You can test for recovery time by randomly dropping an object such as a metal bowl, book, chip bag, or anything that may cause a startled reaction. If the dog darts away and cowers, s/he will most likely not be a good candidate for service work. If s/he startles and ducks but resumes his/her natural posture, this is a good indication that s/he will take less energy to adapt to new environments and stressful situations. S/he will do well once the desensitization training starts. Bonus points to the dog that doesn’t flinch and investigates the fallen object!
There will be times where other people will accidentally step on your dog’s tail. This will mostly happen when your dog is laying by you while you are eating or other situations where you are sitting in public. Take it as a compliment! It is imperative that your dog be desensitized to touch because accidents happen and a dog that is not accustomed to this stimulus will create a scene defeating the purpose of having a service dog; to improve your quality of life. To test for this, start by simply petting the dog. A dog that is easily excited by touch is a poor choice. Lightly hold the dog’s ears, muzzle and then jowls. It is okay if the dog is curious as to what you are doing. However, s/he should not react aggressively (mouthing is not aggression and should be expected as dogs explore with their mouths). Next, move to the paws. Run your hands down the dog’s legs and grasp his/her feet. Apply even pressure to the dog’s paw and then gently pinch the webbing in between his/her toes. Note the dog’s reaction. The more accepting s/he is of your invasiveness, the more likely they will shape up to be a reliable and level-headed companion in situations such as getting stepped on, vet visits, and the occasional obnoxious, or unpermitted child in your dog’s face. If the dog is unforgiving towards the tester, this may not be the best choice as s/he may hold grudges that could get in the way of training.
Being that your end goal is to successfully complete the ADA Public Access Test, it would behoove you to test your candidates with this in mind. This means that your candidates should easily be able to get in and out of vehicles for which you would need to assess the dog’s physical health for this action, and his/her willingness to jump into and out of a vehicle. While we are on the subject of cars, your service dog will need to be able to compose him/herself next to moving cars and busy traffic. It is okay if your prospective dog is a little cautious, but resorting to a fight or flight response is not a good sign. If you are able to bring your candidate into a store that allows dogs, observe the way they navigate isles and maneuver around displays and in tight spaces. The dog should display confidence and not be overly interested in other people, especially not trying to solicit attention from the public. The energy level of a dog is important to observe in this environment. S/he should not be overly excited to see people/children, or dogs, and should not tamper with any displays or merchandise. Alternatively, a dog that slinks through the aisles and is reluctant to pass through thresholds would most likely wind up needing more rehabilitation than routine training.
Many times, good service dog candidates can be found in rescues and shelters. Don’t worry, if you’d like to change his/her name take solace in the fact that dogs are very adaptive and, when done properly, your dog will snap his/her head around and the sound of their new name. Some dogs even respond to nicknames