How do I go about public access training? Way before public access training, how do I bond with my service dog prospect? Why should I keep records of my public access training and disability mitigation training?
PSDP answers these common questions that go beyond the basics of training a service dog (and more!) on this FAQ page. For a Q&A about the basics of service dog training, see our FAQ on Training—Basics.
The answers are expandable by clicking on the questions below.How do I go about public access training my service dog candidate?
We recommend positive training methods to train your service dog. The steps we recommend taking are here:
A website can only give an overview—this cannot substitute for professional guidance, which we recommend for everyone training a service dog.
For public access training specifically, the first thing you should do is work on socialization and other exposures. This means you need to get your dog prepared to encounter every type of person, every type of noise, every type of situation. Recruit individuals to pet your dog and have treats they can give your dog.
You can work on socialization and other exposures by hanging out in front of large stores or other heavily trafficked areas. Practice pushing a cart around in a parking lot, walking past all kinds of people (with hats, different outfits, etc.), including kids. Don’t forget to safely socialize your dog with other dogs as well. Puppy classes are great for this.
Next, work in dog-friendly stores like some hardware stores, some bookstores, and some mall department stores (ask and you might be surprised). Once your dog is trained to behave in this environment, and can pass our Service Dog in Training Manners Evaluation (is able to safely be trained in no-pets places), it’s time to take your dog to no-pets-allowed stores as a service dog in training (SDIT). Check your state laws for SDIT access rights and responsibilities, and consult with a professional to help evaluate your dog’s progress and readiness.
Before taking your dog out as a service dog in training, train your dog to be comfortable in working gear, such as a vest labeled with an “In Training” or “Future Service Dog” patch (consult your state laws). Train your dog to ignore people without prompting while it is in vest, and that it can pay attention to others to the degree you prefer when out of vest and working environments. When your dog is ready for no-pets places, it is a courtesy—and in some locations, a legal requirement—that your service dog in training is clearly marked as such so that others understand you’re not just taking a pet everywhere.
Remember that “slow is fast” and keep your public access training light and easy. Set your dog up for success by starting off with just 5 minutes at a time in a store. Gradually (over different days) work your way up to more and more time, until your dog is able to stay with you while you do errands in the store.
Note that in the beginning, you should not be doing errands while public access training your dog. Instead you should focus all your attention on public access behavior and training, since negative experiences can have lasting effects that can require a lot more work to overcome.
Taking your time to go through the service dog training process usually results in a better behaved, more solid dog than rushing through things. Keep training and learning light and fun, and don’t push your dog.
By taking it slow, you can ensure your dog will more easily fall into the job of a well behaved service dog. By trying too hard or going too fast, you and your dog are more likely to become stressed, burn out, or have negative experiences that are hard to overcome.
No! A fear stage is not a time to shelter a service dog candidate or service dog in training from stimulus, but a time to gently help them learn whether their fears of things in the environment are appropriate.
The onset, nature, duration, and severity of a dog’s developmental fear stages are not very predictable (they may last for months) and the specific, sudden fears will often unpredictably alternate between off and on throughout the stage (fears may last for mere minutes then go away). Completely removing the dog from training, rather than tailoring the training to the specific dog’s development, would be a drastic measure and could result in a great loss to the dog learning and healthily adjusting through its intermittent challenges.
However, it is even more important than usual to stay in tune with your dog during these times. Remember that whatever the level of training you have reached, it is essential the dog is reliably able to safely be wherever you are taking them, keeping the training and stimulus recovery under threshold for each member of the team. This includes the dog feeling safe enough not to shut down due to overload, and especially not to react aggressively.
Especially with fear stages, we advise that the dog be praised and treated in the presence of any irrationally feared stimulus—sticking to contexts that are not overstimulating for the dog. It is very important that the dog is not punished for their fears. If the dog is afraid of people, enlist individuals’ help in training your dog by letting them give your dog a treat you provide. You may need to work up to this; how to proceed depends on the individual dog and your ability to read and respond to their needs.
Fear stages are also not excuses to stop any other training that can be kept under threshold and fun for your dog. As always, it is a good idea to work with a professional trainer and to join and consult with those on our Peer Guidance Group.
When you get a new dog, you want to develop a strong bond between the two of you. A great way to do this is to take over all care of the dog that you’re able to do. This means you feed the dog, you walk the dog, you socialize the dog, you play with the dog, etc.
In the beginning, you may want to ask that others in the household refrain from petting or interacting with the dog as much, until you are fully bonded.
Some people use the “umbilical cord” method. This involves leashing your dog to you, for example with a waist or shoulder leash. As you move around the house and go about your day, your dog will naturally come with you and be used to the idea of following you around everywhere you go.
It is important to know when your dog is exhibiting stress behavior. Shaking off, licking lips, yawning, shaking/trembling, and whale-eye are all symptoms of stress in your dog.
It is fine for your dog to get stressed and do a few of these behaviors as long as they calm down quickly afterward. If, however, your dog is showing these signs every time they are out working, it would probably be best for the dog to be taken out of training, at least temporarily, until they are less stressed by the process. If stress continues and a professional trainer helps you determine the stress is not due to training, it’s a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to rule out health issues such as allergies.
“4Paws University” depicts stress signs in dogs on the following webpage:
Even though most service dog handlers will never have to go to court, it is a good idea to be prepared in case you are forced into court over an access challenge or other situation.
Being prepared includes having proof of your dog’s training. If you are able to present training records to the judge, such as a daily training log, it will strengthen your case that you have trained your dog appropriately, and that it qualifies as a service dog. Make sure not only to note public access training, but also assistance behaviors, as your dog is trained to assist you with your disabilities.
Some other examples of training records you might keep include milestones like a Service Dog in Training Manners Evaluation, a public access test, and certificates from group classes you have completed. If you can record video proof of your dog’s behavior, this is even better. You can record a trainer (or a friend or family member) giving you a public access test to prove that your dog has been well-trained.
Keep in mind that such records are a snapshot of that point in time, and training must be viewed as an ongoing process.
See examples of training logs and more on the training logs page:
Crate-training for pet dogs is highly recommended by many people because it provides a safe place for your dog to retreat. For service dog teams, it is important that your dog be used to a crate in case of emergency.
The Humane Society explains how to crate-train on the following page:
You might have heard someone mention that a psychiatric service dog can provide “deep pressure therapy”, or DPT, as an example of a disability-mitigating work or task item. This phrase has evolved as a term of art in the psychiatric service dog community. Here is how PSDP uses the term.
Deep pressure therapy (DPT)—or just pressure therapy—involves a dog using its weight and sometimes warmth to mitigate a psychiatric symptom, often either as a calming strategy or to minimize disengagement from the world. The dog recognizes the handler’s command or the person’s symptom itself, such as anxiety, a depressive episode, a flashback, etc., and is trained to respond with DPT. Similar to a weighted blanket for people with autism, DPT can relax and re-engage a person enduring an otherwise disabling symptom.
Large dogs can be trained to provide DPT by lying on the person’s lap or chest when the handler is sitting or lying down. A large dog can also lay their head in the handler’s lap while the handler is sitting. Small dogs can be trained to lie on the handler’s chest or lap when the handler is sitting or lying down. They can also be trained to ride calmly in a sling when needed, providing DPT with their weight on the handler’s chest (sometimes by actively shifting/pushing).
There are many answers on this page that contain links to resources for those who would like to know more. Some of these links are to external websites, for which PSDP is not responsible.