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It depends what you understand each term to mean. Isn't it just semantics between words?

Unfortunately not. If you understand that dominance is a term that describes the personality of a dog and 
assertive is a collection of behaviors that described how a dog is behaving them you are going to interpret the dog's actions differently and respond differently. And a dog's social structure, just like humans, is not that simple.

Many people associate the term dominance with a hierarchical social structure, one that relies on a vertical hiearchy. Their understanding is there is an "alpha" dog and a "beta" dog. The "alpha" dog is dominant over the "beta" dog for all things in life and so on down to an "omega" dog at the bottom of the hierarchy. The same way the human military is structured. General, Colonel, Captain down to Private. The lower ranks must abide by the rules of the higher ones, even if they are arbitrary, as the assumption is that the higher ranks know what is best for the entire group. Military structure exists in situations where one group of people band together to prevent others from taking something away, like during war. 

With this way of thinking, the dog is always trying to rise up a social ladder and get control. And therefore you always have to be on guard because the dog is always trying to get a higher social standing than other dogs or their human. The tendency towards using violence in such a social structure is common due to high arousal. They have to be to be on guard at all times for the possible challenge from individuals lower down in the hierarchy.

War is a very extreme behavior among the same species and not normal behavior for animals at all. It occurs in less than 5% of normal social situations. Hence 95% of the time, the social mammals go out of their way to avoid conflict and have developed and learn from others very intricate behaviors to avoid damaging conflict.
Maintaining possession of a territory (piece of land) as an example is generally done is many subtle ways long before any physical interaction occurs.

The very regular presence of an animal in an area, using chemical communication like droppings and urine placed at regular intervals keeps other members of the same species from lingering. Even if they see each other at a distance, there is much posturing done.The posturing allows them to assess each other without risking injury. The less assertive animal can simply move away. As they get closer to each other or accidentally find themselves too close for comfort, there are more subtle behaviors that keep the peace and tell each other there is no need for alarm. "I am no threat." And during close social contact, there are still other behaviors that can help smooth over social fauxpauxs or misinterpretations.

Typically, when arousal level is high is when we see animals acting "dominant" in a situation over a resource. The arousal may be triggered by the fear of loss of the resource (or in humans feeling inferior, embarrassed and other emotions). It is often these very emotions and the chemicals triggered by them that can lead to aggressive behaviors and a loss of social self-control. 

Demonstrations of dominance behavior and aggressive tendencies tend to be more common among non-social species who rarely interact with others of the same species. In general, they have higher overall levels of chemicals in their bodies related to aggression (vasopressin, testosterone) and lower levels of social calming chemicals (serotonin, and oxytocin etc).

During mating season is the most common place to see dominance behavior in mammals. The chemical communication draws in several males who find themselves in close proximity wanting the same resource. Arousal levels are high due to the potential for mating with the female. The female is a resource that needs to be protected by the male that is most capable of keeping the other males away. More chemical communication. Remember that mating occurs only once a year in most medium and larger wild mammals (with the exception of rodents, rabbits and some marsupials who can breed several times a year, providing the right conditions exist.)

The level of testosterone can affect how individuals relate to each other. We know that when we see the effect of steriods on weightlifters. 

A dog that is perceived as assertive displays a collection of behaviors that show he is standing up for his own welfare without being aggressive with other dogs. He is only responding to a real threat and tends not to respond to all potential loss of a resource. For example, a dog that allows another smaller or younger dog to eat food out of his dish but who could easily win during a conflict between the two. Dogs that are confident in themselves do not need to show threatening displays (like a high tail or chin over shoulder) to get what they want. They use calm body language and respond to other's communication. They are often seen as the amicable ones. 

Recent science has highlighted that dominance exists but occurs when one dog values one resource more than another dog and is willing to take risks to keep that resource. So for example, a dog that guards his food from another dog highly values that food and is willing to risk injury to keep it. A dog that protects his sleeping space is being dominant in that situation. The interesting thing is that functional well-socialized dogs have fluid social structure where they try to avoid conflict because conflict is dangerous at a biological level. They may start out resource guarding against another dog, but when they learn to trust that the other dog doesn't want the food as much as they do and are willing to respect the first dog's need for the food (and will have their needs taken care by their humans) then they no longer feel the need to protect it against that dog. 

Dogs that exhibit true dominance are actually worried about losing something. If you have a dog that is demonstrating he is willing to take a risk in getting hurt for many things, you actually have an insecure dog, poorly socialized dog or a traumatized dog. Dogs with these characteristics do not make good service or assistance dogs. 

