Mini-Series Topic #8: Team Assessment

This month we explore the assessment of a potential team for appropriateness.  We remind all readers and trainers that simply having a qualifying disability does not automatically imply that someone is a good candidate for service dog (SD) teamwork.  In the case of SD training, the focus is on the team, and a trainer must have the skills to assess both team members.

The time to address the issue of team assessment is before the student is formally accepted into the training program.  You will find that this is a recurring theme throughout your academy training.  Classroom management begins outside of the classroom as does team assessment.  This month we discuss the meaning of a SD team, and how this relates specifically to the type of skills training that the team will ultimately require.

What is a SD Team?
The law provides no clear definition of what it means to be a team, but the FSDS does define the term “team” for the purposes of our program.  It is prudent to share our definition of a team, and the two conditions that must be met.
  • The handler must have a medical condition that meets the ADA definition of disability.
  • The dog must be individually trained to do work or perform tasks to mitigate the disability of the handler.
Prior to accepting a student, we recommended that you collect some information along with the application packet.  This included a Physician Statement of Disability.  In this statement the treating physician should sign a form that has the ADA definition of disability reprinted for them.  This form should ask the physician to check a box at the bottom that indicates they are verifying that the person has a qualifying disability that meets the definition, and that they would benefit from the assistance of a SD.  Do not request that they disclose the nature of the disability, as this is a violation of HIPAA Law.  Simply have them verify that the person has a qualifying disability.
The second condition will be met by their involvement in  your program, as this will ensure proper task training aimed at mitigating their disability.
The handler must also demonstrate an ability to provide a safe and stable home for their dog.  A handler who is frequently homeless or in and out of shelters should be tabled for consideration until such time as their living situation stabilizes.  Individuals who are prone to violent outbursts should be excluded as this poses a real safety issue for the dog.
Ensuring Safe Performance of Selected Tasks
As a trainer, you must ensure that bioethical considerations that provide for the safety of the dog and handler are given due consideration.  You must ensure that the breed selected is appropriate for the necessary tasks.  If your business will own the dogs and train them, for a later match, you will have less of an issue.  If you will permit teams to train, as will likely be the case, you will find that challenges are frequent.
There will be many students who already have a dog that they have bonded with, and they may at times be rather insistent that this dog be the one accepted into the program.  Here at the FSDS, it is not uncommon to receive requests from individuals who seek to train dogs that are less than 10 lbs for mobility tasks.  This is dangerous for both dog and handler and is not permitted.  The dog must be of a suitable size to ensure that they are strong enough to work safely.  We advise you to accept large dogs only (those expected to grow to a size of at least 51-100 lbs) for this type of work.
Anticipating Needs for the Working Life of the Team
When you train a SD, you must bear in mind that the average SD works to approximately 8.5-10 years of age.  The FSDS will not certify any dog past the age of 10 years, and we recommend that you do not either.  The reason for this is that given advanced age it would not be either ethical or safe to press the dog into service.  If they are taken into the program as a puppy, which is preferred, then they will likely be between 18-24 months of age upon graduation.  This means that you must anticipate the needs of the student for the next 6.5-8 years when constructing a list of tasks that the dog must be trained to perform. Though you will not request that they disclose their disability, you will find that most, if not all, students will voluntarily provide this information.
For example – if a student has a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) and seeks to train their Chihuahua, they may insist that they do not need balance and support- just for the dog to pick objects up from the floor and hand them back.  You must anticipate that during the working life of the team, the disease will progress and that the person will likely be faced with serious balance and support needs, or potentially be confined to a wheelchair (WC).  Therefore, the dog should be large enough to be fitted with a balance and support harness or to pull a WC if needed.  They should be trained to brace, and assist the handler with navigating curbs and steps along with a myriad of other mobility related tasks.
Remember that you do not have a crystal ball.  While the “average person” with any given disease can be expected to progress at an average rate, an average is made up of highs and lows.  When in doubt, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Ensuring that the Dog is Able to Safely Perform the Tasks to be Trained
We recommend that if a student arrives with a dog that is a year or older, you first require them to obtain a letter of veterinary clearance.  At the very least, you should document the following:
  • a hip x-ray that demonstrates no evidence of hip dysplasia
  • fecal parasite testing as negative
  • heartworm antigen testing as negative
  • up to date on all vaccines
It is costly, both in terms of time and money, to train a SD.  It is heartbreaking to all when a dog must wash out of a training program prior to graduation for development of a medical issue that was not detected up front.  Be certain to screen those dogs that are not owned by your program.   You will also want to devise a temperament testing tool to screen all dogs prior to acceptance.  A passing score on  your temperament test should be a prerequisite for acceptance.
Take Home Points
  • Document that both conditions to qualify as a SD team are met prior to acceptance into the program.
  • Ensure that the breed selection is appropriate for the tasks to be trained.
  • Anticipate disease progression and train all tasks that the handler may be expected to require assistance with for the working life of the team, to the best of your ability.

Classroom News

Advanced class – congratulations to our beginner class on having progressed to the advanced level.  Students are at work to master advanced obedience skills in preparation for their public access training. Kudos to Nicole and Maiden Joy and their SDIT “Dakota” for their stellar work with “heel” and “working with distractions”.

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 –  school is out for the summer and we encourage all parents to sign their children up for a summer workshop.  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.

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

Emergency Preparedness –  it is that time of year again when our thoughts turn to preparation for natural disasters.  Hurricane and monsoon seasons both begin this month.  If you are in an area that is prone to natural disasters, the time to prepare is before a problem occurs.  In this edition we provide some practical tips for the safety of you and  your service dog.

  • Keep copies of all medical records for your SD on your Drive so that they can be accessed from any remote device; this ensures that if you must evacuate quickly you will still have the proof of vaccination records needed for you to keep your SD with you in a shelter.
  • Life Jackets – if you are in a flood prone area make certain that you have a properly size life jacket available for your SD
  • Food – prepare some portion sized bags of kibble for your dog and have them ready to go if needed; please portion sized bags in zip-seal bags or airtight containers, and place those bags inside of a larger zip seal bag or container.
  • Keep all medications for you and your dog in the same location, and have two zip seal bags of suitable size available to package them quickly if evacuation is needed
  • Have an evacuation plan for your family that includes your SD, include a plan for how to evacuate the home, and where to meet if family is not together when an evacuation occurs; practice your plan in advance!
  • If you live in a multi-story dwelling or in an apartment above the ground floor, have a plan in place for how to evacuate your dog safely – a dog will not be able to climb down a ladder.

Prepare for the worst – hope for the best!

With Sincere Thanks

We wish to thank the following individuals and organizations for their support of our program during the past month:

  • Valerie Schluter
  • DAV Auxiliary Unit 1
  • Sundt Foundation
  • Armed Forces Support Group of Sun City Grand

Upcoming Events

Basic Obedience Training – beginning Saturday May 25th and continuing for 5 weeks, training will be from 1 – 2 p.m. at our Metro Center Mall location; 5 week sessions are $120. Call602-870-2008 to enroll.

Basic Obedience Training – next class starts Saturday, July 13th from1-2  p.m. and runs for 5 weeks.  Details are the same as outlined above.

August 4 -10, 2019 is International Assistance Dog Week – stay tuned for information on special events.

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