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 Is a Service Dog Right for You?        Owning and working with a Service Dog could be one of the most satisfying and beneficial experiences of your life.  However, it could also prove to be a frustrating and taxing endeavor.  The difference between benefit and burden lies solely within you.           Since you are considering training your own dog as a Service Dog, you have probably already dreamed of all of the benefits this magnificent animal might bring you.  The purpose of this application process includes both information gathering for the professional trainer who will assist you, and also to present important information to the applicant about some of the requirements of owning and handling a Service Dog.  
Are You Right for a Service Dog?        Assuming responsibility for a Service Dog will be very much like tending to a young child.  For the first six months to one year having a new Service dog can be much like having a toddler.  The new Service dog requires input and supervision.  You are responsible to give that input and supervision, regardless of how you feel or what is happening in your life.            Timing the employment of your new assistant is crucial.  If you have just started college, recently moved or started a new job it is best to wait before starting active-duty with a Service dog.  The first year with a new Service dog is a critical period.  It is best if you can give 100% of your time and attention to the new Service dog.
What is a Trained Dog?         It is critical that you understand that, to be exact, there is no such thing as a “trained” dog.  There are dogs that have been highly educated to perform certain skills and tasks.  During the owner-education session or the Committed Canine T.E.A.C.H. course you will learn how to train your dog using operant conditioning; which includes both positive and negative reinforcement & positive and negative punishment.  Using this balanced approach to training allows us to show you how to create desired behaviors and reduce or eliminate undesirable behaviors.    As the owner-trainer of a Service Dog it will be your responsibility to follow through with the training that you learn at T.E.A.C.H. or your Committed Canine owner- education-session.   So, you must ask yourself whether you are willing and able to rehearse skills and reinforce behaviors with your dog every day for the duration of his service to you (up to 10 years).  If that sounds overwhelming, then a Service Dog is probably not right for you.   However, if you are up for the challenge, you may find it very rewarding to have such a strong and powerful relationship with your dog.
  Standing Out in a Crowd        A serious consideration for those living with “invisible  disabilities” such as deafness, mental or emotional  disabilities or seizures/intermittent medical events is the  potential loss of your anonymity.  Without a Service dog you  blend into society quite well.  Once you have a Service dog  with you that cloak is gone.  The general public has been  educated and they know that if you have a Service dog you  must also have a disability.  You will be stopped, questioned  and watched.  You may be treated as if you are blind, even if your dog's function is to serve as a  Medical Alert animal.  Although, it may seem like an admirable function to "educate" people about  the use of Service Dogs, there will be times when you have no interest in interacting with anyone  for any reason, yet, you will still be stopped and addressed as to why you have that dog and why  you need him.           Many Americans love dogs and many have dogs of their own.  Be forewarned your Service dog  will draw the attention of every dog owner in the mall, on the street and in the workplace.  They  will stop to visit, to ask questions and to share stories of their dogs.  If you are introverted or self  conscious this may prove to be quite annoying and in some cases even stressful beyond belief.   Think this through… your Service dog may accompany you everywhere you go for the next eight  years or more.  You will be required to instruct strangers that they may not pet your dog while it is  working, even if he is wearing a cape that clearly states, "I'm Working Do Not Pet Me".  It will also  be your responsibility to reinforce with your dog that the  visitors that approach you with the intent  of interacting or petting your dog are off-limits and that your dog is to remain on task and not be  distracted.  This could mean that you need to correct your dog in front of others, people who may  believe you are cruel to give feedback to your dog about his performance.  
  How will this affect your  family?          Certainly, a well behaved dog in the house often has a very positive influence on everyone in the family.  Dogs offer their unconditional love freely to just about anyone who will receive it.  They have been known to break down barriers that humans are unable to do.  So, your Service Dog may have a wonderfully positive affect on others in your household.  However, there are instances where the Service Dog can present issues. Bringing a dog into the family is, in many ways, similar to inviting a new person into your home - permanently.  For that reason, it is important that you have a very deep, heart-to-heart conversation with everyone who may be involved in you and your dog on a very regular basis.  There may be times when you will have to rely on a family member to care for your dog when you are ill or otherwise unable to do so.  The dog, and most probably your relationship with others may suffer if you do not take the time to have these very important conversations.   
