It’s well known that logging performance is one of the keys to continual growth and progress. Whether it’s a fitness program, painting, academic classes or dog training, you can’t figure out where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. When it comes to Service Dogs, though, a training log is even more vital, both for your safety and that of your dog.
Our mantra is document, document, document. We highly suggest keeping a notebook or a blog as a log or record of your training dates and accomplishments. It will not only serve to help you during the training process but will also serve as a useful paper trail for your Service or Assistance Dog.
Your Service Dog is your lifeline, your independence, your partner, you friend. You know he works hard to help you live life to the fullest and that he makes all the difference in the world. If you live in the United States, then you know he has access to places of public accommodation and can accompany you almost anywhere you’d like to go. However, not everyone knows what you do concerning your partner and unfortunately, some encounters with the public can leave you stunned, furious and seeking legal assistance.
While federal Service Dog law dictates businesses may only ask two questions concerning the legitimacy of your canine assistant, case law has proven the same is not true in a court of law. If called upon legally by a judge to prove your partner’s status as a Service Dog, you have two avenues available: a letter or documentation from a reputable Service Dog organization or careful written documentation (logs) of your partner’s training.
For many Service Dog teams, the second is the only avenue available. Additionally, documenting Service Dog training is not only legally useful, but it’s a good plan regardless. It allows you to make, track and meet goals and prevents your training from becoming stagnant. It allows you to document and log trends in behaviors, what works and what doesn’t and the learning cycles your canine partner goes through. Beyond that, it’s an excellent scrapbook and journal of your partner’s life and will allow you to learn much about yourself, about him and about training in general. Should you go on to train a second Service Dog, your previous partner’s training log will prove an invaluable resource and a wonderful collection of memories, milestones and precious moments.
Every reputable Service Dog organization requires careful written training logs for all of their dogs. Standards and the information to be included varies group to group, but written details on behavior, training, socialization and public access outing is typically required to be included in the log. Many organizations (including ADI and IAADP) require minimum training hours for Service Dogs, and maintaining a log is an easy way to see where a dog falls on the spectrum and whether or not he meets the minimal behavioral/training standards set by larger organizations. Even if your Service Dog isn’t a program dog, you should strive to meet and exceed standards of excellence.
At any time in your Service Dog’s career, should you decide to partner with a professional trainer or compete in dog sports, your dog’s training log will help your trainer see exactly where you stand, how you and your partner learn, what works and doesn’t work, and how to best proceed. It prevents covering ground twice, demonstrates you and your partner know what you’re doing and that you approach your Service Dog’s education with intent and professionalism. It also saves time, which saves money. Whole Dog Journal has additional information on some of the great benefits of logging training.
An oft-quoted nugget of wisdom is, “The best time to plant a tree was 2o years ago. The second best time is now.” If you have been keeping a training log, good job! Keep it up! If you haven’t, though, don’t fret. Just start now and once you get into the habit, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!
2014 Service Dog Challenge: Week Eight
Week 8 Goal: To develop a training log system that works for you and includes all necessary information
Week 8 Focus: Handler’s use and inclusion of written socialization and training records and/or documentation
Week 8 Equipment: 2014 Service Dog Challenge Binder, Pen/Pencil or Computer Access
Week 8 Time Commitment: 10/min a day
Week Eight Instructions and Checklist
1. Look through examples of training logs currently in use by various Service Dog programs. Here’s a list to get you started, but feel free to roam the internet to find other ideas.
- IAADP Sample Service Dog Training Log
- Gimme Grace Dog Training Sample Service Dog Training/Socialization Log
- Service Dog Central Training Log (Journal) Form
2. Determine what information you’d like your Service Dog’s training log to cover. At a bare minimum, it needs to include the date, what you did and how long you spent on it. You may want sections for types of rewards, distractions, checklists, additional notes, responses or other types of information. No one has to like or approve of your log but you, but it needs to be a system that’s easy, understandable and that you’re comfortable utilizing daily.
3. Pick a place to keep your log. You may decide to use an Excel workbook, a Google document, Evernote, a good ol’ fashioned notebook or a beautifully designed journal made specifically for logging your dog’s training sessions and milestones. It needs to be easy to use, easy to access anywhere and readily available. Regardless of whether you keep your log via an electronic or physical medium, you need to keep a hardcopy of it at all times. If you need quick access to it, need to turn it over to a lawyer, judge or trainer, or something happens to your computer, you’ll be mighty grateful for your organized, up-to-date offline copy! Consider including plastic document sleeves for copies of training class certificates, vet records, registry/pedigree documentation or any other important paperwork.
4. Create your log. Whether that’s designing an Excel spreadsheet template or drawing sections in a notebook, nail down your training log’s design, sections, terminology and layout. Play with it until you arrive at something you like. Make a hardcopy and place it in your 2014 Service Dog Challenge Binder.
5. Set an alarm or reminder to go off at some point every day, ideally towards the end of the day when both you and your partner are winding down and activities are over. For many teams, a few minutes before bed works well. When your alarm goes off, update your training log for the day if you haven’t already done so. Don’t skip a day, ever, and promise yourself you’ll “catch up.” You won’t AND you’ll forget important details. Additionally, the further behind you get, the harder it is to get started again.
For many teams, jotting down a quick note in their phone or recording a voice memo just after training/socialization outings and then transferring the info to their log at the end of the day works well. You’ll develop an ongoing system that works for you with time and the reality is that nothing matters except getting it done. Log your Service Dog’s training, learning, progress, socialization and milestones. It can be a chore, but the benefits are huge. You may never need it but if you do, you’ll REALLY need it.
Homework this week is simple: create a dog training log that works for you, your partner and your team as a whole. Use it daily to get into the habit, and then don’t get
BONUS: Since this week’s Challenge focuses primarily on the handler, the bonus activity this week is all about your canine partner. Set aside 5 minutes a day to play the Box Game with your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training. The Box Game is an invaluable learning and teaching tool that helps your dog develop creative problem solving skills (vital in a working Service Dog!) and that helps solidify your understanding of timing, reinforcement and behavior modification. Don’t forget to log the time spent playing!
Got questions, comments, concerns, thoughts or ideas about this week’s Service Dog Challenge? Got something to share about training logs, or records keeping, or Box Games? Chime in with a comment and let us know!
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