 

Recently, I had an email question that I thought would be helpful for others to read that answer to. 

"I am writing to inquire it be ideal to train two young pups as service dogs together. There are two members of my family who could each benefit one. The breeder/trainer/rescue involved suggested we wait to get a second pup, rather than taking two home at once."
I am in agreement with the breeder/trainer/rescue.
 
Firstly, two pups together can be a crazy-making situation! With any pup, the socialization with other people, dogs and environments is key. Toting two growing pups and their equipment around is more than double the workload of one, especially if there is only one person able to do the training! If one or both of you have disabilities, that adds too much on top of the already challenging situation you are dealing with. 

Secondly, having two pups close together in age can create problems with bonding issues with their people unless there is a significant effort to train separately. Typically it’s called “littermate syndrome” where they get so bonded that the humans get squeezed out of the equation. Separation anxiety from the other dog, as well as not being able to train without the other dog present, or relying on the other dog for guidance are all common issues seen. I myself always have gotten dogs that were about 14-18 mos apart. By that time the older dog has a strong bond with their person or people and the pup sees that and usually chooses to bond with the other person. It also helps you to choose a temperament that suits the first dog so they get along. For example, Jessie was very careful about the dogs she plays with and Lucy is perfect in that she always gives Jessie the space and time she needs and goes out of her way to avoid conflict. 

Thirdly, If you or your family member get sick or are unable to continue the socialization during critical periods or can't afford to hire someone else to continue the process, then you have only one dog to do catch up with, not two. 

There are other benefits as well. Once you have learned to train the first dog, training the second one comes easier and the handler/family makes fewer mistakes so general training tends to go faster. Of course, each dog has their own challenges. You learn how to create and what daily structure/environment works for all of you. Puppies tend to fit into those quickly when there are older dogs in the house.The older dog often models the behaviors you want the puppy to do as well (assuming he doesn’t have too many unwanted behaviors. LOL!)

So there are many valid reasons to wait to get the second service dog candidate pup!

Click Here to see Part B

C. Not Having a Support System for Themselves to Help Meet the Dog's Daily Needs and Training 

A key point is that any person who is helping you with your service dog must have the same approach to training that you do, or at least agree to handle your dog in the same way you do. If for example, you use positive reinforcement, and a helper handles your dog in a stress environment, they will not have the skills that you do and may set your dog way back in training by using methods or tools that you have not agreed to. This applies to groomers, dog walkers, veterinarians, the handlers caregivers and any other people involved in your dog's care. It is best to have more people on your team since at times, not all of them will be available. Always have a back-up!

You will need: 
1. Someone to make sure the dog's daily needs are met if you are not able to do this or become incapacitated for more than a day or so: feeding, pottying, exercise, play, social etc. This may cost extra money. 
2. Someone who will be a training helper and create distractions while proofing training. 
3. Transportation provider to move you and the dog where you need to go both for daily living and for training purposes.
4. People you can borrow training props form or who can make you training props. 
5. Veterinarian (your dog's health care provider)
6. Groomer (if needed)
7. Your mental and physical health care providers (who are they and what role will they play?)

Did you make any of these mistakes? It's time to fix them!

Click here to see Part A

 

Click Here to See Part A

B. Choosing the Wrong Dog for the Job

Owner-trainers need to start out with a dog with the most solid temperament and health that they can find. Starting with anything less decreases their chance of success. 
1. Choose a dog with a known genetic and behavioral history. Find a quality breeder for a pup or for an adult dog that has been returned to a breeder or a retired conformation dog the breeder is looking to retire.
Behavior issues related to temperament are the most common reason a dog is removed from training for public access. Look for a dog with friendly, biddable and bombproof parents. Look for a dog that was raised in a home environment with attention to socialization with people of all ages and other friendly known dogs. Environmental enrichment for the puppies to grow the little brains before you start working with them. Health tests on the parents. 
2. Health issues. When adopting an adult dog, have that dog screened for health issues common to the breed at 2 years of age. That way there won't be surprises down the road where you have to retire the dog early. If you are getting a pup, make sure the parents have been screened and passed for the same health tests by recognized bodies, not just any veterinarian taking a passing look at the dog. 
3. It can take screening as many as 400 shelter or rescue dogs to find one that has suitable health and temperament for a service dog. These usually have an unknown gestation and health history. Avoid adding a rehabilitation project to your list of jobs and costs. 
4. Be especially careful to choose an emotionally sound dog that is emotionally resilient or physically insensitive if you are training your dog for anxiety or PTSD. For these, it is recommended to start with a dog that is at least 18 mos of age so you can see the dog's temperament. 
Alternatively, consider asking a friend or family to raise a puppy to that age for you. Pups exposed at a young age to people with anxiety tend to either become supersensitized or learn to ignore the anxiety or PTSD unless (and sometimes even if) they have a bombproof temperament. Herding breeds tend towards sound sensitivity. That's why the three most common assistance dog breeds are golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and standard poodles. As a breed, they tend to be emotionally and sound insensitive and physically robust and resilient. They are also the most commonly available breeds so you have the best chance to find Lgood example of the breed.

