The Puppy Training Podcast

Episode #79 Service Dogs

September 29, 2021 Baxter & Bella Puppy Training Season 4 Episode 79
The Puppy Training Podcast
Episode #79 Service Dogs
Show Notes Transcript

Laura Sarvinski joins Amy today to discuss her work as a service dog trainer. Laura is a trainer for Good Dog Service Canines as well as BAXTER & Bella. She shares tips on socialization, training a family dog, her favorite service dog task to train and more.


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Amy:

This is the puppy training podcast episode number 79 service dog training. This podcast is designed to help you on your journey of becoming best friends through love and learning as you train your own dog from home, and I'm here to help you every step of the way, this is the puppy training podcast, and I'm your host, Amy Jensen. Welcome, everybody. I'm so glad that you could join us today on the puppy training podcast. We have Laura Sarvinski here with us today. She is one of our trainers here at Baxter & Bella, and I first met Laura when I was working with Good Dog! Service Canines. She is a fellow service dog trainer and she's amazing at it. So when I thought of this topic for the podcast, her name is the first one that came to mind. And I thought why not have her on and explain a little bit about what she does and how she does it. And I have several questions I want to ask her So Laura, welcome. Thanks for joining me today.

Laura:

Thank you for having me here. I'm excited.

Amy:

So can we start off Laura maybe just by introducing yourself to our listeners and telling them a little bit about you why dogs? How did you first get into dog training?

Laura:

Well, I I first got into Dog Training when my grandma was a agility instructor. So she's a local dog trainer in our community. And she was teaching agility classes and puppy obedience classes. And she wanted me to get involved in help. So I started being a helper and puppy classes and started doing agility with my Shetland sheep dog blaze when I was a kid, and I got hooked on dog training. And I didn't really think it could be a career at that time, I thought, Gosh, I'm gonna have to be like a veterinarian, or I'm gonna have to do something else where I can make money. And I went to class one night, and my grandma brought this brochure for Bergen University of canine studies and said, there's a school that offers, you know, degrees in dog training, and I said, No, this can't be real, it's fake. And I checked it out and went on a tour and I ended up going to school there and getting my degree in psychology, the study of dogs and then got into dog training. That is awesome. I love it that runs in your family. Yeah, yep, she's still she's Gosh, almost 90 and still runs with her dogs and does field trials and trains with them. And so I hope I have her genetics.

Amy:

Yeah, that's awesome. I see that you're doing that with your dog now too.

Laura:

Yes, I have my little mini Ozzy Finn, we're doing agility and confirmation. We're doing disc dog this next month we're doing a disc dog tournament with Frisbee. So that's a new sport. We're going to try out and yeah, I love to do all kinds of different sports with him. And then my German Shepherd Emma is not necessarily she doesn't like to leave the house as much as she's a homebody, so she likes to play in the yard and everything but yeah, so it's been fun.

Amy:

Well, very cool. Well, when did you get into service dog training.

Laura:

I got into service dog training while I was going to school at Bergen University of canine studies one of the ways that they have us learn how to work with dogs is we each are assigned a dog per semester that we train for service work, specifically mobility dogs and dogs for veterans with PTSD were our focus. But yeah, each semester you had a different dog assigned to you they tried to give you different personalities different be to learn different training styles. It was all positive reinforcement, but we did have little extracurricular classes on on hunting or agility or show and all different kinds of things that they could think of. But that's how I first got into service dog training and I learned about good dog at the school as well because Laura Sylvester was doing little lectures there and She's the founder of good dog. And so after I graduated, I had a friend who was training for them and I said do you think they need more trainers? Yeah, so I started with good dogs soon after I graduated Bergen.

Amy:

Nice well many of our listeners I know don't have service dogs, but many don't. And they're wondering you know, how can I get my dog to be as well behaved as a service dog so I would love to dive deeper into maybe some of the things that we do as service dog trainers that are a little bit unique but that hey, a family pet owner could do the just the same.

Laura:

I think you know when they're young you know, regardless of service dog or pet dog, I'm really wanting them to meet lots of different people and we're going out on field trips where I'm carrying them places, a lot of stores will allow dogs inside you know, like Ace Hardware. We have hardware stores around here, Lowe's or Home Depot a lot of them are very accepting of dogs and so we really want to get our dogs out as much as we can when they're young to build those good associations with new people and new places and get them desensitized to all different kinds of noise and noises and different things that the NBC so I think that families could also do that and I think Baxter & Bella, we are big on socialization too. So it's a great program. If you want to train your own service dog. I think it's the perfect start because we really Do you talk about getting them out and getting them exposed to new things and new people, which is super important when they're very young?

