Assistance Dog Training

Training Methods

The Trainer and Client will use classical conditioning and operant conditiong methods, such as: positive reinforcement (giving a food reward, verbal or physical praise or toy to the dog to encourage the likelihood of that desired behaviour to occur) and negative punishment (withholding a reward to reduce the likelihood of an undesirable behaviour occurring).  PADT does not condone the use of aversive training methods such as prong collars, e-collars or the old ‘yank-and-crank’ methods.

Is an assistance dog right for me?

Before embarking on this fulfilling journey, I ask you to please consider the many aspects of training and owning a service dog. It is NOT an easy or quick fix path.

Do you have a realistic expectation of your lifestyle with an Assistance Dog?  

Having a service dog with you 24/7 is a serious commitment and is not to be taken lightly.  Talk to your friends and family about what it will mean to have a dog by your side at all times.   Dogs attract other adults and children, which is not always desirable for the handler when out in public.  Are you prepared to ‘out’ yourself to the public as having a disability? Having a dog by your side attracts much-unwanted attention and random questions from the public.

What are you already doing to mitigate your disability?

Can you articulate how a dog would do a better job of intervening with your symptoms than a carer, friends or family or a traditional disability aid?  Write this down.

It is a good idea to write down what you would like your dog to do for you.  Some of these things may be realistic and some may not. Your trainer will work through the list with you.

Are you ready for all the public attention you will receive due to your dog?

An Assistance Dog (AD) attracts attention to both you and your dog whether you like it or not.  An AD openly acknowledges you, the handler as someone with a disability. Other people and children will want to talk to you and touch your dog.  It is most annoying when all you want to do is go out and get your shopping and leave. Even if you have patches and labels on your dog’s jacket e.g. ‘Do not touch’, other people just don’t read or care.  You will need to rehearse an appropriate phrase you can verbally deliver to the public and the responses to the various questions others ask about you and your dog. You may even tell them that you are training the dog for an organisation.  Your trainer will have ‘do not distract’ cards for you to politely give out and walk away.

Do you have a disability that will not negatively impact the raising and training of your dog?

People with certain types and levels of anxieties may not be good candidates for raising their own assistance puppy. You create the environment your pup lives in. Dogs model what they see in their environment. If you are anxious, the pup may become anxious and it is difficult to train the dog to respond to anxiety attacks that has been normalized for them. Sadly, many people fail due to this fact alone. There are however options to mitigate this risk, you may choose to adopt a reclassified guide dog or even have someone else train the dog for you until such time as you are ready to take the dog on.

Are you able to work with your dog 1-2 hours per day 5 days a week for minimum 6 to 12 months?

This equates to approximately 120 to 540 hours. Most people need 12 to 18 months and beyond.

When can we start training?

This depends on where your dog has come from, how old the dog is and it’s past experiences and training to date. There are distinct levels of training to mould a successful assistance dog.  Please allow your puppy to develop naturally without too much expectation during the first 12 months of it’s life.  It’s up to YOU to provide your young dog many varied and positive experiences during this critical 12 month developmental period.

  1. Puppy stage: 7 weeks to 16 weeks (approx.). The main focus here is on socialization and environmental enrichment, exposing the puppy to as many different stimuli as possible in a positive manner. Behaviours for every day living like house training, bite inhibition, crate training, the beginnings of impulse control and following the handler will set the scene for your assistance puppy. Make sure you and your puppy are attending at least a couple of puppy classes per week for socialisation around other puppies.
  2. From 8 weeks on wards: As stated above, environmental enrichment such as, exposing the puppy to as many different stimuli as possible in a positive manner is of utmost importance for an Assistance Dog in the making.      For Example: loud street noises, traffic sounds, car rides, men, women, children, different outfits, helmets, hats, motorbikes, wheelchairs, walking sticks, scooters, skateboards, bicycles etc…  expose the puppy in short burst and make it really fun with lots of food reward and comfort without molly-coddleing the dog.
  3. Foundation skills: Approximately from 16 weeks. The puppy and handler need to learn how to learn. Behaviours such as nose and paw targeting, leave it, sit, wait and eye contact are the foundations of other skills to come. This is when the bond between handler and dog really start to form.
  4. Loose lead walking and down stay-relax: Generalising all the above behaviours while out and about and learning to ignore distractions prepares the dog for public access work.
  5. Assistance ‘Tasks’: Once the dog understands how to learn, start to teach the dog tasks that will help to mitigate your disability, especially while out in public. Dogs are generally not mature enough or ready to implement these ‘tasks’ in public until at least 18 months old. They are still being silly and displaying adolescent behaviours with attention spans that still need work! DO NOT expect your dog to be ‘working’ out in public for hours on end until at least 18 months old. Continue to train in short bursts without too much pressure on the dog.
  6. Public Access: This may go hand-in-hand with teaching ‘tasks’, however your dog is still learning to be part of a team and know when to focus on you, ignore high intensity distractions and check-in with you regularly. This is a lot to ask of a dog so it should be mature enough to cope with a human-centric environment. Always begin public access training at your local street shopping strip, which the dog should be used to already as part of it’s puppy training.