Click here to see Part C

There are three mistakes that owner-trainers of assistance dogs commonly make when training their own service dogs for public access.

A. Not Setting Aside or Fundraising Enough Money before they start the process.

While owner training can be cheaper than program trained dogs, especially if you happen to be a professional trainer, the training ends up costing more that the person thinks. It is a good idea to have $3000-$6000 set aside before you start so you are not under the pressure which causes you stress or have to delay training while you fundraise more money. The lower end would be for starting with an adult dog, the higher end with a puppy. 

Parts of Training Not Often Considered that Cost Money:
1. Time to make a realistic plan with the guidance of a knowledgeable service dog trainer, tailered for their specific needs.
2. Owner-trainers are not likely to have the knowledge of training dogs to take the dog to a high enough level to be reliable for public access. That costs money to learn whether it's online or inperson coaching.
3. Getting guidance from a trainer privately or even in semi-private sesssions isn't cheap. Rates vary from $40 to $150 per hour, depending on where they are.
4. Group classes help the dog to learn to work with them despite the distraction of other people and dogs. Plan for at least 4 setsof 6 classes over 2 years for a pup.
5. Testing for progress. Tests such as the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test, the Urban Citizen Dog etc are great indicators of what you need to work on. They typically cost $25 each. 
6. Speciaized training such as scent training for diabetic alerts, gluton alerts, and other task training. 
7. Access to locations and transportation for specialized public access training. Costs for arranging and reserving use of specialized services need to be covered by the owners.  
8. Serious behavioral problems arise that the owner need professional help to solve. This can cost much money!
9. Independent testing for public access is key to prove that your dog demonstrates the required safe controlled behavior in public. Some juridictions require standardized testing provided by province or country. This may cost $200 plus transportation to the tester or to bring the tester to you. 
10. Purchase price of the dog. 

When the handler runs out of money, the training stalls and the dog is left in limbo. This may happen during critical socialization and fear periods, in adolescence and during public access and task training. This will set the dog back in training and can signicantly slow the training process.

Click here to see Part B


 

When travelling by air you can prepare your service dog ahead of time to reduce the stress for you both. Airline travel is not suitable for dogs that are anxious, do not like small spaces, crowds or are sound-sensitive.

Specific Basic Skills Dog needs:

  • allowing self to be patted down by security staff which may include use of the wand. (Alternatively, taking off all harnesses etc., that may contain metal and pass through the metal detector on her own)
  • pee and potty promptly on cue (ideally on a variety of surfaces and over a grate) (Can also carry potty pads or child diapers for emergencies. Easy clean-up and disposal.)
  • walking down enclosed moving boarding tubes/ramps with gaps to the outside. Stepping over them can be scary for some dogs.
  • curl up in tight spaces for long periods of time (start shaping the dog to go into a box then a round space such as laundry basket)
  • ignore other people eating off trays in close proximity
  • recognize that a familiar mat means calm relaxed behaviour
  • be comfortable with the sound of pop cans being opened nearby
  • stay calm in the presence of loud roaring sounds and vibrations
  • ignore the 'ding dong' sounds of the stewards making announcements
  • teach dog to follow a chin rest or nose target so you can walk dog naked through metal detector rather than be patted down with gear on.
  • can wear mutt muffs for at least for take off and landing (sound is louder then)
  • ignore other poorly-behaved dogs that may be in the terminal or loading on the plane (if disruptive or aggressive behavior is shown,  growling, barking or jumping up, the dog may have to travel as a pet in cargo)

 

Here are some tips:

