Training an Assistance Dog

By Toni Drugmand as part of  the e-How video series

Assistance dogs provide a specific service for their handlers which enhance the quality of the handlers’ lives, giving more freedom and independence to the individual.

There are three types of Assistance Dogs:

Any breed possessing the skills and temperament for service can be trained for service. Most service dogs are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers or German Shepherds. Service dogs are normally identified by a vest, backpack or harness.

A good service dog is not protective, is not overly active, is people oriented, and is confident but not dominant or submissive. Service dogs should require minimal grooming.

Here is a list taken from a certification test for service dogs. This test was designed for the service mobility dog; a physical helper.


1. HEELING ON AND OFF LEAD. This will include fluidly maneuvering in crowds, around others animals, as a bike rider or jogger passes by, with someone walking close to the dog and slightly bumping into him (i.e., a minor bump), and with a child greeting the dog.

2. THE DOG MUST BE ABLE TO LEAD IN FRONT OF THE HANDLER. Leading ahead of a handler is essential for entering and leaving through narrow places such as restaurants and airplanes.

3. THE DOG MUST BE ABLE TO FOLLOW THE HANDLER. As above, leading behind is also a common requirement of a dog working in public in limited corridors or spaces.

4. A CHANGE OF SIDES CAN BE DEMONSTRATED (LEFT-TO RIGHT). Service dogs should be able to travel with their handlers on either side of the body in order to help them as required.

5. A RECALL TO HANDLER’S LEFT SIDE CAN BE DEMONSTRATED. This is practical obedience. Every trained dog should be able to come to “heel” as a practical recall in all situations.

6. A STAND AND BRACE TO AID HANDLER FOR STABILITY. Standing and bracing is a fundamental aid to the handler, regardless of the dog’s size although the practical application will vary.

7. POSITION TRAINING. The dog must be capable of being directed into the most unobtrusive locations when in public, i.e.; under a table in a restaurant, behind a chair etc. He must demonstrate his ability to be directed to whatever position is necessary while in public. He may also be required to demonstrate that he will stay in position until released as necessary.

8. PRACTICAL RETRIEVING. Examples are picking up laundry, keys, and a feeding bowl. Mandatory area: dog must be able to retrieve well enough to pull open a door that has been set up and equipped, such as a rope or a ball attached to a rope.

9. PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION OF WORK WITH DISTRACTIONS. The dog must show he can work in a crowded mall, restaurant, and any other busy place while showing a comfortable and confident demeanor. This includes traffic noise and indifference to everyday noise such as cars, pedestrians, restaurant noise.

Food Distraction in Public: The handler must be able to command the dog to leave the food distraction and continue his or her business. The dog must demonstrate a sit or down-stay with food at a distance of 3 to 5 five feet.

Petting distraction: The dog will be asked to perform simple job while a stranger approaches and pets him. The dog can be redirected with a command from the handler but must be able to work while the petting distraction is occurring.

10. THE DOG MUST BE CONTROLLABLE WHILE BEING HELD BY A NON FAMILY MEMBER WHEN HANDLER MOVES OUT OF SIGHT. A dog working in public must be able to transfer from one person to another for short periods of time without excessive stress.

11. THE DOG WILL PERFORM AN EMERGENCY DOWN: Also referred to as a “drop on recall,” the emergency down demonstrates the dog can be stopped in motion with a command to lie down in the event of an emergency.

12. TOLERATING A STRANGER APPROACHING WITH UNUSUAL SPEECH, DEMEANOR OR BODY LANGUAGE. An example of such a stranger would be a person with a speech impediment speaking loudly or someone with an unusual gait or dressed in unusual clothing. The dog can show interest and awareness; but should not react to the unusual stimulus by ignoring obedience commands, trying to get away, or acting aggressively. The approaching individual will not be a direct threat. He or she will be off to the side of the working team, not approaching head on.

13. CONTROLLED VEHICLE LOADING AND UNLOADING. The dog must show he will wait on command for the handler’s direction to enter a vehicle. Likewise, he must wait on command for handler’s direction exit a vehicle.

14. OBEDIENCE ON PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: This may be a bus, taxi, shuttle service, airplane, train or any other form of public transport. It is likely that the dog will be asked to back up during this test to show his ability to maneuver in tight quarters.

For more detailed info on service dogs visit Assistance Dogs International.

This article was written to accompany the ehow video “Training an Assistance Dog”

Toni Drugmand is the owner Sit Means Sit Dog Training where.… A Trained Dog is a Happy Dog!

For more information on training your dog visit us at for articles, tips and videos.

*Be sure your pet is free of health issues before starting a training program. Never hesitate to seek the help of professional dog trainer, especially when it comes to dog aggression.

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