Expert Service Dog Training for Life-Changing Results

Four Essential Tips for Taking Your Service Dog in Training Puppy (SDiT) into Public

White and black puppy lies on purple towel on a cement floor.
If you’re raising a puppy as a future service dog, you may be nervous or excited (or both) about bringing your puppy to new places. We specialize in helping disabled people train their own service dog, starting with our service dog puppy class, PEARL DISC, and training up through tasks and public access.

These four tips will set your puppy up for success. Learn WHERE to go, WHAT to bring, HOW to train, and WHEN to leave!

Golden retriever puppy wearing a "Future Leader Dog" bandana sits on a sidewalk next to a snowy lawn.
Dutch the SDiT puppy is ready to go have fun and train in public!

1. Location Is Key for Unvaccinated Puppies

There is a lot of confusion on the topic of where and when it’s safe to take your service dog in training to new places. In fact, your veterinarian, breeder, and trainer may tell you different things! Puppies typically get their complete series of puppy vaccinations at about 16 weeks of age, which provides the maximum immunity for some of the most frightening diseases that affect puppies (such as parvo, adenovirus, and distemper).

Bring your puppy to these types of places:

  • Puppy classes where you know that all puppies and dogs must provide proof of vaccination before attending (and where the floor is disinfected daily). Likewise, take your puppy when you visit your friend who doesn’t have dogs or whose dogs are healthy and vaccinated.
  • Public places not typically frequented by a lot of unknown (potentially unvaccinated) dogs. Don’t walk your unvaccinated puppy into a pet store or to the dog park. Instead, take your puppy to a dog friendly clothing or fabric store or your mechanic’s waiting room. Some dogs may go there, but the numbers will be low, reducing the risk of your puppy catching something dangerous.
Black standard poodle puppy lies on a white "At Your Service Dog Training" towel on gray industrial carpet.
Kismet trains on “Go Settle” in the waiting room at the mechanic
  • Carry your puppy into the pet store. They can see the dogs and people without coming into contact with other dogs or viral residue on the floor. (This is not as good an option as letting your puppy explore safe locations, so don’t rely on this for your puppy’s socialization!)

Minimize the risks while maximizing the benefits.

While an unvaccinated puppy is at risk if exposed to a virulent disease, an undersocialized puppy is at greater risk for serious behavioral consequences later in life. This is why the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s puppy socialization position statement is that puppies should NOT be kept home until fully immunized at 16 weeks. AVSAB says unsocialized puppies are at greater risk from early death due to behavioral euthanasia than from infectious disease.

For future service dogs, it’s even more important to get your puppy out during her critical socialization period when she will benefit the most from having positive experiences with new things (places, people, noises, sights, sounds, surfaces, etc.). This process of positive exposure to new situations is what trainers mean by “socialization.” This developmental window begins to close between 12 and 16 weeks of age (just a few weeks after you’ve brought your puppy home!).

Don’t wait until your puppy has had their complete schedule of puppy shots. Just choose your locations with care.

2. Prepare with the Right Gear

Pack for the occasion. You should bring:

  • A clean-up kit consisting of at least 2 plastic bags (“poop bags”), 3 paper towels, and 2 disinfectant wipes (bleach wipes or enzymatic pet accident wipes). Yes, if you potty your puppy before you leave home and again before you enter the store, you shouldn’t need the kit. But surprises happen. Even a fully trained adult dog can have an attack of diarrhea or vomiting. Avoid embarrassment and be a service dog ambassador by being overprepared.
Treat pouches in red, blue, purple, lime green, and hot pink that say "At Your Service Dog Training."
Front pockets for bags or cleanup kits. Hidden zipper pocket in back for credit card or phone. Side pockets for clicker or keys provide a lot of storage options.
  • Many treats. Bring a meal’s worth of treats. For most pups, most of the treats should be high-value. I usually recommend “600 moist delectable morsels” such as small pieces of cheese, hot dog, or roast beef. For some dogs, novelty is king. If your pooch is picky, bring two or three types of treats. Also bring something lower-value in case you want to work on a calmer behavior, like settle on a towel. Note: If your dog is extremely food-motivated and will work eagerly for kibble even in public, just bring their meal, plus a smaller portion of high-value treats in case of an extreme distraction.
  • Hands-free attire. I often joke that dog training requires at least three or four hands. So the last thing you need is to use one of your hands to carry extra treats, “go settle towel,” cleanup kit, wallet and keys, etc. I usually wear cargo pants and our belted branded Rapid Rewards Treat Pouch. The pouch has a main compartment for a LOT of treats, as well as compartments that can hold your clean-up kit and/or cell phone, credit card, etc. Our “Go settle” towel can hang on the pouch belt or fit in your pants pocket. Another great option if you are also carrying extra leashes, dog food bowls, etc., is a treat pouch plus a backpack.
Back of woman and black standard poodle. Poodle is sitting on grass. Woman is wearing a hot pink treat pouch on her waist and a backpack on her back.
With a backpack and a treat pouch, you can easily carry all your training gear and have two hands for training
  • Service-dog-in-training vest and information. It’s a good idea to create an association for your pup that when he’s wearing his working gear and training continuously in public, he is working. When he’s not wearing his work gear, he can greet, play, etc. Please choose a lightweight, comfortable, breathable vest for your pup. My favorite is the Raspberry Field vest with pockets. Make sure it says “‘in training” on it so that you don’t get accused of trying to pass off your puppy as a trained service dog. If responding to strangers’ questions and comments is difficult for you, we also provide our clients with a card that answers all the typical questions, along with legal information and answers about your dog.

3. Train. Don’t Multitask

Your puppy needs your undivided attention. If you try to combine a grocery shopping trip with puppy training, you’re likely to be stressed and distracted, resulting in poor-quality training. You need to be able to read your puppy’s body language, which takes concentration. Otherwise you may drag him past or toward something he’s nervous about, missing an opportunity for positive socialization. On the other hand, your pup may be so excited about people, smells, or merchandise that she jumps all over or pulls, and you won’t have enough hands and attention to properly train with a high rate of reinforcement.

Gray-haired woman walks black Labrador retriever puppy down a store aisle with many buttons, hooks, and jewelry items. The woman and the dog are making eye contact.
Lee has her full attention on Phoenix as they train at JoAnn Fabrics

If weather and circumstances permit, the best option is often to leave your pup in the car (during moderate weather) while you do your errand. Then bring the puppy in for a short training field trip with your complete attention. Another option may be to have a family member drive you and perform the errand while you train. Or, if that’s not possible, have the family member or friend hold your puppy while you do the errand and then you bring your puppy in for training.

4. Keep It Short and Sweet!

The key to a successful training field trip involves two components: 1) Give your puppy a positive experience in a new place, observing new sights, sounds, smells, people, things, and textures. 2) Teach your puppy that training “works” here, too. To do this, spend just five or ten minutes to start. Alternate between allowing your puppy to politely investigate the location and doing short training sessions on basic manners such sit, down, loose leash, or attention. End the trip before your puppy gets tired, overwhelmed, or starts to lose their ability to control themselves. End on a high note so you and your puppy will be eager to return another time to have another good experience!

White and black puppy lies on purple towel on a cement floor.
Eva still looks happy and relaxed at the end of her short training field trip

If you’d like step-by-step support in raising and training your puppy to have the best-possible chance to advance to a full-fledged service dog in adulthood, our PEARL Dogs In Service Certification (DISC) class is a great place to start. If you don’t yet have your puppy, we can help you find the right dog with our pre-adoption webinar or private dog search support and consulting. Learn more about the DISC series or private service dog training.

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