Looking for a SD Training Program – What Questions to Ask

When searching for the ideal training program to train / provide a SD to meet your medical needs, students need to be aware of several factors.  Not the least of these is the reality that the SD industry is currently unregulated.  This means that in AZ, as well as in many places across the nation, any citizen may file with their state commission to start a training business, and they will not be required to provide any proof that they are in fact qualified to provide these services.

Currently, there are no organized state or federal regulations that govern program or trainers, and there is a difference between the two.  The issues with lack of credibility of many self-declared trainers is mentioned above.  The issue regarding an absence of program requirements and credibility is a separate issue.  You will therefore find wide variations that exist among programs in terms of content and organization.

For those programs who do appear to be well organized, you will need to decide what your learning style and needs are, and select the program that is not necessarily better than the others, but the best fit for your particular needs.  This month we provide you with a list of questions that you should ask any program you are seriously considering.  In subsequent months, we will address issues for exploration by individuals who are seeking to acquire SD training vocational skills, and issues that funders should ask of any program they are considering providing financial support to.

General Programming Questions

  1. How long has your program been in existence?   We are in a difficult financial climate, and give careful consideration to the viability of the program.  You may wish to give stronger consideration to a program with demonstrated long term success and stability.
  2. What is the cost of your program?  Bear in mind that programs that advertise no cost to veterans, yet require the veteran to own and train the dog are not free.  Do your homework, factor in the cost of canine procurement, veterinary and routine care and travel expenses.  Also consider the cost of any working equipment you may require.
  3. What does your curriculum include?  At a minimum, it should include both didactic and skills training.  Didactic training is “book work” and should include SD laws, travel and quarantine rules that may apply, grooming, nutrition, public access issues and canine health.  Preferably, it should also include canine first aid and CPR.  This should be provided in a written format in order to address special needs.
  4. Does the program provide a written individualized accommodation plan to address any special learning needs?
  5. Are you able to provide me with a written overview of your training and certification process?
  6. How many requisite training hours are needed to qualify for graduation?
  7. Does the program have a certification testing process in place?
  8. Are there ongoing requirements for maintaining certification annually?
  9. Are there ongoing requirements for periodic re-certification?
  10. Does your program issue a vest and ID badge upon graduation?
  11. If I were to relocate after graduation, what provisions are in place to ensure that my certification does not expire?  Note that most reputable programs will require re-testing on the average of every 3 years.  Does the program have a reciprocity arrangement with other trainers or programs?
  12. Is there a formal appeal process in the event that conflict resolution is needed?
  13. Who owns the dog during the training process and maintains responsibility for all costs?
  14. Does your program provide hands-on assistance in selection and temperament testing of dogs for handlers?
  15. If the program owns the dog during the training process, is full ownership transferred to me upon graduation, or does the program maintain the right to reclaim the dog at any time?


  1. Are there any restrictions to apply to acceptance (ie: only military veterans, only combat-related, only PTSD, etc.)?
  2. Are there any restrictions to the types of dogs you train, and why?
  3. Are there any age restrictions for acceptance?
  4. Are there age restrictions for the working life of the dog?


  1. Is your lead trainer a graduate of an approved training school?  It is important for every trainer to have a balanced understanding of skills training as well as canine behavior and applied theory.  Attempt to avoid situations where programs engage trainers who have learned through volunteer work or classroom observations.
  2. What type of professional development does your program provide to your trainers?
  3. How many years of professional experience in training SDs does your lead trainer have?  We recommend at least 3 years, and training their own SD does not count as training experience?  Training their own dog, or training pet obedience do not count!

Classroom News

Beginner Class

Henry & Solomon are making progress with generalizing skills, such as retrieving meds and wallet in places other than inside the home. Solomon also did great with his trip to Lowes and worked on lots of “leave its”.  The team is at work with reinforcing appropriate public behaviors when in crowded spaces.

DeAnna & Scooby-  passed their American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (AKC CGC) test early this past month. They are now hard at work with desensitizing and working around a variety of public distractions. They will soon  passed their Public Appropriateness  Test (PAT) later in the month and did a superb job.

Tina & Socorro had their first outing together to Lowes and Socorro they did a fantastic job navigating through new sights and sounds in public. They demonstrated good communication and teamwork.   Socorro also is making great progress with retrieving the medication bag and bringing it all the way back to Tina when needed.

Brian & Mando are working on confidence building and rewarding calm behavior around loud noises. Mando is getting more comfortable and confident being out in pet friendly places.  This past month, they taveled to Cabelas to practice working with strange dogs and the unusual sights of the taxidermy displays.   They are preparing to take their AKC CGC test soon.

Celia & Caroline have just passed their public appropriateness test.  They are now working on commands from a distance, and focusing on their service tasks first at home,and then with public distractions.  Having passed their PAT, this team has now earned their yellow training vest.

John & Simari are working on retrieving remote items and have made great progress over the past month.   They took their first trip out to Home Depot and worked on leave-its, walking past people, ignoring other SDs in public and more. This team continues to demonstate excellent communication in public.

Keeta & Dani are doing a stellar job at generalizing commands in a variety of situations. They will be ready to take their CGC test in the near future and we are anticipating success.  Keeta is a community volunteer and is doing an outstanding job of raising Dani, who will be awarded to a military veteran in need.

Lindsey & Willow are working on public access skills. Willow had her first experience meeting up with another dog at a Lowes and she did a great job in maintaining a heel and following commands.  They passed both their AKC CGC and PAT tests with flying colors.  Lindsey is a local college student, and this is the second FSDS dog she is raising to help out a military veteran in need.

