Becoming a Qualified and Competent Service Dog Trainer

In last months newsletter we explored those questions that an individual with disabilities should ask when seeking a program that can assist them in training a dog to meet their needs.  This month we explore those questions that a student should ask when seeking a program that is capable of teaching them to become a qualified service dog trainer.

The first thing that all prospective students must understand is that the SD industry is unregulated.  The result is that any person, regardless of whether or not they are qualified, may register a business and hang a shingle declaring that they train SDs and/or future trainers.  They are then permitted to advertise as a training program.  Thus, is is not unusual to find that those who run these programs may lack the skills required to effectively train dogs, let alone teach others how to do so.  All prospective students should properly vet both the company and their trainers.  This is a necessary move to ensure that you are getting the training that you are paying for.

What to Look For

  1. Apprentice training – if a program advertises that they offer “Apprenticeship Training” then please contact the State Office of Apprenticeship in your area.  Ask the state to verify that the program is an approved Apprenticeship Program.  At this time, there are only two such programs in the nation.  One program operates out of a prison and teaches training skills minus public access training.  The other program is the FSDS Master SD Trainer Apprenticeship Program, a more comprehensive program.  Use of the words “apprentice training” to provide an air of credibility is a frequent marketing strategy, and students must verify all such claims.
  2. Verification of trainers – conduct a thorough online search of all trainers, and request credentials from the program under investigation.  Claims that a trainer gained skills by volunteering at a summer program are shaky.  A search may reveal that this program is a one -two week children’s summer camp (we have turned up several cases of such things happening).  Any person who is responsible for training future trainers should have graduated from a state approved / accredited training school, not merely observed for a couple of weeks in a questionable training program.
  3. Find out which training program the lead trainer graduated from…and when.  Look up the program.  Unfortunately, many online obedience programs require very few in-person hands-on training hours (some as low as only 15 hours) and most do not provide any schooling on how to train service dogs.  Do  your homework!  Regular obedience training and SD training require completely different skill sets.  Be certain that the proposed trainer has indeed acquired those skills needed to provide you with qualified instruction.
  4. Curriculum – specifically request information about what types of training are included in the curriculum.  Training for any future trainer should include both didactic (book work) and skills (hands-on) training.  A training program should be balanced, and include instruction on not only skills training, but canine behavior and theory, understanding disabilities and the culture of the disability community, grooming and nutrition, canine wellness and first aid and CPR.  It is also important that any training you pay for includes information on how to maintain records,  classroom management and policy and procedures for training programs.
  5. Accreditation – please note that Assistance Dogs International (ADI) does not set standards for programs that claim to provide educational programs for those seeking to become qualified SD trainers, thus an ADI accreditation of a training program offers no assurance that those programs have the ability to nurture the next generation of trainers.
  6. How to determine if a program is credible – look for a program that has either been approved as a private post-secondary education school in their state, or has been approved by their state as an apprenticeship program.
  7. Military veterans – seek out a program that has been approved by the VA, and whose students will be eligible to access their GI Bill benefits for participation.

Avoid being scammed.  There are no shortage of programs that post high tuition rates for services that are dubious, at best.  It is important for all those who seek to work with the disability community as qualified SD trainers to be informed consumers when seeking a training program to help you fulfill your goals.

Classroom News

Beginner Class

Henry & Solomon are making progress with both verbal and non-verbal  communication, and have also made great improvements on their “leave it” command.  They are working on practicing the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test and we anticipate success in the near future.  The CGC is the first of three skills tests that a team must pass on their journey to become a certified SD team.

DeAnna & Scooby continue to work on desensitizing around other dogs. They made their first big grocery trip to Costco and Scooby did a phenomenal job with all the crowds of people, maintaining a strong and solid “heel” as they did their shopping.  Congrats to this team for their success in the past month.

Tina & Socorro passed their FSDS Public Appropriateness Test (PAT) this past month and we are so proud of their hard work! Socorro has gotten much better with being cued “under” and staying in her under until given the release command.  The team has also made great progress with retrieving the medication bag from a distant location when cued.

Brain & Mando continue to work on confidence building while in public.  The pandemic has made it hard for this team to get into public, but they are taking every opportunity they can get to refine skills.  In the coming months they will take full advantage of the holiday displays in order to expose Mando to as many unusual sights and sounds as possible.   A hearty congratulations to this team for their success on the CGC test during the month of October.  They are now practicing for their PAT.

