Positive Reinforcement (R+) Service Dog Training

In-Home AND Virtual Training Available!

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service dog (SD) is, “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Only people with disabilities can legally work a service dog, and the dog must be trained to perform a task or work that aids its disabled handler. Pulling a wheelchair, opening doors, retrieving items, and alerting to medical emergencies are just a few examples of the many tasks SDs can learn.

At this time, only dogs and miniature horses are recognized nationally as service animals.

No — emotional support animals (ESAs), therapy dogs, and SDs are all extremely different, with varying training requirements and levels of public access.

An ESA, or “prescription pet,” can be an animal of any species, and has no public access rights (outside of flying on an airplane). The person who owns the ESA must have a note from their doctor / mental health provider stating their need for the pet. The pet is considered a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability in no-pets housing. ESAs have no required training, as they are not allowed in non-pet friendly spaces.

A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide comfort to a number of people. Therapy dogs are trained and usually certified (through an accredited program, like Therapy Dogs International), and only have public access rights when invited to a facility. Schools, hospitals, and nursing homes frequently invite volunteer therapy dog teams to provide comfort to their patrons. Cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs can also be therapy animals in some cases.

Here at Helper Dog Media, we focus on practicing positive reinforcement (R+) training standards.

Positive reinforcement is one of four training quadrants that make up operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the basic premise that actions are followed by consequences, either positive or negative. This graphic by Dog Training Excellence explains operant conditioning best:

Reinforcement = increasing frequency of a behavior
Positive = adding or giving something

Positive reinforcement focuses on rewarding desired behaviors and modifying unwanted behaviors. Interested in learning more about operant and classical conditioning? Check out this blog post by Kayla Fratt CDBC, of Journey Dog Training.

I was trained by incredible R+ and Force Free trainers certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). As a result, I learned to follow the CCPDT’s “Least Invasive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA)” policy.

LIMA does not justify the use of punishment in lieu of other effective interventions and strategies. In the vast majority of cases, desired behavior change can be affected by focusing on the animal’s environment, physical well-being, and operant and classical interventions such as differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, desensitization, and counter-conditioning.”

Basically, there are a couple hundred ways to use R+ before punishment becomes a necessary intervention. R+ training is about building trust and helping your dog make appropriate decisions. This makes R+ training the best method for training service dogs.

Owner-training a service dog means exactly what it sounds like: the person with a disability in need of a service dog endeavors to train one on their own. The ADA legally allows for this, as many people with disabilities may not have the means to access a professional program or trainer.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know what they’re getting into when they begin training their own SDs. Even people with a solid knowledge of basic to advanced obedience training may not have the skills needed to complete their dog’s training. 

Owner-training with assistance from a professional trainer with knowledge of dog training, behavior, and body language is highly recommended!

Professional programs typically take 18 months to 2 years to train a SD successfully, and Canine Companions for Independence reports that only 35 to 40 percent of service dogs in training (SDiT) successfully complete training. Owner-training can take even longer, depending on the skill level of the owner-trainer and the temperament of the dog.

Yes, I can help you train your dog and we don’t even have to be in the same room, let alone the same state!

How does it work? The same way in-person training works! Using video conferencing apps like Zoom, I explain concepts to you, demonstrate, and have you give it a try yourself. As always, you get an overview of what we learned during the lesson and a homework guide. 

In virtual training, every other week is a check-in session to evaluate your progress. That way, we can adjust your training plan as needed without meeting in person.

Service Dog Puppy Basics

For puppies 8 weeks to 6 months old.

My 14-week SD Puppy Basics course sets you and your puppy up with the foundation skills needed to become a stellar Service Dog in Training team! All puppies must undergo an evaluation prior to beginning training.

What the course covers:

  • Socialization and confidence building
  • Impulse control
  • Loose leash walking skills
  • General puppy manners
  • Basic obedience including sit, down, come, leave it, and 6 other commands
  • A pet-friendly outing during our last session, to practice operating as a team in public!*

Contact for pricing.
*Only available for in-home training clients.

Service Dog Basics

For dogs 6 months to 1.5+ years old.

A foundation course modeled off Service Dog Puppy Basics and individualized for your service dog prospect and their specific background. All dogs must pass an evaluation prior to beginning training.

What the course covers:

  • Socialization and confidence building
  • Impulse control
  • Loose leash walking skills
  • Basic obedience
  • Behavior modification for any pre-existing issues that could affect future training
  • A pet-friendly outing during our last session, to practice operating as a team in public!*

Contact for pricing.
*Only available for in-home training clients.

Task Training Sessions

A la carte training sessions specifically for shaping tasks / work. At this time I provide task training related to: 

  • Mobility assistance
  • Psychiatric assistance 
  • Medical alert & response
  • Light hearing / guide assistance
  • And more!

Please note: I cannot train your dog to alert to a seizure prior to it happening. This is an innate ability that can only be shaped into a task in dogs who have said ability.

All heavy mobility task training will require a letter of approval from your veterinarian assuring that your dog is fit for work.

Contact for pricing.

Service Dog Behavior Support

Service dogs are still dogs, and may experience behavior concerns over the course of their life.

Not every behavior concern is a severe one, but even minor behavior concerns should be addressed early on.

  • Fearful behavior
  • Pulling/lunging on leash
  • Mouthing/nipping/jumping and other high-arousal behavior
  • Struggling with specific commands/tasks

Let’s find the source of the issue and teach your dog new behaviors to help them cope and make appropriate decisions.

Contact for pricing.

"Gem taught both myself and my partner with NO training experience how to set boundaries with our animals in the home. They were able to help me de-esculate situations that could have resulted in serious injury with the smaller dog and now both animals live in the home successful with no issues."

Coming Soon

Service Dog Basics II

Coming soon! A course that covers the skills needed for a service dog in training (SDiT) who’s gearing up to begin public access training. Covers the basics of retrieval, body awareness, distraction training, the foundational skills needed for task training, and more!

Prerequisite: SD Puppy Basics Course or handler & dog must pass an evaluation to ensure all skills / obedience are in place for success in the course.

Service Dog Basics III

Coming soon! A course for service dogs in training (SDiTs) that covers task training, distraction training, and public access training (including a number of trainer-assisted outings).

Prerequisite: Service Dog Basics II or handler & dog must pass an evaluation to ensure all skills / obedience are in place for success in the course. 

Prepping for the Public Access Test (PAT)

Coming soon! A course for service dog teams preparing to take the PAT. Focuses specifically on the guidelines of the PAT and includes a mock PAT at the end of the course. 

Prerequisite: All 3 SD Basics courses or at least 120 hours of prior training, 30 of which must have been dedicated to public outings.