Many dogs are chosen to train as service dogs for government or private service groups. Sadly, more than half don’t make the cut. Over 70 percent of dogs chosen for service training will never graduate. They are typically chosen by breeds which have a tendency for positive health, positive demeanor and sociability, and training skills. What happens to the dogs who don’t make the cut during training?
Training Service Dogs
Dogs chosen for service in government or for private agencies are great assets. Typically the breeds chosen for service work include German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointers and Belgian Malinois. These dogs are chosen for service in government including drug sniffing, bomb detection and other scent oriented tasks. They are trained by private agencies for use with the disabled, the blind, the autistic, post traumatic stress disorder sufferers, and many other disabilities. Many of these private groups are non-profit and provide training for free. Yet, it takes a lot of time, training and care to develop the skills of a qualified service dog.
Typically, the journey of a service dog begins the moment the puppy is taken from its mother. At about 8 weeks old, selected puppies are set up with basic training volunteers. These volunteers teach the pup basic obedience and socialization skills. At about 18 months of age, the dogs are sent for evaluation and more specialized training with a specialized trainer. This stage can last about 6 months. The dogs begin to work with a professional trainer to learn such skills as obstacle training (particularly for dogs who will work with the disabled or the blind) and “intelligent disobedience” training geared for the handler’s safety. Following this stage, the service dogs in training are singled out for the service jobs they are best suited for. At this point more than half succeed. What happens to the other half?
Why Service Dog Trainees Fail
Sadly many of the puppies chosen to train for service work don’t make it through basic training. All puppies chosen to train are done so because of their breed. The breeds tend to be healthy, active and alert. Any agency that opts to train young dogs for any type of service need to identify any negative traits as early on as possible. Recent studies are using MRI scans to narrow down which trainees may be better fits. Other factors are used to determine how a particular young dog can be eliminated from training. These include the following:
- Physical Ability (Is the dog able to do intensive work such as counter balance, sit on hard floors for
- long periods time, walk for periods of time?…)he dog
- Genetic Illness (Is the dog prone to hip dysplasia or other genetic dispositions?)
- Vision or Hearing Problems
- Size (Is the dog too big or too small for the type of work he/she is being trained for?)
- Obesity (A heavier dog may not be able to physically perform the tasks necessary for service)
- Timidness (A service dog cannot be shy)
- Reactivity (Does the dog react too easily? That could be a problem. Dogs that may react to situations quickly such as seeing another dog is not a good asset in a service dog)
- Aggression (This is an easy one. A good service dog cannot be aggressive in nature)
- Excess Energy (A good service dog cannot be overly energetic. It should have a calm demeanor)
- Aloof (A good service dog should be open to relationships with humans (especially its handler) and not be too shy)
Many service dog trainees fail for some common reasons. The dog may be prone to nervousness, lack of drive and even too friendly of a personality. In fact, a dog that was in the process of being trained for the police force in Queensland, Australia, simply had too much of a friendly demeanor. The dog would greet strangers a bit too friendly which made him a poor candidate to proceed with training. This particular friendly dog was chosen as the “official Vice-Royal dog” of the Queensland Government House. He ended up exactly where he belonged. He was the perfect representative and Ambassador for his country.
Adopt a Service Dog Dropout
So what happens to the government or agency service dogs that don’t make the cut to graduate training? Most private agencies and even government agencies have in-house adoption programs. If these young dogs don’t pass their exams and inspections, they are made available for public adoption. This can be tricky. For example, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) that trains dogs to sniff out explosive devices has an in-house adoption program. The problem is these dogs range in age from 2 to 10 years, there is a waiting list, and the agency charges high adoption fees. You must also pick up the dog at the TSA’s home base in San Antonio, Texas. Other agencies that offer adoption of non-trainable dogs include Service Dogs, Inc., Mission K9, Freedom Service Dogs of America, and Guide Dogs of New York.