Service Dog Training in Southern California

Service Dog Trainer Sarah Gill

My name is Sarah and I am a professional dog trainer specialized in service dog training. I am based in Southern California and offer training services nationwide. So far, over my career, I have personally trained 38 reliable service dogs. Each dog takes 1-3 years. I have trained dogs for many well-known conditions like Mobility, Stability, Seizures, and Diabetic Alert.

Furthermore, for complex conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), Cardiac Conditions, various Psychiatric Disorders, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In addition, I have trained service dogs for more rare conditions like Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).

I became interested in service dogs after being in a debilitating car accident. As a result, I ended up in a wheelchair. My doctors told me I would never walk again, but I proved them wrong. As soon as I regained light walking ability, I went to school to become a professional dog trainer. Today, I have two personal service dogs and am looking for a third.

My service dogs are known to be some of the best in the country. I am happy to provide references upon request. Furthermore, the service dogs I train have impeccable public access behaviors. They shine with reliable tasking. Above all, my service dogs are able to make independent decisions if their handlers become incapacitated. In conclusion, whatever your service dog needs are, I can help you. Read more about Sarah Gill.

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Service Dog Client Testimonials

Testimonial by Kelsey Ann for Radley

“…I then started to look for trainers that would work with me to select and train a puppy. Sarah and Ralf were the only ones that I spoke to that provided a full service. They would find a breeder and temperament test puppies. While this could be a long process, I was lucky that the perfect puppy was available shortly thereafter.

As a handler herself, Sarah is particularly empathetic to how vulnerable the process of receiving a service dog can be. Ralf does a great job of explaining not just what to do with your dog, but also why doing so is in line with dog’s natural instincts.

A service dog isn’t for everyone, which Sarah and Ralf also recognize. However, if it is determined that one is right for you, you can’t find a better place to work with than Total K9 Focus.”

Testimonial by Elizabeth Anderson for Harrison

“I received my service dog, Harrison, from a program in December 2016 … Harrison went back into training, this time boarding with Sarah and Ralf to be retrained. Because Harrison was already 5 and having a few health troubles, we chose one task to retrain and of course lots of retraining for behaviors and manners.

Harrison has always made a life-saving difference in my life, and the training … renewed his ability to help me completely. He now behaves excellently in public, reliably completes his task on command, and makes me proud, and healthier, every day. He is really a different dog than before they retrained him and my partnership with him now is truly amazing! I would still be a very ill person without the assistance of Harrison and I will be forever grateful to Sarah and Ralf for the kindness they showed us, and the excellent teaching they provided.”

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The Challenge With Selecting Good Service Dogs

The answer to the question ‘What is the best service dog breed?’ will vary by dog trainer and that should give you pause. It really shouldn’t. But there is a reason. Let’s take a look at the sorry state of service dog training and what the criteria should be versus what they are. To explain this, I need to provide some background.

The Washout Rate

First, the service dog industry as a whole has a wash-out rate of about 50%. Wash-out means the service dog fails either during training or within the first year after deployment. A dog that washes out can no longer work and must be replaced. That means that 50% of the dogs people paid a lot of money for (e.g. $25 – $75K) have to be replaced. The service dog training contract usually outlines how/if that happens and who pays for that. This detail gives you an important indication of what kind of service dog training company you are dealing with.
Many service dog companies have started their own breeding programs to reduce the wash-out rate of their service dogs but the industry average remains fairly steady at around 50%. Hence, there is no indication that those breeding programs are making a huge difference in this aspect. However, that doesn’t mean that target breeding isn’t the answer to the problem. But, it means that most service dog breeding programs probably focus on the wrong breed attributes.

Service Dog Trainability

This brings us to the second point. Most dog trainers prefer dogs that are easy to train and very cooperative. As a result, service dog breeding programs focus on such easy, compliant dogs in their breeding and hopefully also good health and longevity. Common breeds in such programs are Retrievers, Standard Poodles, sometimes Shepherds, and mixes of those breeds. The breeding programs tend to focus on lower drive bloodlines of these working breeds, as they are more cooperative and again, easier to train than their high-drive relatives. For example, there are huge differences among Labrador Retriever lines. A hunter usually wants a high-drive bloodline while a pet dog owner wants something far less intense. So, working breeds with lower drives is what most service dog trainers favor.

