It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of training a Service Dog. With so many concepts, behaviors, commands, manners, situations and ideals for Service Dogs in Training to master, it can be hard, as a trainer and handler, to even know where to start, let alone to establish which training resources are the most valuable. After polling several successful, well-established Service Dog trainers, we’re proud to present this list of the top 10 best Service Dog Training Resources.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels Program
There was no question on this one; Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels Program was included on every single list as the top resource for those wishing to train a Service Dog. In a nutshell, Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels Program is a step-by-step, proven, systematic, motivational program offering phenomenal relationship building, obedience training, socialization instructions and manners builder. Specifically designed for use with Service Dogs, it works beautifully to guide the trainer (and the dog!) through the process of developing rock-solid impulse control, instinctive recognition of and responses to cues and behaviors even under heavy distraction, and teaching creative, independent thinking
and problem solving skills in a fun, but highly structured, way. It also allows the dog and trainer to create their own system of communication and to help them bond deeply through the process of learning together.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Susan Garrett’s Crate Games
Susan Garrett’s Crate Games cropped up on almost every trainer’s list for a top Service Dog training resource. Crate Games is an invaluable, purely motivational program for teaching unshakeable impulse and self-control, especially under heavy distraction and in public and for building a solid foundation for “stays” and recalls, even in puppies as young as 7 weeks. In a matter of minutes (no joke) after beginning Crate Games, many of the Service Dog trainers polled who regularly utilize the program can have extremely young puppies (5 weeks was the youngest we heard) targeting objects 50 or more feet away and remaining on the target no matter what distractions are offered, offering extremely solid positional stays (sit, down or stand) and/or quickly offering a variety of useful training behaviors with confidence and creativity. Additionally, the Crate Games program teaches puppies and dogs to learn to choose to be relaxed, focused and highly self-controlled and to make those behaviors self-rewarding. Then, of course, there’s the added benefit that Crate Games dogs are extremely relaxed and comfortable in a crate (or on a bed, or a mat, or, or, or . . . . imagine the implications for public access!) no matter what else is going on. Who would have guessed?
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Control Unleashed and The Puppy Program
While they’re written for performance athletes, not for Service Dogs, both of the Control Unleashed books (the original Control Unleashed and the Control Unleashed: The Puppy Program) cropped up on our trainers’ lists enough (80% of the time) to solidly add them to the “MUST HAVE” category of Service Dog training resources. The Puppy Program is designed to instill a life-long love of learning, focus and working aptitude while creating a dog who’s handler focused, solid and stable in any situation and able to perform reliably and confidently no matter the degree of distraction or the circumstance. It’s designed to prevent issues long before the begin. The Control Unleashed book is designed to help adult dogs who struggle with impulse control, focus or performing under distractions, but it’s also valuable reading for anyone training a Service Dog who’s past the puppy stage.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Building Blocks for Performance
Building Blocks for Performance (Building Blocks) found its way onto three quarters of the polled trainers’ lists of most valuable Service Dog training resources. Building Blocks caters to trainers looking to instill into their young performance/competition candidates working aptitude, exceptionally strong handler focus, performance under distraction and the ability to turn excitement on and off at the flip of a switch. All of those skills are extremely valuable lessons for any Service Dog in Training, and Building Blocks carries the added advantage of being a solid relationship building program, too, and it solidifies the working bond between trainer and puppy super early while also creating snappy, responsive obedience and instinctive manners.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: C.L.A.S.S. Program
The Canine Life and Social Skills (C.L.A.S.S.) program was recommended by the majority of polled trainers as one of the best resources available. C.L.A.S.S. is a comprehensive, motivational training and manners certification program that utilizes experienced, certified trainers and set, defined protocol in a class or group environment. The C.L.A.S.S. program has three levels of training (BA, MA and PhD), each of which builds on the foundation laid in the previous. While a handler will learn how to teach their Service Dog basic obedience (and intermediate obedience, at the MA and PhD levels), some public access skills and solid manners, that’s not the true value of the C.L.A.S.S. program for Service Dog trainers. The best part of C.L.A.S.S. isn’t what it teaches handlers what to do, but what it provides: group training, skills practice, distraction proofing and socialization in a controlled, healthy environment.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Learning Games
Learning Games offers trainers a fun, motivational way to teach independent thinking, creativity, cue recognition and reliable performance while also providing the opportunity to bond, learn to communicate effectively and train valuable foundations for later task work.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: 101 Dog Tricks
Kyra Sundance’s 101 Dog Tricks was included on 50% of the lists as a valuable Service Dog training resource. 101 Dog Tricks teaches . . . . you guessed it . . . . 101 dog tricks! However, for a person who doesn’t know how to teach basic and intermediate obedience or who is completely lost on how to begin task training, many of the behaviors covered in 101 Dog Tricks offers a perfect launching point. For example, while sit, down, stand, stay and heel are covered, so are opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, pulling on a tug (opening drawers, removing clothes, pulling an alarm), retrieving, message work and many, many more valuable skills that directly translate into task work.
