Is Your Dog Ready to Become a Working Dog?

What Traits Make a Good Working Dog?

How do you determine if your pup has what it takes to be a working dog? How can you nurture these traits in a puppy?

When people imagine a service dog, they often think of a dog that follows every command flawlessly. However, a truly effective service dog can’t always be directed constantly. They must independently recognize their human’s needs and respond accordingly. For instance, a diabetic alert dog wouldn’t be very helpful if it only responded to the owner’s direct command, “My blood sugar is changing, alert me now.”

Qualities of a Working Dog

Obedience isn’t the primary trait to focus on when searching for or training a working dog. While obedience, social manners, leash manners, and public access behaviors are vital, they aren’t the most critical qualities. These dogs need an extraordinary ability to read their human, a genuine love for their job, and a willingness to perform it repeatedly. They must sense their human’s needs before the human does and respond appropriately. Finding a suitable candidate for this role is truly an art. Equally important is the art of matching the right dog with the right person and training both effectively.

I evaluate litters every month and have observed thousands of puppies. Only a select few have that special something that can develop into a working dog.

Recognizing a Working Dog: Meet Roxy

Before diving into the traits of a working dog, let me share Roxy’s story. She was a special puppy that stood out in a crowd. I visited her litter several times and observed the puppies’ behaviors. On Puppy Assessment Day, I interacted with each pup. Roxy noticed me right away, didn’t jump on me, but walked up calmly, sat down, and looked at me deeply.

I ran a series of tests from the Volhard Aptitude Test: using treats, a metal spoon, a ball of foil, an umbrella, and a metal bowl. Roxy was calm, confident, and keenly aware of me. She made eye contact and was enthusiastic without being overbearing. She liked using her paws to touch me, and I knew she was special.

Roxy was matched with a little girl who had a habit of picking at her hands until they bled. We trained Roxy to use her paw to interrupt this behavior, cultivating her natural instincts.

Training a Working Dog

When a pup shows a tendency to nudge, use their paws, carry things, or focus on smells, I say YES to encouraging those behaviors. We shape desired behaviors and reward them. Even if a dog offers a skill at the wrong time, we never correct them. For example, if a dog likes to lean into me, it could be a potential touch or deep pressure skill. Correcting this behavior early could squash their willingness to provide touch.

We teach pups to be respectful of space and differentiate when certain skills should or shouldn’t be used. Early on, though, we focus on growing the desire. We expose pups to various surfaces, textures, sights, and sounds, encouraging problem-solving and confidence-building.

If a puppy gets stuck on the wrong side of a pole, I let them figure it out. When they do, we celebrate! We don’t solve every problem for them, allowing them to grow their confidence.

Dog trainer Maryna Ozuna emphasizes training dogs for “intelligent disobedience.” Imagine a dog in a down/stay command during their owner’s panic attack. The dog must break the command to assist with medicine and provide deep pressure therapy. Only special pups are suited for this, but proper foundation work is crucial for their development.

Say Hello to Jake: One of Our Service/Emotional Support Contenders

Jake is an outstanding candidate for service dog work or therapy work.  He is ready to pass ADI public access or therapy dog certification testing, aligning perfectly with the needs of his future home. His innate affinity for young people, coupled with his love for people, sets him apart as kind, gentle, and exceptionally eager to perform tasks. He is a proud product of Gail’s Doodles’ excellent breeding program, exemplifying what I fondly refer to as “Bernedoodle Magic.”  Jake’s demeanor is one of calmness, gentleness, and thoughtfulness, coupled with an eagerness to please. His training includes skills to interrupt self-harming behaviors, and DPT for anxiety, making him an ideal service dog contender Jake’s sweet nature extends to his mind, body, and soul, creating a connection with people that is both deep and affectionate. As he matures, he is sure to be a gentle, large dog, brimming with love and dash of playful fun! Make sure to check out our Trained Dogs for Sale page for more information!

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