Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

A Service Dog in Training: Week 1


Standard PoodleThe story here is that my dear friend has had a stroke so I have her Standard Poodle, Harry, while she recovers. While he’s here, he’ll be my service dog in training. How far we’ll get I do not yet know, I do know we’ll have fun working together.

Week One

Goals for the first week: To let him settle in, get to know him, explore his car sickness, start a few skills, and begin broadening his socialization.


Who is he? As is typical of his breed, he’s bright and willing. He’s also an incredibly sensitive soul with a history of some bad handling/abuse. He’s a rescue who gets anxious with any new sort of training or communication; expecting, it seems, for it to all end badly for him. I look forward to reworking that with him.

Car sickness: It’s taken me the week to get him to even walk toward the car willingly. This I accomplished with pressure/release work. Light, matching pressure when he balked followed by instant release and praise as we moved away when he moved one toe toward. Repeat a couple of times a session then stop. Today he walked on a slack leash, relaxed and happy to the car and… hopped in! Atta boy, Harry!

From here on out, the car is where I will do massage on him. He’s pro massage. He did not start to drool, pace, or tense up. After a few minutes of body work he sat up to sniff around the car a bit. Curiosity and stress can’t exist at the same time so that sniffing is a good sign.

Skill Building. We’ve started Take It, since picking things up may be one of his important skills. Doing it right, especially with a sensitive dog, takes as long as it takes. I won’t rush him. My approach (which I think is John Rogerson’s) is to calmly, gently place an item in his mouth, praise him warmly as he holds it – go quiet when he spits it out – and repeat. I’ll keep you posted.

Socialization. He’s had limited experience out in the world. We walked up to my local dog-friendly bank this week; inside he looked like a kid at Disney world so I know we have a lot of ground to cover here. If he were a less solid guy, I would be concerned, but his happy outlook makes me optimistic about his potential. We’ll see.

Until next week – Sarah and Harry


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