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Tips on Selecting a Program to Provide a Trained Service Dog

Once you have made the decision to seek a program trained Service Dog, the business of ferreting out an excellent organization from which to obtain your Service Dog begins. This task can be daunting as there are a lot of programs out there with very persuasive media and marketing campaigns.

How do you tell which ones train excellent and reliable, healthy Service Dogs? How do you determine fraudulent Service Dog training organizations? There are numerous factors to consider when you start your search process.

Where do you live and how far do you want to travel to interview the training organization and pick up your Service Dog when the training is finished? What is the reputation in the Service Dog industry of the training organization? Who selects your Service Dog? What is the health of the Service Dog and its parents and littermates? What health screenings are done on the prospective Service Dogs? What about follow up training needs? Answers to these questions, and more will be presented here to help you find just the right match for your needs regarding obtaining a Service Dog.

How to tell a legitimate Service Dog training and placement program from a fraudulent one.

Many fraudulent organizations may appear to be quite legitimate. They may have elaborate and beautiful web sites. They may appear on lists of service dog providers on legitimate organization's web sites, such as the Delta National Service Dog Center. They may be listed in an internet search using your preferred search engine.

There are many ways you, as an informed consumer, can research on your own to check out the legitimacy of any Service Dog program. You can take as much, or as little time to verify anything you see in print, or are referred to by well-meaning friends or marketing agents.

You can also check for complaints against an organization through its local Better Business Bureau. To find the local Better Business Bureau, visit http://www.bbb.org. Please note that the Better Business Bureau you need to check with should be the one which is local to the organization you are researching. These activities may be your best protection against being taken advantage of.

A really skilled Service Dog training organization will examine your physical and mental needs thoroughly. They will have you and your physician(s) and possibly your treatment team fill out numerous forms with detailed questions about not only your disabling condition(s), but your personality and lifestyle. The organization also will ask for detailed information about how your disability affects you in your everyday life, your living conditions and, your lifestyle. They must know these things to match just the right breed and sized dog trained to do the right tasks plus the right training and support provided to you.

Warning signs:
Failure to give a direct answer to your questions.
Refusal to allow you to examine veterinary or training records regarding the dog assigned to you.
Refusal to allow you to visit their training facilities, or communicate with trainers.
Failure to provide you with training support after placement.

A reputable training organization should offer a reasonable time of support and be willing to do training upgrades if the dog develops problems, or if your disabilities worsen.

They should be available for telephone or internet/email support as needed.

Many organizations that are scamming the disabled make claims that are not true or possible. Some of these claims include being able to train a dog to be a Service Dog within 4 – 6 weeks, or that a dog can perform as a Service Dog at a year old.

Visiting their facility and kennels is a great way to get a feel for their quality.
By visiting their facility and kennels, you can see prospect Service Dogs, observe trainers working with the dogs, and meet or interview some of the trainers.

You can get a firsthand look at the way the Service Dog prospects are housed. Bear in mind that dogs raised in and kept in a kennel are frequently not the best Service Dog candidates. Service Dogs do better in their training if they are kept primarily in a family situation.

The facilities don't need to be fancy, but they should be well maintained (reasonably clean and in good repair). The dogs also should be reasonably clean, showing signs of daily brushing and trimmed toenails. The dogs should be happy. They should show obvious fondness for their trainers and a desire to please out of that fondness. They should not shrink away from a trainer, or avoid eye contact.

Certifications of any type are not needed. Some training organizations stress that their Service Dogs are “certified”, and will charge very high fees to purchase the dog, and “recertify” the Service Dog every year or so at your expense.

How are dogs selected for Service Dog training and placement?

A good program will give you very little choice in what dog they will place with you. They use the information you and your Dr.’s provide on the nature and extent of your disability, and your living arrangements plus your lifestyle to select just the right type of dog.

What has the dog been taught, how many hours of training has the dog had?

This is an important question to be asking the organization that is providing you a Service Dog. You need to make sure that the dog is trained to do tasks and work that you actually need.
You need to make sure your Service Dog is trained and proofed both on and off lead.
It would be helpful for you to be able to see a video of your Service Dog during its training.

It is also very important to determine what temperament tests have been on your dog not only during the selection process, but also during the training process.

What is the Organization’s training methods and protocol?

What level of training has the dog had? Is the dog obedience trained both on and off lead? What training method has been used? What training and control methods have been employed?

Ask the training or dog organization to send you videos of the dog selected for you going through his obedience and task training. Also ask the organization to include video clips of the dog at leisure (being a dog), and videos of public access and distraction work.

Another important question is how was the dog’s temperament evaluated and the qualifications of who ever did the evaluation. Ask about aggression with dogs, cats and dog humans.

Is the dog capable of passing a Canine Good Citizen test? Has the dog a CGC certificate?
What are the qualifications of the trainers?
Questions to ask might include: how many trainers are employed? Are they employees -Contract employees - Volunteers?
How many Service Dogs have they trained? What training methods and equipment do they use?
What after care and availability for doing upgrades after placement?
What provisions for assistance after placement is available to for you? How long will the organization provide trouble-shooting or training up-grades after placement? At what cost and what locations?
Who retains ownership of the Service Dog?
This an important legal question regarding liability for your Service Dog, for the provision of certain veterinary procedures, retirement and end of life decisions for your Service Dog.

How much should a Service Dog cost?
This is a difficult question to answer. Each training organization will have different costs based upon their overhead costs for running the business, paying for trainers, purchasing or breeding the Service Dog candidate, wash-out rate of their dogs.
Other costs are transportation of finished Service Dogs.
Service Dogs run from zero cost to $13,000 - $20,000 and even more! Each organization is free to set their own fees as there is no regulation on pricing.
Payment of fees for your Service Dog.
Many Service Dog organizations require payment in full up front. Others require installments during the dog’s training with the last payment at placement.
It is important to have a signed contract stipulating what the organization will do with your money. Will they put your money in a trust account? Will they return or retain any money you have given them?
If the dog dies, washes out for any reason – will the organization refund your money? If the dog washes out or becomes too sick to work or washes out after placement – will they give you your money back or replace the dog?
Health of your potential Service Dog
You are looking for a physically and mentally healthy dog that can provide work for you for around 8-10 years.
Are the dog current vaccinations, and a history of required vaccinations?
Has the organization done an eye exam, OFA, elbows? Does the dog have scheduled heartworm testing and thyroid screening?
Is the dog spayed or neutered? At what age? What dog food is being fed to your Service Dog? What percent protein and fat does the organization provide? Does the dog have any allergies?

Summary

There is no single way of determining if a Service Dog training organization is truly reputable. However, if you maintain a skeptical and objective outlook, check references, ask many questions, do your homework and research, you should come out a pleased Service Dog purchaser.