1trueearthmama (1trueearthmama) wrote in dogtrainers,

Advice on suitability of breed for service dog work

Hello. We will be training a PSD, psychiatric service dog, for my fiance who is an Iraqi War veterin. He served in the USMC, United States Marine Corps, and now has PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as major depression. We are working with an organization that usually gets it's dogs from shelters, fosters them for 2 weeks in the homes of volinteers and then trains them with the veterins, using a guided owner trainer approach. However, with a 3 year old child, 2 Siamese cats who were tragically born without either balls or backbones, I.E. they are super passive, gentle cats, and 2 Seeing Eye Dogs who cost upwards of $67000 each to breed, raise, train and place in our home, so I just didn't feel comfortable bringing a shelter dog into our home. The trainer, who is also the head of the program told me that if I wanted to purchase or adopt a pure breed dog from a breeder or from a very reputable breed rescue with a much more extensive screning, temperment testing and fostering process that we were welcome to do so. I've been looking around for an adult dog between 2 to 4 years of age, male or female from breeders and breed rescues for the following breeds: golden retreavers, labrador retreavers, german shepherd dogs, dobermins, rough coat and smoothe coat collies, boxers, and standard poodles, which comprise 99% of the guide dogs in the US and are commonly used in service dog work. I have had the most success with finding adult collies, of the smoothe and rough varieties, note, not boarder collies, and have several perspective dogs that I am looking at. I didn't have a spacific preference, but the collie breeders have been the most helpful, had the most possible candidates and it's just sort of worked out this way. I am very familiar with GSDs and labs and somewhat familiar with goldens, dobermins and far less familiar with boxers, poodles and collies, so I am here to ask a few things.
1. Are there any training tips spacific to the collie breed that you can recommend that we keep in mind? This program uses primarily positive reenforcement, clicker training, verbal correction, capturing and shaping with it's dogs.
2. Do you think that this would be a suitable breed for the work? PSDs do things like go into a dark room ahead of the handler to turn on a light, pick up dropped objects so handler doesn't have to expose their back, walk a little ahead of heal through crowded areas to help descourage people from entering the handler's personal space, moving to body block approaching individuals from the front, side or behind to help maintain a comfortable distance for the handler, wake handler from a nightmare by sensing cortosol levels or other chemical or hormonal olfactory cues, comfort handler after a nightmare, interupt repetative or self harming behaviors like compulsive nail biting, paw and lick handler to bring them back to reality during a flash back, go and get help and or stay with and draw attention to handler if a flash back causes them to become unresponsive or to take cover, and so on.
3. Are there any particular benifits or problems associated with the breed that we should keep in mind givin the type of work we want to train this dog to do?
Thanks so much for your help.
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I am a veteran who has non combat related PTSD among many disabilities. I am currently using Gypsy, a former shelter rescue Aussie/sheltie mix as a service dog and I am training a smooth collie to take over when Gypsy retires this spring.

1) For Collies in particular it is important to use mostly positive methods, and be firm with your boundaries. Collies are very clever and if you strike the right balance with them they will continue to think and solve puzzles in the future, but if you are to harsh with them you can loose that very special aspect of a collie's temperament.

2 + 3)Billy, my collie, is proving to be everything I would want in a service dog, both for the balance/mobility work and for things that help with my PTSD. One thing to be aware of is that most collies are friendly to people their handler is friendly towards and very reserved with people their handler is not friendly with. I know for me, when I drift, dissociate, flashback whatever you want to call it, Billy gets VERY picky about who he will let approach me. He is not aggressive, in the sense that he does not bark, growl or bite, but he will body block and push people away. This is apparently very typical in the breed. He also doesn't have much of an off switch. Once he understands that he needs to help me with something (like drifts) he will be persistent until I do something to fix the problem or the problem goes away. Be aware that if you get a smooth collie, people will ask you a thousand questions about his breed (omg is that a greyhound?) and not believe you when you call him a smooth collie. They will also insist that he is FAR to skinny and you should feed him more. Collies are very long and very leggy under all that coat. A healthy body weight should show a tuck up in the abdomen and you should see a waist when viewed from above.

A few good resources for PSD training:

I just wanted to let you know that I have PTSD and ESA's + I'm training my own Service Dog. I found all your links very helpful, and wanted to thank you tremendously.
if you are on face book there is a number of facebook support groups. look me up Kit Azevedo.
Thank you! I just sent you a friend request...
My first two PSDs (Wings and Kaylee) were collies, Jack, my current dog in traning is a shepherd/husky/something mutt.

Collies can be GREAT PSDs. The three things I'd really keep in mind are health- collies are not a healthy breed- a really nice stable temperament (there are a lot of fearful collies out there and that won't do at all for an SD- sound sensitivity is particularly common) and lack of drive- a lot of collies are just plain too laid back.

All that said, they are WONDERFUL dogs and if you can find the right one, they're very suitable for the work. In particular, I'd recommend talking to Swan collies in Amarillo, TX.