How to Train a Service Dog for Pain

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Training a service dog for pain can be a difficult and time-consuming process, but it can be very beneficial for those with chronic pain conditions. Training should focus on teaching the dog certain signals or cues which will alert the handler when their symptoms are worsening, so that they can take steps to address it. Common potential signals used to alert owners include barking, pawing at them, placing its head in their lap or otherwise trying to gain attention. Service dogs who have been properly trained can recognize subtle changes in body language or physical sensations and respond appropriately—for example by curling up next to their owner or bringing them distraction items such as a toy. This type of training has been incredibly helpful for people with chronic pain as it allows them to plan ahead and anticipate changes in their symptoms.

For example, Laurel Combs is an Army veteran who relies on her service dog ‘Valaree’ to help her manage her chronic pain caused by an injury she sustained while serving overseas. Valaree was able to alert Laurel when she began experiencing more severe pain due to a change in her environment; this enabled Laurel to address it quickly and reduce lengthy bouts of suffering. Similarly, James Lanning is another person who benefits from having his service dog ‘Jazz’. Jazz alerts him when he is likely experiencing increased levels of pain through nudging his leg or cuddling up close against his stomach. He finds that Jazz’s warnings allow him to take medications ahead of time or implement other strategies he has been taught that provide relief from his discomfort.

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If you find that training a service dog for pain is appropriate, there are some specific steps you can take. Begin by discussing the need with your doctor and create an individualized plan to best suit the needs of both you and your service dog. Obtain any necessary medical clearance or documents related to using a service animal. Have realistic expectations and enlist a qualified, experienced trainer who understands pain conditions, medical needs, physical limitations, behaviors associated with pain and how to positively build a relationship between you and your service dog. It is important that you provide clear directions to the trainer on what behaviors you need from your service dog in order to help navigate your daily life with chronic pain. Setting up regular check-ins with the trainer will help ensure swift adjustment if the training is not going as planned. Finally, track results – review progress over time so that goals can be tweaked if needed or adjustments made accordingly to ensure that training is producing the desired outcomes for both you and your service dog.

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Include Resources

Books
• Service Dogs for Pain Management: A Practical Guide to Clinical Use by Melanie K. Dreher
• Dogs Helping Humans Heal: Training the Dog to Assist and Comfort Pain Sufferers by Ellen J. Pawlak
• Service Dog Training 101: How to Train a Service Dog for Medical Assistance and Mobility Support by Tia R Jones

Websites
• IAADP – International Association of Assistance Dog Partners: https://www.iaadp.org/types-of-assistance-dogs/service-dogs/pain/
• PAWS with a Cause: https://www.pawswithacause.org/service-dog-programs/mental-health-disabilities//painmanagement
• National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS): http://neads.org/injuredveterans1/service_dogs_for_pain_management.htm



Organizations
• Working Canines for Veterans (WC4V): https://www.workingcaninesforveterans.co m
• Support Dogs, Inc.: http://supportdogsinc.org/#!therapy-spinalcordinjury-html
• Canines4Hope: http://www.canines4hope.com

Stress Safety

Train in 10-Minute Intervals – service dogs should be trained in short 10-minute intervals to reduce stress. Before beginning the session, go over any new commands with the handler and explain why they are important to the task at hand. After each training session, give the dog time to relax.

Use Positive Reinforcement – use reward-based teaching strategies that focus on positive reinforcement such as treats or verbal praise when training a service dog for pain. Avoid punishing mistakes that your dog makes because this could create more anxiety and fear that could jeopardize the success of your training efforts.

Seek Professional Assistance – if you’re having difficulty with the process of training a service dog for pain management, consider seeking professional assistance from an experienced animal behaviorist or trainer who can provide you with guidance and advice pertaining to how you can approach teaching your dog specific skills related to their job.

Help Establish Routines – establish consistent routines to ensure success when working with service dogs for pain relief. For example, set specific times for meals, breaks, and training sessions so that your pet understands what is expected from them every day. Also make sure to use cues such as hand signals during every task so that they learn quickly and reliably while reducing confusion or frustration both you and your pet may feel during the learning process.

Giving Commands

When teaching commands to a service dog, it is important to be clear, consistent, and patient when giving the command. Speak slowly and in a loud voice; use the same word or phrase each time you give the same instruction. Use positive reinforcement such as verbal praise, petting, treats, etc., when the dog follows a command successfully. It is important to remember that repetition and consistency are key to successful training. It takes time for dogs to learn commands and associate them with certain behaviors. Start by simplifying one command at a time and practicing until your dog understands what you expect from them. When you feel your service dog has mastered a particular skill or command, move on to more difficult tasks associated with it until everything becomes second nature for both of you. Additionally, avoid using physical cues; using your hand gestures only when introducing commands can reduce confusion and make it easier for your dog to understand what you want them to do. Lastly, rewarding proper performance is an essential part of training any animal; providing praise after completing desired behaviors will encourage continued success in mastering the task.

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Training Environment

Creating an appropriate training environment for service dogs is key to their success in tasks associated with pain management. Ideally, the environment should be quiet and distraction-free, allowing both the handler and service dog to focus on the task at hand. Safe spaces indoors, such as a family member’s bedroom, are great options since they provide both privacy and visual cues that signify the space is meant for training. Outdoors, look for spaces away from traffic and foot traffic, such as a friend’s backyard or even open fields away from populated areas when weather permits. Additionally, if you ever need assistance during training sessions, your veterinarian or animal behaviorist can provide guidance on how to create a proper learning environment. Providing your service dog with a safe place to practice their skills is essential and will ultimately allow them to manage your pain more efficiently.



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