Cura and I have been together since 2009. We want to thank all of you who followed the early days as well as those who popped back on occasion during the long hiatus. Training was done, the days passed, and we were settling into our life together.
Fast forward: Cura is slowing down and a new member of the family is in training. On top of that, we are all busy with our new calling . . . Running the Training Department for Paws and Stripes. Join us on our journey!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Self vs. Organizational Training

I am sure that many of you have figured out that I am an advocate of self-training of Service Dogs.  I realize that it is not always possible for the person with the disability to train their own Service Dog, but let me finally state what I have probably only illuded to in past posts . . . if you can train your own Service Animal - DO IT!

Let me tell you why I say this . . .

I recently read a short, two page article in a dog magazine about an organization that performs the wonderful service of training Service Animals.  The process of this particular organiation was to breed their own dogs (Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and cross-breeds of the two).  Puppies from these breedings were evaluated and those deemed to have the right temperment were sent to puppy carers for the first 13-14 months of their lives.  These volunteers worked to socialize the puppies, put basic training in place, and expose them to the various situations that they would need to be comfortable with as Service Dogs.

Following this basic training, the dogs are sent to Service Dog Training school which lasts between 6-9 months.  During this time, the dog is taught the skill set(s) they need to assist a person with a disability.  Some of the skills the article mentioned were turning on lights, picking things up, and pulling a wheelchair.  After the dog is deemed fully trained, they are paired with a person (presumably they go through a screening process as well to be eligible to get a Service Dog) and they go through two weeks of training together before being sent home.  At this point, the dog is between 19 and 23 months old and their companion has received two weeks of training to teach them how to interact with their new Service Dog and insure that the dog is able to understand their needs and be willing to fulfull them.

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Dogs bred specifically for the temperment and intellegence necessary to work as successful Service Dogs . . . An organization dedicated to generating Service Dogs that can help to improve the lives of disabled people.  What could be wrong with that?  Well, what about a breeding program that produces puppies in a world where an obscene number of dogs are put to death every day?  Not all of these puppies produced in the Service Dog programs are deemed eligible for the program -- what happens to those puppies?  On top of that, I am constantly hearing of people whose Service Dog was a rescue dog and is some kind of Shelter or Pound Mixed Breed.  Of course, I have heard the argument that many Shelter/Pound Dogs would not make good Service Dogs, also.  Granted, Shelter/Pound Dots may not meet the selection criteria of an institutional program, but, I also think that there are some problems with these organized programs. 

What are my issues?  For one (apart fron the whole breeding program addressed earlier), dogs are being sent to programs to learn advanced skills at adolecence rather than waiting until adulthood.  (The breeds used in the program discussed above are not considered 'adults' until at least the age of two.)  This is especially problematic if the dog needs to be performing any weight bearing or pulling assistance.  Dogs should not be asked to brace or pull the weight of their person until they have reached adulthood as it could be damaging to them.  Even if they are not going to be expected to perform weight bearing activities, most dogs have different issues in puppyhood than in adolecence and different issues in adolecence than in adulthood.  Like humans, each life-stage can present different challenges that need to be addressed and worked with in order to help the dog develop to his/her full potential.  What training and problem-solving skills can the disabled person have with only two weeks of training?

This is the another key problem with these kinds of programs.  It does not provide the person half of the team with the skills and knowledge that are necessary to address any problem behavior that develops over time.  I strongly believe that it increases the success of the pairing if the person half of the team knows what they need to do to enable their dog to continue to perform well.  Apart from a few years in my life on this earth, I have always had a dog in my life -- I learned to stand by grabbing handfuls of the family dog's fur and pulling myself up on my feet.  Despite this fact, I have learned so many important techniques and a ton of vital information during our Service Dog training that (I feel) are necessary for the success of our (Cura and my) partnership.  The program constructed by A Fresh Perspective Dog Training is just as much about training me as it is training Cura.  It is an individualized program that focuses on what my personal disability requires of a Service Dog AND what Cura's personal needs require of me to enable her to successfully perform her services. 

So, while organized programs certainly perform a good and necessary service, they have their limitations.  Personally, as long as I am able, I will be training my own Service Dogs (with the help of my AWSOME trainers).  It is what works for me.  I not only get a Service Dog that can do exactly what I need but I also learn how to do more than fulfill the basic needs (food, hygiene, etc.) of my Service Dog -- I learn to anticipate my dog's needs and help my dog to develop into the best Service Dog she can be.


Ally, Eclipse, Teddy and Kira said...

As a puppy raiser in some parts of this agree, in others, it's individual to the organization. Of course there will always be corrupt organizations that are more "service dog puppy mills" than providers of service dogs but there are organizations out there that evaluate and rescue shelter dogs (which have MUCH lower success rates than program bred dogs), that keep their dogs with raisers until they're 2 years old and if they don't they don't start any load-bearing work with them until that age, and almost all organizations have open communication with their graduates so any questions/issues that arise are quickly figured out and addressed. The majority of people in need of service dogs don't have the support that you have and a lot of "trainers" that wish to help self-trainers with their service dog prospects don't know what to look for, how to shape it, how to evaluate, or how to say when a dog simply doesn't want to work. It's a much larger risk financially, emotionally, physically, mentally to train your own service dog and many people don't have those to spare. But I agree, if you are able and have the necessary support and can find the RIGHT dog (which may take YEARS, even longer than waiting for a program dog), you may do well training your own dog, but it's a huge, and many times unfortunate, risk.

Nice post :-D

Cura's Mom said...

Ally and Friends,

I am glad that you pointed out that not all organizations are the same -- this is so true! Also, thanks so much for pointing out some of the difficulties with training your own Service Dog. It is certainly something that is very time consuming and requires dedication. On top of that it is definately NOT what I would call 'easy' as I hope this blog illustrates. I was fortunate to get hooked up with trainers that are not only excellent, but were able to find a compatible dog for me in only a few months - and on only the second attempt. You are right to point out that not everyone has the resources needed to train their own Service Dog. Hopefully, they will manage to connect with a good orgnanization that can help them.