to your work area. Without any treats or reward items on your person or in your hand, ask your dog for the first item on your list. If she performs the behavior, reward her. Work your way through the entire list, taking breaks as necessary. It’s ok if it takes a few days to get through it, but make sure you’ve tested each behavior, command, cue or word on your list. During the testing process, keep distractions to a bare minimum.

10. Mark the behaviors your dog reliably performed the very first time you asked in your distraction-free test area with one color, type of sticker or other indicator. Date your list in one of the corners with the date you started the testing and the date you completed the testing, and file your list in your 2014 Service Dog Binder.

BONUS FOR THE WEEK: At some point every day from now until the next Challenge is posted, set a timer for 2 minutes. For the entire 2 minutes, ask your Service Dog or SDiT for behaviors requiring cue recognition. For example, you may ask your partner for repetitions of “sit,” “down,” “stand,” “bow,” “sit pretty,” “play dead,” and “spin.” Only include commands marked on your test sheet (the ones your dog responded to confidently and reliably the first time asked in a distraction free area), keep your energy upbeat, excited and happy, and reward every single repetition of the command like your Service Dog just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Keep the pace moving; as quickly as you can give commands, your dog performs them and you reward them, the next one should come.

2014 Service Dog Challenge Rewards and Distractions BonusDon’t let your dog get “stuck” or frustrated – if she performs the wrong behavior for the cue given, don’t repeat the command, but instead, help your partner find the right position/behavior and reward it several times in a row. Then, mix it in more frequently until your partner reliably links the behavior to the cue.

Write down the results of each day’s “Cue Game” (this week’s BONUS exercise) so you can see how your partner improves as time goes on. Make note of the cues you worked on, the rewards you used, and how upbeat and confident your partner seemed. If your partner stumbled over a cue or struggled to differentiate one from another, write it down. If your partner flowed seamlessly from one to the next, write that down. Include anything you’ll want to keep track of over time, and keep your notes in your Service Dog Challenge binder for safekeeping.

As always, remember that training is supposed to be fun and a bonding exercise for the two of you. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break for a little while and come back. The more relaxed you are, the more fun the both of you will have.

Use the Week Two Service Dog Challenge to pinpoint exactly what your Service Dog’s understanding of behaviors, tasks, concepts and cues actually is in reality. Don’t fudge, lie, cheat or mislead yourself – only you and your partner suffer when you do that. There’s no comparison or grading in the Service Dog Challenge and the only thing that matters is becoming a better Service Dog team than you were yesterday with each day and week that goes by.

Got questions, comments, concerns, thoughts or ideas about this week’s Service Dog Challenge? Chime in with a comment and let us know!



  • Mcnearney January 27, 2014

    Awesome Post!
    They have become a major part of Kid’s Poll.
    Trained dogs are dogs that help the police to solve crimes.

  • Heather O'Connell August 23, 2017

    So helpful! I am really happy to have these new resources. We’ve just started and it’s eye-opening already. Thank you.


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