JLS Dalmatians
  Dalmatian Guide Dogs in Training  

Article by Christi, © 2007

JLS Dori Hartleys Crying Sky CGC TDI (L)

JLS All Decked Out x Ch JLS Shades Of The Past

JLS Donna Summer Bar None (L)

Ebony and Christi...Love at first sight!
BISS Ch JLS Just A Fig Newton (L) x Ch Snow Hill Mad Season


Jinx [JLS DORI HARTLEYS CRYING SKY CGC, TDI] demonstrated excellent understanding of Guide Dog task training from an early age and proved a willing pupil. He has been a delight to train. He worked hard in his obedience courses, and passed his CGC to unanimous praise. He actually earned the more difficult TDI certification first, acing that test easily. He has taken some review courses to enhance his attentiveness, and will continue to practice advanced skills. Jinx has successfully completed most phases of formal Guide Dog training, has begun light work with supervision as a Guide Dog and will soon graduate to become my working Dalmatian Guide Dog. He's currently learning simple retrieval tasks as well. In his spare time, Jinx enjoys workouts on his treadmill and romping with his cousin, Ebony; moonlighting occasionally in the AKC obedience-ring.


Ebony [JLS DONNA SUMMER BAR NONE] was chosen for her stellar temperament to also become my Guide Dog. She has been a phenomenal puppy to play with and raise. Her attitude says "I can do anything you ask of me, just show me how!" Ebony is a star student and very smart! She graduated from Puppy Kindergarten class, and has nearly completed her basic obedience, at which she has excelled. She has begun Guide Dog task training [consisting of putting word cues together with obedience moves such as turns] at entry level, and her sheer enthusiasm for training, as well as her remarkable focus, is breath-taking. She will continue on to intermediate and advanced obedience classes in the Spring and Summer of 2008 before continuing with Guide Dog training. We anticipate great things, so watch for more to come!

JESTER ~ The name says it all...  

Jester [JESTER SUMMER DAYLIGHT DD, TDI] is our resident comic-relief specialist! He's a long-hair, chocolate & tan double dapple dachshund adoptee [neutered] who earned his TDI as a four-year-old despite being a vision-impaired uni! Both Jinx and Ebony adore him. Jester's job is as my scribe; he "narrates" articles, filling Julia's email box to overflowing! This is our little angel.

A special Thank-You goes to Julia and Marjorie Soukup for all their hard work and true dedication to breeding superb-quality Dalmatians with the heart, drive, temperament and soundness to do it all. This would not have been possible without you. Thank you for changing my life by honoring me with two beautiful JLS Dalmatians. The best is yet to come!

~ Christi

A huge Thank You to Christi for all of her hard work, determination, patience and sheer willpower combined with the gift to train. You have made it possible for JLS to have produced TWO future Guide Dogs! You are amazing and thank you for giving my dogs the opportunity to live up to their full potential.

~ Julia Soukup

SDC - Service Dog Candidate
SDiT - Service Dog in Training
SD - Service Dog
OT - Owner-Trained
GDiT - Guide Dog in Training
GD - Guide Dog
MD - Mobility Dog
TD - Therapy Dog
iT - in Training
Service Dog is a blanket term that encompasses many types of assistance dog. Qualified, working Service Dogs have Public Access rights protected under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA]. To be a Service Dog, a dog must at minimum be an adult dog, have a CGC, demonstrate reliable basic obedience skills, and be health-screened [for conditions common to the breed as well as general soundness of systems that dog will be expected to use in his job]. A Service Dog is task trained to mitigate the disability of his human partner. These tasks are disability-specific and are specified under the ADA. Some Service Dogs are task-trained as adult dogs; others are chosen as puppies and raised with a future career in mind.
The Service Dog begins as a SDC, or Service Dog Candidate. He remains a candidate until he has reached an approximate age of at least 7 months or older, has mastered basic house manners, learned to eliminate on voice command, been socialized thoroughly, passed a puppy class and a basic obedience course. At this time, he will be further evaluated, health screens done or scheduled, and training plans can be made. Socialization and reinforcement of basic obedience training continues as he matures, and he starts task-training.

He then generally becomes a Service Dog in Training, or SDiT, provided he continues to succeed. For a candidate who began this process as a puppy, its fairly common for task training to be completed by about aged one year, because this is one of the easiest parts to teach a Service Dog, and 7 to 11 months is an ideal age at which to teach such skills. Task training continues until completed [some trainers may say its never really done!] and it can be refined further later. The SDiT also focuses more on solid basic obedience as task-training is integrated with his foundation training to his particular job, and he is progressively exposed to busier environments.

He is tested repeatedly on his manners with other dogs and with an assortment of people in a variety of places; any problematic areas are assessed and addressed in training. He learns to focus on his handler as his attention span develops or increases. Typically, this is the longest phase of the process. He takes at least one more, intermediate or advanced obedience course, perhaps several of them if the trainer wishes to concentrate on particular skills. He will take and pass the CGC, sometimes get Therapy Dog certification, and generally rack up obedience experience in group and real-world settings. He has begun to master grooming and handling manners, continues to practice learned skills; and is beginning to show his personality and potential. Puppies are like caterpillars: You don't quite know who they are until the butterfly emerges!