Stress Resiliance

Third, for a service dog to be successful, it must be able to function under high amounts of stress and psychological pressure over long periods of time. It is stressful for any dog to experience its owner having a medical emergency. However, a service dog must not just be able to handle that, it must also function and perform tasks while its owner is in physical distress. This requires a psychologically sound dog who doesn’t scare easily, and if startled has an almost instant recovery rate. This is not primarily about the best service dog breed, but the best genetics regardless of breed.
And there lies the problem. This service dog requirement is in direct conflict with the dogs most service dog trainers prefer (point 2) and explains the high wash-out rate (point 1). Dogs with less drive are softer. They do scare more easily than harder dogs and can’t handle stress as well either. Many dogs bred for sport, police, and/or military applications are a great example of what high-drive dogs can handle. A dog that can handle a crime or war situation is a tough cookie; it has to be. Such dogs are however not as easy to train and require a higher trainer skill set to flourish. The best service dog breed is the dog with the right genetics in any dog suitable for the job. What is the answer? Read More.

Not all Service Dog Training is Equal

Our service dogs are some of the most reliable dogs in the country. We have a hard-earned, well-deserved reputation for our dog’s performance. This is no accident. It starts with selecting the right dogs. The service dog industry has a washout rate of over 50%; this includes dogs specifically for service work. Wash-out means the service dog fails at some stage during training or within the first year of starting to work. They are not able to handle the stress of service work.

Our personal wash-out rate is around 10%. There are many reasons for this. We combine the right dogs with the best possible training. Further, we train dogs in drive and guide their genetics instead of suppressing them. Also, we train more through play than food and apply all learning science correctly. Most importantly, we spend the time to build the right motivation and relationship before training tasks. Watch our videos. Our training is different from what you see elsewhere. Contact us today to get your best service dog possible.

Certified Dog Trainer Sarah Gill
Sarah Gill is a certified professional trainer specialized in service dogs and behavioral training. Sarah has over a decade of experience training highly reliable service dogs. In addition, she has worked with hundreds of obedience and behavioral cases and taught hundreds of students at a well-known school for dog trainers.
Certified Dog Trainer Ralf Weber
Ralf Weber is a TWC certified professional dog trainer, specialized in obedience, behavioral, and service dog training. Ralf has over 15 years of dog training experience and personally trained over 1500 dogs. Further, Ralf is the author of the canine behavioral book “If Your Dog Could Talk” (5th Edition).
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Our Service Dog Programs

Service Dog Consultation
Service dog training is highly specialized dog training producing reliable dogs, to support people with a wide variety of conditions. This…
Service Dog Puppy
In this program, we are raising and training a service dog puppy for your unique needs. This is what most people are familiar with…
Rescue Service Dog
This program is designed for shelter or rescue service dogs of varied ages (8 weeks to 7 months old) and unknown genetics. The dog…
Service Dog Testing
Service dog testing is for people who want to evaluate if a dog they presently own or are considering acquiring could be suitable for…
Owner-Trained Service Dog
We can help you get your owner-trained service dog ready. Under our professional guidance, you will be able to successfully tackle this…
Solving Service Dog Problems
This program is dedicated to solving service dog problems. They could be related to tasks or behaviors. It does not matter where your service…
Service Dog Shadow Student
Learn how to task service dogs in our service dog shadow student program. You get to first observe and then also work hands-on with…
Service Dog Upgrade
Service dog upgrades add additional service tasks to your program service dog, or self-trained service dog to make your dog even more useful. Many…
Virtual Service Dog Training
Virtual service dog training sessions are available for any dog training-related topic. Please know that we can address any dog and…
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Our Service Dog Training Partners

Life Saver Dogs
Happy Dog Training
International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP)