Service Dog Training - Page 1

Pedigree Database


by GSCat on 25 November 2020 - 01:11

Anyone have any experience training a dog to be a medical service dog? Not interested in the scam sites, as someone has a bona fide need, but the waiting lists through the organizations are horrendous, and the costs for a professional trainer are out of reach.

Any tips for training, documentation, etc.? Since the dog would not be coming from an organization/third party trainer, is there anything special that needs to be done so there is no question about the legitimacy?

CGC will not happen for the time being due to COVID19, but the need is urgent enough to not wait until the COVID19 stuff passes.

Thank you.


by Sunsilver on 25 November 2020 - 01:11

What tasks do they need the dog to perform?

by GSCat on 25 November 2020 - 23:11

Detection of irregular heartbeat (afib) and notification of the owner
Detection of rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) and notification of the owner

The owner is usually unable to detect when these episodes are occurring, however needs to know before they create low enough blood oxygen that causes a problem/hazard.

Potentially other tasks in the future, such as operating a paw pad to call 911, detection and notification of heart attack/impending heart attack, and detection and notification of stroke/impending stroke. The important thing for now is the first two.


by Sunsilver on 26 November 2020 - 01:11

Usually, with a-fib that severe, the doctors will insert a pacemaker to correct it. Speaking from experience as a nurse and the wife of a husband who suffered from the condition.

I believe there are also wearable O2 saturation monitors that can trigger an alarm when the oxygen drops too low.

I've never heard of a dog being used for this particular task, but I suppose it's possible with the right dog.

Not sure how you'd train it, though. That's a tough one!

When my husband had an episode of a-fib, it wasn't the a-fib that cause the problem. It was that his heart would stop for a number of seconds when the a-fib episode ended. He'd sometimes be close to passing out before it resumed a normal beat. Apparently, this is fairly common, and the dog would have to be trained to detect that, too.

by GSCat on 26 November 2020 - 03:11

Thank you, SunSilver.

The person and doc are trying to avoid pacemaker for a few different reasons. Doc told the person it was last resort, and all other options have not been exhausted. At the speed medical is going, in part due to covid, it could easily be some years before it would get to the point of everything else being tried in good faith and pacemaker being ordered by doc.

My understanding in this case is the ejection fraction gets low during episodes of either.



by Sunsilver on 26 November 2020 - 16:11

Yes, the heart definitely isn't pumping efficiently when it's fibrillating. I've been thinking about it, and I think you'd have to find a device that would amplify the heartbeat, as the person training the task would have to know the heart is in a-fib, and that's not something you can hear without a stethoscope, or your ear to the person's chest! If the episodes of a-fib don't occur very often, it might be possible to get a recording of a heart that's fibrillating, and teach the dog to alert to that. Then, gradually reduce the volume of the recording until it's at the same level as the owner's heartbeat. Then, you'd have to teach the dog to cue to the actual heartbeat.

There are actually dogs out there that will do this sort of thing without training. The reason I got interested in the Shiloh shepherd was that a lady I knew had this amazing Shiloh service dog. When she took it to the doctor's office with her, it was always wanting to alert to all the sick people in the room, and many times, it alerted to friends and family members that were ill. The dog detected her father-in-law's prostate cancer before he was even aware of it. When her handler was overdoing it, she would take her by the arm, and force her to sit down and rest. She would also alert to the her owner's low blood sugar, without ever having been trained for the task.

I asked the breeder what she looked for in a service dog candidate, and why she knew Mali might be a good pup to train for that job. She replied:


In all honesty, I look for a good problem solver!! I saw her watching the bone boxes in the center of the grooming room -- at first she tried to pull the top box off -- too heavy .... Hmmmm so she circled the box (I just sat on my grooming chair to watch the show) and then she tried to climb up the box -- then I saw her *thinking* & she ran down the aisle & full speed toward the box & UP into it!!

Not only did she get "a bone" she got ALL of them!!

When a full litter sister to this amazing dog was having pups, I decided to get one, as I needed a dog to train as a hearing ear dog. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. :( The pup was VERY different from Mali, and far too timid to be a service dog.