BONUS: You can earn trick dog titles with your Service Dog or Service Dog in Training and get awesome, bright, fun patches for their vest. What’s not to love? Kyra specifically states, “Service Dogs and their handlers may need to alter the trick [for trick dog titling] to work within their unique needs. This is fine.”
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Donna Hill
If you’re a visual learner (or really, any kind of learner at all, except kinetic), Donna Hill’s free Assistance Dog Training channel on YouTube is an excellent Service Dog training resource. It simply can’t be beat. She offers step-by-step directions, clear explanations and effective techniques for teaching all kinds of Service Dog behaviors and task work.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Teamwork Manuals
The Teamwork I and Teamwork II manuals are old-standbys for Service Dog training information. Our polled trainers varied wildly in their opinions of the Teamwork manuals (they either loved them or hated them), so be certain to check the reviews to find if they’ll work for you and your Service Dog in Training. The Teamwork manuals offer training advice for teaching various tasks that’s specifically catered to owner-trainers. However, they’re quite vague in some places and in others, they only showcase what worked for the author. For some teams, though, Teamwork I and II can fill gaps other Service Dog training resources can’t.
Best Service Dog Training Resources: Sound CDs
Every trainer polled included a sound CD on their list of the best Service Dog training resources, but no one sound CD cropped up reliably, so we just grouped them all together. Sound CDs offer trainers the ability to socialize and desensitize Service Dogs in Training to sounds that they otherwise might miss out, whether that’s due to lack of available socialization opportunities for any given set of sounds, the trainer isn’t able to get out as much as he or she would like, or some other reason. This specific Puppy Sounds CD cropped up the most, but dog trial CDs, fireworks CDs and babies/children CDs cropped up on almost every list. They just weren’t the same sound desensitization CD on every list — each trainer preferred a different brand. Thunderstorm CDs also showed up regularly.
There are SO many more excellent resources available; this list is only a starting point. Explore various avenues of training, learn as much as you can and above all, never quit discovering new things together. Service Dog teams who train together stay and succeed together.
If you’re looking for the first steps to training a Service Dog (SDiTs), these free, online, Anything Pawsable Service Dog training and socialization resources may be of benefit:
First Five Skills You Should Teach a Service Dog in Training
100+ Things to Include While Socializing an SDiT
Things Service Dogs in Public Should and Should Not Do
Did you follow a plan when socializing your Service Dog, or did you allow life to dictate your SDiT’s socialization and public access? Is there anything you think we missed, would want added or think we should change? Chime in with a comment!
Robin Jackson September 15, 2013
Lots of great resources here! Donna Hill’s videos are wonderful, I can’t say enough good things about them. CONTROL UNLEASHED is great, and I always recommend Sue Ailsby’s TRAINING LEVELS to anyone with any dog of any age.
That said, three small notes. First, Ailsby’s books are NOT “specifically designed for service dogs” although they are used by some service dog programs. Instead, they’re designed as a foundation course for any dog, whether their intended ultimate career is as service dog, search and rescue dog, dog sport competitor, or just great pet dog. Sue’s idea of “foundation” is far more advanced than most people’s, and includes Target, Retrieve, and directionals like Left and Right. So a really great resource, but not just for service dogs.
Second, the free materials on Sue’s website are the original Training Levels, which are about 15 years old now. The newer material, released last year, is available for sale as print or ebooks. The original Levels are great, the new Levels are fantastic, so I would take a look at the free material to see if you like the writing style, then purchase the new ones if you can afford them. Specifically note that the original materials included only a sport dog Retrieve of dumbbells at various distances. If you want the service dog type Retrieve of household items, including keys, socks, etc, you need to get the new books.
Finally, on the two Control Unleashed books…the original book was the CU book. The puppy book just came out last year, and although it does include “puppy” in the title, it’s also good for dogs of any age. I personally would recommend the puppy book if you’re just starting out with CU–it’s a bit more organized and easier to understand for those who haven’t also taken Leslie’s classes. Again, the original book is good, but the newer puppy book is even better. And again, works fine with dogs of any age. CU is about what Leslie now calls “attention management”–very useful for service dogs.
One final note: the Teamwork books are a bit dated, as you’ve mentioned, but still solid. And they’re not about what just worked for one author. The authors founded the Top Dog USA training program in Arizona and have worked with hundreds of dogs. Indeed, the book itself has pictures of dogs from several different teams with handlers with different disabilities. Its main limitation is that it is focused almost entirely on dogs for those with mobility issues, and the behaviours are pretty much all specific to those. The material is also available on DVDs for those who are visual learners. I used to recommend these books, but do now prefer Ailsby’s instead.
Kea Grace September 19, 2013
As always, your comments are chock-full of extremely helpful information. Thank you!
Neen June 9, 2016
Thank you! I saw this today, and took a look at them, starting with Sue Ailsby’s training levels. It was *exactly* the writing style I enjoy. The Level I exercises are things my self-trained service dog does, but not, well, neatly, smoothly. So, I decided to start at the beginning, using her stuff, and see what holes we have should work on. He won’t take long to go on to Level II.
