Assistance Dog Training
I am certified by the National Dog Trainers Federation and specialise in working with assistance dog teams. The Capable K9s client experience is a fully supported, client centered, training focused model driven by Monique's passion to help other people achieve the same levels of independence and freedom her assistance dogs have given her.
About Me and My Philosophy
I am certified by the National Dog Trainers Federation and specialise in working with assistance dog teams. My clients live with various disabilities, including psychiatric disability, and seek my expertise to train their dogs in various tasks intended to alleviate the effects of those disabilities. Importantly, I also teach these teams to meet the standards of public behaviour and hygiene required by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) (DDA)(s9).
I am experienced in training psychiatric assistance dogs, autism assistance dogs, PTSD assistance dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and medical response assistance dogs. In most instances, I do not pre-train and place assistance dogs: instead, I work with clients to select and train their own (suitable) assistance dogs using a highly customised and personalised approach. I believe that every person living with disability has a unique experience of that disability and I am committed to teaching you how to train your dog to complete tasks specific to your disability and your personal circumstances. Moreover, I believe that the process of my teaching you how to train your dog fosters the critical bond between handler and assistance dog. In my view this important bonding process cannot be replicated with placement of a pre-trained dog.
As a person who has lived with disability for the greater part of my adult life, I have personally experienced the many challenges people with disabilites encounter every day. Through my owner-training of my Italian Greyhound, Luigi (retired), and my Borzoi, Nikolai, I have also enjoyed the incredible independence assistance dogs can create. I strive to bring this know-how to all of my training relationships, and thus the principal goal of Capable K9s is to bring a similar experience to your life.
Is an Assistance Dog for You?
Under Australian law, the use of assistance dogs is restricted to people living with disability (DDA s9(2)(a)). Put simply, if a handler does not have a disability as defined by the DDA (s4), s/he cannot represent his/her dog as an assistance animal – that animal is a companion dog and therefore does not have public access rights.
For people living with disability, you must first consider whether an assistance dog is truly for you. This is a not a light decision to undertake. While assistance dogs provide many benefits to their handlers, there are also downsides to utilising an assistance dog. I urge all prospective assistance dog handlers to carefully weigh the likely benefits against the potential downsides before embarking on the selection and training process. To that end, I outline below seven important considerations which I believe all prospective handlers should review prior to contacting me.
- Time Commitment
Having an assistance dog is a full time commitment. Training your assistance dog involves a significant investment of time and energy. You must commit to training your dog regularly and consistently. For your assistance dog to be of most benefit to you, and to maintain the consistent training, you must be able to commit to having your assistance dog with you nearly all the time.
Your assistance dog will become your shadow, your teammate. You will become a “we,” a team. Once your assistance dog is fully trained you will have canine help and support on hand whenever you need it. This often produces a brand new sense of independence for handlers. There is, however, a flipside to this benefit: your team will often become highly visible.
- Becoming More Visible in Public
Your bringer of independence – your assistance dog – will frequently cause people to look, point and stare. This is an unavoidable part of being an assistance dog handler. Certainly, not all people will be so discourteous, but in the early stages of assistance dog handling you are likely to feel quite self-conscious. People are likely to approach you to ask rude or intrusive questions about yourself, your dog, and your disability. People may even be so rude as to invade your personal space and touch your dog without permission, perhaps even after you have asked them not to.
This degree of visibility may initially be quite confronting. As your trainer, and a highly experienced assistance dog hander, I will help you; I will give you the tools and skills to navigate these experiences smoothly and with dignity.
- Access Challenges
Once your assistance dog is trained to meet the standards of public behaviour and hygiene required by the DDA, you will be able to take him/her to almost all locations. In fact, the DDA protects your right to access almost all places the public is usually allowed to go – even those places where pets are prohibited. However, unlawful refusal of access – what handlers call “access challenges” – are a normal part of working with an assistance dog. Despite all the education that assistance dog organisations and charities undertake, and despite business’ obligation to comply with the law, handlers frequently encounter people in positions of power or authority who are ignorant of the law, or even worse, wilfully disregard it.
Access challenges can be frustrating, embarrassing, and detrimental to your confidence. As your trainer I will give you the skills and tools to navigate and minimise these experiences. When they do occur and are not resolved through education, I will assist you to lodge a disability discrimination complaint with the relevant authority.
An assistance dog is one component of the toolbox you use to alleviate the effects of your disability. Your assistance dog will not replace the need for you to keep taking prescribed medications or to continue seeing your medical and allied health professionals. The sense of freedom and independence an assistance dog brings can be amazing, so much so that if you ever have to leave your assistance dog at home – perhaps during a time of his/her illness – doing so can be extremely difficult. Essentially, handlers become dependent on their assistance dogs to function at optimal level, just as some people are dependent on their wheelchairs, walking sticks or canes. Moreover, your local community will also develop an expectation that you will always be accompanied by your assistance dog; so, when you are unable to have your dog accompany you it is not unusual for members of your community to ask after your dog. While I do not consider dependency to be a downside of assistance dog handling, I do believe that prospective handlers should carefully consider how dependency may affect their individual circumstances.
