10 Things I’ve Learned About Training Service Dogs

by Kassandra Lamb ~ I recently guest posted over at Joanne Guidoccio’s blog on 10 Things I’ve Learned About Training Service Dogs. I thought you all would find the topic interesting, so sharing here as well…

When I set out to write a cozy mystery series about a service dog trainer, I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself in to. I assumed that, between my psychology background and having trained my own pets through the years, I’d be able to wing it when describing the tasks the dogs do and how my protagonist, Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) trains them.

I quickly discovered that, while my knowledge of behavior modification helped, I would need to do a considerable amount of research. Now, 12 books later, I’ve learned quite a lot about training service dogs, although I’m still far from an expert.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned about training these dogs:

training service dogs

1. Pick the right dog.

Not just any dog can be a good service dog. The dogs need to have certain personality traits. They need to be intelligent, people-oriented and eager to please. But they cannot be easily distracted, particularly territorial, nor at all aggressive toward other dogs or strangers. Some service dog trainers, like my protagonist Marcia, prefer mixed breed dogs because they are often healthier and live longer. Otherwise, the breed usually depends on the needs of the eventual owner.

For example, Marcia trains dogs for military veterans, some of whom also have physical challenges. So she usually picks larger breeds that are strong enough to help a person who has fallen down and needs help getting up.

2. Teach/review basics like sit, lie down, come, and stay.

Of course, a service dog needs to have good manners, and teaching/reviewing these basics will give the trainer a sense of how easily the dog will learn the more complicated tasks.

3. Teach the on-duty signal.

First and foremost, the dog needs to know when they are on duty and should be paying close attention to their handler. The on-duty signal may be repeated at times to refocus the dog if s/he seems to be getting distracted.

For Marcia and the fictitious agency she trains for, I’ve borrowed the on-duty signal used by K9 for Warriors in Jacksonville, Florida—hand held parallel to the ground, palm down. The dog touches their nose to the palm to acknowledge that they are on duty.

4. Start with something dogs do naturally.

Dogs love to chase things, play tug-of-war, etc. Activities like these can be used as a jumping-off point when teaching a new task.

For example, to teach a dog to open cabinet or refrigerator doors, the trainer might tie a rope in a loop on the handle and encourage the dog to grab it and pull, giving a verbal command such as “open,” followed by a reward each time the dog pulls the door open. Then the trainer shortens the rope a little bit at a time, and repeats this whole process again, until the rope is wrapped tightly around the handle. Eventually, the trainer removes the rope and says, “Open.” A bright dog will grab the cabinet or fridge handle itself at this point.

Read More HERE for the other 6 things I’ve learned about training service dogs.

Book #12: To Bark or Not To Bark, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Service dog trainer Marcia Banks tackles a locked room mystery in a haunted house. She has trained the border collie, Dolly to clear rooms for an agoraphobic Marine who was ambushed in a bombed-out building.

But the phantom attackers in his psyche become the least of his troubles when Marcia finds his ex-wife’s corpse in his master bedroom, with the door bolted from the inside.


Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.

Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.

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Off-Week Goodies: June Book Reviews

by Kassandra Lamb ~ Here are some June book reviews for you. Check out my full reviews of these books over on my website here. Murder On the Road, An Italian Village…