If you’re thinking about training your puppy to be a service dog, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that there are approximately 500,000 service dogs helping people with disabilities across the United States.
Whether they’re used as emotional support dogs, help with visual impairment, mobility problems, or other issues, they can significantly improve the quality of life for people with an array of needs. But what about a Cane Corso service dog?
While breeds like Golden Retrievers and Labs tend to be the most popular choice, owners of Great Dane, Mastiff, and Cane Corso Puppies often find that these larger breeds are ideal for their needs. This is particularly true for those who are wheelchair bound, have balance issues, or need companionship to deal with psychiatric issues.
Do you think your puppy has what it takes to be a great service dog? Here are the primary personality types to look for and some tips for how to start your training.
Personality Traits of a Great Service Dog
Service dogs are trained to serve a single person and must be extremely focused on their handlers and not easily distracted. Breeds like the Cane Corso, who have a natural tendency to be extremely loyal and dedicated protectors are excellent candidates for experienced dog handlers.
Your dog might make a good service dog if they have the following personality traits:
- Calm and friendly
- Alert without being reactive
- Eager to please
- Inclined to follow you around
- Comfortable interacting with, and being touched by, strangers
- Smart and quick to learn with a good memory
- Well socialized and comfortable around a variety of people and situations
If you’re convinced your dog has the right personality, the next thing you’ll need to decide is whether you have the time and patience to commit to the necessary training.
Are You Ready for the Commitment?
Training a Cane Corso service dog is a long and tedious process. There are several dedicated organizations that breed and train dogs for a variety of service jobs. These organizations are extremely discerning. As many as 50 to 70 % of the dogs in training won’t pass the final tests that allow them to be placed with a disabled owner. Unfortunately, this makes a fully trained Cane Corso service dog expensive and results in extremely long waiting lists.
In response to this, more owners have decided to train their own dogs. If you decide to take this route, it’s always recommended that you seek professional help to ensure it’s done properly. Start by contacting Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and asking them to help you find a certified trainer in your area who is familiar with Cane Corso service dog laws.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all certified service dogs to be fully housebroken and under control of the trainer at all times. Once you’ve accomplished this, you’ll need to start working on tasking skills.
Behavior, Public Access, and Tasking Skills
Addressing the required behavior skills is the first step in training your puppy. A Cane Corso service dog must be able to go potty on command and ignore distractions while focusing on the handler. Passing the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) training will give your pup a solid foundation for success.
Public access skills refer to your dog’s ability to conduct itself in a manner that gives a Cane Corso service dog a positive public image. Whether on a crowded street or in a public building like a store or restaurant, your dog must remain under control, sit and lay down on command, and recall from six feet away.
The third, and possibly most important thing your dog needs is tasking skills. This is how they’ll help you with deal with your disability. Depending on your needs, this may include helping you find your way around, alerting you to noises, pulling a wheelchair, or picking up items and bringing them to you. Other tasks might including reminding you to take your medication, alerting you of an oncoming seizure or diabetic attack, and calming anxiety or PTSD.
Basic Training for a Solid Foundation
To give your puppy a solid foundation for advanced Cane Corso service dog training, start by working on the basics. Here are the first five skills your puppy will need before moving on to the next level of training.
Although it’s possible to train a service dog without using a clicker, engaging in clicker training right away will make all of your training efforts easier and more precise. It’s easy to do, and your puppy will pick it up quickly. In fact, the hardest part is getting the timing down.
While building your puppy’s foundation, you need to start by teaching them what the clickers is. To do this, simply click the clicker and give your dog a treat. Repeat this 20 times in a row. On the 21st time, click and see if they look at you as if they’re expecting a treat.
If they do, you’ve successfully conditioned them to recognize that good things happen when the clicker sounds. If they don’t react this way, repeat the exercise 20 more times, then try again. Once your puppy equates the clicker with treats, you must always follow a click with a treat, without exception.
Going forward, when your puppy does something you want him to do, like sit or lay down, you’ll click at the exact second they do it and then give them a treat. Your trainer will teach you and your dog to hone your clicker skills, but you can work on the basics from day one.
Responding to Their Name
After recognizing the clicker, the very next thing your puppy needs to do is learn is their name. Without this, you won’t be able to get their attention, communicate with them, or pull their focus away from distractions. While working on this skill, you can use one of the puppy’s meal portions instead of treats. Start by keeping them on a leash and stand or sit nearby. Say their name and then offer them a small handful of their food. Repeat this approximately ten times.
Give your pup a break and wait for them to become distracted or start looking around. When they do, say their name again. If they look at you, click the clicker and immediately give them another handful treat. Repeat this for several days until you think they’ve got it down.
Then, start doing the same thing while you’re on walks or in other situations. Say the dog’s name, and immediately offer a treat if they look at you. This helps your puppy develop a sense of focus and understand that they need to pay attention to you whenever you say their name.
Staying Still for Long Periods of Time
Every Cane Corso service dog needs to learn how to lay down for long periods of time. One of the best ways to do this is to start tether training early in life. A tether is a leash that runs from 14 to 24 inches long. One end clicks to the puppy’s collar while the other can attach to a table, pole, or your ankle.
It gives them enough room to get up and change positions, but not to walk around or get into any trouble. Once your puppy gets used to this, they will learn how to get comfortable and lay quietly without you constantly having to scold them to lay down.
Never, ever leave your puppy alone on a tether as it could accidentally hang itself. This training method should only be done with the dog by your side. Your trainer will help you do this properly and will talk to you about how long your tether-training sessions should be.
Sitting on Command
Training a puppy to sit is easy! Start by holding a treat above its nose until its bottom touches the ground. Then click and give them the treat. Repeat this until they’ve got it down. Then, add the word “sit” so they understand the connection.
Once they’ve mastered this, start holding the treats in your other hand, eventually placing them out of reach, and finally only treating randomly after a few sits. Whether you give a treat or not, always give verbal and physical praise after each proper sit.
Proper Leash Walking
The fifth major skill you can start working on early in your puppy’s life is learning to walk properly on a leash. The ultimate goal is to teach them to stay by your side when you walk, stop and start when you do, and avoid the urge to take off in its own direction.
Start the training by walking on the leash indoors. When your puppy goes in another direction, simply stop and turn around. If they come back to you, click and give a treat. Continue this until they learn to focus on you while on their leash, then start repeating this exercise outdoors.
Once your dog has mastered the foundations, they’ll be in a great position to learn the more advanced skills they need to serve you well. If you’re willing to make the commitment, it will result in a lifelong companionship that will bring you both a high quality of life and unconditional love.
Curt Gebers has been breeding Cane Corso puppies since 2003. He is the founder of Red Rock Canyon Cane Corso and is recognized by the AKC as a Breeder of Merit.