Expert Service Dog Training for Life-Changing Results

In-Home Task Training for Service Dogs – January 2023 Newsletter

Dark-haired woman lying on a bed with a tan curly-haired dog lying on top of her.

Service Dog Training Tips: In-Home Tasks for Service or Therapy Dogs

I recently had an intensely visceral reminder of the power of a dog performing deep pressure. It’s the service task we train the most. I have seen numerous clients benefit from deep pressure over the years (such as Natan, pictured here with his poodle, Travel), but this was not for a client. It was for me.

I suffered a concussion and needed a lot of sleep, but symptoms like vertigo, nausea, and anxiety often prevented it. At these times, my standard poodle, Kismet climbed into my lap and laid across my body. He could tell that I was not OK. Each time, his warm, comforting weight immediately calmed my nervous system and allowed me to fall asleep. I was so grateful.

A man with dark hair and olive skin in a blue pajama top sleeps on a white couch with a honey-colored fluffy curly poodle lying on his chest.
Travel Performing Deep Pressure on Natan

Although Kismet’s temperament is not appropriate as a public access service dog, his instinctive response of comforting me when I was ill is exactly the type of dog that often excels with in-home tasks. However, if your dog doesn’t instinctively perform this task, or other tasks, that’s OK! You can train them!

In-home task training can be fun, fulfilling, improve our quality of life and functioning, and be a great way to bond with our dogs.

The Joy of Task Training

We often think of service tasks as the things that dogs do to help their human partners get around in the wider world — guiding to an exit, blocking from crowds, hitting an automatic door button. Tasks in public significantly improve a disabled person’s freedom and independence, but there are even more tasks a dog can perform at home to improve a handler’s life.

Black shaggy dog holds a slipper toward the camera. A sign next to the dog says, "Retrieves my slippers (instead of chewing them)."
Barnum Retrieves Slipper

The number of in-home tasks you can train are limited only by your imagination! Examples:

  • Sound alert (respond to your alarm clock, medication reminder, insulin pump alarm, or stove timer)
  • Interrupt self-directed behavior (skin picking, scratching, etc.)
  • Retrieve your slippers, shoes, cane, walker, or dropped items or even bring medication or water from a cupboard or refrigerator
  • “Find help!” – get a family member or attendant
  • Turn on a light (for PTSD, sleep, or mobility issues)
  • Deep pressure or tactile stimulation (lie across your lap, lick away your tears, lean against your legs)

Best Situations for In-Home Task Training

In-home task training is still dog training – with all its joys and challenges – but without the stress of whether the dog will succeed in public. Also, because you don’t need to train public access manners and reliability first, in-home tasks can be much easier to train!  The task training process is fun and mentally stimulating for the dog, great bonding for the team, and a positive activity for someone whose activities may be limited in other respects. The end result of the training – your fluffy companion eagerly helping you or your loved one – can be truly wonderful. Further, you can start any time — from puppyhood to senior years. Black fluffy dog pulls a strap attached to the refrigerator handle, opening the refrigerator door. A sign on the floor says, "Opens the fridge (without sampling its contents)."

We train in-home tasks for these situations:

  1. An “in-home only service dog” or ESA that tasks at home for a child or adult with no plan to train for PA.
  2. Beginning task training as a foundation for future PA training –because all dog training is best started in a low-distraction setting.
  3. Future therapy dogs. We help social workers, school counselors, occupational therapists, etc., to train their dogs to help their clients/patients at work.

How to Get Started

First, make a list of helpful tasks. If you’re not sure, use a symptom log to identify what matters most. (Current clients – find our task selection handout and symptom log in the Client Portal.)

Next, decide on ONE task to start with. The ideal is a task for which your dog has a natural affinity. If you need to build training chops, start with the simplest task for a quick win! If you and your dog are skilled with precision training, pick the task that will improve the handler’s life the most.

Break down the task into all its components and train each component to reliability separately before combining.

Working with an experienced service dog trainer will take the guesswork out of task training, making it faster and easier. We have a variety of options to fit each team.

Black standard poodle lays across lap of unseen person on a quilted white blanket. Megan's arm is across Puzzle's chest.

If your dog already has much of its public access manners training or is ready for task training as an in-home only service dog, online private lessons provide individualized task training with maximum support – a tailored training plan and step-by-step guidance. Start with a consultation with our head service dog trainer, experienced with both mobility and psychiatric service tasks.

If you’re looking for a fun, budget-conscious option for therapy dogs, medical alert or psychiatric service dogs, you’ll love our Helping Hounds series (which includes deep pressure training, like Puzzle is doing with Megan). These four-week linear classes are open to dogs of any age or experience level, from puppy to senior, and are a great way to train the “tricks” that go into task foundations. Upcoming HH1 (basic) classes start Feb. 2 (daytime) or April 11 (evening). HH2 (intermediate) starts Mar 14 (evening).

If you have a puppy or young dog that needs foundation training for manners, public access, and tasks, PEARL DISC is the class to start. PEARL is level one of our Dogs in Service Certification (DISC) program. The next available PEARL DISC openings are Tuesdays, on or after Jan 10th at 5:30 PM ET (2:30 PM PT) or Fridays, on or after Feb 3rd at 12:00 PM ET (9:00 AM PT). The cost is $370. You can REGISTER HERE and choose to pay all at once or pay in two installments to sign up.

Note: If you or someone you know are on the autism spectrum and considering training your dog in deep pressure or other in-home tasks, you might be interested in the information below on Sharon’s presentation on service dogs for AANE (the Asperger/Autism Network).

P.S. Sharon is as a guest speaker in this upcoming webinar:

Should You Train Your Own (Autism) Service Dog? – AANE (Asperger/Autism Network), March 21 at 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM ET (3:30-5 PM PT). Learn how dogs can be helpful to adults and children on the spectrum, the differences between service dogs and ESAs, and whether service dog training is right for you or your family. Find out more about the AANE webinar.

Conditioned Cues for Pets & Service Dogs: Setting Up Novice Learners for Success – Raising Canine, Feb. 1 at 1 PM ET (10 AM PT). Do your basic manners students attach their recall or “wait” cues before the dog knows the behavior, or when the cue is already poisoned? Have you wondered how best to train a psychiatric service dog to alert to a handler’s self-injury or anxious behavior or a hearing dog to alert to a sound? Have you struggled to train “drop it” effectively in group classes? In this webinar, Sharon Wachsler details how classically conditioning a cue can be a game-changing step for clients. Conditioned cues have markedly improved her students’ ability to follow instructions, as well as built more reliable behavior in their dogs. Topics covered include which cues to condition, how to condition them, and video examples of clients training with conditioned cues. Find out more about the Conditioned Cues webinar.


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