How to know your dog is ready for public access training and tackling anxiety.

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

One thing that sets assistance dogs aside from all other dogs is that their handlers have the right to take them into non pet friendly spaces. This is called a ‘reasonable accomodation’ and buisnesses and providers must do this to accomodate people with disabilities.

To meet providers and buisnesses requests we must insure that assistance dogs are trained to not cause a disruption and be focused on their handlers who they are working for.

Assistance dogs should be at stage 3 before entering a non-pet friendly location without permission. However, to begin its a good idea to find a place you're comfortable in and ask permission to train.

The minimum requirements for beginning public access training are:

Loose leash walk less than 0.5 meters from their handler

Refrain from sniffing

Can perform one task reliably in all environments

Must be well socialised with dogs, people and most objects

The environment you begin training in can be amended to your dogs strengths. For example, if your dog is particularly confident with loud noises but struggles with sniffing you could begin in a place such as a hardware shop.

There are plenty of shops that replicate the environment of a non-pet friendly shop such as John Lewis which is fantastic as it reduces the pressure for your dog to have a flawless training session.

What age is suitable? This is a decision the handler should make based on their own life situation (send me a message!).

The best ages are either 5-6 months or 16-18 months for dogs such as labradors. For other breeds 2 months before the beginning hormonal stage or 2 months after. These are two pockets of time that will make your chances of success greater. I do not recommend introducing a dog to public access between 7-14 months unless their hormones are particularly settled.

Tackling anxiety! I want to begin with a big message of this is normal. Taking your assistance dog in training into a non-pet place is likely out of your comfort zone especially if you have an anxiety disorder.

My tips for tackling this:

- Task train your dog to mitigate your anxiety as your first task

- Begin in a place you are very familiar with

- Take another person with you so you can focus entirely on your dog

- Go into the shop with no other goal but to train

- Use lead wraps like 'please ignore me' rather than just 'in training' to avoid questions

- Clearly label your dog

- Practice some common techniques like controlled breathing throughout the training session and use these to practice rewarding your dog for being calm in this environment

- Remember that your dog is taking their first steps into this environment. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you are treating them with

- Carry assistance dog law & information cards and make the most out of disability schemes in shops e.g. sunflower lanyards

- Use wild spirit for reassurance! Send me videos of your training and give yourself credit for your handling as well

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