Over the last decade assistance dogs have had a huge uptake in use. People are finally becoming more aware of the many different ways assistance dogs can benefit people with a disability. However, the assistance dog industry is largely unregulated. Over the last decade the options on where and how to obtain an assistance dog have become abundant. There is, as there has always been, the option to go it alone and owner train with no affiliation to an organisation (see THIS blog post). Most organisations will not even tell you this. As long as your dog meets the legislative requirements, and you understand the law and your rights and have trained that dog to mitigate your disability it is perfectly legal to buy a vest and go about your business. However, most people are either unaware they are able to do this, or they don’t have the skills and resources to do so.
This is where assistance dog organisations can come in. Some organisations will train the dog entirely for you, and place that dog once fully trained. There are several such organisations out there that work in this fashion. For many people this will not be the best choice. The drawbacks include this being very expensive (costing $10,000 or more) and most organisations that do this cater specifically for only one kind of disability. In addition, the wait list to obtain these dogs is exceptionally long, often 2+ years.
For people who wish to bypass these constraints, but still do not have the ability to go it totally alone there is the option of supported owner training with an organisation. Choosing which organisation is the best fit for you needs can be daunting. The industry is unregulated, and the choices can feel overwhelming. It is important to make an educated choice when you choose which organisation to engage with. Not all orgs offer the same service and some of the advertising for these organisations can be less then transparent about what you can actually expect from them.
There are some “organisations” that are in effect actually more of a membership club. What I mean by this is that they may provide you with a vest and ID, however you will still be expected to train the dog yourself, or engage an outside trainer at an additional cost to the membership fee. In some cases, this may be the right choice if you only need limited support or just access to advocacy in the event of an access challenge. But I should point out just about any generic disability advocacy service can provide this, usually for free. Including Please Don't Pat Me.You will still be expected to document and/or submit records of training you have undertaken, but in the event that an access challenge gets to the point of going to court, its important to know that this style of organisation will not be able to provide expert testimony that holds any more weight then had you just kept and submitted those self-reported training records to the court yourself. Them being held in a membership clubs data base makes no difference over and above had you held those records in your own filing cabinet at home. So, while an ID card and vest may smooth the way with some gatekeepers because as a general rule most gatekeepers are ignorant, and the advocacy the membership club provides would be potentially helpful for minor access challenges they hold no more legal weight then a boost juice card and you are able to buy your own vest and make your own ID card.
The next option is engaging with an organisation that also provides training. This is the style of service Capable K9s provides. When considering these types of organisations, it is important to ask for clarity about exactly what and how much support they provide. At the minimum they will provide advocacy and support to keep your training records in order. In addition, they should provide access to a qualified professional dog trainer who has actual experience with assistance dog training. Pet dog trainers are a good start, but they lack the assistance dog training specific information and the skill set to adapt their training to meet the needs of a person with a disability. (see THIS blog post) Its important you understand what and how much training they expect you to undertake and how much this service costs. Capable K9s includes all this information in every information pack we send to potential clients.
Capable K9s is not the right choice for every handler, but you need to make an educated decision if the actual service provided is worth the fees being asked and if the level of support provided matches your personal needs.