More and more people are choosing to train their own service dogs, many of them selecting puppies that they hope will mature into a dog suitable for the life of a service dog. Unfortunately, the life of a service dog has some very strict requirements, and many dogs simply aren't suitable. It can be heartbreaking to an owner-trainer to spend two or three years raising and training a dog to have him, ultimately, "wash out."
What can a prospective owner do to maximize his chance of selecting a puppy who will make a superb service dog candidate? That has been a lively topic of discussion on the OC-Assist-Dogs mailing list recently. List members discussed existing tests, but those tests don't necessarily look for the characteristics needed by a service dog. Some of the additional characteristics a service dog trainer might look at include the pup's speed/ease of recovery after a stressful event, pup's reaction to children, and the amount of "food drive" the pup has. Members mentioned the importance of educating breeders about what characteristics are desirable and undesirable in a service dog pup and then working closely with them to pick a suitable candidate.
Barbara Handelman has worked for two years to create a system for evaluating potential service dog candidates. More information can be found at her Web site. She stresses that selecting a servince dog candidate isn't as simple as marking off items on a checklist. It's not a list of pass or fail tests. You have to be able to weigh a dog's strengths against his weaknesses. Selecting a service dog, she says, is a skill that has to be developed.