At some point, Service Dogs in Training progress to public access training. How do you know, though, if your Service Dog in Training is ready for public access? Fortunately, that question has an easy answer. Learn about the types of behaviors and skills your SDiT needs before starting work in public.
Important: Answer questions honestly in order to avoid stress. You gain nothing by beginning public access work with a puppy or dog who isn’t ready. Furthermore, you can actually do more harm than good to your dog by starting too soon. Foundation, foundation, foundation.
Can your SDiT focus around distractions?
Fighting for your Service Dog in Training’s attention while working in public is not at all enjoyable. Before beginning public access training, your SDiT should already have some foundation focus work. You should know what kinds of reinforcement work well for your SDiT and be able to manage their attention well. While no SDiT is perfect, in order to begin public access training, your partner should easily redirect attention back to you with a bit of prompting, increased distance from the distraction, and high value treats.
Additionally, your Service Dog in Training needs to be more interested in you than what’s going on around them. Public access training is not the time to introduce distractions — that should be done in a controlled environment. Until your partner is able to focus on you, or, at the least, redirect attention back to you reliably on request, then stick with working foundation skills in pet-friendly places.
It’s ok for your dog to be interested in what’s going on around them, but you should be easily able to re-secure their focus. As time goes on, you want your SDiT to be relaxed and focused on you no matter what’s going on around you.
Does your SDiT have reliable obedience and manners?
Your Service Dog in Training needs reliable obedience and basic manners. Public access training involves learning public access skills. While that does include practicing foundational behaviors like sit or stays in new places and with increasing amounts of distraction, your SDiT needs to learn the basics at home or in class before trying them in public. Your time in public is not the time to teach beginner obedience.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t be working on manners in public. You should reinforce good manners, but if your puppy or dog is struggling with something like jumping or inappropriate sniffing, then work on those problems at home or in low distraction areas before beginning public access. For young SDiTs, expect to have to help them make good decisions in the beginning, especially for the more social breeds and proper greetings or ignoring distractions. However, your puppy should already have a foundation for sitting instead of jumping before they begin going out and about.
Is your SDiT free of temperament or behavioral problems?
Before beginning public access work, your SDiT should be free of behavioral problems, including any reactivity, aggression, or timidity. Ideally, you will not use a Service Dog candidate struggling with these issues — read more about why here. However, if you are rehabbing an SDiT with the help of a professional trainer or dealing with very minor behavioral issues, then make sure they’re resolved completely before beginning public access training.