Mini-Series Topic #9:  Professional Development

The SD industry is largely unregulated, and has largely been built on a grass roots model.  Many programs were started by wonderful and kind-hearted individuals with a genuine desire to provide service dogs to those in need.  As they have grown. the emphasis has always been placed on training the dogs, and issues of staff development have often fallen by the wayside.  The FSDS believes that professional development of the staff must be a critical component of any SD training program, because the best way to ensure the quality of the canine training is to ensure that the quality of the trainers.

Because the dogs are trained to perform task that include lifesaving medical detection, we must realize that the training issues extend way beyond physical tasks and enter the realm of medical interventions.  As such, patient safety must remain at the heart of our decision making, and we must strive to set a gold standard for patient safety  that is consistent with the standards of care upheld in the broader medical community.

There are two types of training issues that must be addressed, and those are:

  • federally mandated training
  • program initiated training

As we speak to various trainers it has become apparent that both of the above areas are in need of attention.  For example, many programs appear unaware of the requirement to provide OSHA training to staff.

Federally Mandated Training – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Bloodborne Pathogens – all employers whose employees are at risk to come into contact with blood or other body fluids (such as diabetic saliva samples) are required to provide annual training to staff.
On November 6, 2000 the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act was signed into law.  This law mandates that preventive education as well as needlestick injury documentation and reporting be undertaken for all at risk employees.  The law applies to:
“all employers who have an employee(s) with occupational exposure (i.e., reasonably anticipated skin, eye, mucous membrane, or parenteral contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) that may result from the performance of the employee’s duties). These employers must implement the requirements set forth in the standard. Some of the new and clarified provisions in the standard apply only to healthcare settings, but other provisions, particularly the requirements to update the Exposure Control Plan and to keep a sharps injury log, apply to non-healthcare as well as healthcare settings.”
Because SD trainers are working with dogs,who sometimes can bite, this law pertains to all SD training businesses.  We remind all of our students that a mandate is not an invitation, it is a direct order.
This training must be provided upon hire, and annually thereafter.
Workplace Violence – this type of violence is prevalent in society, and although there are approximately 2 million cases that are reported each year, it is estimated that many more go unreported.  In some cases this involves violence between co-workers.  In other cases, it results from stalkers who pursue their victims at their place of work.  Regardless of the reason, this presents a grave danger not only for the intended victim, but for others in the vicinity as well.
All employees should receive training on how to detect and prevent violence.  Training should also include a discussion of steps that they can take to report any suspicious requests to supervisors.  A company policy should be in place to prohibit sharing information regarding worksite location and hours of any particular employee with others.   All such requests for information should be directed to Human resources.
Employees who feel that they are being stalked should be encouraged to notify their supervisor and it should be made clear to these employees that they may do so without fear that they will lose their job, as this often serves as the reason for a failure to report. Violence is a public health crisis and must be taken seriously.

Program Initiated Training

Nurturing your staff and encouraging professional growth is an important task for all managers.  A staff that is permitted to stagnate will become bored and is more likely to seek employment elsewhere.   Business owners / Directors should place an emphasis on staff retention, rather than recruitment.

SD Training is a highly specialized area of training, and one of the things that sets this area of training apart from others is the strong focus placed on education of both team members, rather than skills training for dogs only. There are many ways to go about professional development.  You could spend years and incur the high cost of developing your own program, or you can access services already available, allowing you to turn your attention to running and growing your business.

As a business owner, if you are to make an investment in your staff, it is important for you to protect this investment.  It is of little benefit to  you for you to invest money in training for a staff person, only to have them complete the course and accept a job with a competitor who may be able to offer them more money.  For this reason, we recommend that if you incur tuition costs for staff training, you have the staff sign an agreement that in exchange for the training they agree to remain with your company for an agreed upon period of time to pay back the training.  If they leave prior to that time, they should agree to reimburse the company on a prorated basis.
A professional development plan must be individualized for the employee.  You will learn that different staff will present with entirely different types of background training and experience, so where you begin and the steps that you will take will differ from one person to the next.  Your first step as a business owner should be to decide where you want your staff to end up, in terms of credentialing, and work from there.
Your goal should be to ensure that all employees who will be involved in the training of dogs for your business have received adequate training and are skilled in the use of those techniques you have approved.  A staff person should be well rounded and able to speak to the myriad issues that surround SD training.  We recommend a minimum of 12 hours of ongoing professional development training per employee per year.

Some options for ongoing training include:

  • attendance at local conferences or seminars
  • documented attendance at Webinars
  • onsite training provided directly by you or a designated training staff person
We strongly recommend against lending staff reading material and having them state that they have read it, as this is a very unreliable means of education. This leaves the business owner with no real way to confirm that the material has been thoroughly reviewed.  You must ensure that all training hours staff receive credit for can be verified.


Be wary of local programs that advertise that they offer education programs to “become a SD trainer”, or offer apprenticeships.  These terms tend to be tossed around loosely, but in reality vocational or apprenticeship programs are both regulated by the state.  Here in Arizona, the AZ Board of Private Post-Secondary Education is responsible for the licensing of all programs that offer vocational training.  The AZ Office of Apprenticeship is responsible for the approval and oversight of programs that offer apprenticeship training.  Similar offices exist in all 50 states.
A search of keywords such as “become a service dog trainer (your state)” or “service dog trainer apprenticeship (your state) will provide you with a list of programs offering this type of training.  Take time to review their claims, and identify whether or not they claim to be licensed by their state to run such training.

