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!