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What is the Process of Service Dog Training?

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

When it comes to choosing a breed of dog for service dog work most dog trainers would agree that Labrador retriever puppies would be their first choice. It is the breed's willingness to please and desire to work combined with a confident temperament and what might be described as an "intuitive intelligence" that clearly sets the breed apart. At Project2Heal the Labrador puppies start "training" only 48 hours after birth. At that time a process of Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) begins. This process was developed by Dr. Carmen Battaglia for the U.S. military Super Dog program.

  • Tactile stimulation: Stimulating puppy paws through touch our tickling.

  • Holding the head of the puppy erect.

  • Holding the head of the puppy pointed downward.

  • Supine position: Resting the puppy on its back in the palm of hands.

  • Thermal Stimulation: Placing feet of puppy on top of a cool, damp towel and allowing the puppy to move about.

When puppies are born the development of their neural pathways is not complete. ENS allows a breeder to utilize techniques that slightly stress the pup's nervous system. Research has shown that the techniques developed by Battaglia can result in stronger adrenal gland and cardio systems. Perhaps more importantly for pups that were destined to become service dogs, ENS exercises were found to result in adult dogs that were less reactive to novel stimulus that they encountered as adults.

Training Service Dogs to Identify Scents.

Also occurring during the first 14 days, service dog training includes a process called early scent introduction. This training exposes dogs to smells it will encounter during working life. During this process, trainers pay close attention to the way puppies react to various smells. This helps identify which puppies may not be suited to work as a service dog.

Using Clicker Training to Train Service Dogs.

Championed by Karen Prior Academy, clicker training service dogs is a method that teaches puppies about associations. Puppies learn commands through a combination of rewards and clicking sounds. During service dog training, high-level tasks are broken into smaller tasks, after which puppies are rewarded with food and stimulated with sound from a handheld clicker.

Eventually food and clicking sounds are phased out so that puppies are able to execute tasks upon command.


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