Amy:

Yeah, it makes a big difference, doesn't it? It does. It

Laura:

really, really, really does.

Amy:

How about like the structure and routine of a service dog? I mean, can you just tell us a little bit about like the day in the life of a service dog and what that looks like? I think our some of our listeners may be surprised to see that, oh, they're doing very similar things.

Laura:

Yeah, no, definitely. I mean, they're part of my family. I mean, that they're a dog that I'm training, but they also you know, they live in my house and they're part of my pack of my dogs. But, you know, there is a lot of structure. So I do keep them you know, in a playpen or a smaller confined area at first, which is what I really encourage puppy parents to do, don't give them too much freedom. So I give them a very small space to learn as their home base. We work on potty Bell training from the get go. We do little short training sessions throughout the day, try to do five to 10 minutes at a time so they don't get too burnt out. They take crate rest naps couple times a day for a few hours, they make sure they have that alone time in a crate by themselves. There's barking and crying definitely it happens. Even with service dog puppies, I've had some that bark and cry up to an hour and really, really dry. But they've all turned out to be wonderful dogs in the crate. I like to get them out into the yard and playing with the other with my dogs. I'm working on Lena like leaving items like wanting to pick up the rocks and the woodchips and things like that. So we're working on keeping their attention and focus outside and rewarding. And lots of treats throughout the day. not stingy with treats, which I think a lot of people it's a big concern, you know, is my dog gonna get fat. But I use their kibble and I use little little tiny treats. And throughout the day I call myself a Pez dispenser, I'm just kind of constantly rewarding the good behavior that I see, and redirecting them. also giving lots and lots of toys to play with. So they're not chewing on things that are in the house. But I think my biggest advice is always a small space to start with, don't give them too much freedom, because that sets you up for a host of other problems that can pop up where they learn lifelong things like chewing on your shoes, or your socks or your furniture. Yeah,

Amy:

so on that note, how long does it take to train a service dog? maybe explain that process? Yeah.

Laura:

So typically, most organizations, and what good dog does is around two years old that they graduate, we have graduated them younger, but I think we found that with a little more time, they're a little more mature, which I think really helps because I mean, even though they're service dog puppies, they still go through all the stages that other puppies go through. So usually around two is when they're ready to go. And so we work from about eight weeks, we get them at, I've had some at seven weeks, some eight weeks, and then all the way through until they're two years old and they graduate.

Amy:

I think that's helpful for families to understand, you know, can we see service dogs out in the community? And I used to have this perception as well as Wow, those are perfect dogs. Right? And you know, they never do anything wrong. Can you speak to that a little bit? And how maybe each dog has their own personality and things that you see in service dogs that we might see in our own pets? But hey, they're not perfect, right?

Laura:

Yeah, exactly. So I think the biggest thing is, you know, distractions out in the environment, we can set up our service dogs, we try to expose them to as many many things as we can think of, but I'm never gonna be able to expose them to anything and everything that the family might come into contact with. So you know, there are things that they may see that they've never seen before with me. And they may have to work through that. And we teach the families how to work through that, too. And so we teach them how to kind of be a trainer, in essence, and help their dog continue on with their training, because training is lifelong. So you can do two years of intense training with a service dog. And if they never do any of the training, again, after they graduate, they're going to lose a lot of their skills. So it is something that they have to upkeep. And so yeah, there are things that they can start doing like counter surfing or starting to, you know, dig in the yard or get into things, anything that normal normal dogs do to if they're still not they're having structure in their life. Yeah, no,

Amy:

that makes perfect sense. And it helps I think to have that healthy perspective, too. It's easy, I think, to watch other people with their dogs and think, oh, they're doing so well. And then we see our dogs every second of every day, and we see them highs and their lows, right? Yeah, yeah, well, cool. That's, I think helpful for others to understand and hear what's your favorite service dog task to train.

Laura:

That's a hard one. When I thought about this, there's so many fun commands, but I think it would go back to where I started with mobility commands and teaching a dog to turn on a light switch. I think that was just such a cool thing that I never would have imagined in my life that dogs could do like turning on a light switch. That's it, it seems so you know, easy in our life just to go over and turn on the light switch. But for someone who maybe doesn't have the use of their arms or is confined to a wheelchair and not being able to reach a light switch, having a dog be able to do that for them is like so much freedom in their life. So I just thought that was so neat that a dog could learn how to do that.

