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Frequently Asked Questions
 

Here is Sakina posing for the camera. She is not one of our service dogs, but a resident assistant for socializing new puppies !

The following Questions and Answers are specifically aimed to help you understand our Service Dog Training Program. For assistance with Companion Dog Training (Non-Service dogs/Pets), please see our tab titled, "Companion Dog Training." Thanks! 

1. Why should I hire a trainer to help me owner-train my own dog versus going to a traditional service dog training program?

We believe that teaching the handler to train their own puppy through adulthood to a Service Dog in Training (SDiT), all the way to a fully trained service dog, is the best way to ensure a very strong human-animal bond without introducing abandonment issues or separation anxieties as can be seen with other programs that pass the puppies from handler to handler throughout their training. While this methodology requires extreme commitment and dedication on behalf of the handler, we believe that this method allows flexibility around timing, program design, and fosters confidence in the handler to handle any situation the service dog-handler team may encounter. It allows the handler to acquire the tools and skills to critically evaluate and solve problem situations or behaviors that may arise through the lifetime of the service dog without always having to contact a trainer for assistance, and will ensure that handler and their canine partner are “speaking the same language.” Handlers will be able to not only maintain the skills that they’ve learned, and be able to brush up on them later, but will also be able to teach their canines new cues and tasks later on after graduation. This also helps the canine learn the handler’s baseline emotional or physiological state, and what signals indicate deviation from that baseline. It is an excellent opportunity for self-reflection and many handlers find this process to be empowering and sometimes therapeutic. This program design also eliminates the need to sit on a waiting list for months to years as is notoriously the case in more traditional service dog training programs. However, please understand that this is a two-year commitment at minimum that requires strict discipline as the handler and many, many hours of training both with and without Mission Empawthy© LLC trainers as your guide.

2. Why should I hire a trainer to help me owner-train my own dog versus trying to do it alone?

Mission Empawthy©, LLC has years of knowledge, expertise, and real world experience that can help the handler to navigate the difficult waters of training and working a service dog. They will start from the beginning to help you to pick out the pup with the best temperament possible from a litter. Our professional trainers will help you learn to communicate clearly with your canine partner. They can help to bridge the gap between a dog’s body language and why they may be failing to understand something you’re trying to teach. They will also help you to problem solve. You may think you’re doing a great job until you run into a problem, then who do you turn to? Hiring a professional will also help you to quickly get to answers that may take months to figure out on your own. We will also provide you with the knowledge and resources you need outside of just dog training. We even go so far as to ensure our handlers are adequately prepared to deal with challenging members of the public and access issues through role-playing exercises for service dogs and handlers. There are thousands of resources out there, but are you vetting all of the sources? Ensuring that resource is ethical, scientifically valid, and aligns with your positive training philosophy? Hiring a professional trainer also ensures that your time and resources are used most efficiently.

3. Who is eligible for a service dog?

Under U.S. Federal law, only persons with documented disabilities are eligible for service dogs. “Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.1” This is why most programs will either require a doctor’s note or a form signed by a medical professional to ensure the prospective handler meets the bare minimum requirements to have a service dog.

Note1- Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA | ADA.gov

4. Why do you require a background check to be conducted?

We require a background check to ensure the safety of not only our staff, but importantly of the dogs! Would you want to place a brand new 8-week-old puppy with a known animal abuser? Didn’t think so!

5. How do you ensure flexibility in your program?

Customized Training. Each program is uniquely tailored to individual handlers and their canine. Our goal is to design a program that is not only fit-for-purpose, but is as dynamic and flexible as possible while maintaining the highest ethical standards and quality positive-reinforcement training.

6. What is the process of beginning your program?

See the “Process” tab of the website.

7. What types of Service Dogs do you train?

Mission Empawthy©, LLC (ME LLC) strictly trains Psychiatric Service Dogs, (e.g., for PTSD, CPTSD, etc. ). ME LLC does not train service dogs for individuals with multiple complex mental health issues including personality disorders, somatoform disorders, etc. ME LLC does not train service dogs for individuals who have a coexisting diagnosis of autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

 

8. We already have dogs and other pets in our home. Does this disqualify us from the program, if not will there be any issues?