Yamill & Bailey continue to gain confidence in public and Bailey is responding well to targeted commands.   Bailey is able to reliably at retrieve dropped items with public distractions.   They have been taking trips to pet friendly stores and working on desensitizing and rewarding calm behavior.  Yamill is a local HS student and is raising Bailey for a military veteran in need.

Soyini & Coco took their first trip to Cabela’s to introduce Coco to taxidermy exhibits.  This introduction will prove helpful with the upcoming holidays when they encounter reindeer displays in public.   They also practiced riding in an elevator and worked on their non-verbal communication skills. This team is expected to take their AKC CGC this month!

Advanced Class

Irmarie & Bruno are getting ready to take their final certification test.  They have been hard at work practicing the expected behaviors while out in public and working on service skills.  This team has worked hard, have completed their 180 requisite hours of training and we are expecting a stellar performance on the final certification test.

David & Samson have been practicing their certification test and are nearing completion of their 180 required hours. Samson does great in public with helping David navigate through the store, and retrieving dropped items.


Congratulations to the following teams who passed skills tests during this past month.

  • Deanna and Scooby passed their Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test and their PAT with flying colors
  • Celia and Caroline did a stellar job in passing their Public Appropriateness Test (PAT)
  • Lindsey and Willow passed their PAT easily, turning in a impressive performance

The journey to become a certified team is long, but rewarding.  In addition to the didactic requirements and the requisite 180 documented formal training hours, each team must pass a series of three skills tests:

  • Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC)
  • Public Appropriateness Test (PAT)
  • FSDS Certification Test

Wellness Tip

With Halloween arriving late this month, and the holiday season just around the corner, we take time this month to discuss the hazards to your pets of ingesting holiday candies and treats.  We urge all readers to take this seriously, as each year many dogs suffer from serious illness from accidental ingestion of toxic foods, and in some cases this can prove fatal.

The most common foods that will cause toxicity in dogs are as follows:

  1. Avocados and avocado pits – these contain a toxin known as persin that can cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs and chest and lead to death.  We also note that ingestion of avocado pits can cause intestinal obstruction.
  2. Xylitol – this artificial sweetener can be found in candies, chewing gum, toothpaste and other products.  Ingestion of xylitol can cause a precipitous drop in blood sugar and can lead to liver failure and death.  Be aware that some generic brands of peanut butter contain xylitol, so if you bake your own dog treats be sure to read the label carefully first for all ingredients.
  3. Caffeine – this contains a chemical known as theobromine, which increases heart rate and can cause over-stimulation of the nervous system. Doses of as little as 2.2 mg / lb have been known to be toxic (approx. 154 mg in a 70 kg dog).  As a frame of reference, the average cup of coffee or tea contains between 40-150 mg of caffeine.
  4. Grapes and raisins can lead to renal failure, and in some cases as little as a handful of either have been proven fatal.
  5. Alcohol or yeast dough – it is important to note that alcohol can be found in many household products such as mouthwash or cleaners, and can also be found in things that ferment such as rotten apples or yeast.  For reference, when considering 100% (175 proof) alcohol, a dose of 0.59 oz/lb of body weight (41.3 oz in a 70 lb dog) can be fatal.  Symptoms may not manifest for 12-24 hours, so it is important to seek immediate veterinary treatment if you suspect that an ingestion has occurred.  Yeast dough that is rising can also expand within the intestines and cause intestinal blockage.
  6. Chocolate – though chocolate contains theobromine, making it toxic to dogs, we separate this from other caffeine products here as it warrants special consideration.  Chocolate, particularly around the holidays, can be found in many homes,often in candy dishes that are placed on low lying coffee or end tables.  This makes chocolate more accessible to dogs.  Chocolate can also contain nuts and raisins which may be toxic.  Macadamia nuts are of particular concern.  It is important to remember that the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is.  For example, 1 oz of bakers chocolate can cause toxicity in a 44 lb dog.
  7. Salt -ingestion of excessive amounts of salt can lead to water deprivation in dogs, and can cause renal failure.  Amounts equal to 2.2 tsp/lb can be fatal, though we urge readers to avoid providing any salty foods such as pretzels, chips, popcorn or salted nuts to your dog.

To protect your dog from accidental poisoning, here are some safety tips for your consideration:

  1. Ensure that all candy dishes or treat dishes are placed on a higher countertop, out of the reach of your dog.
  2. At the end of the day, cover all dishes and place them inside of a cabinet on a high shelf so that they are inaccessible during the night when you are asleep.
  3. Do not feed table food to your dog and ensure that all guests are duly informed of this as well.
  4. Ensure that all garbage cans have a lid that can not easily be dislodged if knocked over.
  5. On Halloween, keep your candy bowl for trick-or-treaters out of the reach of your dog.
  6. When you are cooking or baking, keep all potentially toxic ingredients away from your dog; these ingredients should be kept in a pantry or refrigerator between use.
  7. Keep holiday cookies in a covered container, and place in the pantry at night.
  8. Keep the number for poison control and your veterinarian in an prominent location so that in the event of an emergency you can locate the number without delay.

Have a safe and fun Halloween!

Thank You

Our sincere thanks to the following individuals and businesses who have supported our mission in the past month:

  • Valerie Schluter
  • Monica and Allie Spencer, ILM Annie Spencer
  • Subaru Foundation, Inc.

Photo Gallery

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