I will buy her books, I think. Her work is clearly worth supporting.
Kat Davis December 12, 2013
I feel that these resources could be a really fantastic help to me and my Service Dog partner, and I shall definitely be following up on this article!
Brenda September 17, 2014
I have a dog to train, but my depression is so bad (and I am changing drugs) that I cannot concentrate. My poor Akita (dum de dum dum) tells me that “You ain’t makin’ this easy, Lady!” Between my “dullness” and her
Akita stubbornness, boredom, etc., we are doing a terrible job. I wish that good trainers were not so expensive. My income is low; my needs are high. I’ve taken her to some training classes and wasted my money. She adores the training classes and is controllable (dog aggression), but I am Mrs. Stupidly Depressed.
Kea Grace September 22, 2014
Brenda, we’re sorry to hear you are struggling! While it is very difficult to function while in the grips of depression, we would urge you to set very simple daily goals – like two minutes of training. Set a timer, and do something for two minutes every day. Try taking a walk with your partner – just the bonding time and exercise could be good for both of you. Of course, this isn’t medical advice, and you should listen to your doctor, therapist or treatment team if they say you should do something else. 🙂
Mike February 6, 2015
I have a service dog. We trained 3 years, and he was already trained for 1 year when I adopted him. He is now 6. I have begun the process of looking to prepare application for his replacement in a few years. There never seems to be information about the very sad situation, which will occur with everyone who has a service dog. I have read of dogs traveling half way across the state to get ‘Home’, or spending the day at the cemetery waiting for its owner. The bond between man and dog is two way. How does one prepare the service dog for the retirement to a different home when the dog and orginal handler will cross paths later ?
micha March 1, 2015
While some people do keep their retirees, not everyone can. If you got the dog through an organization, you’ll probably have to contact them for this. If not, I suggest working with a good rescue group. Not only will they have good advice for preparing your dog, but your dog will also be protected under their legal umbrella and their experience placing dogs.
micha March 1, 2015
I founded a group on Facebook called “Force Free Service Dogs”. It’s for people interested in learning about coercion free training and handling of service dogs. We have international members, owner trainers and professional trainers, new and experienced, and has a growing resources section.
It’s an informative, supportive group of many great people.
Miranda Andrys August 16, 2015
There is a training resource I found entirely beneficial while training my SDiT. It is called Professional Puppies and focuses on providing individualized training and socialization plans to those who are training their puppies, or older dogs I suppose, to become working dogs. They work with owner trainers to create a plan that works best for their needs and situation. Best of all, they have a payment plan that allows any owner trainer to pay for their services over time rather than upfront as so many owner trainers cannot afford training fees this option stood out for me. It is a private program so not well known, it was recommended to me and it truly helped me out. If you are interested in more information you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org I hope this proves useful to someone.
PINGBACK: best online dog training programs | Free Online Dog Training Games August 29, 2016
Teai January 8, 2017
I need some help, my SD is now having to retrieve my phone in emergencies but she cracked the screen the last time. Can you suggest an iPhone case that can prevent this?
Kea Grace January 13, 2017
Lifeproof cases tend to work really well for this! They’re a bit pricey, but they’re drop proof, water proof, shock proof and dust proof, and we’ve never had an issue with one of the Service Dogs or Service Dogs in training picking them up and causing damage to the actual phone. The case will start to show some teeth imprints after awhile, but it keeps doing its job!
Teai January 13, 2017
Thank you so much! I’m just glad I had the thin protective glass cover on the actual glass so it was all that got cracked and chipped because her teeth hit close to the edge. Lifeproof case is cheaper than getting the phone replaced…thanks again!
Dog Groom Arena September 13, 2017
Thank for the informatin I love this dog training piece
Jolene Nielsen September 25, 2017
My 20 year old granddaughter would like to become a service dog trainer for a living How does she go about it I’ve read where you do not need trainine, just learn on your own but she wants to make a career of this. Any help appreciatedesk. Thank you
Ashley Tenzer October 18, 2017
Thank you much for the informative piece. Your article is well-thought out and very well researched.
Gale December 17, 2017
I tried to get a service dog with a couple of the companies and the only couple that had financial help, would take over 6 years to even make it to the ‘ready’ list. So I started looking at the possibility of training my own service dog. I had looked at a lot of material and almost gave up when I stumbled onto a facebook group where they were helping people. They used a book called Training your own service dog by Lelah Sullivan and then she has this group going to help the people that are trying to train their dogs. She even walks through the steps like a classroom for people to work together and get advice and suggestions. They leave videos of them doing the training tasks and people get feedback and advice on the videos. It was the ONLY thing that made it possible for me to train my own dog. Now I DO have a service dog and she goes with me everywhere (we have been to hospitals, hotels, nursing homes, and of course stores and restaurants) and I have never had a day out that I have not heard something like how well behaved she is or how that is what a real service dog looks like, or something like that. This woman’s book was a life saver for me. Her website name wasn’t the same as her book and facebook group, but the facebook group is called Training your own service dog with Lelah Sullivan and her website is probably on there. Just to let you and others know.