It turned out that when my old dog was ready to retire, my younger German shepherd had already learned his job, just by watching. One night, she woke me up around 4 a.m. and would not let me go back to sleep. After walking to the other end of the house to get my cochlear implant, I finally realized she was hearing the smoke alarm do the low battery beep! Why Ranger didn't alert me, I have no idea. Maybe his hearing was starting to go, due to age, or maybe he no longer had the agility he needed to put his paws up on the bed and nudge me awake. Anyway, Star did it for him, and after that, I started to give her official training to replace him. and she did very well at it.*

I'd been told by her breeder before I bought her that she was a thinker, and a problem solver, and he was RIGHT!

(*Note - maybe there's a hearing ear dog out there that can distinguish between the low battery beep, and the smoke alarm responding to actual smoke, but I have yet to hear of one!  It's an annoyance you'll just have to put up with if you train your dog for this task. And the batteries ALWAYS seem to start beeping in the middle of the night! ) 

by jillmissal on 26 November 2020 - 17:11

I think some adjustment to expectations might be appropriate here. If the need is "urgent" and a pre-trained dog can't be purchased, you have to be aware that it takes a long time for the average person to train a dog to task in this way reliably and I'm a bit skeptical that it's even possible considering that for it to work the handler would have to be very close to the dog at all times. There is a dearth of information online about this type of service dog which makes me think it's not common, and the idea of a candidate needing "innate ability" to do this makes my scam alert activate. Yes, people do claim their dogs do this, but remember one of the big rules of dog training, "we see what we want to see."

Rapid heartbeat is easy enough to detect with a basic heart rate monitor; I'm not convinced at all a dog would do a better job. Seems there's probably an external device out there that can do that irregular heartbeat detection as well; those options are cheaper, easier, and more reliable than a service dog.

by GSCat on 27 November 2020 - 00:11

Thank you, SunSilver and jillmissal.

I know Apple Watch can detect both afib and tachycardia. Assuming the most sensitive settings and ideal conditions, the afib has to go on for several minutes to be detetcted, and heartrate has to be over 100 for tachy to be detected. Meanwhile oxygen percent drops.  No idea about reliability, since there's mixed reviews.

Don't know what other medical devices are available, what would/might be covered by the person's insurance, accuracy, reliability, etc.  Battery in extremely cold weather is also a consideration.


by Sunsilver on 27 November 2020 - 01:11

Jil, excellent points! I agree that a mechanical device like an Apple watch would be more reliable than a dog for this task. What if the dog is sleeping, and doesn't notice the change in the heartbeat?

The only innate ability I'd look for in a service dog would be the ability to solve problems. That's something you can't train, but the brains behind the problem solving can be passed on through breeding, which is why most reputable service dog organizations have their own breeding programs.

I have heard SO many stories of service dogs helping their owners by doing things they have never been trained for. It happened twice to me - once in the above incident, and the second was when my male dog helped me out of a fence post hole I'd fallen into one night, by letting me lean my full weigh on his back while he braced. People with balance problems often train their service dogs to do exactly that.

Of course, if someone is trying to use that sort of thing as a selling point, yes, scam alert. But I've heard too many stories from different sources to dismiss that it DOES happen.

Mali was trained as a mobility support dog, as her owner severely injured her legs when she fell from a height onto some rocks. Of course, dogs can be trained to be diabetic alert dogs, but Mali picked it up with no training. I know the owner, I've met the dog several times, and Sherrie has no reason to lie to me. She wasn't trying to sell puppies: Mali is sterile, and had to be spayed.

Sherrie's blood sugar will often get critically low without her being aware of it. One day when this happened in Wal Mart, Mali tried to drag her off the electric scooter towards the soft drink aisle. Sherrie had already ignored several previous alerts from the dog, thinking maybe she needed to get out of the store to relieve herself.

By the time she checked out and got to her car, her B.S. was at 42, a level where most people would have been unable to function.

by GSCat on 27 November 2020 - 09:11

Thank you SunSilver


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