If you are beginning your training with an adult dog (preferably no older than 3years), you will need a thorough assessment from PADT. Your dog should have an excellent temperament around other dogs, children, people of all shapes and sizes and display NO aggression under any circumstance.

Please note, IF YOUR DOG IS REACTIVE to other dogs or people in ANY way or BARKS a lot in public, it will not be suitable for assistance dog work.

PADT will not train short nosed dogs due to the common problem of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome and general overheating.

If you already own a dog that you are considering as a service dog, a temperament test will need to be conducted to ensure his or her suitability, or you may be considering a puppy from a registered breeder.  It is preferable to have the background history of any prospective dog that you wish to train to Public Access (Test) standard.

To begin your assistance dog journey, you will require a report of your disability and symptoms from your psychiatrist, psychologist or relevant specialist (NOT a G.P.) outlining your diagnosis, symptoms and your need for an assistance dog and how an assistance dog could benefit you specifically. This is a legal document.  Training cannot begin without it.

To begin any dog over 6 months of age with assistance dog training, the dog MUST be up to date with C5 vaccinations.  Please make copies available for your trainer. De-sexing is mandatory before the Public Access Test can be undertaken.  The dog does NOT need to be de-sexed while training if it is still young.

The Paws for Assistance Dog Training process is casual, fun and easy to follow, with fees charged by the session plus a monthly commitment/administration fee to keep us all on track and moving towards your goal of having a highly trained assistance dog by your side 24/7.

Ongoing training

Initially, you and your dog will be doing rigorous amounts of training to achieve the high standard required from both of you.  Down the track, dedicated training may decrease, however you must continue to maintain a certain amount of ongoing training over the dog’s working life.  If the training doesn’t continue, your dogs’ incredible abilities will deteriorate. Some dogs even start to develop unwanted behavioural problems.

It is up to YOU to stay in touch with your trainer and uphold the high standard of training your dog needs to be able to display at ALL times.

Please budget for ongoing training costs over the dog’s lifetime.

Do you have the ability to get out of your home to socialise and train your dog on a regular basis in many different locations or have someone else do it for you? Starting with a well-socialized adult dog helps but you still need to take it places to generalise the public behaviour and tasks.

What if the dog & I fail to reach the Public Access standard?

There is a high potential for failure even after you’ve trained the dog.

Many owner-trained dogs are removed from training due to fear, aggression, overly-friendly/excitability, health issues that develop or inability to cope with the ongoing stress of being an assistance dog. Consider what would you do with a failed dog or a retired dog? Rehome him? Keep him and train another? Look at your disabilities, income, housing etc. and consider how those would affect your decision.

Training Budget

A training budget will also need to be factored in. Expect to pay up to $5000 for training over 18 months.  Every team will vary with the amount of training they require.

Approximately once a week training for 8 weeks then once a fortnight then once a month until Public Access Tested (PAT).  This can extend from 6 to 18 months depending on you and your dog’s circumstances.

Note, A pre-trained dog from an organisation will cost between $25,000 < $40,000 plus a waiting list of up to 2yrs! Not everyone is able to train their own dog.  

$2500 per year! Consider whether your financial situation will allow for approx. $200 per month for the rest of the dogs life (including: vaccinations, food, equipment, bedding, toys etc.), PLUS any emergencies that can be very expensive.  Every pet/assistance dog owner should be able to financially support the needs of their dog.  Consider Pet Insurance.

Importance of a backup plan should you fall ill or are hospitalised

Who is on your emotional and physical support network list? E.G. Partner, family members, friends, psych. professionals? Make a list!

PADT Insurance

Paws for Assistance Dog Training is fully covered for pet training and assistance dogs. 

Business Activities:

  • Pet Training
  • In home training and private consultations (inc. companion animals)
  • Nursing home and or school visits. 

Limits of Liability:

  • Public Liability $20,000,000 
  • Contingent Care, Custody and control extensions $50,000  per animal.
  • Advertising Liability $20,000,000 
  • Professional Indemnity $2,000,000

Plus:

  • Intellectual property, loss of documents, 
  • Fines & penalties, investigations & enquiries, 
  • Defamation, Libel, slander, 
  • Australian consumer law.