An old client of mine came to visit me this week with her new service dog because he is behaving aggressively toward unfamiliar (outside of his pack) dogs. We talked for a long time about the service training is currently receiving. She informed me that he is attending a group class currently but recently has been asked not to return because of his disruptive behavior around the other dogs. She detailed all of the ways they have tried to get him over his fear-based aggressive behavior toward other dogs for the last several months. Taking the advice of service dog trainers they have tried to distract him with hot dogs in the presence of other dogs. My client explained to me how he would eat the slice of hot dog and immediately return to his aggressive behavior. The client also told me that at the last group class he attended a trainer removed him from the presence of other dogs, taking him into an empty room, every time he reacted negatively to the other dogs for 90 minutes to no avail. (You’ve probably seen this technique on a certain dog training show.) My client is not allowed to use a prong collar in this service dog training class and I think it goes without saying they also ban remote training collars. So, during our meeting I put a prong collar on him and gave him a correction that was sharp enough to override his emotions that were causing his aggressive behavior to the first dog to which we introduced him. He did not behave aggressively for the rest of our time together as we introduced three new dogs to him. Instead, he sat quietly, looking to me for instruction.
We know aggressive, high-strung, nervous behaviors are not ideal traits for a service dog. But the problem is she paid for him, she trained him, he’s a great help to her around the house and at doctor’s appointments. She’s not getting rid of him and I agree with her. I don’t think it’s fair to discard him and I don’t think it’s time to throw up our hands and just relegate him to a service dog at home only. About once a year I get a call to help someone with their service dog who’s behavior is disruptive to the service they are capable of performing or in general causes problems with regular life activity. These clients have been indoctrinated by their service dog trainers to not use certain types of corrective measures. In some cases there are service dog trainers that are comfortable with correction just not prong collars or remote training collars. The problem is my clients are not seeing results and are forced to say “this is as good as it’s going to get”.
I believe service dog trainers would be a greater help to their clients if they would learn to use all tools at our disposal properly so that each service dog can reach its potential. I think when it comes to training tools, whether positive-reinforcement tools or corrective tools, less is more and most service dogs-in-training don’t need strong corrective measures but when you’ve run out of options for correcting seriously disruptive or dangerous behavior its time to consider methods that aren’t mentioned in the textbook before we give up on these dogs.