View Full Version : Question about training adult dogs for service dogs.
11-11-2008, 01:50 PM
I am a programs and services committee member for the National MS Society and we are working on a donation/funding program for service related animals.
My questions are, and it's probably more complicated than just one question, but how well do older dogs do for training as service dogs for the disabled? Are they more likely to be trained or less likely? Do they take more training or less training? Would a dog that has been with its owner be more easily trained to be a service dog for its owner than one from a shelter or a newly acquired dog?
Any input would be very much appreciated. We are looking at the possibility of providing some funding for such a program on a individual basis and need some idea of the costs involved.
If anyone has any starting places for me, please feel free to PM me or post the information here. I am located in Idaho.
Thank you very much.
I have also worked with a Golden Retriever Rescue Organization known as Golden Wings. It's a terrific organization.
I can only speak for the experience that one of my neighbors had. She is getting on in years, a bit forgetful relative to taking her meds and now has mobility issues. Her four year old Golden was trained to bring her her daily med box three times a day which stays on the kitchen table. Nan wears an emergency button in case of a fall. The base also has a button that the dog can hit. This happened once when she fell in the kitchen, evidently lost conscienous (sp) for a period and the dog hit the base button. She sat there, waited for the response person to come on and started barking. The EMS came. While Nan was awake and alert when they arrived, they took her (and the dog ;)) to the ER for a check up.
If it weren't for the dog, the family was wanting her to go into a nursing home in order to keep her safe. That would have been so sad as she just needs supervision and companionship not being stuck in a semi private tiny room. Everyone is thrilled with this solution.
11-11-2008, 05:10 PM
We trained Bergie from a pup and so far she has learned how to pick things up for Jim as soon as he drops something. We're currently working on getting her to open doors but that has been harder. We're not sure if her age is playing a part or the fact that she just doesn't get it. For example, I taught her how to pull the towel attached to the fridge to open the door. She did very well on command. BUT, as soon as she learned it she kept doing it and if Jim had drank all the beers she brought him he would have passed out! lol
I have tried so hard to find a local dog trainer to help us but there are none to be found in my area who are willing to work with an older dog or have assistance dog training. If the MS society were to implement such a program I would be first in line to get that "professional" attention for Bergie if they chose to allow older dogs in the program.
Bergie is a great dog and can pick up the smallest items and not damage them. She is easy to train and I think she would do well with the right trainer.
Hope that helps. Dogs who have an easy going temperament are the easiest to train in my opinion. I have heard through service dog organizations that labs are one of the top choices, along with golden retrievers. Some german shepherds and believe it or not, sometimes doberman pinchers.
Thanks for being on this committee. Is there anything you don't do Cheryl? :hug:
11-11-2008, 06:18 PM
Thanks for the responses.
Sandy - I don't do windows!!!! LOL!
Another question might be what's the percentage, per se, of a group of older dogs, say 3-5 year olds, that would be trained who would not graduate as service or assistance dogs?
11-11-2008, 06:34 PM
LOL To not doing windows! LOL
I don't know the answer to that Cheryl but I can link you to the percentage of dogs who don't make the cut in service dog organizations such as Paws With A Cause. Scroll toward the bottom for their averages. They don't take dogs over two years of age.
Paws With A Cause (http://www.pawswithacause.org/history.asp)
I think it is a matter of what exactly does the dog need to do to provide assistance to their owner? If it's a companion dog I believe one can be trained in basic obedience. If it's a dog such as our Bergie, she does well simply picking things up for Jim and opening doors. Those type of assistance dogs I think can be trained at any age. If one needed a full assist dog who can call 911 and such I would suggest starting from a puppy or less than one year old to get the best success.
11-15-2008, 10:38 AM
Thanks for the link Sandy.
I forwarded the information to our Director.
I am also hoping to hear from others who have experience and success with older dogs - or have information about trainers. We are definitely looking into programs.
The folks who trained my neighbor's four year old Golden were not very enthusiastic about training an "old dog" for their purposes but said that if any older dogs would be successful, it would be a Golden or Lab as they tend to be more empathic and eager to please than many other breeds. They said the dog was a complete success..............did some sort of magazine article on it.
11-23-2008, 03:22 PM
All of my experience has been with St. Francis Service Dogs, which is the organization that trained Montana. Most of their dogs come into the program at eight weeks of age.