  • Practice a variety of modes of transport that mimic different aspects of plane travel (elevator for air pockets, laying on bus floors for vibrations, train travel for tight spaces. etc.).
  • Practice in a local airport before ever getting on a plane
  • Do shorter practice runs if you plan on traveling for long trips especially with layovers.
  • Don't count on having enough time to potty your dog outdoors between plane changes (training the dog to pee on pee pads or in floor grates is handy at airports).
  • Take toys and treats for long trips so you can break up long stationary periods.
  • Teach simple tricks or games that can be done in a small space (nose target, 4 foot paw lifts, retrieve keys etc)
  • Carry a familiar mat with you so the dog has a place all his own.
  • Practice staying in small spaces for increasingly longer time periods (Place a couch or chair facing a wall to mimic the space under and in front of an airline chair).
  • Learn to read your dog to watch for signs of stress and knowledge of low key ways of relieving that stress (such as chewing a bone or toy on take off, playing a gentle tug game, using a massage, etc.)
  • Pack a clean up kit: disposable baby diaper, paper towels and wet towelettes to do clean ups.
  • Make sure you have all required documents
  • Read each airlines guidelines for service dogs on their website to make sure you notify them in the amount of time they request and that your dog qualifies as a service dog
  • Carry your medication on you, not in the dogs vest or pack
  • Prepare for other dogs and kids in your dog's personal space
  • during Covid19 there may be groups of uniformed men and women in the airport. Make sure your dog is socialized to people in uniforms before you go.

    Here is a link to guidelines airlines in Canada must follow for service dogs at check gates. They have a descriptive section for how huch space each dog needs to be given by size of dog. 

    Think about if or not you want to restrict food before flying if your dog has a queasy stomach at all. 12-24 hours may be recommended depending on how long the flight is. Take some ginger with you if he has a queasy stomach or you hit some air pockets.


    Haley Mauldin shared her first experience flying with her SD. Here is what she wrote!

I thought I would share some of my experiences from flying for the first time with my SD. Other people’s posts about this had really helped me so I thought I would add!

Things I did to Prepare:
• Played youtube videos of planes taking off through the speakers in the car (good way to get them used to how loud the plane is especially during take-off and landing).
• Did a lot of tuck practice in small spaces.
• Practiced putting Morgan in a sit wait (I use a wait command and a stay command depending on the situation), walked away from him, then stopped, turned around, and called him to me immediately into a sit stay. We did this with a lot of distractions.
• Use the bathroom on command.

Our Experience:
• I flew Southwest, when I bought the ticket I said I was flying with a trained assistance animal, I had no trouble at the counter and didn’t get asked for anything (I was, however, using Morgan’s pull strap due to a recent dizzy spell so I think they assumed he was a SD not an ESA).
• Went on Morgan’s first shuttle thing through the airport, something we hadn’t really prepared for but he did fine.
• When we got to security we went through a different line a little ahead of everyone because they had a working bomb sniffing dog and didn’t want him to get distracted by Morgan.
• We went through the metal detector separately. Really glad we practiced in highly stimulating environments because there were two ESAs losing their minds over Morgan just on the other side of the metal detector.
• I went through and they swabbed my hands then had me call Morgan through but I couldn’t take his leash until they had the results from the swabbing so it was good that we had practiced him coming to me and immediately sitting.
• I didn’t take his vest off when we went through but wish we had because Morgan carries two sets of medications of mine in his vest and they had to pull them out of his vest and examine them, in the future I will just take his vest off and send it through the scanner.
• On the other side of security we ran into the two ESAs on flexi leashes that were barking and running up to Morgan and one started snapping at Morgan so I switched sides with Morgan and body blocked them from Morgan (he did great ignoring them).
• My flight ended up getting delayed an extra hour because of a storm over the airport. All in all Morgan ended up going nine and a half hours without a bathroom break. The morning we flew I only gave him his breakfast and let him drink water until about noon (we got to the airport at 4:00pm). I’m really glad I didn’t feed him after that. On the plane I gave him a little water and some of his kibble to tide him over.
• We loaded onto the plane after those in wheelchairs and were given bulkhead seating. Thinking back on it I’m really glad we took the bulkhead seating as it allowed Morgan to do paws up DPT while we were flying which I don’t think he would have been able to do in a regular seat. He, however, wasn’t too fond of not being able to tuck under but it ended up working!
• I brought his small dog bed that rolls up for him to lay on (I use it when we go to class so he knows exactly where to go).
• When it came time for takeoff Morgan checked in with me a few times and I gave him a little kibble to get his jaw moving to try to help with the pressure changes in his ears just to be safe.
• He checked in a few times with me at first but then relaxed. 
• When it came time to get drinks I got ice water and gave Morgan a couple of ice cubes (he loves them) which I felt he deserved and was a good way to give him water without having to worry about spilling.
• The one thing I wish I had done a little more exposure with was the opening of soda cans. I don’t drink much soda so Morgan wasn’t really familiar with the sound and they were opening all of the cans on the other side of the thin wall right in front of where he was laying. He was fine but a bit confused at first so something we are going to work on.
• Morgan did a few alerts and DPT during the flight and then really just slept the rest of the time. I brought his sweater but didn’t end up using it.
• All in all the flight ended up being almost six hours with around nine and a half hours between the plane and airport. 
• Got the usual comments about “what’s wrong with you?” “Who trains pitbulls to be service dogs?” “Are you blind?” “Who are you training him for?” But I have my canned responses so I just used those and moved on.