Celia & Caroline are now at work to refine their ability to respond to commands from a distance.  They have also stepped up their practice on retrieval of various dropped objects, both at home and in the public space.  This month they will begin training on buffering the work space when in public.

John & Simari traveled to a Lowes to work on practicing skills around distractions.They are also in the final stages of practice for their upcoming CGC test. In the coming month they will be working on generalizing tasks, retrieving the leash and other objects on command and maintaining a solid “sit and down stays” at 20ft.

Keeta & Dani are working to increase exposure to public spaces.  They turned in a stellar performance on their practice CGC and PAT and are ready to test this coming month.  Good luck to this team!

Lindsey & Willow are working on public access training, which has been made difficult by the pandemic.  With the blazing hot summer months behind us, they are working harder on outdoor skills.

Yamill & Bailey have been working to increase their exposure to unfamiliar dogs in public and made great strides during this past month.  They turned in a stellar performance on their practice CGC test during October, and will  be taking their final CGC test this month.  Good luck – we are expecting wonderful things from this team.

Soyini & Coco are working around distractions such as unfamiliar dogs. They have mastered item recognition and bringing medicine bag back from a distant location. This team will be taking their PAT this coming month and we expect huge success. They are working on providing a buffer for the work space and increasing the ability of the handler to venture into public.

Advanced Class

David & Samson – this team is getting ready to take their Certification test this coming month. They have been hard at work at getting the service skills generalized in public spaces, and have completed all requisite 180 in-person training hours.  Best of luck to this team in the coming month.

Irmarie & Bruno are working on  generalizing their skills in public places. With the advent of the holiday season and increased opportunities to work around animated displays and other unusual sights and sounds, we anticipate that this team will make great strides this month.


Wellness Tip

The holiday season is officially upon us, and this month we explore some hazards with holiday decorations, and things that you can do to keep your animals safe.

  1. Plants – while plants such as mistletoe and poinsettias make attractive gifts and decorations, they can be hazardous to animals.
  2. Tinsel and ribbon – these can present a danger of intestinal obstruction, particularly in cats and small dogs.  Linear objects such as this can become wrapped around the base of the tongue and cause obstruction, and emergency surgery to remove the obstruction may be indicated.  Tree tinsel and wrapped packages must be supervised.
  3. Batteries – toys that require batteries, particularly button batteries must be kept out of the reach of your animals.
  4. Tree lights – if chewed, strings of lights can pose a risk of electrocution to your animal.
  5. Trees – if you have a live tree and add aspirin or any other additive to the water to help preserve the tree, this can lead to a risk of poisoning to your pet if they drink the water.
  6. Sweaters – be certain to supervise your animal if you place a sweater on them to ensure that they do not chew the sweater.  Chewing on a sweater results in loose strings, which if ingested can pose the same risk as discussed above for tinsel or ribbon.
  7. Tree ornaments – glass ornaments can be chewed, resulting in damage to the mouth or intestinal tract.  Old-fashioned bubble lights can contain small amounts of methylene chloride and can be toxic.  The metal hangers used to attach the ornaments to the tree can cause perforation of the intestines if swallowed.
  8. Candles – one word…DON’T!  Candles indoors can be accidentally knocked over by dogs who counter surf, or cats who are able to jump up on the counter.  Each year in the U.S. approximately 15,000 house fires are caused by candles.
  9. Snow spray – this is used by some to give the appearance of snow on windows, however the spray can contain small amounts of methylene chloride or acetone.  This can be toxic to animals can cause GI irritation.
  10. Potpourri – while this can add a pleasant aroma to your home, these oils can cause chemical irritation to your animal.  The smaller the animal, the more pronounced the effects.

As we discussed last month, remember to keep holiday treats and candy / nut dishes out of the reach of your animals, and secured in a pantry overnight.

Thank You!

Our sincere thanks to the following for their generous financial support of our program in the past month.

  • Valerie Schluter

We also wish to express our gratitude to the following individuals who have donated their professional time in the past month to work on a redesign and modernization of our website.  This is a work in progress, and though changes are not yet evident to the public, much work has gone on behind the scenes.

  • Mark Ioia
  • Rick Row

Stay tuned for a new look to our website, coming soon!

Photo Gallery

Thank you to all of our students for sharing these photos of their teams from the past month.