Owner-training: does it work?

Training your own service dog isn’t cheap, it’s not easy and there’s no guarantee of success.

THE AVERAGE PERSON who wants a service for him or herself or a loved one and decides to owner-train, likely has a 50:50 chance of succeeding. That’s not scientific. It’s an observation based on my career as a service dog trainer – working one-on-one with individuals and families since 2005.

Why do people fail at something they want so badly?

  1. If you start with the wrong dog – one whose temperament or health isn’t solid – that dog will eventually wash out.
  2. It’s takes up to two years to train a service dog, with maintenance training for the rest of the dog’s working life. Many people bag it – with a half trained SD – within the first year.
  3. Unforeseen changes: job loss, a death in the family, deteriorating health of either the caregiver or the person who needs the SD. Training the service dog becomes a burden at this point and training ceases.
  4. Disagreement with a family member about the need for the SD – often between the parents of a disabled child. Get this ironed out before you even start the process of looking for a dog. Everyone in your home needs to be on board if you’re going to succeed.
  5. No support system can tank owner training. If you are a single person living alone your odds of success go down. Why? This is a 24/7, 7-day-a-week job. Your SD will need consistent training (house manners, obedience, public access, job-specific), plus play/down time, plenty of exercise, regular pottying, and trips to the veterinarian, as well as trips to the emergency vet (these are inevitable and occur at night, on weekends or holidays). Your SD needs a balanced life with plenty of play to offset the challenges of her job and plenty of recuperative sleep. A dog without balance can become stressed, develop anxiety and ultimately burn out.
  6. It’s just too hard. Six, eight, ten months in – it’s not unusual for a person’s resolve to hit rock bottom and they quit training. The dog becomes a family pet, is re-homed, dumped in a shelter or my worst nightmare: used as a SD – partially trained and a potential disaster looking for a place to happen.
  7. An owner-trained service dog can be as expensive as a program dog who comes to you fully trained ($10,000, $20,000 or more). Here’s a document I created to give you an idea of the cost. If money is tight, consider creating a service dog fund. Save your money for a couple of years, then revisit the idea of a service dog because a partially trained SD isn’t a service dog.
  8. Unanticipated health or behavior issues can result in a dog being washed and kept as a family pet or re-homed. And you’ll start the process all over again. That’s what happened with this doodle named Angel. At three his family made the hard – but absolutely correct – decision to wash him from service dog work and re-home him. They are in their first year of starting over with a second service dog in training.


Questions? Visit me at deethedogtrainer.com or email me at deethedogtrainer@gmail.com


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