- Financial Investment
Every companion animal involves the regular expenses of acquisition, feeding, vet care and grooming. Assistance dog handlers also need to budget for equipment costs – items such as ID cards, information cards, patches, vests or harnesses, and rain coats and booties, depending in the weather where you live.
Training costs are additional, and, depending on your individual circumstances, may be significant. Given the highly customised, individual nature of my teaching and training protocol, I am unable to provide firm quotations for training costs. I am, after discussing with you your needs and your dog’s needs, able to provide a general idea of what training costs you might expect. Such estimates are always subject to how much work and commitment you, as handler, put in to working with your dog. All assistance dogs in training with Capable K9s are subject to a minimum 6 month training period and the minimum cost for this is required at the commencement of your training program.
Some handlers claim training and equipment costs as tax deductions (medical expenses).
- Support Network
Do the people whom you care about support your decision to work with an assistance dog? You and your assistance dog become a package deal. Your friends and family will no longer spend time with just you, but also your dog. This is a significant lifestyle change which will affect those close to you. Thus you must consider, for example, whether you and your assistance dog will be accepted at important functions; and whether your partner or best friend will be able to handle the increased visibility I mentioned above – it may be as difficult for them as it is for you.
My observation is that some families respond with open hearts and enthusiasm; some can be very resistant to change and may not immediately recognise the benefits of having an assistance dog – especially while you are training. Others may even feel a little jealous or threatened by your new found independence.
- Washing Out and Retirement of an Assistance Dog
A final, and very important consideration, is the prospect of failure. When an assistance dog in training – or even after full training – can no longer work for any reason (other than age) it is called “washing out.” Even if your dog doesn't wash out, eventually retirement will be a consideration.
The wash out rate for established organisations with dedicated breeding programs, experienced puppy raisers and full time professional training staff can be as high as 50%; that is, up to half the dogs they produce do not have the temperament, ability or endurance to complete the specific assistance job for which they were bred.
Many factors can cause a dog to wash out of assistance dog training or work: some dogs become fearful and reactive following a dog attack; others may develop a health condition which prevents their working, or perhaps become over-protective, or simply do not enjoy working.
Should your dog be washed out, as owner you will need to make important, often difficult, decisions regarding the dog’s future.
I will work hard with you to prevent your dog from washing out, but, put simply, there are no guarantees. Sometimes, despite everything you do and everything I do, the dog is just not cut out for the job.
Even if everything goes well eventually your dog will need to retire. Retirement and potentially training up a successor dog comes with its own unique set of considerations. I strongly suggest reading some of my blog posts on the topic too.
Now you have decided an assistance dog is for you, what is next?
This checklist outlines the process required to become a certified Capable K9’s team.
- Request a New Client Pack via the Contact Form
- Provide a letter from your treating medical professional stating you are a patient, how long you have been a patient, and the general nature of your disability. I will send you a suggested doctor’s letter template.
- Start filling out the Symptom Log as this document forms the basis of the task training list.
- Get your vet to fill out the vet form and clear your dog for work as an assistance dog.
- Make payment for the application and if your application is successful you will also be required to pay the minimum training requirements fee for the first 6 months of training sessions upfront.
- Undertake basic introductory training (your dog must be fully toilet trained, able to heel on a leash and complete a 5 minute down stay, sit on command, do basic food refusal and load safely in and out of a car before we can move on) Fill out training logs digitally after every training session.
- Provide photos and payment for Assistance Dog in Training ID card.
- Ensure you have Public Liability Insurance that covers your dog. Capable K9’s accepts no liability whatsoever for the actions of your Assistance Dog or Assistance Dog in Training.
- Undertake a pre-public access Assistance Dog Handlers Skype session.
- Begin your public access training. The first session should ideally be an in person lesson with Capable K9s. Video arrangements can be made for distance clients.
- Commence task training
- Complete a Public Access Test successfully
- Pay for new ID card (you will no longer be in training now)
- Renew PAT every 2 years.
- New ID card is required yearly. This requirement ensures at least yearly contact with Capable K9s, while minimising the cost of PAT testing.
As you can see this is a lengthy process requiring commitment, both of time and finances. It usually takes a minimum of a year for an adult assistance dog to be ready to pass a public access test. Puppies may require longer as they need to mentally and physically mature. Even if you have undertaken previous training and your dog is an adult Capable K9s still has a mandatory minimum 6 month "in training" period.