Is an owner-trained Assistance Dog the right fit for me?
The first point to be aware of, is that I run a private business, which is not affiliated with a charity organisation. There are charges for the services that I provide, and you need to consider if you are financially equipped to take on this long term commitment. Training your dog to a high standard will require a considerable amount of money and if you are not prepared for this financial outlay then owner training may not be the right path for you.
Important points to consider…
WHAT IS THE SUPPORT YOU ARE AFTER
What aids or supports do you currently use to mitigate the effects of your disability? Can you describe how a dog would do a better job? Just wanting a dog that can go everywhere with you, is not a valid reason for needing an Assistance Dog. Write down what you would like the dog to be able to do for you and what tasks you believe they could be trained to do to help assist you. The trainer will then discuss these with you and whether or not they are realistic goals.
WILL YOUR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL BE INVOLVED?
Do you have support from a licensed health care professional regarding training an Assistance Dog? Are they prepared to communicate with the trainer to discuss your training needs during your journey together?
ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC?
Do you have realistic expectations regarding an Assistance Dog? It is a 24/7 commitment as your dog will be with you most of the time. It important to discuss this with family members to make sure everyone is on board. Also, are you prepared to have the public know you have a disability? Assistance Dogs attract attention and random questions from the public. Are you prepared to talk to members of the public about Assistance Dogs and their role in the community?
Will you be able to meet the dogs’ exercise, grooming, feeding, veterinary and play needs?
YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
What is your support system? Do you have backup help with training your dog if needed? Do you have someone who can look after your dog if you are ill or hospitalised? What will you do if you need to attend long appointments, but your dog is not ready? Who will take your puppy during these times?
WILL YOUR DISABILITY IMPACT YOUR TRAINING?
Do you have a disability that will negatively impact the raising and training of your dog? Environmental factors play a big role in puppy development. People with certain levels of anxieties may not be good candidates for raising a puppy of their own for Assistance Dog work. Some pups may become anxious themselves and can be difficult to train to respond to anxiety attacks. Sometimes the purchase of an already fully trained Assistance Dog is more suitable.
DO YOU HAVE THE TIME NEEDED TO TRAIN YOUR DOG?
Will you have the time to train your dog every day? On average you will need to spend around 1-2 hours a day (in short bursts) working with your dog. Most people will need around 12-24 months of consistent training to get to a level needed to pass the Public Access Test (PAT).
Do you have access to transport to train your dog in different locations? This may be your own car, a friend or relative who can drive you around. You will initially train in your own home but will need access to places like parks and shopping centres for public access training.
Firstly: MUST LOVE DOGS!
Be prepared for the life stages your dog will go through. From puppyhood, through adolescence and then your aging dog and it’s needs. You will need to navigate fear periods and behaviour challenges. Continue with maintenance training throughout their working life. Consider their changing needs as they age and prepare for retirement. Then finally, looking at the idea of purchasing and training a new Assistance Dog candidate. Not all decisions will be easy, but they are all important parts of the journey.
TRAINING YOUR DOG
Training your dog is a lifelong job. You never stop training (or learning). However, you put in a lot of hard work in the first few years. Dogs are generally not mature enough, physically, or emotionally, to cope with all the stress of Assistance Dog work until they are around 2 years of age. You need to be able to train your dog within your daily routine to progress through the different levels of training. Basic Skills – Advanced Skills – Task Training – Public Access – PAT – Maintenance Training.
It is a journey, not a race. Enjoy the ride. Don’t be in a rush to get to the finish line. Throughout the journey you are going to give your dog the necessary skills and experience needed to handle different situations and the ability to work in many different environments. Increasing distractions, working on generalising behaviours and teaching your dog how to relax and settle are all key points to cover. All of this
can be trained in pet friendly places like pet shops, bunnings, parks and cafes. There is no need to rush the dog into public access training until they are ready.