Whether your service dog assists you during a seizure, helps you after you've fallen or performs some other task, training your partner to bring you a beverage from the fridge can mitigate many disabilities. The training can be difficult, but with patience, a sense of humor and lots of really good treats, your partner will be retrieving drinks in no time!
Opening the Fridge
Step #1 - Ensure that your service dog has a solid retrieve before beginning to teach her how to bring you a beverage. Your service dog needs to know how to take an object, hold it without mouthing, drop it into your hand and tug before starting this task work. If your partner isn't yet solid with her foundational retrieve behaviors, spend a little more time working on her.
Step #2 - Introduce your dog to the door pull you'll be using to teach her to open the fridge door. Pick a style that meets you and your dog's needs. Choose a design with a "tug" part that is large enough for your dog to grasp comfortably and long enough for your partner to get enough leverage to pull the door open. Eight inches or longer tends to work best for the average-sized service dog. Allow her to sniff it and familiarize herself with it.
Step #3 - Pick up the door pull and command your service dog to "take it." Release and reward. Practice having your service dog "tug" the door pull, always ensuring that your partner is backing straight up. The door pull, your dog's head, shoulders, back and hips should form a straight line. This not only helps your service dog open the door easily, it ensures she does so with proper form, which helps her avoid injury.
Step #4 - Place the door pull on the refrigerator door. Check the height of the door pull and ensure your service dog can easily reach the "tug" part of the pull without difficulty.
Step #5 - Call your dog over to the fridge door. While the door pull is still attached, pick it up and hold it in your hand. Repeat the above step.
Step #6 - Call your partner over to the fridge door. Don't pick up the door pull this time. Ask your dog to "take it" and "tug." By this point, she should happily tug the door open. Release her, congratulate her and have a party! Give your partner several treats, and practice this behavior for three to five days. Ensure that it's solid before moving on.
Getting the Beverage
Step #1 - Decide on the type of beverage you'll ask your dog to retrieve for you. Common options include bottles of water, plastic bottles of juice or soda and protein shakes. Pick a beverage container your partner will be able to easily pick up, that isn't slick and that isn't pressurized.
Step #2 - Designate a spot in your fridge for the beverage your service dog will bring you. Pick a spot that's readily accessible by your dog, roughly head height, and not in a drawer or behind a shelf. Your dog needs to be able to open the door, see the beverage and grab it without difficulty.
Step #3 - Empty the beverage bottle. Make the empty beverage bottle high-value for your dog. Play with it a bit and practice a few repetitions of "take it," "hold it," and "out." Always reward your dog with a special treat at each repetition to cement the task and to prevent the bottle from becoming a chew toy.
Step #4 - Open the fridge and prop it open so that it won't close on your four-legged helper. Point out the bottle and tell your dog to "take it." Have your dog place the beverage container in your hand and "out" your dog. Give your dog multiple treats.
Step #5 - Practice having your partner go to the open fridge, pick your beverage up and bring it back to you over steadily but slowly increased distances. Take one step back from the fridge at a time and repeat the retrieval process until you can send your dog to the fridge to get a beverage from anywhere you commonly spend time, such as your office, the couch or your bedroom.
Closing the Fridge
Step #1 - Ask your dog to open the fridge. By this point, she should be quite familiar with the process. Once your partner has opened the fridge, have her grab your beverage.
Step #2 - Before your dog releases the beverage to your hand, use whatever command you use to request her to place her paws on an object and push. Use your hand to guide your dog to push on the fridge, if necessary. The door will close. Reward your dog and take the beverage from her.
Step #3 - Practice the entire sequence. Have your dog open the fridge, take the beverage, jump up to close the door and release the beverage to your hand. Reward your partner every time she successfully manages the entire chain of behaviors.
Putting It All Together
Step #1 - Once your service dog is very solid with opening the fridge, getting the beverage out, closing the door and bringing the beverage to you while you're standing right there, add distance back into the sequence.
Step #2 - Move one step away from the fridge at a time and ask your dog to go open the fridge, close the fridge, and bring the beverage back to you. Ensure that she completes every step of the process before adding another step. Move closer to your partner and repeat the tasks in a cheerful manner if she forgets any part of the sequence.
Step #3 - Reward your dog profusely every time she is successful and continue practicing until she successfully brings you back a drink no matter where you are in the house.
Warnings: Never scold or punish your dog for missing a step in the sequence or losing concentration; instead, just return to the steps that are solid and go on from there. Stabilize items in your fridge so that nothing can topple over or injure your dog. Keep food in closed containers away from the beverage area so that your dog doesn't accidentally eat something she shouldn't.
By Kea Grace
About the Author
Since 2001, Kea Grace has published in "Dog Fancy," "Clean Run," "Front and Finish" and an international Czechoslovakian agility enthusiast magazine. Grace is the head trainer for Gimme Grace Dog Training and holds her CPDT-KA and CTDI certifications. She is a member of the APDT and is a recognized CLASS instructor. She's seeking German certification from the Goethe Institut.