15 Surprising Tips For Training Your Service Dog

Training a service dog isn’t easy. It takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work. We’ve all seen the videos on social media of dogs doing amazing things for their owners, but training them is not an easy process by any means.

In fact, I would say that training a service dog is one of the hardest things you can do in life! But with dedication and perseverance, anyone can train their own service dog it just takes some know-how. So here are my 15 tips for training your service dog:

Service Dog Training – Public Access Training Tips – Episode 1
Key Takeaways:
1. Start training as early as possible to build a strong foundation.
2. Ensure your service dog is well socialized and comfortable around people and other animals.
3. Use positive reinforcement techniques to train your service dog.
4. Be patient and consistent with training to achieve the best results.
5. Train your service dog to perform tasks that are specifically tailored to your needs.
6. Regularly schedule training sessions and practice tasks in various environments and situations.
7. Consider working with a professional trainer to help you and your service dog achieve your training goals.
8. Use treats and toys as rewards for your service dog to reinforce positive behavior.
9. Gradually increase your service dog’s workload as they become more comfortable with their tasks.
10. Be aware of your service dog’s needs and take breaks when necessary to avoid burnout.
11. Ensure your service dog is healthy and well-cared for with regular vet visits and exercise.
12. Teach your service dog to remain calm and focused in distracting environments.
13. Practice good communication with your service dog to strengthen your bond and understanding.
14. Know your legal rights and responsibilities as a service dog handler.
15. Enjoy the journey and the special bond you will share with your service dog.

Start Training Asap

One of the biggest mistakes that people make with their service dogs is not starting training as soon as possible. 

The longer a dog stays untrained, the more difficult it’s going to be for them to learn and perform tasks for you. In fact, most dogs need about 6 months of rigorous training before they’re ready for public use.

It’s also important that you remain consistent during this process because if your dog doesn’t know what to expect from you, then he won’t know how to respond appropriately when something happens in public.

Dogs have remarkable therapeutic abilities, and training a therapy dog requires patience, dedication, and hard work. If you’re interested in becoming a therapy dog trainer, check out our step-by-step guide on how to become a therapy dog trainer. We’ll walk you through the process, from getting started with basic obedience training to advanced therapy dog training techniques.

Allow The Puppy To Play And Relax

Think back to when you were a child, and your parents allowed you to play. They didn’t hover over you 24/7 telling you what to do and when. They let you be young, let you learn through play, and then put those lessons into practice later on in life. 

The same should hold true for your puppy or dog. Allow them time to play and relax throughout the day so that they can truly learn what it means to be a service animal.

In addition, if there are certain behaviors that need work like pulling on leash or barking at strangers then give yourself some time before progressing further with training so that these issues can be corrected before moving onto more complex commands like “sit” or “down”

Start By Teaching Basic Commands

A lot of dogs already have the basics down pat. If you have a puppy and are just getting started working on service dog training, consider starting with the following commands:




Come (or “here”)

Heel (or “let’s go”)

Beg (or “touch”)

Training a therapy dog requires a unique set of skills and training techniques. At Unified Paws, we’ve got you covered with our guide on the most effective training techniques for therapy dogs. From positive reinforcement to desensitization, we’ll teach you the most effective strategies to train your therapy dog and help him provide comfort and support to those in need.

Master Hand Signals First

Hand signals are the simplest and most effective solution for the handler who is deaf or hard of hearing. When you are in a noisy environment, your dog may not be able to hear you. 

Likewise, if you speak to him while wearing gloves or mittens, he’s likely unable to feel your hand movements as well. 

Hand signals also provide an alternative means of communication when one person is injured or incapacitated but can still give commands with their hands (e.g., when they have a broken arm).

It’s important that you master hand signals before expecting your dog to recognize them (and vice versa). 

If there aren’t any distractions around for example, if it’s just the two of you in an empty room try giving simple commands like sit, down or stay; then watch closely for his response as he tries following through with each one using only his body language and movements.

Hand Signals TechniquesBrands
Start with the basics: use clear, simple hand signals to train your service dog for commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come.”Starmark, Clik-R
Practice consistently and use repetition to strengthen your service dog’s understanding of hand signals.N/A
Build on basic commands and slowly introduce more complex signals for more advanced tasks.i-Click, Six-in-One
Use consistent body language and hand signals to communicate clearly with your service dog to avoid confusion.N/A
Avoid mixing verbal and nonverbal commands and focus on mastering hand signals before adding verbal commands.N/A

Make Your Dog Aware Of Distractions

Another tip for training your service dog is to be aware of the environment. If you’re going to be out in public, it’s important that you’re conscious of your dog’s reactions and distractions. 

Don’t let them get distracted by other dogs or people, and make sure they don’t eat any food that may have been left lying around. 

Similarly, if there are toys lying around like stuffed animals at a toy store don’t let your pup grab one when he sees it!

