When it comes to training a Service Dog, absolutely nothing is more important than exhaustive socialization. Socialization and exposure to the world is the foundation upon which all other training rests, and a Service Dog who hasn’t gained real-world experience via systematic socialization is not fit for public access. With this list of oft-missed opportunities, you’ll be able to ensure you’re hitting all the bases while socializing Service Dogs in Training.

Socializing Service Dogs in TrainingImportant Considerations Before Beginning
Never, ever put a vest on a dog or claim it as a Service Dog in Training that is still displaying any behavior issues that would be eliminated during basic training — including leash pulling, inappropriate sniffing, etc. There are plenty of opportunities to socialize a dog in public at pet stores which allow animals, public parks and other areas which allow dogs. Remember, your behavior and that of your dog not only effects you but other Service Dog teams as well.

Before bringing your Service Dog in Training (SDiT) home, you need to have a defined plan for socializing him. While many people decide to simply take the puppy with them and introduce him to everything and anything they can, utilizing that approach results in missed experiences and an uneven education.

Unfortunately, more Service Dogs are released from training programs across the country for socialization concerns than any other reason. Protect your partnership by not only picking a puppy from a source that began socialization and stimulation at birth, but by also continuing socialization, exposure and training throughout your puppy’s training.

Use the attached checklist or prepare one of your own that includes everything your partner may encounter as both a puppy in training and as a working Service Dog adult. By keeping track of your Service Dog in Training’s education, you’ll better be able to spot and fill in holes before they become an issue.

The most important rule of socializing Service Dogs in Training is to never, ever, ever, for any reason, force an SDiT to approach, interact with, touch or be on/near/with something that appears to frighten them. Forcing a puppy in training to engage when afraid ensures he’ll never form positive associations with the object, person, place, surface, equipment or situation. Instead of forcing your SDiT, always keep high-value treats with you and use them to encourage a suspicious puppy to explore a situation of his own accord. If you lay a solid foundation of socialization that rewards a puppy in new situations, you’ll create a confident learner who thoroughly enjoys circumstances he’s never encountered.

Finally, your Service Dog in Training needs to encounter a situation more than once before you can ensure he’ll always be comfortable with it. You should try for at least 3 instances of positive exposure. Always remember the ultimate goal of socialization: to create a well-rounded, unshakeable, stable, solid, confident Service Dog in all situations.

Why Items Were Included in the List
This list is the brainchild of several Service Dog and Working Dog trainers. Trainers were asked to think back over their experiences, consult with their puppy raisers and teams in the field, and consider what they do differently now that they didn’t in the beginning of their programs concerning socialization. Those answers were integrated into this list in the hopes that some of the holes even professional trainers have had in the past could be avoided by puppy raisers and trainers in the future. If you have any further questions concerning an item on the list, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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Surfaces

  • Dirt
  • Grass
  • Gravel, Loose and Packed
  • Sand
  • Tile
  • Concrete
  • Granite/Marble
  • Slippery Surfaces
  • Puddles/Water/Fountains
  • Carpet
  • Metal
  • Grates (where the dog can see through and may be fearful of falling)

Animals

  • Small animals
  • Birds
  • Cats
  • Farm animals
  • Cows
  • Horses
  • Reptiles
  • Massive dogs
  • Large dogs
  • Little dogs

Equipment

  • Collar
  • Leash
  • Crate (Wire, Metal, Plastic)
  • Harness
  • Vest
  • Boots
  • Cooling Coat
  • Sweater
  • Head Halter
  • Basket Muzzle

Smells

  • Pizza
  • BBQ/Grilling
  • Food Courts
  • Exhaust (Bus/Truck/Car)
  • Gas Fumes
  • Paint
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Dog Food Besides Your Own
  • Something Rotting
  • Scents Commonly Encountered at Job

Things

  • Bouncy Houses/Blow-Up Displays
  • Full-Wall Mirrors
  • Nerf/Water Guns
  • Vacuum
  • Stairs
  • Balloons
  • Umbrellas
  • Hula Hoops
  • PT/Gym Equipment
  • Soda/Vending Machine (money in, heavy thing falling)