If the puppy or dog has problems and is taken out of the service dog program, there is a list of people waiting to adopt them. I know that Canine Companions for Independence (at least I think that's their name) also adopts out the dogs who don't make it through their program.
Some of these dogs are two years old and fully trained, but for some reason or other can't make it through the entire training program and level tests they have to take and pass in order to be matched with a candidate.
I don't know if this helps or not. Best of luck in finding out what you need to know. :hug:
11-28-2008, 12:20 PM
Thank you for the information. I passed it along to the rest of our team. We are working with the Humane Society and a couple of other organizations to hopefully work with rescue dogs. It's a wonderful program.
11-28-2008, 10:58 PM
what's the percentage, per se, of a group of older dogs, say 3-5 year olds, that would be trained who would not graduate as service or assistance dogs?
Hello .... I hadn't been by here since May and was only glad your letter hadn't been in my mailbox too long.
Your question is completely answered in my thread about choosing the correct ADULT dogs who would be the best to put into training of whatever kind, whatever kind of service needed. This includes seeing eye dogs, hearing assistance dogs, the strong sturdy ones who help you to stand or even prime psychiatric service dogs.
Here is the link - many posts, one after another, that cover a lot of university research done on this very subject - http://neurotalk.psychcentral.com/thread10385.html
I would like to see this thread made a sticky, even tho new visitors have continued to add posts that bump it up to the top again.
I speak from experience and what trainers have informed.
When my first service dog was 8 years old they expected me to adopt him OUT of my home and obtain a new one. I didn't. I knew it cost me in how much the dog continued to aid me, but I was able to compensate in other ways.
For someone who has progressive MS and needs a service animal (monkeys too?) to continue to pick up the slack, I would advise against an older dog.
Their abilities begin to greatly decline at that 8 year mark. Now, to think that a 5 year old dog has 3 good years just isn't rational.
As many know, my first dog died due to the IAMS poisoned food. It nearly took my puppy at the time. I was given the puppy to eventually replace my 15 year old but he was put into service training early due to the other's death.
It's been 2 years now, and my current service dog is really just "getting it" for himself. He's been very good for me in this time so far, but truly the ideal time to put a dog into training is about 2 years old. He's just over 2 now, and with additional advanced training, well, things are beginning to click for him. You can almost see it in his brain! ROFL
I am not completely helpless, which is why this situation worked out for the dog and me. His training has lagged (even though he's 2 years ahead) because of ME and my fatigue and pain levels.
A service animal isn't "just" trained and placed into a home. I mean, he/she needs DAILY reinforcement. Living by myself, this is tough enough, but to have a dog too young or too old puts more stress on both the animal and the person. It would be too much stress for someone with MS, unless there was another person in the home who was daily responsible. And you have to consider the time it takes for the animal and disabled to learn to work together. Everyone has their quirks. To have to repeat this every few years is exhausting for me.
I hate to have to say this but to train an older dog for service just isn't profitable. It takes from $10k to 20k to completely train a service dog. You need to get all the years back out of it you can, especially with the non-availability of homes to train them the basics. Then, the disabled person should also be allowed all the years they can enjoy with their service dog. An older dog just can't give that.
02-16-2009, 03:08 PM
Figure a service dog generally retires at 8 yrs old. It takes the average owner trained dog 2-3 yrs to complete training. So you take a 5yr old dog and the dog will be 7-8yrs old by the time they are fully trained. Therefore you will likely only get 2-3 yrs before the dog needs to retire. Since it is best that you start training before your trained dog retires, as soon as your dog completes training, it will be time to start training a new dog.
My personal opinion is that it is better to start with a puppy or young dog. You can control most of what they are exposed to and socialize them properly. So many dogs are surrendered to a shelter because they have started developing behavior issues teir people didn't want to deal with. Rarely do you find a young pup that doesn't have any issues. I have worked with rescue dogs in the past and every single one had some sort of issue. This makes the job of training them much harder as you must fix many issues before you can proceed with SD training. I prefer to get pups from reputable breeders. They are blank slates and I know the health history of previous generations. I can meet the mom to get a feel for the possible temperments.
02-16-2009, 04:12 PM
Figure a service dog generally retires at 8 yrs old.
whoops I meant 10 yrs not 8.
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