As the process escalates in intensity with added hours in training, assessments, tests and evaluations are stepped up, and criterion for continuing becomes more stringent. The intermediate SDiT can be introduced to preliminary Public Access by visiting places who welcome leashed pets, such as pet and feed stores; this should have begun with puppy socialization, but it continues at a higher level with the SDiT being asked to perform basic or intermediate obedience and/or some task training in these environments, with gradually escalated distractions. Dog show experience is a plus, especially in obedience; and socialization practice continues. Emphasis sweeps between maintaining core skills, sharpening these skills, and systematically adding new skills with greater complexity across the board.

All this is carefully balanced by the trainer who also must protect the young dog from negative experiences at critical points, continue to progressively expose him to more challenging environments, and monitor his growth and health. He also gets a great deal of interactive play-time to offset the intensity of his training and bond with his partner and/or trainer. The dog tells his trainer when he's ready for more; the trainer must be able to read the dog accurately, keep his interest and enthusiasm, work on effective communication, plan toward the bigger picture and break sessions and tasks into attainable increments, setting the dog up to succeed.

The final phase of SDiT is distraction-proofing, or learning to focus on the handler in any situation in very busy environs. Again, this started with puppy socialization as the pup was exposed to many different things, people and places; the pup was briefly exposed in a casual manner, the new SDiT is exposed and asked for fundamental obedience, whereas the SDiT about to "graduate" may be exposed and asked for advanced obedience or to perform tasks chained together in sequence. This phase doesn't ever actually end, as the Service Dog must stay solid in these areas; this happens by repeated exposure over long duration.

An example of socialization and proofing in different stages might look something like this: At a public playground, the puppy [socialization] is walked at a distance from the mildly busy area, where he is unconcerned, for only a few brief minutes. He is gradually brought closer and given treats by the kids as he becomes more comfortable, or if he is already really friendly, he goes up to them briefly then leaves to play with his handler. The beginner SDiT might be asked to walk at heel past several people, he may be distracted but will go ahead and remain under fair to good control. The advanced SDiT can breeze through this crowd with sharp focus on his handler, ignoring the other people, and will downstay amid the commotion if asked.

The trained Service Dog's practice might be to not look at people doing gymnastics, waving flags or calling his name and charging up to pet him. The trainer gets more creative in challenges as the dog progresses. To keep the SD happy and willing in his work, training is approached as a fun game, positive interaction and as a series of puzzles for a dog to solve to earn rewards. Everything can be approached as a game, and the dog is encouraged to engage with his trainer and to want to play to learn the object of each game and earn the reward, which can be any number of things. Service Dogs work for rewards, too; but their rewards are most often praise or rest; clicker training can be very useful also. Keeping the dog motivated is key.

Once the SDiT has passed these milestones, he may become a Service Dog. He should take and pass the Public Access Test and work regularly to reinforce his training, practicing core skills as well. He will have regular health care and grooming, and every aspect of his management and maintenance is meticulously attended to. He will also get regular time off to play and be a dog, but is supervised and safeguarded to protect him, because an enormous amount of time and money has gone into making him a Service Dog. Training, classes and private trainers and addressing health screens and maintenance are the main expenses but the real investment is time and work.

Guide Dogs [also sometimes called Leader Dogs] work as a team with their human partner to navigate obstacles, guide the team through traffic, avoid overhangs, stay on a straight path and alert to uneven groundsurfaces. This is done entirely on voice commands. The dog has verbal cues for turning one-quarter to one-half of a circle's diameter in each direction, to pivot, back, step up or off, stop, go forward, park, and in the concept of "intelligent disobedience," to use his own judgement to disobey a direct command if it would place the team in danger.

The human member of the Guide Dog team is responsible for navigation--knowing where he is and where he wants to go to--he then directs the dog to go on, and the dog safeguards the journey. Most blind people have some degree of sight, but not enough to maintain their balance or move in a straight path while navigating. Different navigation skills are used depending upon the degree of sight present and the experience of the team. The terms Seeing Eye® Dog and Pilot Dog® are registered trademarks of the schools who use them, and are only used for dogs graduated from those schools.

A Mobility Dog often accompanies a person in a wheelchair to help retrieve out-of-reach items, steer, and balance with transfers from wheelchair to bed or chairs. Some Service Dogs are cross-trained, usually having one primary specialty and then may be asked to perform pieces of another, such as a Guide Dog who will also retrieve his handler's dropped keys on cue. Hearing Dogs alert to the ring of the telephone and doorbell, and warn of a person's approach.

Therapy Dogs are not considered Service Dogs under the ADA, but some states recognize and grant them some privileges depending on their situation. A Therapy Dog's main task is to assist in human rehabilitation, education, or provide relief to managed-care persons such as the ill or elderly. Therapy Dog training and testing can be a useful tool in conjunction with some aspects of Service Dog work; usually the trainer uses it to target a particular set of skills or to widen the dog's experience.

~ Christi © 2007


Copyright © 2007 ~ 2008 JLS Dalmatians & JLS Canine Services Web Design.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.