Training a Service Dog


By Megan Costanzo

Are you wanting to train your dog to be a service dog? Would you like to have a companion to share good times with you? Well, I have some good service dog training tips for you which I learned by training my own dog from scratch. Training involves lots of time and patience. Training a dog brings out the best in them and their purpose will shine. Ginger, my golden retriever, means everything to me and we have an inseparable bond.  

Ginger recently turned 4 years old. We got her together with her sister Cally, when they were 8 weeks old. It was night, and the two pups sat in the back of the car. They were a little scared, but we took care of them all the way home. Cally belonged to some friends who were on vacation. It was crazy chasing after them for two weeks!

We called them Ginger and Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. You couldn’t tell them apart, so we got two dog collars so we knew which one was Ginger. We got to know both dogs and their different personalities, but Ginger touched our hearts and we knew she was the one for us. Ginger is golden but her coat is more on the reddish side. A retriever loves to “retrieve” so she is ball crazed. She loves balls, fetching, chasing, and squeaking any ball she can find. Ginger is sweet and goofy. She likes to stand on the top of the stairs and look down at you, her ears perk up like she is waiting for you to come up. It is really cute! 

Ginger’s training began with the basics or the 7 Common commands sit, stay, down, come, off, heel, and no. The first simple skill we taught her was potty training. When she got old enough we took her to training classes at Petco and we also began working with a trainer at GoodDogma, where she learned to heel next to my chair. In the beginning we were not consistent with the training, so then it takes the dog longer to learn the commands. When Ginger gets too excited she would jump and start “play biting”. I would pet her over and over again trying to teach her that when she calms down and sits, then I will throw the ball or she can play with her toys.

I did research from one of the shows I liked called Puppy Prep. In one of the episodes they tell a story about a boy with a similar issue that I have. If this was to be one of Ginger’s skills, then I needed to start teaching her how to use it. This is how I learned about new skills, not only from Puppy Prep but also Lucky Dog. 

With all of our travels with Ginger, I learned that some people will just slip a vest on their dog and call it a service dog. It takes more time, energy, consistency and training. Ginger is an example of an emotional support service dog. Her main job is to help me during some doctor visits. Sometimes they have to draw blood or give shots. Having her leash in my hand, I tell her I need her help by squeezing and gently tugging. She stays right by my side, and lets me pet her calmly. I help her, and she helps me. 

Ginger is a great dog. Sometimes I call her “Gingee”. This is her special nickname we came up with and it just stuck. We do everything together. Our Ginger is definitely a family dog. She doesn’t like us apart, she wants everyone to be home, and is so happy when we are all together. Our bond is strong, lovable, and unbreakable. 

The bond a person has with their service dog is like always having a friend to help you in many ways. The companion dog helps their owners get through challenging situations. An emotional support dog will always know when you are sad and need them by your side. There are guide dogs that help the blind to get around. Other service dogs can help someone who is in a wheelchair and pick up things you drop, or to retrieve the phone, water bottle, a wallet and other important items. These talented service dogs can help you with your balance to walk or go down stairs. Service dogs are specially trained, and are a great strength in so many situations. They change their person’s life, and you change their life.

I help Ginger by loving her each day, taking her for walks, and throwing her the ball to fetch. We take her to the Vet, and this is her favorite place to visit. I also help Ginger with giving her a purpose, all dogs need a purpose.   

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