An Owner Trainer’s Mistake from the Start

You’ve finally made the monumental decision that a service dog is right for you. You’ve weighed the options between an older shelter dog or puppy (fostered litter versus breeder). You’ve come to the conclusion that a puppy is best for you, after all it’s what most owner trainer’s do.

Whether from a fostered litter or breeder bought all puppies are adorable. I mean come on, just look at these faces.


They’re the cutest thing ever (next to kittens). You want them all, right? I know I do. My favorite is the last one in the green circle. Isn’t he just the cutest thing?

I wanna squish him. Which one is your favorite?

Which one just by looking at this picture is your new service dog prospect?

Keep in mind you’ve never met them and they’re not old enough for a temperament testing.

Now pick.

You picked your favorite, right? That’s the most logical thing to do.

Do you know which one I picked?

None of them.

Wait. What? I didn’t pick one? Why not? How can I not? They’re just too darn cute and obviously your favorite will be perfect for service work.

There lies the big mistake new owner trainer’s make from the very start.

When Anakin’s litter was born my breeder flooded me with pictures of the new babies. Of course I loved them all but in the back of my mind I knew a puppy might not have the right personality and temperament for the work I needed. Because of this possibility I didn’t let myself get attached to any one puppy. I had a frank, real conversation with her regarding if the puppy I took home (assuming one even worked in the first place) didn’t work out for any reason and what my options would be if this happened (another article for another time).

Picking your future service dog is a very important, life altering decision. In most cases, you’re literally putting your life in the abilities of your dog. You can’t make this an emotional decision. The puppy you immediately fell in love with might not be the best fit for your needs.

This decision is about the dog you need, not the dog you want.

For a pet by all means, pick any dog you want, heck, pick them all. Picking your future service dog is a logical decision, not an emotional one. Most breeder dogs or foster litters I see that wash due to temperament the decision was an initial emotional attachment to a puppy far too young. Unfortunately this initial emotional attachment fails more often than it succeeds. Or the training required is extensive and the dog isn’t 100% reliable the way you need. Forcing you to cope with what you have because you had no backup plan.

It was only after the temperament test, handed over my second payment and drove away did it hit me that I had a dog. It wasn’t fully real until I was driving him home a few weeks later. Because I stayed objective and waited before becoming emotionally attached I now I have the perfect partner for our work together.

I know it’s hard, nearly impossible but your future and well being, not to mention your dog’s, rests on this very important initial restraint.



Picking a Service Dog Breed Right for You


I’m constantly asked “how did you choose a Swissy?” or “what breed would work best for me because of [this]?” I’ve found most people already have a breed in mind and just want validation from someone else regarding the breed they want.

Here’s the thing-

The dog you want is not always the dog you need.


From the beginning process of figuring out the breed for me until Anakin came home was roughly 13 months.

That’s well over a year into planning Anakin coming home. A Swissy was not a whim for me nor should it be to anyone else considering bringing home a large breed dog.

Now, how did I narrow things down?

It started out with three categories:

  • Things I Need
  • Things I’ll Compromise On
  • Things I Absolutely Don’t Want


Under each category I filled in basic traits that were important and pertained to me. Once that was filled in I did basic Google searches like “dogs over 70 pounds” or “large dogs with short life spans”. From there I filled in the chart with the breeds I had found.

Now this process wasn’t fast. From start to finish my chart took about 2.5 months. I’m not saying you should take this long, this is just how long it took me to become comfortable with all of my options.

Once I had my center breeds (the ones who met all of my criteria) it took me another 2 weeks to finally land on Greater Swiss Mountain Dog.

Okay. I finally had my breed. My new problem was how do I go about owning one?

A breeder was the obvious choice.

Going through the AKC seemed the best option. Through them I found the national breed club webpage with breeder’s broken down by state. Staying within my state wasn’t an issue since I was willing to travel for my puppy.

From a very lengthy list I narrowed it down to three breeders in no particular order. This process took me a solid two months. Narrowing down the breeders wasn’t something I took lightly. This person would be in my life in some capacity for the next 13-15 years of my dog’s life.

One breeder never called me back. Another wasn’t comfortable selling to a service dog home. To say I was dreading and nervous about talking to my final top three breeder was an understatement… Luckily, her and I hit it off. (Obviously if you followed my recent trip to visit her in her new home.)

After speaking with her I visited her and her husband at a Swissy event. From there another visit when the puppies were 7 weeks old with a final visit during their temperament testing.

Thirteen months from start to finish. The wait was long but doing this the right way has paid off in the long run.

I’m incredibly happy with my dog and the relationship I’ve cultivated with my breeder is invaluable.

I’m not saying you have to take this long to plan your next dog. I’m not saying this is the process for you. What I am saying is pick the dog you need, not the dog you want.

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Puppy Cake Recipe

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup of peanut butter (natural, lower-sugar varieties are better)
  • 2/3 cup of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix) [pumpkin sold for pets is the best kind to use]
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/3 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • moist treats if desired

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of cream cheese
  • 2/3 cup of pumpkin puree


Mix all cake ingredients together (I wait to add the moist treats last). Bake in a small greased or floured pan at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool.