Having other dogs in your home does not automatically disqualify someone from the program. However, it should be noted that puppies may easily pick up undesirable behaviors from existing adult dogs in the household which may make training your pup more challenging.

 

9. Do you have any breed restrictions?

While there are no breed restrictions for entering this program, it is HIGHLY advisable to select a breed with a very predictable temperament. Any canine who fails to maintain the temperamental integrity expected of a service dog will be promptly removed from the program at the sole discretion of ME LLC and all decisions are final.

 

10. What Breeds do you recommend?

Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.  These breeds are highly sought after for service dog work due to a number of factors:

  • Their predictable temperament

  • Their eagerness and drive to please

  • Their functional ability to retrieve objects

  • Their weight and size (this can be relevant for handlers who wish their dog to provide deep pressure as part of a task or still want to be able to travel in places that require ‘smaller’ dogs)

  • Ease of grooming

  • They’re fast learners

  • They’re food driven

  • They’re sociable and adaptable

  • They’re resilient

 

Even within a breed, they’re not all “created the same!” Statistically speaking, the breed (and ‘sub-breed’) with the highest incidence of success is the English Labrador Retriever. Second are Golden Retrievers and third are poodles. You’ll note we did not state “American Labrador Retrievers” in this line up. English labs are notably different from American labs. They have a more stout stature, a ‘boxier’ face, and importantly, typically have a calmer temperament. These are typically the labs used in confirmation shows and are also known as “bench labs” or “show labs.” Conversely, American labs usually have a longer face and more slender, longer legs, and are typically much more high energy. American labs are also known as “field” labs and are widely bred for hunting due to their excellent qualities plus their endurance. Therefore, when looking for a service dog candidate, you will want to likely stay away from American Labs, and ensure that no matter what breed you’re looking at, stay away from “working lines.” While this may seem counterintuitive, dogs that are bred for “working lines” are not “working dogs” in the sense of assistance dogs- they mean “working” in the sense of anything from hunting, to scent detection, to search and rescue, etc. Therefore, they are likely to be much more energetic than you are going to want in a service dog’s temperament and may also be too prey driven or anxious. While many other breeds (poodles, crosses of the above and poodle crosses, etc.) can absolutely make good service dogs, some breeds have fallen out of favor (e.g., German Shepards) due to a plethora of issues. For example, German Shepards lost popularity as a service dog breed of preference due to their propensity to want to protect their handler and become hypervigilant to their surroundings rather than their handler.

 

11. Why will you only work with puppies and not adult dogs?

There is a critical socialization period between the time the puppy is born till the puppy is sixteen weeks of age. This is an absolutely essential time-period in which the handler has to expose the puppy to different people, dogs, sounds, sights, surfaces, smells, environments, objects, and situations as a trust-building exercise. Without intense socialization during this period, dogs may easily develop powerful fears of any or all of the aforementioned items, deeming it nearly impossible for them to appropriately conduct themselves as service dogs in public situations without intensive counter-conditioning and desensitization later in life that would then consume valuable task training time. Remember, we cannot take on a ‘project dog’ or ‘rehabilitation project’ for service work.

 

12. I have a pet dog that I would like to train as a Service Dog. Can you do that?

No. Please see Question and Answer above. We do not make any exceptions to this policy.

 

13. Will you work with children that need a Service Dog?

Not at this time. Applicants and handlers must be at least 18 years of age.

 

14. Why should I get my puppy from a breeder? Why not a rescue?    

     

Mission Empawthy©, LLC only recommends puppies that come from reputable breeders for a number of reasons. The first being the predictability of the dog’s health. The second is predictability of the temperament of the dog. The third is the neurodevelopmental impact that you may be able to predict by working with a breeder from the time the puppy is born and even before the puppy is born. Many breeders will work with a handler from the time the puppy is born till eight weeks and begin socialization activities even before leaving the litter! While we would absolutely love to work exclusively with shelter puppies or rescue puppies, due to the great number of unknowns, we do not believe that shelter puppies set handlers up for the most success, especially considering all of the time, resources, and energy that will be required over a two-year period. It’s also important to note that some statistics indicate less than a 25% success rate with shelter dogs (some as low as 5-15%) while breeder acquired dogs may have a success rate of 50-80% chance. It’s also important to note that most dog’s temperaments aren’t fully “cemented” until they’re at least 18 months old.

