Service Dog Training: Puppy or Adult Dog?

I am so excited to have a guest post for you today, coming from our service dog trainer, the fabulous Donna Rogers at K-9 Capers Dog Training Academy. With her help, Keiko has learned tasks to help mitigate my disabilities and even trained to fly to California with me for work training and a trip to Disneyland.

While we’re on the subject, are you looking for something fun to do while we’re all stuck inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic? How about a little trick trainining with your favorite pooch? Check out Donna’s fun and free opportunity on her Facebook page today and jump into the fun.

Without further ado, check out this info from Donna about whether to train a service dog from a puppy or starting out with an adult dog.

Should I get a puppy or a fully-matured dog for a service dog in-training?

My clients often ask; what is the best age for a dog to start training for a service dog?

Well, it depends…

If you are needing a mobility, or autism-support service dog, you will need a dog that will be about half of the patient’s weight when fully matured. For example, a 150-pound person will need a dog to mature at around 75-pounds. So, if you get a puppy you will need to be certain the dog will grow to fit your needs. If you are training a dog for hearing, diabetic-alert, or PTSD, a smaller, more agile dog, or a shelter rescue may be the answer.

After size is addressed, we need to figure out if the dog is physically fit for the job. What about hips? What about eyes? Short-snouted dogs should not be considered due to breathing issues during summer months.

Next we must consider the costs of upkeep such as grooming, training and veterinarian care. Do you have the extra funds needed for such expenses? A shorter-coated dog may be the most desirable in the South due to grooming and summertime heat. And with training from a puppy, it is going to take longer and cost more, of course.

And finally, should it be a puppy or a grown dog? If you are getting a puppy and you know the dog will meet the other requirements, then we will want to select a puppy no older than 13-weeks. Why? The socialization window closes about that time, so you will want to pick up your pupply at 8.5 weeks of age and expose your puppy to many sounds, sights people and places as safely as possible to do so. However, no dog parks or pet stores because your pup is not fully vaccinated until they are 16 weeks old. After the socialization window closes, you should use classical conditioning to introduce strange places, people and situations with your pup.

The advantage of selecting a two or three your old dog for the job is that you can see what they have become. You can train the obedience and tasks, but the reaction to noise, people and places will be somewhat set in stone. Selecting an older dog is really recommended if you select a shelter dog because we do not know the parents most of the time. Dogs purchased from breeders may not be any better than your luck at the shelter, though.

Either way, ask to spend some time with the dog or puppy you have selected before you commit to adopting or buying to get an idea if you will be able to train, care for and take your dog to places you need to go. Does your pup travel well? Does your pup react negatively to dogs, children, men, people, sunglasses, hats and people with odd gates? How about too much prey-drive? Will your dog be able to handle cats, other dogs, fast-moving kids or bikes?

And finally, nothing is perfect. Not all dogs will finish the program but they still may be able to serve the client at and around the home, and take short trips into stores in their local community.

All the best!!!

Donna Rogers
K-9 Capers Dog Training Academy

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