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What to consider when choosing an assistance dog organisation

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. 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.

Why should you train with me?

I am certified by the National Dog Trainers Federation
and specialise in working with assistance dog teams. I also have over a decade of experiance as an assistance dog handler myself. If you would like to know more about how and why Capable K9s got started check out THIS blog post.

As a consumer, you should be aware that not all accreditations require any demonstrated level of skill or knowledge to obtain - some, like the Australian Pet Dog Trainers’ group, are just a fee-based membership. In contrast, I am a National Dog Trainers Federation certified dog trainer. Training with me guarantees you are getting the most up to date and scientifically proven training methods. My certification proves that I have successfully studied dog behaviour, canine learning theory, animal psychology, how to train complex skills including assistance dog tasks, dog physiology, health care for dogs, basic canine first aid, how to conduct classes, and how to address problem behaviours, via a government-recognised Certificate III in Dog Training and Behaviour.

I apply all of this knowledge when I teach my clients. When you train with me it is my job to pass this knowledge on to you. I see myself not as a service provider but rather an educator. I explain to you what I am doing, how and why it works, and show you how to implement it in your daily life. This means YOU learn the skills.

Certificate III in Dog Behaviour and Training

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Certificate III in Dog Behaviour and Training

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All of my training lessons are one-on-one presented by via the Skype based training program I pioneered back in 2015. This program has been very sucessful and the fact you are able to access training from home via the internet has many benifits for peopble with a disability who may find traditional face to face training inaccessible. When you are accepted as a Capable K9s client I tailor a training program specifically to your circumstances and needs.

In additional to being a skilled assistance dog trainer I am also a person with a disability and I have handled my own assistance dogs for over a decade now. Being a fellow handler I have the real lived experiance to be able to better support you on your journey as not only your trainer, but a mentor. My own understanding of disability has given me the skill set to adapt my training to work within whatever limitations your disability may impose on you.


Why choose a
positive reinforcement trainer?

What is positive reinforcement
and why is it better?

Positive reinforcement training principles are based in science and have been used by world renowned experts such as Dr Ian Dunbar, Dr Sophia Yin and Karen Pryor. A positive reinforcement trainer teaches the dog to do the right thing by rewarding correct behaviours and discouraging unwanted behaviours principally by teaching the dog alternative, desirable behaviours, or by implementing life consequences.

Positive reinforcement training is my preferred method because I believe it is a clearer, kinder method of training which produces enduring and reliable results. As training progresses, a dog that has been taught using positive reinforcement will begin to enjoy learning and pick up skills more quickly.

Does this focus on positive methods mean that a positive reinforcement trainer won't be able to fix a problem behaviour? No! A positive reinforcement trainer will set the dog up to make the RIGHT choice instead of making the dog figure out, through trial and error, what he must do in order to avoid punishment. Not only is this a more pleasant and rewarding process for the dog, but it is similarly more enjoyable for the handler.

Positive reinforcement training can be done incorrectly by people who don't understand dog training, learning theory and canine behaviour, and that is where Capable K9s will teach you the practical principles needed for successful positive reinforcement. You will not need electronic collars, prong collars or smacking in order to teach your dog appropriate behaviours -- Monique will teach you proven techniques to train your dog to happily comply with your instructions.

This tiger has been trained using positive reinforcement to place its nose on the stick. This behaviour allows the zoo staff to position the tiger so they can examine him and perform health care.

Recently, "balanced" training principles have been promoted by trainers who are essentially punishment and dominance based trainers. Elsewhere on this site, I have referenced my core belief in relation to dominance theory, so I will not go into further detail here. In brief, I do not subscribe to it.

Dogs have been selectively bred for thousands of years to work with and understand humans. Indeed, dogs are masters of human body language. If we can train wild animals such as tigers without the use of force, fear or discomfort, surely there is absolutely no reason to use these methods with man's best friend.

Before selecting a trainer, I implore you to find out what qualifications they have and what training methods they use.