Therapy and Service Dogs

Not all dogs have the temperament to be a Service, Therapy or Emotional Support dog. Just because you love your dog, doesn’t mean he is suitable to take in public. Here is an excerpt about what to look for in a dog that will be readily accepted in the general public and serve you well.

Evaluating Rescue Dogs For Service Dog Training: Important Traits
This is the most important piece of determining whether or not a dog will make a Service Dog candidate. Dogs who complete Service Dog training successfully typically have the following traits (not at all a comprehensive list):

  • No timidity, aggression, reactivity or fear issues
  • Not extremely submissive and not extremely strong willed
  • Super balanced, easy going, calm nature
  • Enjoys interaction with humans
  • Social, but not over the top
  • Able to focus on people, even if there’s stuff going on
  • Willingness to learn
  • Low Touch Sensitivity
  • High frustration threshold
  • Not over the top excited about toys or treats
  • Appropriately interacts with other dogs (no hackling, overstimulation, extremely pushy play, etc.)
  • No issues with other animals, including cats, birds or small animals
  • Ability to quietly relax in all environments
  • Travels readily and responds to new places, people and things with few signs of stress
  • Accepts guidance and containment and boundaries willingly and readily

 Evaluating Rescue Dogs For Service Dog Training: Final Considerations
In a nutshell, Service Dogs have to be stable, steady and calm in all situations and environments, readily able to learn, willing to interact with people for hours upon hours a day, possess the independence to perform task work without being guided through every single step, and have the intelligence to learn complicated behaviors. They have to be willing to do the same thing, day in and day out, and respond readily to guidance and cues.

Good Service Dogs start as good Service Dogs in Training. You can’t build a solid base of training on a poor temperament or structural foundation. If you have doubts, a dog probably isn’t right for Service Dog work. Trust your gut. Don’t think you can “fix” something; you shouldn’t have to. Look for someone who is quiet, relaxed, gentle, social, responsive and balanced. If you’re not sure, have a second evaluator take a look. Ask the behaviorist on site. Talk to any foster homes. Never listen to the enthusiastic “Oh, yeah, this dog would be a GREAT service dog; she’s so sweet!” There’s so much more required than just being sweet.

Don’t settle for a dog that’s “almost” what you want, because it’s very likely that dog will “almost” complete training. Be picky – the perfect dog is out there. 🙂

Leave a Comment