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People

  • Babies
  • Toddlers
  • Pre-Teens
  • Teens
  • Young Adults
  • Men of All Sizes
  • Women of All Sizes
  • People of all Races
  • People Wearing Hats/Coats/Hoodies
  • Police Officers
  • EMTs
  • Firemen
  • People With Odd Gait
  • People in Wheelchair
  • People with Medical Equipment
  • People with Varying Disabilities
  • People of Varying Ages
  • People with Varying Hair Lengths
  • People with Head Scarfs/Face Covering
  • People in Costumes

Events

  • Sporting Events
  • Birthday Parties
  • Holiday Celebrations
  • Church Get-Togethers
  • School Events
  • Seminars
  • Street Fairs
  • County Fairs/Rodeo
  • Grooming
  • Physical Exams
  • Car Rides

Places

  • Dog Shows
  • Vet Office
  • Zoo
  • Bowling Alley
  • Skating Rink
  • Movie Theater
  • Farms
  • Woods
  • Boats
  • Buses

Sounds

  • Thunder
  • Fireworks
  • Gun Shots
  • Barking Dogs
  • Diesel Engines
  • Music
  • Burning Wood
  • Crying Babies
  • Engines Starting
  • Hunting Calls
  • Banging on Pots/Pans[/one_half_last]

Final ConsiderationsSocializing Service Dog in Training to Metal Surfaces
Concerning sounds, it can be difficult to find safe situations to take your SDiT to for socialization. Pre-recorded sound effects are good option to provide the best, safest, and easiest route to ensure your Service Dog in Training develops a thick skin regarding all types of noise.

You can find noise desensitization CDs for dog shows, agility trial, and performance events, for babies, city sounds, natural sounds and hunting sounds, for thunder, storms, rain and fireworks, and pretty much anything else you could hope to expose your working dog or future Service Dog to. Clean Run provides sound socialization CDs, as does Through a Dog’s Ear. For downloading to your computer or MP3 player, online sound effect libraries like Sounddogs allow you to download files individually.

Free Downloadable Checklist
For your convenience and for easy inclusion in your Service Dog in Training’s file and training/socialization log, we’ve created a PDF of the above checklist. Feel free to utilize in its entirety, as long as it remains on the form provided below.

PDF Download Socializing Service Dogs in Training: 100+ Things to Include

 

25 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great list but I think some of the most important places were left off the list…grocery stores and drugstores. These are places that disabled people are most likely to frequent. It’s extremely important for dogs to be completely at ease there and not be distracted by food, carts, and/or items on the shelf. I had a dog in training that got freaked out by the kiddie carts in Safeway. Plus, a service dog should be able to retrieve items from a counter and hopefully help someone with mobility issues with credit cards, money, etc. Keep up the good work!

    • Barbara,

      You definitely raise some good points, but we were hoping to fill in some of the holes commonly found in SDiT socialization as opposed to including all of the basics we assume everyone knows to cover. We’ll definitely give some thought to revising the list, though!

    • Hospital lobby is much better for persons with mobility disability. I also noted that glass elevators was not on the list you often see them in malls. Other lifts too such as the ones where you see the wall disappearing as they are not encased.

  2. “Nerf/Water Guns” I would never have thought of this! Thank you so much for the wonderful checklist, it is definitely going to come in handy as a final check!

  3. A woman with a service dog approached my dog from the rear. Scarring my dog where his reaction was to attack. No harm was done, but I was cited and have to appear in court. I believe she should not allow her service dog to be socializing with people or other dogs while ” working”. Is my thinking correct?

    • Working Service Dogs should not typically engage with other dogs or people who aren’t involved in their task work. It does sound, though, as if your dog is reactive. We’d encourage you to check out the DINOS: Dogs In Need of Space Facebook page and to consider the TACT program of rehabilitating reactive dogs by building rock-solid handler focus so they’re more comfortable in public.

