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Off-Breed Service Dogs: the Good, the Bad, & the Realistic (Beauceron Edition) By Carrie Faber


Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that will mitigate challenges from a disability, providing further independence to their handler. In other words, frankly stated, working service dogs must intentionally perform a trained behavior (that an individual cannot do for themselves) to lessen the impact of their disability, enhancing their ability to navigate through life. There is a wide variety of tasks and behaviors needed in a service dog (depending on each individual need), so it is essential to research not only the best temperament to assist you, but also the best source of your puppy, to ensure you are starting your journey with the utmost success. It is important to keep in mind that ​needing​ and ​wanting​ are two separate things. Often, people are shocked to learn how many resources it takes to even own a fully trained service dog, let alone a puppy still in training. While discerning whether a service dog would truly benefit you, ask yourself what tasks you would require them to perform to mitigate your disability; make sure to be honest with your goals and stay realistic with your lifestyle. Are you able to care for a service dog yourself or will you need assistance? Do you have the budget, facilities, and financial resources to care for a service dog? Do you possess a major, life-limiting condition? Does your medical provider agree you need a service dog? Does your medical provider agree that you are legally disabled (under the ADA)? What will you do if your service dog in training does not make it as a working service dog? Write a list of the positive and negative effects living with a service dog might impose. New service dog handlers may be surprised how much more attention they attract in public, which can be counterproductive for those with social anxiety; moreover, handling an intimidating looking breed may cause uncomfortable situations if questioned/challenged by the public. It is imperative to ask yourself what you require in a service dog. Begin with a list of all the tasks you cannot do for yourself in the order of “most needed” to “highly desired.” Protective instinct or solely providing companionship/emotional support are ​not​ behaviors​ ​protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Common and potential service dog tasks include (but are not limited to) assisting with seizures, panic attacks, mobility, guiding, diabetes, disrupting emotional overload, deep pressure therapy (DPT), alerting to sounds, or even searching a room for specific allergens in the air. After careful and thorough consideration, if you decide a service dog would truly enhance your quality of life, you can find organizations that will pair you with a dog who has completed their formal training and are ready to work. Often, these organizations utilize retrievers and have a 2-5 year waitlist. As an additional option, people can legally find a puppy to raise on their own with the guidance of a private service dog trainer. Even though the ADA does not require service dogs to be certified, hiring a professional to keep you on track while documenting your training progress will set you up for the most success. Furthermore, an experienced service dog trainer will help you find the best breed, breeder, puppy parents, puppy, and provide a training curriculum appropriately organized to fit your individual needs. Depending on the job and environment your service dog would be working in, certain breeds will most likely excel over others. If you are looking into an off-breed service dog that could be considered a “risky prospect,” ask yourself again what your requirements are and what will happen if they do not make it through the completion of training. Unfortunately, there are horrific stories of well-bred dogs purchased by people who will raise and rehome 2-4 puppies in a row with little regard on where they end up, only to search for another off-breed service dog prospect in the hopes that it will work out eventually; this is a disservice to the dog breed as well as the trainers and breeders who pour their money, time, and effort for such an indispensable, yet under-regulated field. The ADA does not restrict any breed from being a service dog, however, they do need to be of appropriate size and temperament for their tasks. You will most commonly see the use of Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, along with German Shepherds, Poodles, and Collies. Depending on the job and environment, some breed traits will stand out more than others (for better or for worse), so make sure you understand the history and category of each breed you consider. Deciding on the breed of your service dog prospect is very personal, so you will need to ask yourself what physical and temperamental traits are beneficial for you. What size of dog do you need to perform tasks, yet will still be unobtrusive in public? Do you require a more compact, agile dog? Do you need a small breed that can be easy to transport and accompany to hospitals or during travel? Do you need a large, sturdy breed for mobility assistance? Once you have an idea of the appropriate service dog size for you, consider what other traits you are not willing to live or work with including: grooming maintenance, coat type (length/texture/color), head shape (brachycephalic dogs tend to have more breathing problems in the heat), extra dew claws, activity level, breed behavior tendencies, etc. Do not simply choose the dog that looks most appealing to you, but choose the one that is most compatible with you and your lifestyle. If you find yourself making excuses for undesired traits, you should reconsider the breed, or perhaps reevaluate if you would like a pet or a service dog. Study the common attributes all successful service dogs