Do You Really Love Dogs?         Dog hair, dog slobber and drool, feces and urine are all parts of dog ownership.  As a Service dog owner you are responsible for the care of your dog.  This means daily grooming, picking up behind him and tolerating dog hair and saliva on your clothing and in your environment.  Chances are that if you are meticulous in cleaning and being clean a Service dog will drive you crazy.  Through care, dogs can be kept relatively clean and tidy.  But they are dogs and with that must come tolerance for a certain amount of filth.  To reduce this to an acceptable limit in public places, you will be required to perform daily grooming that may exceed the typical care you would give to your dog if she were to simply remain your pet companion.  You may have to trim your dog's nails weekly and bath him nearly as often.  If you cannot perform these functions and need to take him to a professional, you will need to be prepared to pay for grooming which can become cost prohibitive.           Through the course of the working life of a Service dog he will (most likely) have a toileting accident indoors.  He will become ill and vomit at some point, as well.  He may get a hold of your new dress shoes or a prized possession and use them as a chew toy.  You will go through the next six to eight years with dog hair as a permanent accessory to your wardrobe.  A Service dog is an educated animal that has been conditioned to live in a human society.  However, he is still a dog…. an animal.  If you cannot tolerate the transition to and upkeep of your pet as a public- access Service Dog, we strongly suggest something other than a Service dog as an intervention for your disability.        
  Burden versus Benefit        After taking the time to answer all of the questions that have been proposed here, it all boils down to answering this question, “do the projected benefits of a Service dog outweigh the expected burdens?”  If the answer is yes, then you may very well be an excellent candidate for a Service Dog.  However, if the answer is no, you should consider seeking alternative interventions for your disability.  Consider making a chart with Burdens on one side and Benefits on the other.  List all the possible pros and cons and then take time to review the lists.  If you are happy in your decision that you can accept all of the burdens an Service dog may bring in order to reap the benefits, please review the Program Scope & Details pages for the T.E.A.C.H. program or a fully trained SD. Then, if you are still happy with the decision to participate in the Committed Canine program, feel free to complete the application, which will contain a question as to whether you have read and fully understand the information on this Pre- Application page.
EXPECTATIONS OF THE DOG                 Please take a moment to contemplate and to answer this question; what tasks or skills will a Service dog perform that will provide positive intervention for my disability?  How will a Service dog make my life better than it is now?  Give these questions a moment’s time.  Should you choose to move into the application process, you will see these questions again and will be asked to put them into writing.           It’s interesting how many people think that they want a Service Dog, but have not considered the very specific details of how the dog will assist them on a daily basis.  A Service Dog does not change the physical disabilities that you have.  The media often portrays only the very best, most rewarding side of owning a Service Dog, so it is easy to believe that it will change your life completely.  A Service Dog can help you adapt to situations in a way that you were once unable to do.  But, in order to do that, specific tasks must be identified and then reinforced.   You may find that it is far easier to use a walking cane for mobility issues than to have a dog with you at all times.  You may find that you are rarely away from someone (even a helpful stranger) who can pick up a fallen object from the floor, on the rare occasion that might happen to you, making a Service Dog truly unnecessary or cumbersome, if that is one of the jobs your hope your dog will provide.  Specifically identifying trainable tasks is critical in making the final assessment as to whether a Service Dog is the right option for you.         A psychiatric service dog can mitigate panic disorders or PTSD by helping the individual determine things that are not real (if a door bangs shut and your dog remains calmly at your side, you can use that information to determine that things are OK - your panicked feeling is not "real").  But, a Service Dog's job is not to assess real threats or act as a Security Guard.  Personal protection dogs are are not granted equal access under the federal ADA law, nor should a Service Dog be trained to perform protection tasks, in our opinion. 
  Expectations of You as a Trainer & Handler         Our Professionally Guided – Owner Trained T.E.A.C.H. program hinges on the expectation that you have fully contemplated the work involved in training your own dog to mitigate your own disability.  The actual work of training the dog can provide a level of therapeutic benefit, especially from a psychiatric perspective, that wholly overrides any "down side" for some individuals compared to the huge benefit they receive out of the training and continued maintenance aspects of Service Dog ownership.  Other people are simply unable to handle the rigors.  The program is designed for a very select group of people who can make the commitment both mentally and physically to follow the instruction and practice the training.   Phase One and Phase Two of the program are separated by two to six months during which time the owner is responsible to work with the dog on a daily basis.   There will be no one standing over you telling you to “do your homework”.  No one will be there to help you interpret what you need to do to resolve a training issue as it happens (perhaps in the middle of Wal-Mart or a Grocery store).  You will have to be committed to listen and learn and assimilate the information you receive during Phase One and use that knowledge to take control over your own actions, sometimes in public, with your dog. You must become competent and comfortable owning your actions (whether they end up to be right or wrong) and be able to adjust to situations and change course when necessary because you have assimilated the philosophy and skills to address training issues.  And, you must be able to communicate your problems and concerns to your Trainer and others in a way that is beneficial to the learning process. 
THE PRE-APPLICATION PROCESS      All potential T.E.A.C.H. Program Students  & Individuals Seeking a Trained Service Dog should read this page        Please read the following information thoroughly and carefully.  Once you feel comfortable with your decision about whether a Service Dog is right for you, then feel free to fill in the application.  We will get back to you promptly.       

