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Book Review: "Training Your Own Service Dog" by Lelah Sullivan

Guides or resources for people wishing to train their own Service Dog are few and far between, so when we saw one literally titled Training Your Own Service Dog, we snatched it up for review. We did the reading, and now we’ll do the reviewing, so you can know what you’re getting before you get it. 🙂

Here are the details of the Service Dog training book we’ll be reviewing this month:

Book: Training Your Own Service Dog: Step By Step Instructions With 30 Day Intensive Training Program To Get You Started
Author: Lelah Sullivan, AKA Shana Cohen
Year Published: 2015
Available: On Amazon, as an eBook
Approximate Time to Read: About an Hour

Training Your Own Service Dog: Step By Step Instructions With 30 Day Intensive Training Training Your Own Service Dog CoverProgram To Get You Started is, per the author, a crash course in the foundation behaviors necessary to begin public access work and task training with your Service Dog candidate. The book recommends clicker training and provides reasonably detailed guides on training some key obedience behaviors, public access skills, and a couple of common tasks. It also provides some educational material on “Some Things to Know,” which includes things like:

  • What is a Service Dog?
  • What does a Service Dog do?
  • The difference between work and tasks
  • ID and certifications
  • Basic overview of Service Dog laws and access rights
  • Possible tasks and/or work for various disabilities
  • Choosing a suitable candidate
  • Do’s and Don’ts of Public Access
  • Basic training terminology

The author,  who self-identifies as “Lelah Sullivan, AKA Shana Cohen,” dedicates the book and the training program within to her Uncle Joseph, whom she credits with introducing her to dog training decades ago. Some of her family members raised and trained dogs for the circus. Eventually, her Uncle Joseph began breeding dogs with the intent of producing more dogs like “Pup,” who was a very special, highly interactive, stable dog with incredible working ability. Even though the author cites herself as having been exposed to a Service Dog as a child, she notes she didn’t really have any reason to think about them until she herself acquired a disability. She put her lifetime of dog training experience to work owner-training her own Service Dog, and decided to share her way of doing things with the owner-trainer world.

In a nutshell, Training Your Own Service Dog: Step By Step Instructions offers a very basic introduction to dog training and to teaching some basic behaviors like offering eye contact, nose targeting, place training, sit, down, and under. It recommends “Leashing,” or tethering the dog to you so the dog is never more than a few feet away at any given point in time during the initial training and bonding process, and the book advocates utilizing many super short sessions per day over one long one. Later on in the 30 Day Intensive Training process, foundational retrieve behaviors are covered, along with basic heeling exercises and some public access skills.

We liked the systematic and step by step way Training Your Own Service Dog: Step By Step Instructions With 30 Day Intensive Training Program To Get You Started covered important skills and behaviors. The book offers lots of details that are easy for people with little to no training background to overlook, and it repeats things frequently in a way that makes them easily stick. The author also offers a free coaching session with the purchase of the book so she can answer any training question that might come up that the book didn’t answer. That was quite generous of her! We didn’t take advantage of her offer, so we can’t tell you anything about responsiveness or quality of the support.

light-readingWe did not like how basic the book was, even though it was stated in the beginning that the book was geared towards absolute beginners or those inexperienced with dog training. There’s this theme of “Just do this, and everything will proceed as planned, yay!” that gets a bit off-putting after a bit. It’s great to be upbeat, but it’s unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect. It’s very difficult to teach the breadth and depth of skills she suggests teaching in only 30 days, although, to be fair, the book does offer a great foundation from which to move forward. Just don’t expect to have a functional formal retrieve from the 5 days of training suggested!

There’s also a suggestion that training time should be spent on grooming behaviors so that the Service Dog in Training can be fully shaved down before beginning work in public. We found this a bit odd, truth be told, although the steps provided for desensitizing a dog to grooming are excellently laid out.

For the absolute beginner, this book offers a solid place from which to begin. However, its price of $9.99 is quite steep for a book that can be read and digested in less than an hour. If you think you’ll be referring back to it often, it’s a valuable add to your training library, and you can purchase it here. For a trainer or handler with even a little bit of experience working with Service Dogs or in training, this is probably one to pass by, especially for such a steep price.


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