need to possess: a confident, calm disposition with solid handler focus and an overall friendly demeanor without timidity, suspicion, or aggression; they should be particularly trainable with a strong work ethic and the ability/desire to perform their job consistently. The Beauceron, for example, is a versatile herding dog that has been sought after for service work, even though they are an off-breed with many more challenges/requirements to raising and handling compared to the traditional (higher success rate) service dog breeds. Herding breeds tend to excel in active sports, since they enjoy running and exploring outside daily. Beaucerons are often excellent hiking partners, sport and trick performers (including herding, obedience, rally, search and rescue, tracking, agility, dock diving, and many more), having an affinity for demonstrating behaviors as “demo dogs” for professional trainers. As a very intelligent and engaging breed, Beaucerons learn fast and can be enjoyable to train, as long as you communicate clearly, fairly, and consistently. Concisely marking the behaviors you want with appropriate timing and encouragement will help to overcome any confusion, which can be misconstrued as “stubborn” or “sensitive” attributes. Beaucerons naturally synchronize with their handler, so if you are training with frustration or lack of enthusiasm, you may discover challenges towards your desired results. Very intelligent breeds will make their own decisions when it comes to solving a problem, so it is imperative you provide them with the proper mental and physical stimulation/enrichment to guide. Fair, well-timed corrections with a clear direction of what to do instead will communicate better than solely shutting them down; they will problem solve on their own, so make sure you interrupt unwanted behavior and provide a new route towards a better direction to proceed. Although they are a unique breed, Beaucerons do share some tendencies with other shepherds (affectionate and loyal to their handlers, generally more suspicious, higher drive), as well as other herding breeds like Border Collies (clever problem solvers, makes quick associations, wonderful memory). With a strong work ethic, this engaging breed is an active participant while learning new behaviors and performing. Beaucerons are a large breed and tend to be very goofy, mouthy, and bouncy, especially during exciting times, so keep in mind that you may have to control 80-110lbs (even as a puppy in training). They are strong, energetic puppies with a higher prey drive that can easily be impulsive, pulling you off-balance or knocking down/imposing on people in public. As a shepherd, like other herding and guarding breeds, they may be naturally suspicious of strangers and perhaps protective of their home and family. Generally, defensive or protective behaviors are inappropriate for a service dog in public, so extra focus to socialize them young is essential, to instill the habit of looking to you for guidance if they are unsure of something, rather than reacting/barking to take care of the concern on their own. Also, keep in mind the lines your dog comes from, if the recent ancestors of your potential puppy show defensive or reactive behavior, there’s a higher chance your puppy may display similar behaviors. If you feel as though the Beauceron is an excellent fit for you as a pet, then you may consider also training them as your service dog, as long as you accept that it may not work out in the end and have a plan in place. Remember that choosing an off-breed, in addition to raising and training your own service dog, is a risk in and of itself. Even a professionally evaluated, well-bred puppy from proven lines can undergo the best training/socialization for their job without graduating as a service dog (due to temperament, external influences, or perhaps unforeseen medical reasons). After deciding on the most compatible breed for your lifestyle and required assistance, you need to find the source of your puppy. Although there are success stories of service dogs coming from shelters or rescues, I will save that subject for another write-up and instead focus on choosing the right breeder. While researching, it is important not to limit yourself to the closest, soonest, or cheapest puppy you can find; this is a decision that can make or break a team. Consider the breeders who have already produced successful service and therapy dogs, taking special note on the jobs and titles their dogs have achieved; inquire for pedigrees and references, looking out for repeat customers. In addition to providing proof of all cleared health tests applicable for the breed (hips, elbows, eyes, heart, hearing, etc), the breeder should be willing to disclose how they temperament test and what specific tendencies they strive to continue in their lines. Keep particular notice on the experience each breeder has had and what their goals are for their breeding program; having a true purpose that is actually reflected with each litter, stands out to preserve and better the breed. The temperament, health, and longevity in each line used, should be thoroughly discussed with each breeder you are interested in and corroborated through references. Make sure to meet the dogs they are producing and ask questions that display a realistic picture of what it is like to live with them; you must enjoy the company and disposition of the parents, before considering an offspring. Albert Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” If the breeder has not produced enough generations to truly follow the temperaments, personalities, and health of their lines, then make sure they can provide you with an abundance of pedigrees and additional information from where they received their foundation dogs and why they chose those dogs in particular. A dedicated, knowledgeable breeder will be able to tell you everything about their dogs