Think Ahead

It’s important to consider your future with your service dog in mind. While you may be excited about the possibility of having a dog that will help you out, it’s also important to consider how much time and effort will be required. 

You want this partnership to work out, so make sure you have ample opportunity for training and bonding before bringing home your new furry friend.

If you plan on training your service dog outside of class or group sessions, then make sure that you have the equipment necessary for training at home as well. 

This includes food bowls (or other feeding tools), leashes and collars (if needed), beds or mats for sleeping on during rest periods between training sessions – all depending on what kind of activities will be done inside versus outdoors throughout each day together!

Thinking Ahead TechniquesBrands
Plan ahead by anticipating what your service dog will need during training sessions, such as water, snacks, and a comfortable place to rest.Yeti, Ruffwear
Make sure you have all necessary training equipment on hand, such as a training pouch, clicker, and treats, before starting a training session.PetSafe, Starmark
Set achievable goals for each training session and have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.N/A
Prepare for potential distractions and work to gradually increase your service dog’s ability to focus and work through distractions.Treat&Train, FitPAWS
Schedule regular training sessions and set up a routine to ensure consistency and progress in training.Pawfect Training, New Skete

Don’t Use A Choke Chain Or Prong Collar

Choke chains, prong collars, and other corrective tools like electric shock collars are not only ineffective at changing behavior over time, they can cause pain to your dog. 

Rather than using a tool that causes pain to correct unwanted behaviors like pulling on leash or barking when you’re at the doorbell, use positive reinforcement techniques instead. 

You can try a harness or head collar (like a Gentle Leader) instead of a choke chain or prong collar; these training tools allow for greater communication with your dog by allowing him to pull less while walking on leash and/or redirect his focus from something he finds interesting by Turning His Head Towards You.

Keeping your home and family safe is a top priority, and a well-trained dog can be a valuable addition to your security system. Learn how to train your dog to protect your home and family with our ultimate guide on how to train your dog to protect your home and family. From teaching your dog to bark on command to guarding your home against potential threats, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know.

Always Praise Them, Even For The Little Things

You should always praise and reward your dog for good behavior, even if it’s just the smallest thing. Even though you may feel like they’re not doing anything right at the moment, remember that they are learning and growing every day. They need to know that any tiny bit of progress they make is worth celebrating!

Don’t punish mistakes, either—even if it’s something small or unintentional on their part. Remember: dogs learn much better through positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement (punishment).

It’s also important not to expect too much from them right away or be disappointed when they don’t understand something immediately. 

Just because we’ve been using our hands all our lives doesn’t mean that it comes naturally for someone else who has limbs of all different lengths and sizes! Give your pup time to adapt; he’ll get there eventually!

Reward Them With Kibble And Treats

Reward them with kibble and treats. A biscuit is always a great reward for good behavior, but you can also use kibble as a training tool to teach your dog new tricks. 

Once they’ve mastered the command “sit”, give them a piece of kibble as a reward—this will help reinforce the behavior in the future.

Reward them with praise and affection. Use praise words like “good boy!” or even better, petting and cuddles! If you’re having trouble coming up with more specific terms of endearment to use towards your service dog (it can be hard!), here are some suggestions:

  • Buddy
  • Buttercup
  • Cowboy
Kibble and Treats Reward TechniquesBrands
Use high-value treats such as freeze-dried liver, jerky, or cheese to reward your service dog for good behavior.Zuke’s, Blue Buffalo, Merrick
Utilize training treats that are small and easy to carry, allowing you to reward your service dog frequently during training sessions.Charlee Bear, Wellness
Mix up the types of treats you use to keep your service dog interested and motivated during training.PureBites, Greenies, Plato
Use kibble as a reward for basic commands during meal times to reinforce good behavior throughout the day.Hill’s Science Diet, Royal Canin
Experiment with homemade treats such as cooked chicken or beef, apples, or carrots, to provide a cost-effective and healthy reward option.Homemade

Take Frequent Potty Breaks

You will need to take your dog outside for potty breaks on a fairly regular basis. One of the most common mistakes people make is assuming that their dogs are house trained, when really they are just being taken out once or twice a day, often enough for the owner’s convenience. 

Unless you have a very large home and live alone in it, this is not an appropriate way to train your service dog. 

Your job as owner is to teach them where the appropriate place to relieve themselves is, so you should be able to take them out within 20 minutes of eating, drinking or playing (and again after resting).

If you’re giving your service dog proper training by taking frequent potty breaks and teaching him how and where he should relieve himself while working through tasks in real life situations at home or away from home then things will go much smoother than if he has free reign over his bathroom habits all day long!

Training a service dog is a complex process, and it’s normal to have a lot of questions. At Unified Paws, we’ve answered the most common questions about service dog training to help you better understand what goes into training a service dog. From choosing the right breed to handling public access challenges, we’ll walk you through the process so that you can be sure you’re doing everything you can to set your service dog up for success.