FSDS Earns Designation as AZ Apprenticeship Program

The FSDS has taken the time to build a credible professional development program, and this has been many years in the making.  Our program is currently the only service dog training program in the state of AZ to be approved as an Apprenticeship Program.  We offer a two year, 4,000 hour training package.  Benefits of an apprentice program include:
  • earn while you learn
  • a paycheck for the apprenticeship
  • the ability to earn a National Industry Certification that is recognized anywhere in the U.S.

We are currently seeking grant support to take on an apprentice, so please check back periodically.  Our goal is to provide this opportunity to a wounded military veteran. As a part of their training requirement any apprentice is required to train a dog.  In the case of a veteran in need of a SD, the veteran would train the dog for their own needs.  This provides multiple benefits for a veteran that include but are not necessarily limited to:

  • a paying job
  • on the job training
  • a national industry certification upon completion
  • a certified SD to assist with their own needs
  • a career path that will permit them to assist other veterans in need

Once funds are available, we will post information on the application process on our site as well as our social media pages.  If you are interested, please:

Classroom News

Advanced Class – our class is making great progress this past month and we want to give a shout out to our teams for their efforts.  “Samson” and “Bruno” have mastered their perch work and this will translate well into their ability to maintain a solid heel.  “Hatch” has become the classroom “clean up king” and has mastered his ability to retrieve objects and deposit them in a bucket.  This will serve him well in his future work at retrieving dropped objects and assisting with shopping tasks.  “Titan” has mastered the cue for “closer” and is working on mastering his “heel” command. “Dakota“has developed an keen ability to locate items by name at a distance and return them to his handler.  The class is beginning their public access training and during June they took a field trip to a public park to begin the process of learning to perform obedience tasks with distractions.  Good work to all!

We are now accepting applications!

Prospective Recipients – if you are looking to either receive a dog that is already trained, or train with your own dog, the application process is now open.  We are looking to start a new class in the near future.  Download the application packet from our website.

Student Trainers – have you ever wanted to learn how to train a SD?  Do you have teenage children who are looking to make a positive and lasting impact in their community by training a dog for a hero in need? Download the application packet from our website.

Facility News

Summer Workshops –  We will be offering workshops in Canine CPR and Responsible Pet Ownership.  These are crucial skills for all children who have pets in the home.  Parents can drop their child off at our facility without worry and then go shopping for the next hour.  Our lead trainer holds a Class I fingerprint Clearance Card and has been properly screened to ensure the safety of your child.  We are a child-friendly facility and have an array of interactive hands-on teaching tools and manikins to encourage active participation.  Sessions are competitively prices at only $10 per child, and we can accommodate a group size of 12 per session.  Contact us to schedule a time.

Obedience Training – we are offering Obedience Training classes for those who are training their own service dog, as well as community members who are seeking obedience training for their dogs.  Next class begins Saturday, July 13th from 1-2 p.m. and runs for 5 weeks.

Come visit us inside of the Metro Center Mall is suite 1072.

Facility Hours:

  • Tues – Fri:  10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Phone:  602-870-2008

Wellness Tip

Feed selection and maintenance of a healthy weight are important for the health and well-being of your dog.

When selecting a kibble for your dog, check to ensure that the bag bears the seal of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).  While AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet food, it does set standards to ensure that the feed provides a well-balance and nutritionally stable diet.

One common problem in pets is obesity.  This often results from over-feeding, and it is important that you keep your dog at a healthy weight.  This issue becomes all the more important for service dogs, as carrying additional weight places additional stress on the joints that may result in a shortened working life.  Each dog has a rough energy requirement (RER) and this number, in practical terms, is the number of calories your dog will require per day to maintain a healthy weight.

Check out the RER Calculator on our website to learn about how many calories your dog requires per day.

Many thanks to the generosity of Tim Ganahl at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the FSDS now has a veterinary scale at our Metro Center location.  Service dog handlers are welcome to bring their service dog in to be weight in-between vet visits to keep track of the weight.

Disclaimer: the FSDS staff is not trained as veterinary assistants or nutritionists.  We provide support in monitoring the weight and access to a RER calculator to assist handlers in making good decisions.  We recommend that any dietary regimen be under the supervision of a qualified veterinarian.

Water Safety – if you have a swimming pool on your property, be certain not to leave toys floating in the pool as this will serve as a temptation for your dog to jump in.  Drownings unfortunately occur, and it is important to safeguard your dog.  If you plan to take your dog out on a boat, please ensure that you provide them with a properly fitted life jacket.  It only takes a few moments for a tragedy to occur.   Be safe.

Thank You!

We wish to express our sincere thanks to the following individuals / organizations who have generously donated to our program during the month of June.

  • Valerie Schluter
  • DAV Auxiliary Unit 1
  • Tim Ganahl
  • Hills Pet Nutrition

Photo Gallery

IMG_5270IMG-5289IMG-5290IMG-5292Samson perchTitan scale