  4. One I didn’t anticipate: frequent and loud applause in a large function room with very high (3 story plus) ceilings! (I took my SDiT to the State House for a function and the room was very high and large, so the acoustic were VERY different from what he’s used to!)

  5. Escalators (not on them but in front and passing by them as on them is can be dangerous with the toes, leashes, etc) and Elevators.

  6. It is difficult for some of us to take our dogs to all of these places. There will always be something different that your dog may react to but your dog trusts you to keep him/her safe too. We came out of a restaurant and a guy was on his motor cycle, it was running, parked right at the exit . My dog was startled but that was all. Another time we had to wait “in down town Seattle” for a train with many cars to go by before we could cross the street and my dog had never seen or heard a train before, she was fine with the whole thing and I was proud of her. Do Service Dogs have to be perfect? I wonder if we often expect too much from them.

  7. My SDiT always stops to explore other animals excrement. This is a disgusting problem because she EATS WHATEVER SHE CAN. How do I stop this behavior?
    Also, please let be know your thoughts on electric (shock) collars. She is a large strong bread (full blooded Rottweiler) and only 6 mos old, but already at 40 lbs. I chose her based on personality, intelligence, hoping no one will approach because of her looks (I have severe PTSD), and because she was the runt of her litter. I don’t want a monster sized dog, just one that appears intimidating. She is HIGHLY INTELLIGENT and VERY DOCILE.
    Thanks for your thoughts.
    Msgt PTSD.

    • Not all dogs are cut out to become Service Dogs. Many Service Dog organizations reject over 80% of dogs that begin training do not graduate. That being said, consistent training may help. One of the first things every puppy needs to learn is a strong “leave it.” By 6 months of age your dog should have mastered this, so you are behind already. Your best option is to contact a local trainer in your area to ask for help.

    • I usually carry with me, a small, spraying water bottle (maybe 4 inches, easy to carry. I adjust the nozzle to a “soft” spray (not a sharp squirt). I spray my dog’s snout just a little, whenever she wants do anything inappropriate. It has worked wonders! I hardly ever have to spray anymore. Just showing it to her, stops her from any inappropriate behavior. It’s not abuse and has worked great for us!

  8. This is a great list. I am training my SDiT to help pull my wheelchair. He is with me everywhere. Being a Cub Scout leader and a Cub Scout Program Director for a Summer Camp he is surrounded by a great variety of sounds. From BB guns to water gun fights. The exposure to sound was so helpful. I went to a special occasion party that ended up being an extremely loud concert with 2000 plus people. It was mostly dark and so loud that people could only talk directly into each others ears. It was mostly standing room only. Fortunately the exposure to all the loud sounds really paid off.

    That being said I still need to expose him to bald men. He rarely barks but does bark at men that are bald.

    Thank you for such great advice. I keep trying to expose my SDiT to everything possible. Though looking at your list I still have a ways to go.

  9. What are your thoughts on exposing puppies in training to the items on the list… are there some fear periods of time to avoid for the pup, or certain things you would not expose them to at specific ages?

  10. I never really gave it a thought at Gun Fire, but here in the country you do hear them. We have a few hunters up this way, Fire Works were great on the list. I would contact the local schools ,see if you can Bering your pup while you they unload and load the students . I was thinking that your pup should be exposed , to riding on van’s wheelchair lift. I say expose to the kids tossing the footballs, and the baseball/fields . They need to know that the ball at this time, is not theirs

  11. you should also expose your pup to walking under a bunch of baloons and umbrellas, or walking near someone who has them. Practice opening and closing your umbrella with your pup.

  12. I am a disabled vet that got a “fully trained” service dog from a non profit organization I’d rather not mention. After 1 day, they basically said “here ya go” and I haven’t heard from them since. Now, I find myself with a not so well trained service dog. He is very smart and has training, but now I’m having to train him myself. He is a 2 year old Belgian Malinois. I can’t afford a trainer is why I reached out to this organization. In a nut shell, I’m having to train him myself. Thank you for this list, but is there any advice you can give? Thank you in advance.

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