Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Versatile Collie - How to choose a Service Dog

Today we are excited to share our third post in our new series, The Versatile Collie.  It's our hope that through these guest posts more people will come to appreciate the amazing and special collie breed.  Collies are such versatile dogs, they excel at many different activities, including service dog work.  Our guest blogger is Veronica Sanchez, and she trains dogs to become Therapy dogs and Service dogs.  Her website, Cooperative Paws, has a wealth of information on dog training, therapy dogs and service dogs.  Veronica has three smooth collies, and she has shared her experience raising and training collies as service dogs.  You may recognize one of her collies, Nigel, as he came from our litter last summer.  We are very grateful to Veronica for taking the time to write this for us!     

Collies as Service Dogs

My first collie, Millknock’s Phaser on Stun CD, CGC, I got with the goal of competing in obedience. I had just finished his CD when I started having some difficulty walking. After a difficult two-year period that involved extensive medical testing and hospitalizations, I found myself with a diagnosis of generalized dystonia, a progressive neurological disorder. 

As I adjusted to using a wheelchair and other adaptive equipment, I realized the obedience skills my collie already knew could be expanded for service work. Phaser was a natural fit for service work, he had already been doing therapy work, was confident and happy. I worked with several trainers and trained Phaser to work in a wide range of public situations.

As grooming had become increasingly difficult for me, transitioning to smooths made logical sense. Currently, Cadenza’s Lieutenant Sulu Eau My CGC, holds titles in Rally and works as my service dog. He is beautiful, sensitive and does extensive work demonstrating behaviors to my clients who are also training service dogs. My sweet and mischievious 15 month old Nigel, Marchello’s Up to Eleven is in training for service work as well. 

As a professional pet dog trainer and service dog trainer, I am often asked for information about choosing a breed for service work. I think collies can be a great fit for this role when matched with the right owner and situation. Collies are a good size for mobility work as they can open doors, pick up objects and assist with activities of daily living like dressing. Some collies can perform  brace/balance work as well.

I use a combination of lure reward techniques and clicker training to train my collies.  I always consider what my dog actually wants to do. If I’m working on a behavior that my dog is not enjoying, then we change, I work around it or find a way to make it fun for my collie. In short, as much as my service dog collies help me, I make sure I’m serving them too. 

Thank you Veronica!  

follow-up questions to the post:

1. Who determines when the dog is ready to be a service dog? When is their training complete? 

The trainer determines when the dog is ready to work in public and when training is *mostly* done. Of course all dogs benefit from ongoing training and because many disabilities change over time, some service dogs may need to learn new tasks over time. 

2. Therapy Dogs have to take a test, before they become certified therapy dogs. Does a dog have to take a test to become a service dog? What are the things they test for?

There is no legally required test, I have an assessment I use with my clients, I look for calm and relaxed behavior in various settings, reliable performance of tasks in different situations and that the owner of the dog can assess when the dog needs a break and when the dog is stressed.

3. If they do have to pass a test to become a Service dog, is there just one organization that does the testing? Or is it similar to Therapy Dog testing, where you have many organizations doing the testing/certification? 

Federal law doesn't require certification.Different organizations have different standards. It's a bit of a "Wild West" - I did a webinar on this for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers that is free and goes into detail on the laws:

You can view the previous two guest posts by clicking below:
The Versatile Collie - pulling a sulky
The Versatile Collie - K9 Nose Work


  1. Great training info & examples!

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

  2. Loved this post! I know Collies are good at herding and a great family dog, but had no idea about being a service dog. I used to volunteer for Canine Companions for Independence, but they just used Goldens and Lab or a combo of the two. I have seen other breeds trained to help, but just never thought about it.
    Thank you for helping me to be informed.

  3. great post, how do you get a dog registered as a service dog?

  4. We enjoyed this post. It is fun to learn about the capabilities of other breeds.
    Hazel & Mabel

  5. I'm sure collies are perfect to support people... they are supersmart and they are able to make the right decisions within a blink of an eye ;o)

  6. What supersmart dogs! We loved the videos!

  7. I have to admit, I had never thought of Collies for service work, so I'm excited to learn this!