 
Thanks for sharing Haley!
If you are travelling with your service dog, there are some things you need to consider:


1. Availability of your dog's regular food in the location you are visiting. Check ahead to see if the same suppliers are located where you intend to travel. If not, who does supply your brand and where are they located in relation to where you are staying? If you feed raw, find out where pet stores, butcher shops and grocery stores that supply your type of meat are at your destination. Use your regular treats, as treats your dog has not eaten before may cause digestive upset.


2. Keep the food (and treats) in its original bag so you have an ingredients list to refer to if you find you have to do an emergency food switch due to no supply. Try to match the list as closely as possible.


3. Crossing Borders: if you are crossing international borders, be aware that different countries have different laws regarding what pet and human foods they will allow in. And find out what Canada will allow back in as well. Do your research before you travel. If going into the US from Canada, for example, kibble and treats that are not in their original bag will most likely be confiscated and thrown out. Anything with beef in it that is made in Canada (or any country other than Canada) will be confiscated. US brands that have been imported into Canada are usually exempt. (i.e. if they recognize it as a product originating in the US, they are more lenient.) In any case, it's a good idea to check into #1 above in case they take it from you.


4. Train your dog to eat a variety of foods at home so he can eat them if you run out while away from home. For example, if you run out of food at your destination and it will be longer than the dog missing one meal, it may safer as well as more convenient to cook up some ground beef or chicken breast with rice or oatmeal and feed that for a few meals to tide the dog over. Working dogs should not be skipping meals as they rely on the energy to keep working both mentally and physically. If the dog has eaten these foods before, he shouldn't suffer digestive upset. Staying in a hotel with a dog who has diarrhea is no fun and can cost you money for clean-up. And you may not be able to tell if he's picked up a bug or eaten something he shouldn't have.


5. If you feed raw, and are crossing an international border, consider switching back to kibble or canned for convenience. Fresh meat, fruits, and veggies in any form are not allowed to be taken across most borders. Some forms may be allowed but look into the details (dehydrated, canned, processed, etc). The quality and safeness of raw meat (additives such as salt, dyes, hormones, antibiotics, and parasites) in another country may come into question, depending on where you travel.


Keep these tips in mind and you will enjoy your trip, knowing your dog can eat safe, familiar food.

 

Here is a great post on enrichment ideas for young puppies. It can be a challenge at some times of the year and in various locations to get the puppies out and about, or for some people training their own Service Dog to get out, so here is a great idea to start introducing different textures, sounds and movement at a young age.

http://www.avidog.com/articles/oh-what-fun-avidogs-adventure-box/

Since I've had several question about raising Service Dog puppies recently, here's a list of things to make sure your breeder does, in addition to the Early Neurological Stimulation Program:

General socializing: the Rule of 7s:

By the time a puppy is seven weeks old, he/she should have:

1. Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl,
grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips, etc....

2. Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft
fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper or cardboard items, metal items,
sticks, hose pieces, etc....

3. Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen,
car, garage, laundry room, bathroom, crate, etc.....

4. Met and played with 7 new people: include children and older adults...

5. Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, go through a tunnel, climb
steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go in and out of
a doorway with a step up or down, run around a fence, etc....

6. Eaten from 7 different containers: metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, china,
pie plate, frying pan, etc....

7. Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, yard, basement, laundry room, living
room, bathroom, etc...

Source unknown

Not all labs are equal.

Temperament and health problems are linked to the genetics of the 'silver' labs.
https://notosilverlabs.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/the-dilute-gene-in-labrador-retrievers-health-problems/

Interestingly, the few I have met locally all have had either skin issues or been over reactive dogs. Are you willing to put that much time and energy into a dog with health and temperament issues that may not make the grade as a service dog?

Do you research before you make your selection. Genetics are important!

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