and their ancestors, including what it is like to train, manage, and live with. Take special note to the way they describe each dog as you ask how they differ in personality; listen for a unique description with each individual and steer clear of those who repeat the same answers with broad descriptions that generically fit the particular breed’s tendencies. It is also important to remember that a good breeder will be transparent in their program and should be able to provide the good, the bad, and the realistic when it comes to owning their dogs. Understand and discuss with the breeders you are interested in, the traits you enjoy about your breed of choice and what tendencies you may need to look out for, or even work on, as they mature. For example, shepherds can be suspicious and potentially reactive (alert barking), making more of a scene than perhaps the general service dog handler is comfortable with, so make sure you discuss both the good and the bad that could pop-up in your future service dog. In turn, breeders who are considering placing a puppy as a service dog in training, should ensure the intentions, capabilities and dedication of each inquiring individual. Off-breed service dogs can be successful, but only if the handler and breeder work together and are on the same page from the start; you should be able to freely discuss any concerns, receive resources, follow-ups, while continuing a positive and supportive relationship. For the best chance of long-term success, service dog prospects should be raised in a home-environment where they are monitored, neurologically stimulated, and exposed to specific stimuli through individual, appropriate challenges based on their developed stage. Many breeders are following in-depth protocols from resources, such as Puppy Culture (PC) and Avidog, while the puppies are born and raised in their care; these programs that focus on Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), allow for a very hands-on assessment. After years of working with breeders, assisting with raising and training puppies, I consistently noticed pronounced inclinations that became more obvious and predictable with each litter. Knowing the personalities of the parents and grandparents certainly helps, but the environment in the breeder’s home will also shape the way that they process information and

make certain decisions while navigating in our world. When deciding on the most compatible homes, I began writing individual descriptions of each puppy’s personality with catered training suggestions and a slight prediction of how they may shape into adulthood; overall, by keeping in touch with as many puppy owners as I can, my assessments seem to stay consistent. Most puppies will show two (out of four) highlighted categories of predicted personalities: Analytical (they usually think about it before acting, can be more reserved, and often take their jobs very seriously), Amiable (generally easy going, a pleaser who often complies, content to follow), Driver (a natural leader that will definitely make their own decisions, usually will have a strong work ethic for what they enjoy doing —which may or may not be what ​you​ want them to do), Expressive (much more extraverted, outgoing, can be more impulsive, often possessing a more sociable, forthcoming disposition — which can mean the owner-trainer may need to put more work into curbing solicitous behavior and training neutrality while working as a service dog). For the best chance at success, a service dog prospect should be incredibly balanced, with a dominant ​amiability​. After observing and raising a litter of puppies, an excellent breeder will be able to tell you what tendencies each individual is showing. Maintaining a good relationship with your chosen breeder will give you an added advantage by keeping close track of everything observed alongside them; the first eight to twelve weeks are critical and will display many personality trait patterns (especially how the puppies interact with each other and react to new people/stimuli/environments, etc). After deciding on the puppy, you will then need to speak with your veterinarian and trainer to ensure that they are not only healthy (and have a solid temperament), but will be able to do their job safely. During training, and throughout their career, your unobtrusive helpmate must be able to perform tasks without compromising their own health and safety. Some service dogs are needed for longer periods in the day, or perform more demanding tasks, therefore it is essential they stay in excellent condition (both structurally and mentally sound). Any structural imbalance, such as back pain, dysplasia in the hip or elbow, obesity, or any past trauma resulting in fractured bones, should be retired or “washed” from their training program; any hearing or vision problems should disqualify a dog from continuing to provide assistance, along with any condition that prevents them from performing their duties. If a service dog is overly timid, reactive, or simply obtrusive in public (not potty trained, barking, aggressive behavior), then they will not be suited for their job and should be pulled from the program. Excessive drive or aloofness can also make it difficult for a dog to continue training, since they may be more focused on the environment than their handler; if the stimulation in public is too arousing or overwhelming for them, it would be unfair to continue service dog training. To ensure you are beginning your extensive journey with the best chances for success, you must choose the most compatible dog breed, breeder, and genetics (parents of the prospect), with the support and guidance of a professional service dog trainer. Exceptional lines for health and longevity with the most involved upbringing and training, will save you time, money, and a whole lot of effort.







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