Amy:

That is cool. I think it's fascinating. That was my same thing when I started working with service dogs is learning how many things a dog could do and right. I love it back rmls sharing that with people like, okay, it's okay if you just want to train your dog to sit down and stay and come. Hey, did you know that your dog can do all of these other really cool things?

Laura:

Yeah, definitely. Could you explain just a little bit? Maybe

Amy:

how you start that not you don't have to go too much into detail. But how would you start training a dog to say turn on turn on a light switch?

Laura:

Yeah, so I mean, we started when they were eight weeks old. You could definitely start at any age, though, because we know that dogs can learn things at any age. But we started when they were little tiny puppies. And we had some volunteers make these really cool boards that were maybe a foot wide by two feet tall, just piece of wood with a light switch fixed to the middle, just like your normal light plate that you would have in your house. And we started with that, because the puppies are super short. And so we'd hold it down at our feet. And we started with free shaping. So we pretty much just let the puppy figure out what we wanted. So if they made any step closer to the light switch, he would Yes, and tree, they put their nose towards it to check it out. Yes, and treat. And we would just start with them getting used to touching that item being comfortable with it. And a lot of them surprisingly, would start turning on the light switch just you know, accidentally at first because they would nose it or try to get to it and we would yes and treat. And it had a they also paired the light switch going on with a little buzzer sound so they would get that extra little reinforcement and sound. And we would add sometimes little pieces of tubing, we would cut like a short piece of plastic tubing and stick it on the end of the light switch. So they had some extra space to get their nose underneath. And we take those away as they got better. But a lot of it was they just did it on accident made me point right underneath the light switch with our finger and they'd come in with their nose to check it out. And then they lift their head up and voila, the light would turn on and yes and treat and a couple times of that. And they were doing it consistently.

Amy:

My favorite part about that way of trading is watching the dog get so excited to work. Yes, yes,

Laura:

I really enjoy it. Yep, I love watching their wheels turn in their head, and they might try other things first that they know, you know, they usually would sit down and try everything. And I just love Yeah, seeing a dog use their own brain to figure something out. Absolutely love it.

Amy:

I guess as we leave today, what's one thing or tip as a puppy trainer, or a dog trainer that you could maybe speak to that would help you know the masses,

Laura:

the biggest thing that I probably like to share is just to be patient dogs. You know, they grow up faster than human kids, of course, but they you know, they it takes a while for them to catch on to things. And I think a lot of us struggle with patients I know I do as a trainer, it's my biggest thing that I have to really slow down and not rush my dogs, I really want them to get a concept and I want it I want them to get it and I get frustrated if they don't. And so I have to kind of slow down. And I think that's important. Even when you're just training your pet dog, you have to slow down, take the successes when you get them really reward your pup for when they do anything right so that they're willing to keep working for you. We don't want them shutting down. And I think that tends to happen if we get frustrated, which I know it's it's life and we do but try to make it fun and try to be patient.

Amy:

But it does pay off and it's very rewarding work. Would you agree to that as Oh yeah, service dogs, even your own dogs, but training service dogs too. I find super rewarding. It's hard when people ask me, How do you let go of them? How do you say goodbye to them? Maybe I'll let you speak to that. But from my perspective, you know, it's hard, but it's worth it.

Laura:

Oh yeah, I agree. It's really hard. My first one was the hardest, I probably still cry when I hear certain songs of the day that when I gave her away and but just knowing that they're going on to do something better, and they are needed far more by someone else than they're needed to stay with me. You know, I love them. And of course, I will miss them always. But the work that they're going to do is so much more rewarding. And they really love to work. You know, we see people out and about that sometimes feel like service dogs or, you know, oh, it's sad. They have to work and they make comments about that. And I think that people that are training their dogs like Baxter & Bella, people that are treating their puppies could probably attest to it, too, that dogs love to have a job. They love to learn, they love to work, it's what they were designed to do. I think that it's it's really cool to see them go on and do something really rewarding and help someone that needs them. It's totally worth it.

Amy:

Well, thank you so much, Lara for joining us today. Thanks for enlightening us a little bit about service dog work. I really appreciate all you do here at Baxter & Bella and for the great advice that you shared with our listeners today.

Unknown:

Of course Thank you for having me. This was fun. All right, everybody. That's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. I hope you get out there and live life with your dogs and I'll talk to you next week. If you have a question about anything you heard on this podcast or any other puppy training question, visit my site BaxterandBella.com to contact me.