THE DOG REQUIREMENTS

Prior to receiving a dog for training, we require that it is up to date on all vaccinations, neutered, tested negative for and on monthly heartworm preventative, has been cleared of hip dysplasia (x-rayed) and any other high probability heritable conditions for the breed and the dog’s intended use.  For example, a German Shepherd Dog that will be required to provide mobility support and accept some percentage of the handle’s weight on occasion, should also have an elbow x-ray because elbow dysplasia is a fairly high risk in the breed.  The dog must not have any significant social issues such as fear or dominant aggressive behaviors, excessive shyness, high prey drive / desire to chase or kill small animals.   Prior to the training, the dog should have lived with humans in a variety of social settings and been exposed to a variety of real-world experiences. AGE: We receive dogs from 10 to 24 months old for Service Dog training.  If you would like to utilize our Dog Locator process to help identify a suitable dog that is ready for training,  the fee is $200. Once we locate the dog, the actual cost of the dog must be paid by the new owner.

T.E.A.C.H. Program - Requirements For The Handler   

     

  Age:  The Committed Canine T.E.A.C.H. program is open to anyone 18 years or

older.  Dogs that are to be trained to assist children 17 years or younger must be

accompanied (and perhaps sometimes handled) by a parent or guardian during

the classroom and public excursions.  Children under 9 must be supervised by

another adult who is not busy training the dog (i.e. accompanied by two attending

adults).  Dogs trained as "Emotional Support" companions for children under 12

years old  (for example children with Autism), must be under the constant

supervision of an adult handler.  

     

  Health:  Taking on the rigors and responsibility of training your own Service Dog requires a level of physical competence that may

not be possible for all individuals with disabilities.  This is unfortunate.  However, it is absolutely critical that no dog move to "Public

Access" / "Street Ready" status if the handler is unable to control the dog.  Therefore, some students may want to bring along a

partner who can assist in some of the training exercises during the initial phases of instruction.  The assistant should be available

during the self-training time between Phase One and Phase Two of the Committed Canine T.E.A.C.H. program.  The dog's owner

should be capable of managing the dog through the training exercises without assistance by the time s/he comes back for Phase

Two to complete the Public Access Test.  

     

  Disability Status:  The ADA, an organization under the Federal Department of Justice protects the rights of disabled individuals

to negotiate life with the most normal ease of passage.  A disabled handler has the right to utilize a Service Dog to mitigate his/her

disability.  However, it is also offensive for an individual who is not disabled to make claims that their pet dog is a Service Dog.  And,

the ADA only protects the rights of disabled individuals who use a fully trained dog.  It does not protect the rights of a disabled

individual who attempt to take a "dog in training" into public locations.  To attend the T.E.A.C.H. Owner-Trained program, you will be

required to provide a letter from your health care professional stating that you do, in fact, have a disability and that your doctor

believes the use of a Service Dog will be beneficial to your condition.   The ID that you will receive at the end of Phase One will

provide evidence of your "Service Dog In Training" status.  The ID that you will acquire at the end of Phase Two will help you to

demonstrate your dog's status as a fully trained Service Dog when traveling in public.  

     

  Behavior:  Understanding that the scope of the Committed Canine program hinges on teaching OWNERS to train their own dogs

is of paramount important.   While we will handle your dog, if necessary, to demonstrate that a skill is possible, the purpose of the

program requires owners to recognize and accept responsibility of training their own dog under the guidance and instruction of

highly competent professionals.  

     

  Learning is stressful.  Attending three consecutive days of instruction can be grueling both physically and mentally.  Performance

anxiety is bound to occur.  Receiving feedback can seem, at times, to be criticism.  Maintaining a positive attitude, being receptive to

both the information and the personal feedback about your dog's behavior and your own skills is imperative to gaining the most out

of the class.  A commitment to the process, even when it seems hopeless, is critical for success.  Presenting a foul attitude, defeatist

point of view, or lashing out at other students or the instructors or, worse, your dog is behavior that damages the experience for

everyone involved.  To create a functioning team, both the dog and the handler need to remain balanced and positive.

Notes
Keeping a log of training hours and  a journal for recording successes  and challenges, is required. 
Application T.E.A.C.H. Fully Trained SD Applications Pre-work