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My 4 year old girl has had a pretty rough first few years of her life with her previous owners. (You can read some about that in my intro post here.) She was never trained in basic obedience, and it has been really difficult to try to teach her any basics ever since I took her in, especially because she is treat-desperate, meaning the only thing she is ever really aware of during any training attempts is the treat in my hand. She will relentlessly cry and whine for it, jump at it, bite at it, and she is oblivious to everything else--including what I'm trying to teach her; although I must admit I may not be a great trainer because I tend to give up easier than I should... Anyway, this is making me doubt the possibility of getting her trained to perform certain tasks for my health issues, making her a service dog.

I was thinking, if I could get her up to par with the basic obedience it might not take too much from that point on to train her in my health-specific tasks, which I don't think would be very complex really. Mainly I want her to alert me to things like low blood pressure/sugar, migraine attacks, anxiety attacks, and to interrupt anxious/compulsive behaviors. This would mean pawing at me, bumping my arm or leg with her nose, resting her head on me, etc. I think the hardest part would be training her to attain Public Access "behaviors" or attitude. She does fairly well with me out in public, but she is very far from Public Access-level.

Given her history and her age, does this seem like it's a good idea for her? I guess I'm worried that the age-old stereotype "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is actually true. Especially considering my ultimate goal of her being my service dog. Any experiences, stories, advice?
 

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I'll say right off the bat that her age and general obedience training aren't going to be your biggest hurdles here. Dogs can indeed learn new things well into their old age, and most delight in doing so! One member here (CptJack) has a senior, deaf-from-birth Boston Terrier that spent her early years running loose in a yard with a couple bigger dogs, and now she does casual agility. I'd say it's very likely you can make great progress with her for the obedience and even the alerts you want with the help of the right rewards-based trainer.

However, you're right about Public Access being really hard. This is mostly because it takes a very special and very specific temperament to make a dog who can be bombproof, alert, and working in virtually any situation, all the time. To the extent where most dogs actively bred for service work are washed out due to physical or temperamental issues. And I don't mean aggression. "Likes other dogs too much" or "nervous on shiny floors" are absolutely valid reasons for why a dog isn't suited for public access. The right temperament is something a dog's born with more than made (though a good early life with appropriate socialization can stack the odds in your favor). I see on your intro post that she's worked through some anxiety and nervousness in the past, and it's a great sign that she's improved so much, but realize you may need to take a step back and try to objectively analyze whether she's right for a demanding and stressful job that will expose her to a lot of strange and potentially upsetting things. Again, a trainer/behaviorist with experience helping handlers train service dogs may be able to assist you with this, it's the kind of thing you want someone there in person to observe and evaluate her.

I'll also caution, since you mention anxiety, that having a service dog means attracting attention. Some of it good, some of it bad (belligerent gatekeepers who challenge whether she's a "real" service dog because they don't know the laws/you're obviously not blind/only labs can be service dogs/other nonsense), and some of it annoying and overwhelming (kids or adults who insist all dogs are public property and make it their business - maliciously or not - to do everything possible to distract her and get in your way). I say this as someone who also suffers from anxiety. I know a lot of people opt not to have a service dog because the extra attention when out is just Too Much for them, but of course everyone's anxiety is different and manifests in different ways.

I guess I'd say start with some basic obedience, try to get her to pass the Canine Good Citizen for example - something most dogs are able to achieve. This will get you some more experience working with her, and hopefully some experienced outside eyes to help you out, and you can judge from there whether you and/or she are up for the significant amount of time and effort it takes to get a dog service and public access trained. I'll also add that you can definitely work on teaching her how to alert and use her as a home support system, even if public access is out of reach for the short or long term.

PS. you probably already know this, but just in case: any company/online store/etc that says they'll "certify" your dog as a service dog is a total scam. Especially if it's just a "put money in, get a piece of paper out" scheme. SDs don't need certification or licenses in the US, and you don't need to show gatekeepers (store managers, owners, etc.) any kind of identification for your dog - it just has to be trained in tasks to mitigate your disability(ies) and public access trained.
 

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I was thinking, if I could get her up to par with the basic obedience it might not take too much from that point on to train her in my health-specific tasks, which I don't think would be very complex really. Mainly I want her to alert me to things like low blood pressure/sugar, migraine attacks, anxiety attacks, and to interrupt anxious/compulsive behaviors. This would mean pawing at me, bumping my arm or leg with her nose, resting her head on me, etc.
In my opinion, those ARE very complex tasks. I'm not saying they're unattainable, just that I believe it will be much easier with the help of a good trainer. Even with their guidance it's going to be a long and hard road, especially with your current dog. But if you're determined, and you enjoy advancing your own skills to a very high level - it's certainly do-able in theory anyway. I mean, who am I to stick a pin in your or anyone else's dreams.

Realistically though, given your dog's previous history and your admittance of not being a great trainer yourself, I'd consider "scaling back" your goals to something more along the lines of an ESA or emotional support animal rather than a full-fledged Service Dog. You'll probably discover that she can provide you with a sufficient amount of comfort and relief as such, at least for some of your health issues, without bearing the heavier demands of training an actual service dog. However, you won't be granted any public access rights aside from airport / airplane privileges and exclusion from 'no pets' housing restrictions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X58iPcGh6ag

On the other hand. If having a true service dog is imperative, for all of the effort that's involved I'd recommend starting from scratch with a different dog, under the tutelage of a qualified SD trainer. A dog who is younger, more malleable, and one who has been specifically chosen for temperamental suitability. Be prepared to spend a substantial amount of time, money, and effort in both the selection and training processes.
 

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First things first. Get into a good positive reinforcement training class. You don't have the training chops to even teach her to focus less on food, you need help! Today try doggy zen. Hold food in fist and wait for her to stop trying to get it. Instant she stops open fist and let her have it. Bet in a few repetitions she will have it down. Then go online and look for a progression to take, this tiny behavior alone will take you far and give you loads of confidence in your ability to train a dog.

Both my dogs came from neglect, no idea if they were actively abused or not. Untreated flea allergy resulting in scabs and hair loss and unregulated food intake for one and standing mats and untrimmed nails on the other. He bites and no idea how the criminal lack of grooming ties in. The one with flea allergy would be a good service dog candidate for sure and at the advanced age of 9 is going through steps to be a therapy dog now but we could tell the day we got her that she was a well balanced charming dog that could go anywhere gracefully. The other one bites and is clearly not ever going to be more than safe out and about! Read your intro story and it seems she is doing really well. If she is no longer so afraid of things I think she is a candidate and definitely worth working with. Any dog you love is worth working with! My biter adores training and it has really helped calm him down and the other is over the moon when she gets to learn new things.
 
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