Updated: Feb 8
Service dogs must be trained in certain behaviors to help their specific disabled partner. If the behavior is triggered with a command (visual or verbal), it’s called a “task.” If the behavior is triggered via an environmental cue (a sound, a change in the partner’s body, etc.), it’s called “work.”
This is part of a series on various service dog tasks/work behaviors, their purpose, and how to train them. You can find a glossary of terms here and the whole list of behaviors covered (so far) here. There are so many behaviors and ways to train those behaviors, but I hope to cover the most important ones. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!
This behavior is when your dog does a stand-stay right next to you, whether that’s behind, to one side (or the other), or in front of you. This can help create distance and needed space between you and others when you’re feeling dizzy, anxious, or otherwise out of it.
In order to train a dog how to perform the task Block, follow the below steps. Mark (clicker or “yes”) and reward for correct responses and only move onto the next step when the previous one is consistent and reliable.
NOTE: In this case, we’re going to teach the behavior as if Block is only ever behind you. While you can teach it to be where you point, it will be more predictable if you give each direction you need (behind, in front, to left, and to right) a different name, such as Block, Front, Guard, etc.
1. First, make sure your dog knows the command Stand (to stand upright, with all four paws on the ground). This can be done with a little bit of work through luring them into position and then adding the cue.
2. Next, make sure your dog knows the command Stay.
You may need to work a little on increasing duration, distance, and distraction with a Stand-Stay separately from a Sit-Stay.
3. Lure your dog into position so that they are standing directly behind you, parallel to your legs. Ask for a stay, then reward them for that position before releasing them. Repeat this until they are comfortable
Keep the duration low to start.
Consider how your dog will get into position (by circling around you from heel, which is easier, or by backing up and turning into the position). That will help you decide which way your dog should face when practicing getting them into place.
4. Add the cue “Block” and then get them into position.
5. Add duration and distraction, separately at first, to make sure your dog will STAY in the position.
6. Start them part of the way to position, say “Block,” then lure them into position. Mark and reward.
If your dog will circle you to get behind you, start them on the opposite side of where they heel, so they can go a short distance to get in position. Then move to starting them in front of you, etc.
If your dog will be backing up to get in position, start them back from heel, as if they already backed up. Then you can start them halfway into heel (so they have to backup less), etc.
7. Now you’ll start them in heel, say “Block,” and then lure them into position. Mark and reward.
If they’re struggling, you can go back a step and move from their starting position in more, smaller steps. You can also try the other way (circling vs backing up).
8. Starting in heel, say “Block,” and wait up to 5 seconds to see if they can do it on their own. Mark and reward getting into the Block position!
If, in that 5 seconds, they don’t do it, use a hand (as if holding a lure, but don’t) to get them into position and mark and reward. However, go back a step until they understand what you’re asking of them.
9. Once they are getting into Block position on their own, then you can again add duration. Instead of marking, make sure to reward and release them, luring them back into heel afterwards. Mark and reward getting back into heel position.
10. Once they understand both how to get into Block and that, when released, they return to heel position, you can start generalizing by practicing with more distraction, as well.