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Need some behavioral help for a potential service dog

3443 Views 10 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Woody Taylor
Hi, wondering if those of you with "full time job" dogs (and any of you! just keep in mind the end goal of this particular mutt as a working dog) can comment on the following...this is a friend of mine in MA whose partner is functionally blind...they recently got this pound dog with the notion of training it into a full seeing eye dog:

Best as we can tell, she will turn 2 on Halloween. She appears to be a pure-bred Field Golden. We got her as a 7-month old from Little Paws Rescue in Hopkinton, MA. Based on their conversations with ****, they hand-picked the dog for her because she had the right traits & temperment to match what **** needed in a guide dog. (smart, trainable, not reactive to loud noises, friendly, etc.)

She was absolutely fearless about new people , but that changed almost overnight a few months into being here. We were never sure if someone at the Lab scared her or what the incident (if any) might have been. Ever since then, she is terrified around people she doesn't know and is especially freaked about toddlers. Her reaction ranges from just hanging back (if it is a familiar situation, but a new person) to absolutely flattening into submission (if it is a new situation AND a new person).

We've praised her mightily when she faces a fear (as she did this morning with the slinky on my desk) and try to give strangers a treat to offer her when we have them.
What's some proper groundwork and socialization for a dog this old, given the owner's goals? "Turn people into hot dog dispensing machines" may not be appropriate here...

Please let me know, this is a real need for a wonderful person.
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Here's the advice I was gonna send her independently of any specific service-related exercise:

I posted this question up on our forum (it's anonymous re: to you) to get more informed input from people that train working dogs. The advice they have may be a bit different, simply because you have a goal of this being a service dog, not a pet, which may govern how much or how little socialization you want to do. My perception is that people aloofness isnt' necessarily a bad thing relative to developing confidence. To that end...a few intial comments...

Basically I think (my guess) is it's a handler and environment issue. Not something to take personally! It just happens. Shelter dogs have often had sad pasts, even if it's as simple as an owner giving them up. It takes time to reestablish trust and if your methods of interaction differ from its initial owner, it will take time to reprogram the dog. So...particularly given your intentions for the dog (not a pet, but a working dog), I might suggest kind of a ground-up appraisal of what's happening.

Here are a few things. My guess is both you and your partner are well aware of these things, but curious to get your feedback (and you're not gonna hurt my feelings if you disagree with any of it...none of it is harsh but it may sound odd relative to other training advice/intuition you may have):

1. Never reward submissive behavior (nor punish it). Ignore it. If the dog is cowering, goes ears down, etc. it should not be comforted ever by anyone. No cooing, no ear scratches, no reassurance. This has the net effect of teaching it that 1. it's okay to feel nervous and 2. I get rewarded when I act nervous. Does she do any submissive peeing? (i.e., when she's greeted by particularly imposing people, does she cower and wet...definitely do NOT punish this if it's happening).

2. Reward the crap out of her constantly for any good and/or confident behaviors, carry a bait bag with you with a mix and variety of treats and her basic foods. Cut down on her actual caloric intake at meals to facilitate this if necessary. If she has any ob, shoot for three to four sessions of 2-3 minutes a day of drilling her through sits, downs, recalls...make it fun, never negative. Use a clicker (I hate them personally) or a voice marker (Yes!) to mark a good behavior and then food/toy reward her within two seconds of the "Yes!".

3. Build eye contact. "Watch" and then marking eye contact with you and your partner (if this is possible?) builds confidence and stronger relationships with dogs. Friendly eye contact with pack leaders is a good thing.

4. Keep her away from situations you cannot control or observe right now. No tie-outs on a bench, no handing her off to students/faculty, no interaction with dogs or with kids if that is an issue. You build to that as her confidence builds.

5. She needs to recognize that you all protect her, not the other way around. You all are pack leaders. If you did not do a formal groundwork program, here's an excellent starter: This is basic stuff and it will cure a world of hurt relative to lack of confidence. Dogs are more confident when they are confident in their pack leaders, no question.

6. On walks, she walks at your side or behind you. Never in front. Use treats, turning around, etc. to reinforce this. This is a big pack deal. You are the lead, you walk out doors first, always.

7. Exercise. A 2 year old Goldie is not emotionally mature but it's physically mature and they have BIG exercise needs. It may not be getting those as a seeing-eye-dog in training. Shoot for 45-60 minutes a day of walks (walks are excellent for you and her), alternate days on a bike, jogging if that is your thing, swimming. Goldies should have a good dose of prey drive in them...get a fetch game going consistently. A mentally/physically "worn" dog doesn't have the energy to be freaked out (but be assured it will still have the energy to perform as a seeing eye dog!). Develop up those drives in the context of fun and in the context of you all.

8. Get some people, randomly and consistently, to greet you and your partner without making eye contact or acknowledging the dog. Treat the dog for acting appropriately (which should be pretty much ignoring them, neither excited nor upset). Gradually fold in introductions...people should greet her at her eye level (never standing over her), let them sniff her first, pet her, and then only eye contact/verbal greetings. Dogs work on smell-touch-sight/voice, in that order. That's why they are butt sniffers. ;-)

9. Gently fold in new environments as you're able. Stairs instead of the elevator. A hallway or street you've never been down before. A car ride to the vet...and walk into the vet's office...and go right back out (dogs need happy visits to the vet, I highly recommend this).

10. May sound bizarre, but you may consider hand feeding for right now (i.e., the dog eats its meals out of your hand). And even spitting in the dish. Pack leaders eat first, the dog sees that food comes from you when you are ready to give it, you reemphasize your role as leader.

11. I am a big fan of dogs in bedrooms, but never on beds. Dominance position.

12. Crates are good things for even the most well-tempered dog. They create a sense of security and a place to relax and turn off. I have one in my kitchen, one in my bedroom...never used for punishment...used when I cannot watch the dog, am sick of the dog, when the dog is eating (every meal), when the dog needs to rest. Introduce this gently...feed her outside of it, feed her inside of it, feed her with the door closed, leave her for gradually longer lengths of time (5 minutes and up in 15 minute increments). Never let her out when she's whining/begging/barking. She's fine.

13. Your posture is critical. Walk her with shoulders straight and an air of "the Queen of England"...and keep her to your side or in back of you so you can BLOCK anything you approaching you (dogs, dumb people, etc.). Dog needs to know that you protect her (without the cooing and reassurance!). Move through her, not around her (don't let her block your path through the house, etc.). No flexi-leads (those "unwinding" leashes). I hate them except for very specific circumstances and they allow her to get out of your "leadership" zone.

14. Limit free run time in the house. Put a drag line on her, crate her, etc. and control (or have the ability to control) her movements for right now.

15. No compulsion (i.e., no yanks on slip/chain/prong collars, etc.). Limit her collars to a flat collar or perhaps a "passive" prong (i.e., one that she wears that merely corrects her when she bolts or goes away from you.)
My first thought when I read this was that they should seek the help of a qualified and experienced dog trainer in their area. Certainly somebody with assistance-dog selection/training experience (not necessarily the shelter/rescue staff) should first assess the dog to tell them if it is suitable for the work. IME, most shelter staff cannot accurately assess a dog for USAR work (typically they grossly overestimate the dogs' capabilities), so its possible the same may have happened in this case.

They also need (at a minimum) an experienced trainer to walk them through the training process if they are committed to training a seeing eye dog themselves. IMO, I don't think training this type of service dog is a task for the inexperienced, especially since this person's life and safety will depend on the dog's training.

Just my 2 cents.
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I don't disagree with that at all, Konnie...this stuff was basically just some groundwork in the short term she could start on.
The temperment of the dog as described does not really seem to be one that is fitted for service in any realm where the dog has to exercise independent judgement when confronted with unusual situations. The Clarence Paffenberger book "The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior" goes into better detail of the breeding, rearing and selection testing of dogs for guide dogs, but starting out with a dog that doesn't seem suited at the outset ..... :eek:
I think I would leave the guide dog training to the professionals!
and I don't know that the suggestion to train the dog to walk behind the owner is the best for a guide dog...... :wink:
Lynn Cheffins said:
The temperment of the dog as described does not really seem to be one that is fitted for service in any realm where the dog has to exercise independent judgement when confronted with unusual situations.
the thing I don't quite get is the behavior change that happened after they got the dog. Regardless of how the shelter tested the dog out, it was a much more sociable animal from around 7-11 months than now. And those (anti-social behaviors) are kind of odd behaviors for a pure Goldie?

and I don't know that the suggestion to train the dog to walk behind the owner is the best for a guide dog...... :wink:
Good point! :oops:
QUOTE WOODY: "And those (anti-social behaviors) are kind of odd behaviors for a pure Goldie? " END QUOTE

I've seen pure-bred goldens range in behavior from super-submissive and sweet to down-right aggressive (both fear-aggressive and dominant-aggressive), so I'm not surprised. They mentioned it was a field-line dog and I've seen several super-submissive and fearful "field-line"-looking goldens. Certainly its not what the breed is supposed to be, but you'll find all temperaments represented in the breed due to the breed's popularity and irresponsible or ignorant breeders.

Any idea where the dog originally came from (pet store, etc?)? I've seen goldens from pet stores that resembled field-line goldens (smaller, darker, energetic, etc) and probably came from puppy mills.
Hello, I know this may be a little bit late, but- I am curious as to how everything is coming along with this dog and the owner at this point? I have to admit, I am curious as to why this person would prefer to train her guide dog personally, rather than obtaining one from a recognized association. I completely respect her right to do so, I am just curious. In short, I would say that (especially) if they still would like to train a dog themselves, this dog should either be rehomed or become a pet asap and a new prospect should be located. Of course the counter conditioning of this dog's behavior problems should be continued regardless of what his lifelong job will be, but problems such as this are a liability for a guide dog and could harm both a guide and it's user, even if the problems might appear to be 'fixed', this is a very important job for a dog and it is definitly better to be safe than to be sorry. However, I would highly encourage them to seek out a professionally trained guide dog from a well known organaziation such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, the top guide dog school in the US. The organization is non-profit- check out and there is no charge to the user for their dog or for the training that they receive in the proper handling, as well as extensive follow up and lifelong support from their professional guide dog trainers. The interveiw process is in depth, but definitly worth it. Good luck to you and to your friend.
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Most dogs will respond better to a person with a genuine need in this type of work.Although they should definitely be under supervision of an experienced trainer, I firmly believe that the chances of the dog making a service dog is much higher if the dog is trained by the person in need.
Im not saying this particular dog should or shouldnt be replaced.I ma referring to prospects picked by a professional.
It is really interesting sometimes how well a dog trained to assist someone with a disability seems to be able to recognize people with that disability. I agree that sometimes they can technically respond better to someone who really relies on them. The cool thing about this school is the dogs are bred, and raised their whole lives to be guides, and after being returned to the school for professional training and the basics are done, the dog also undergoes training with the instructor under blindfold, and is used by different inexperienced visually impaired handlers, as well as extensively tested under these conditions and more. If they cannot work accurately for just about anyone, they are moved back in training or 'career changed'.

When they are really ready to go to class, students first learn handling techniques basic training commands and concepts without a real dog, and then stay at the school for a four week program of basically going through all of the training with their dogs (they actually learn to be a trainer and continue the training of the dog, not just a handler) and bond extensively with their dogs. They live away from their families for this time period and just live, learn, and breathe their new life companion before graduating and going home. Follow ups and then performed more often at first, then less and less, and the school is always there for support, even setting up free or discounted veterinary care for the guide and retirement placement if needed. Hmm, don't know how I managed to make that so long. I guess I'm just excited about it...
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Welcome to the forum, Kerry! Drop by the Members place and introduce yourself. Can't remember if we have somebody from Oregon here. Are you about to train a service dog?

Thanks to both of you for your responses. I actually haven't checked in with her since around the time of that posting. I think her partner isn't completely blind, and I do think they have some professional help to which they can refer. I completely understand all of the observations you and Greg have. Just one of those things where they seem to want to cut their own path. Also not sure if my "helpful" advice was well-received, to tell you the truth. :twisted: The dog had some kind of traumatic experience they weren't able to pin down...maybe they worked through it and are doing better.
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