Use Distractions As A Reward

“Distractions, such as other dogs or people, can be used as a reward for good behavior,” she says. 

“I use them all the time to reward my service dog for sitting quietly when someone has approached us on a walk or to reward him when he’s sitting nicely in front of me while I’m shopping. If your dog is distracted by something and is no longer doing what you want him to do, this can be an opportunity to teach them how important it is to focus on you.”

The key here is making sure that you’re rewarding the right behavior. If your pup loves playing with other dogs and gets distracted every time one walks by, don’t punish him when he starts playing with another pup; instead reward him for turning around and coming back over to you (and then ask yourself why there are so many dogs everywhere). 

This tip works well in both urban areas where lots of distractions abound, as well as rural areas where fewer distractions exist but may still be at a distance from one another.

Distractions as Rewards TechniquesBrands
Use puzzle feeders and interactive toys to keep your service dog engaged and mentally stimulated during training sessions.KONG, Nina Ottosson
Incorporate play breaks into training to allow your service dog to let off steam and have fun.Chuckit!, iFetch
Take your service dog on occasional outings to new, exciting locations and use this as a reward for good behavior.Dog-friendly stores, parks, and events
Reward your service dog with praise, attention, and affection to reinforce good behavior and strengthen your bond.N/A
Allow your service dog to interact with other dogs in a controlled, supervised setting as a reward for good behavior.Dog parks, playgroups, and training classes

Teach Them To Respond To Multiple Handlers

Teach your dog to respond to multiple handlers. In case you have another handler, they will be able to help you with your service dog’s training.

  • The commands that should be trained include:
  • sit/stay (this is one of the most important commands)
  • down/stay (this command is useful in many situations, like when crossing streets or while on a walk)

Keep Your Training Sessions Short

  • Keep your training sessions short.
  • Don’t overdo it.
  • Don’t let the dog get bored.

Don’t train for too long. Your service dog’s enthusiasm is a great thing, but if you’re training with food rewards or games like fetch, this can create a problem if you do not set limits on how long he or she will play before returning to work and earning more rewards and worse yet, if the game becomes more fun than the actual task itself!

It can be easy to forget that dogs often learn better when they are focused on only one thing at a time rather than multitasking multiple activities (even trained as well as yours is) so keep things simple and brief until both of you feel confident working together smoothly in all sorts of situations–that way everyone wins: 

You get what needs doing done faster while also having fun thanks to a well-trained partner who knows how much effort goes into making sure everything runs smoothly!

Training a dog to be a service dog requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding experience. At Unified Paws, we’ve gathered expert advice on how to train your dog to be a service dog to give you the tips and tricks you need to succeed. From choosing the right dog to training for specific tasks, our guide has everything you need to know to turn your dog into a reliable and effective service animal.

Never Punish Mistakes

  • Never punish mistakes.
  • Avoid negative reinforcement.
  • Don’t yell at your dog or hit it if it makes a mistake.
  • If you’re angry at the dog, take some time to cool off before training again. The same goes for withholding food or water as punishment for bad behavior—don’t do this!


Congratulations on your new service dog! Being able to train a service dog is a huge responsibility, but one that you can handle with the tips we’ve shared. 

By following these 15 tips for training your service dog and being consistent with your training sessions, you’ll be able to start mastering commands in no time.

Further Reading

Here are some additional articles on service dog training and surprising tricks that service animals can do:

15 Surprising Tricks Service Animals Can Do: This article lists 15 unexpected tasks that service animals can perform to assist their handlers.

Tips on How to Train Your Own Service Dog: This blog post provides tips and guidance for individuals interested in training their own service dogs.

Service Dog Training Basics: This article provides an overview of the basics of service dog training and what to expect during the training process.


How long does it take to train a service dog?

The length of time it takes to train a service dog varies depending on a number of factors, such as the dog’s breed, age, temperament, and the tasks it needs to perform. On average, it can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to fully train a service dog.

What tasks can a service dog perform?

Service dogs are trained to perform a wide range of tasks to assist their handlers with disabilities. Some common tasks include retrieving objects, opening doors, turning on lights, alerting to sounds or potential seizures, and providing physical stability and balance support.

Can I train my own service dog?

Yes, it is possible to train your own service dog. However, it requires a significant amount of time, effort, and dedication, as well as knowledge of specific training techniques and requirements. It may be helpful to work with a professional trainer or attend a specific service dog training program.

What breeds make good service dogs?

Any breed of dog can potentially make a good service dog, but some breeds are more commonly used due to their temperament, intelligence, and physical abilities. Some common service dog breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and German Shepherds.

What is the difference between a service dog and a therapy dog?

A service dog is trained to perform specific tasks and assist their handler with a disability. They are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are allowed to accompany their handler in public places. A therapy dog, on the other hand, is trained to provide comfort and emotional support to people in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. They are not protected under the ADA and do not have the same public access rights as service dogs.