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Training for Reliability: Service Dog style


I just love this video of Team Kayda. They're the perfect team in many ways. They've just begun Month 5 of training, and are due to graduate after Month 6! This video demonstrates Kayda's taskwork and shows that she performs "individually-trained tasks to mitigate the person's disability."


(This wording is important, by the way. The tasks need to be specifically trained -- a service dog "task" can not be something is not specifically taught or that any dog is capable of providing. For example, simply providing a feeling of safety from the dog would not be recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act as a trained task. The dog needs to actually *do* something.)


Fairly recently, a service dog school in California declared bankruptcy after a whole slew of problems including that the dogs were not actually doing any of the tasks they'd been trained to do. This was particularly sad because the school charged quite a lot for the dogs and insurance does not cover service dogs, so the families were paying out of pocket for them -- this program charged about $7500 for each dog. The program stated that the families had signed off, confirming that they had "seen a demonstration of the dog performing the task and that they were satisfied with the task." I wonder what this demonstration entailed. If it was just the trainer standing in the family's living room showing what he'd taught the dog, it it would be sadly naiive of anybody to sign off stating that they were satisfied with it. 


There is a grey area in the ADA description of service dog requirements, in their statement that the dog needs to be "individually task-trained." Here's the grey area: it does not state how fluent or reliable the dog needs to be. It does not state how well the dog needs to be proofed against distractions. I filmed the Team Kayda Taskwork video at Washington Square Mall, but technically it could have also been filmed in a sterile training studio, or in the backyard, and it would still have met ADA guidelines.


When proofing a service dog (or any dog, for that matter) I like to answer the question "What if?" "What if _______ , would she still do her job?"


What if there was a plate of food sitting next to the unresponsive handler?


What if the lead fell out of the unresponsive handler's hand?


What if the handler tripped and fell as Kayda was leading her to the door?


What if a bystander moved in to try to help the unresponsive handler?


What if a bystander tried to take the dog from the unresponsive handler?


From a training perspective, the sky is the limit when asking these "what ifs." You can also ask them (and then train them!) to your own dog! These "what ifs" are what will get your dog up to the reliability of a service dog.


For example, the recall (come when called):


"What if my dog can't see me?"

"What if my dog can't hear me calling?"

"What if there's an obstacle between me and my dog?"

"What if someone is throwing a ball nearby?"


...and the list goes on!



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