While cooling mix frosting ingredients. If necessary refrigerate in a covered or sealed container until cake is cool enough.

Frost completely cooled cake and decorate as desired!

How To Train Item Retrieval


What is it?

Item retrieval is a very important task for many service dogs and service dogs in training.

Some dogs are trained to pickup any item their handler points at with a laser pointer. I personally don’t like this option because if the pointer is forgotten or the batteries die it could become problematic getting the dog to retrieve the desired item.

Others train the items name such as phone, keys or meds. This is what I prefer to do as well as train auto retrieves for anything I drop.

What is it used for?

For me personally I use this task when I am too dizzy to bend over or don’t feel well enough to get up. Others might use it for the same reason or when bending over could prove dangerous. Dogs can also be taught to retrieve weight appropriate items from lower shelves for the same reason. Someone in a wheelchair might use the task for items needed but not in their chair.

How I trained it.*

From the beginning I trained Anakin the moment he came home. Now at only 9 months old he is solid in his retrievals and will pick up almost anything I ask him to. The following is how I did it.

  • It all started with play
    • When Anakin and I would play fetch I’d say “bring me the toy!” and when he did it was a party. We’d continue until he was done and we call it quits. For this play time I only used one toy and this toy never came out unless we were building this foundation play. We played like this for a solid two weeks before even trying to move on.
    • During this play time I didn’t offer any treats since food was a high distraction for him back then.
  • I asked randomly at odd times
    • After the two weeks or so I brought out the toy but asked him for other things he knew such as sit, down or stand. Once we did a few things I’d ask him to “bring me the toy” and when he did it was party time with treats. I only did this once because I wanted him to succeed. Another two weeks went by doing this at random times.
  • Introduced weird objects
    • After yet another two weeks (we’re up to 4 weeks now) and he was solid in bringing his toy I started to ask him for other objects I knew he could pick up. From there it was smooth transition into other things. At six weeks training this I introduced names to certain objects (ex. keys, remote, meds, wallet).

A word of caution for those teaching a puppy.

If you are like me and starting your puppy early the teething stage might be a hiccup in your training plan. Their teeth might be too painful and sensitive for this training. Keep that in mind during teething time and training this.

It took about six weeks of patience and positive association but it all paid off. Now he picks up just about anything and any object he’s unsure of will happen with some coaxing. In retrospect the six week time frame might’ve been a little long for him but I wanted him to be happy and confident in what I was asking.

Disclaimer: these steps are what worked for me and my dogs. A different technique might work for you. Don’t be afraid to play around and mold a technique to what works for your pup. The basic outline I used on Anakin, a 12 week old puppy at the time and Willow who was over a year at the time.

How Faking a Service Dogs Hurts Legitimate Handlers



It’s the weekend, your time for running errands. You’ll be out all day, the same as during the week, and Fido just stares at you. Fido knows you’re leaving again and it breaks your heart. After all, Fido will be left all alone. Again.

You feel bad, even sorry, for leaving your best friend. I mean look at that face? How could anyone resist, especially not you.

You think, ‘what’s the harm?’ and together you and Fido head for the car where your “service dog” vest you bought online waits in the glove box. Fido dances, butt wiggling, with excitement. Once the vest is on you two head off to your local Walmart or grocery to get some shopping done.

Where’s the harm in spending some time together?

Once at the store you two head into together. Fido at the end of its leash says hello to anyone and everyone. Oh, but wait! There’s some delectable meats Fido must sniff and lick. Isn’t Fido just the cutest?

While Fido maybe cute, your Fido belongs at home.

Service dogs are highly trained, specifically to mitigate their handler’s disability. The training these dogs undergo takes years and most aren’t up to the job.

A fake service dog may do any (or all) of the following:

  • bark
  • growl
  • bight or snap at a person
  • sniff/lick/eat produce
  • relieve themselves
  • destroy merchandise
  • lose self control
  • ignore their handler
  • say hello to everyone
  • rear up on people
  • be aggressive towards a real service dog

Management and employees see this behavior, from your vested fake service dog with its ID, and automatically assign this behavior to any dog in a service dog vest. This behavior is obviously unacceptable since no one wants to eat or prepare food a dog just finished licking. Management approaches you and you proudly produce your “service dog ID” that came with your vest. Disgruntled, management leaves you alone.

Now enter me, a woman who needs her service dog in order to live a normal life, with my service dog. A manager confronts me, demanding proof of my disability or “ID” for my dog. I, being the educated handler that I am, raise a brow and inform them of certain aspects of the law. Once I’m finished I candidly point out that my dog never moved from my side, ignored everyone around him, including that other fake Fido over there.

Fake service dogs create access issues for legitimate handlers. Why? Their poor behavior reflects badly on all dogs in a service dog vest.

A true service dog will do none of the bullet points above. They will behave appropriately (above any pet dog) and help their handler as they are trained to do.

Please leave your precious baby at home. After all, public places are sensory overload for dogs not trained to handle the chaos that is the public. Often times pets become overwhelmed in such an environment and may act out of character (such as showing aggression or trying to run away). This is unfair to your dog since they are going through undue stress and anxiety in such a bustling place.