Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Part 2: SSD and Good Canine Manners

Service dogs are assistants, not pets, so they go through extensive training to learn the skills they need to serve their partners. Because they are so important to individuals' lives, we have high standards for the characteristics, manners and skills our service dogs must have.

To be successful in teaching the dogs good manners, we begin training and set the rules for good manners from the moment puppies are born. In an ideal situation, we manage the puppy's environment so there is nothing they can get into trouble with. As they grow, we use clicker training to teach good manners and reinforce good behaviors. However, the ideal situation does not always happen, and even when you're using clicker training, you may still have to deal with bad manners or behaviors and use some form of punishment. Simply ignoring the behavior will only work if the dog is only seeking attention, if the behavior is not reinforced in any other way and everyone is ignoring the behavior, and if the behavior is new and can be easily stopped.

Since ignoring behaviors does not necessarily work all of the time, we sometimes have to use some form of punishment. By "punishment," we do NOT mean anything harsh or harmful to the dog. SSD does not condone any punishment that is painful or harmful in any way to the dog. However, we do believe there are times when verbal correction or mild physical pressure are necessary to correct a dog's behavior. Punishment can be either positive or negative. Positive punishment involves adding something to the dog's environment, while negative punishment involves removing something the dog desires, such as stopping playtime when a puppy starts nipping. The stoppage of playtime is enough punishment for the puppy to get the message that she shouldn't nip.

Above all, when correcting behaviors and teaching good manners, it's important to be consistent. In order to assist their partner, service dogs must learn which behaviors are acceptable and which ones are never acceptable. They can learn this if their trainers consistently correct bad behaviors and reward good ones.

In our next post, we'll share some of the specific guidelines we have for some of the behaviors and manners we require in our service dogs and tips on how to train dogs in good manners.

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