Introduction to PTSD Service Dog Training by Owner
Please see our disclaimer linked at Service dog
This is an advanced lecture on training a specific clas sf service dog, known as a PTSD dog. The basic thesis is as follows: Training the Service Dog: Recognition of Handler Distress is the Critical Component in the Recognition-Response Dyad
Part One of the Series: Notes from Underground-PTSD Service Dog Training by Owner may be found at K9 See also Part Two: Developing Canine Recognition of Psychiatric Decompensation: A Training Framework Based on Gibson's Cognitive Feature Theory Service Dog/Training for Anxiety Disorders PTSDy
Jeffrey D. Assistance Dog Licensee California AD #100025 Disclaimer: These a-re shared portions of a private journal documenting training of Wilhelmina von Lillihammer, a blue nose Staffordshire Terrier. Nothing herein shall be construed as legal, medical or veterinary advice.Please seek the services of a qualified professional where needed.
Training the PSDEdit
The 2011 Department of Justice guidelines on service dog work for PTSD and other psychiatric disabilities proposes two analytic categories for training and evaluating performance. These are, respectively, recognition and response.
Recognition would require that the animal be trained to perceive what I will call generally a dystonic state. Such a state could be an insulin spike, the aura preceding a grand mal seizure, the onset of a panic attack, agitation related to one of many mood disorders, or the alternate polarity of a slide into depression. These are only examples; canine recognition capacity building is state of the art developing science, and the results are often astounding.( Footnote 0.)
Response is the flip side of the coin. Response is inherent in recognition. Any recognition entails some kind of response. This always includes at the very least activation of neurological receptors in the dog which capture and interpret sensory data indicating the dystonic state in the human. We can observe shifts in the brain scan of the dog which directly correspond to changes in the state of the human handler to which the dog is attuned.(Training to develop the necessary rappoire between dog and handler is similar to simple companion any mal interaction except that it is goal directed.)
Response is however not useful and does not provide a benefit to a person with a disability if it is not recognizable to the human handler. There is no technology outside the laboratory setting with which we can in a practical manner install electrodes to indicate canine recognition of handler distress. To provide benefit, there must be some interpretable characteristic or characteristics to indicate that such recognition has indeed occurred.
Neither the ADA, California law,nor the DOJ guidelines seem to mandate that the response itself be a specifically trained presentation. The law requires that the assistance animal be trained for work or tasks would to benefit a person with a qualifying disability. The training requirement statutorily attache to the canine work generically, to the overall task, but not to each component of task performance. Thus, upon the face of the statute, the training might focus upon developing recognition capabilities while lloing the animal to express the recognition through responses which might be spontaneous, unstructured displays which are built on inherited behaviors and are not in themselves cultivated by any training reinforcement.
The DOJ Addendum to the CFR (regs) seems to assume there is little need to train the service dog to recognize handler distress. This project researches the opposite [hypothesis]] Real time brainscans are not available to trainers, nor any other high tech biofeedback monitors available with which to provide the information on canine recognition. Trainers must have reliable indicators of canine recognition upon which to base reward or reinforcement which is an integral component of contemporary training methodologies. Hence, it is necessary to surveil the canine trainee for indicators of recognition. These indicators, which may be visual, auditory or tactile, constitute the response part of the "dyad" recommended by DOJ ( response-recognition).
As a practical matter, these responses are the most straightforward means of detecting canine recognition of handler distress, ie., the aforesaid dystonic states. The alternative - direct monitoring of the canine brain nervous system - is at this time only available in the laboratory. At some future date, commercially viable technology may become available in which to monitor and detect canine recognition events at a neurological level.
At such time, any expectation that canine response need to be specifically trained would be obsolete. At such time the training "schedule" of reward reinforcement could be directed exclusively to the recognition as indicated by neurological events. There would be no need to shape and reinforce (ie., to train) the response itself. The dog need not even be conscious of the event recognized if there is a recognition event which is detectable via scientific ways and means. This recognition event may be measurable by electrodes or chemical monitors in the bloodstream or elsewhere. Activation of specific neurons can be correlated to himan handler changes such as an insulin spike or a carcinoma. Recognition in this scenario occurs at a level below the threshold of canine consciousness. It is remarkable however the reenforcement would work whether or not there is any canine awareness at a conscious level and Whether or not there is any stylized canine response aside from moving the needle on some kid of monitor. All the dog's nervous system knows is that there is a reward every time it lights up the EKG screen in a certain pattern or moves the needle on some other kind of biofeedback measuring device. This is pernt conditioning at its purist level and; t does work regardless of whether the trainee has conscious awareness of what it is, exactly, they are being rewarded for.
Given that trained recognition response can therefore be extremely subtle,it is important to fully credit any response which indicates recognition and to reward the fact of recognition. If the handler knows her assistance animal and is actively monitoring her animal for recognition response, it may occur on a subtle level which other observers may not be able to perceive. Alternatively, the response may vary. It would be error to expect that very assistance dog/handler partnership would utilize uniform responses.
Some trainers may achieve high success rates in eliciting uniform stylized responses such as pawing, barking or body languages displays. Performance of such tricks may fascinate an otherwise skeptical lay public and may provide a lucrative market for training entrepreneurs. However, the spirit and letter of theADA and complementary state law is directed to achieving benefit for persons with disabilities. Hence, what is critical is that the assistance animal recognize the onset of a dystonic state and provide a response which is a cue beneficial to the handler. The purpose of training is to provide a response useful to the handler. It is not the purpose of alert training to provide primarily a response to impress onlookers. Thus the prime focus must be on training recognition and provision of a signal useful to the handler Whether or not the response is impressive, comprehensible or even detectible to third parties. It may be difficult for a disabled person to express in words what the canine is expressing through vsual,tactile or auditory communication strategies. Subtle variations in eye contact, ear position, tail and body dynamics may differ in each response, yet an experienced handler may get the message and implement preventive measures such as medication or alternatives to pharmaceutical treatment.