• Ashley O'Hara

We often hear the same concerns throughout the course of training. The following are 5 of the most important things your trainer wants you to know before em”bark”ing on your training journey:


1. Always research a dog before bringing him home. No two dogs are equal when it comes to temperament, trainability, intelligence, breed characteristics, exercise needs, shedding level, etc. It is important to review the dog’s background information to see if it will fit well into your household. We always recommend meeting with a trainer BEFORE deciding on the dog for service dog training. Compass Key does not have any breed restrictions in our service dog training program, however, some breeds are more likely to succeed with the cues, tasks, and skills within the service dog training plan customized to fit your needs. We tend to use a lot of Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers for this reason. While we have had various other breeds successfully complete our program, sometimes those dogs took more patience, time, and practice than a dog that we would have helped you select at the beginning. We also take each dog’s health and well-being very seriously. Due to the intensity and physical/mental stress of service dog training, we have a detailed Veterinarian Health Check Form (that includes a review of x-rays) needed prior to starting the more difficult disability skills phase of our program.


2. Practicing training and behavior techniques should happen in several short sessions a day – adding up to at least 25 minutes daily, in addition to the regular structure of the household. This includes making sure everyone in the household is using the same cues and is on the same page. If the dog owner is not practicing adequately and correctly at home, but is continuing to pay for training lessons, they are wasting their money. Your trainer will be reviewing the same cues and behaviors at each lesson instead of building on previously taught skills to move to the next training level. That said, practicing will never make your dog “perfect” – they are living, breathing animals – not robots. There is no such thing as a quick fix in dog training as behaviors take consistency over a period of time to correct.


3. All dogs need different amounts of exercise and mental stimulation. Depending on the dog this may include multiple hours of running a day. Other dogs simply need a daily walk. Other dogs will use scent games for development and mental stimulation. Exercise and mental stimulation are not just things a dog enjoys, but what they need. All training practices should start with a dog already exercised and mentally stimulated, not to the point of exhaustion, but to a healthy point of focus.


4. Dogs usually start an adolescent period around 6 months old and go through many behavioral, physical, and psychological changes up through about 15 months old. During this period of adolescence, it may seem like your dog has forgotten everything he has been taught – he hasn’t! Keep practicing, encouraging, and training with him. It is very important to continue consistency during this phase. It will pass soon!


5. Meeting a dog’s fundamental needs is a priority before training. No amount of training takes the place of an owner first ensuring the dog is receiving:

- love and attention: including praise, treats, affection, bonding (leash walking is a great way to bond as are all other forms of exercise and mental stimulation – see # 3 above);

- quality food: this makes such a difference in a dog’s overall health and longevity;

- grooming: some dogs require regular professional grooming, others need a quick brush daily, all need nail trimming;

- proper veterinarian care: research a vet and understand the costs involved with annual vet bills;

- gentle communication: do not act out of frustration with your dog. Instead use your words and praise to help steer him in the right direction. Forcefully making your dog do something does not create a positive bonding experience, so remember to step back and be patient. It makes the training experience much more fun for both you and your dog;

- socialization with many places, people, and dogs: extremely important around 3-4 months old, but still important during adolescent stage and through adulthood


Compass Key is a service dog training company with several trainers located throughout the country. We specialize in training privately owned dogs to reach the service dog level of training. Our program consists of 4 training phases: (1) basic obedience; (2) advanced obedience; (3) disability skills; and (4) public access. Each phase has an itemized checklist that all dog/handler teams are required to successfully pass prior to moving into the next phase of training. In addition to the phase checklists, each dog must pass a thorough temperament test during Phase 2: Advanced Obedience.




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