Service Dog Training Standards

Service dog training varies with different organizations and skills required for each individual owner. However, all service dogs need to be able to demonstrate some basic skills, no matter what their job, and show those skills in environments of varying complexity.

Basic Obedience

In addition to individual skills an owner may need, such as turning on lights, each service dog needs to show basic obedience skills that every well-trained dog should have. He should be able to do a sit, down, recall and stay for several seconds, at the very least.

Service dogs should also be able to be polite to strangers. They should be able to sit politely for petting and not actively seek out attention from a crowd of strangers. They should be able to be handled by strangers, and are usually tested on allowing others to inspect their feet, ears and teeth. A dog that shows any type of aggression cannot work as a service dog.

Leash Skills

One of the most important skills a service dog must display is proper leash skills. This doesn't mean a perfect heel, though he should demonstrate that he can do that. Some service dogs need to pull from time to time. However, he must understand when to pull, when to stop and when to heel.

Service dogs can't pull their owners down the street, which goes without saying, but they should also be able to walk through crowded environments without getting distracted. A service dog should know to stop at stop lights and avoid traffic. These are more advanced leash skills than most dogs have.

Complex Environments

Depending on the requirements of each particular dog, a service dog will have to perform in increasingly distracting environments. In simple tests, he may have to walk through a crowd of people. In more complex examples, he may have to walk through a grocery store, crowded street or hospital.

In addition, service dog training teaches the animal to respond properly to distractions many dogs may never face. They must prove they can ignore walkers, crutches, wheelchairs and other similar distractions. During a test, they may need to show they can stand on an escalator or in an elevator.

They also must prove they can ignore the world's most tempting distractions: food and toys. Service dogs are required to walk past various tests with human and dog food as well as toys and other items that might be enticing to the individual dog. In a hospital, he may have to walk by trays of human food, or he may simply need to ignore food dropped on the street.

Service dogs must also ignore typical dog distractions, such as cats and squirrels. These may not be tested during service dog training, but they should be proofed during the process. During the test, the biggest distraction will likely be another dog. This is usually a well-behaved dog, but he may be expected to ignore a young, out-of-control dog as well.

Because owners may trust service dogs with their lives, they must be immune to almost every type of distraction. They need to be able to respond to commands and show nice leash skills no matter what the distraction. The standards are so high, more than 80 percent of candidates don't pass the service dog training tests. One that does is worth his weight in gold.