 

15. How do I recognize a “reputable breeder”?

Just because a puppy “comes from a breeder” or an “expensive breeder” doesn’t mean they are a good or reputable breeder. Good breeders will always run the OFA health tests recommended for their breed standard. They will then ONLY breed a mating pair if both the dam (female) and the sire (male) are rated with “Excellent” or “good” for each of the breed recommended health tests and would not breed them with any rating for “fair” or “borderline” or anything rated below that for each of the different OFA tests (e.g., hip dysplasia). This is why breeders typically charge so much as these genetic tests are very expensive in addition to the other costs of raising a litter of puppies (e.g.,de-worming, vaccines, food, etc.). Good breeders will also always have a lifetime guarantee of support and usually have a health guarantee for a number of years. They will also allow you to meet the mother and see the living conditions of the mom and pups once they arrive. We have developed an extensive document to assist handlers in screening and interviewing prospective breeders and indicate where there may be “red flags,” with a prospective breeder.

 

16. What is the temperament test that my puppy needs to pass to initially become enrolled in your program?

Mission Empawthy©, LLC utilizes Volhard’s puppy Aptitude Test. However, as this is a subjective test, we also rely heavily on our observational skills, past expertise, and judgment to note any concerning behaviors (e.g., severe resource guarding as a young pup can mean very big red flags or puppies that exhibit anxious tendencies). Note, initial temperament testing only tells you the puppy that you do NOT want and is really only valid for that moment in time. Dogs need to be temperament tested throughout their SDIT stage. If a dog exhibits fear during a test, the test must be ended immediately to ensure ethical considerations of the canine.

 

 

 

17. Why are puppies so expensive from a breeder?

Responsible breeders will ensure that pre-breeding health checks are conducted on both parents. This includes radiographs and genetic tests that are conducted on both the dam and the sire of the breeding pair. These genetic tests and X-rays (generally OFA tests (The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) can be very costly. In addition to these pre-breeding costs, there is usually a stud-fee from the sire, costs from veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, de-worming, food and cleaning costs that get passed down to the new puppy owner. Additional costs may also arise when the puppy comes from a championship show or hunting line.

 

18. How long does each session last?

Each session lasts 1.5 hours. The first ½ hour is dedicated to an educational portion, and the remainder hour is dedicated to an active training session working with you and your dog.

19. How often do I need to train with Mission Empawthy©, LLC trainers? And by myself?

We recommend at minimum one session per week with Mission Empawthy©, LLC trainers. However, some clients wish to have more than one session per week. Homework will be assigned each week for each handler to complete on their own time and follow up on the next week.

On an individual basis, clients are expected to train their dogs daily. These can be multiple, 5-minute sessions per day or short bursts of training throughout the day.

20. How long are your waiting lists?

 

We don’t believe in waitlists! Therefore, we take clients on a first come, first serve basis.

21. Do I need to get my own insurance when training a Service Dog?

We are insured (Certificate of Insurance (COI) available upon request). However, we highly recommend that handlers get BOTH health insurance for their dog as well as general liability insurance to cover their SDiT/SD. In fact, some states require general liability insurance for SDiTs (Service Dogs in Training).

22. Why do you require a secondary handler AND a tertiary handler?

Mission Empawthy©, LLC requires both a secondary and a tertiary handler in the event that the handler is temporarily incapacitated and back-up handler(s) needs to house and/or train the SDiT.

23. I see you use the word, “cues” vs “commands.” What’s that about?

We believe in ethical dog training. The word “command” infers that our dogs must obey our commands as if to be an order, and if the dog doesn’t obey the command, then they will suffer the consequences of a correction. However, a “cue,” on the other hand is a promise that if the behavior is performed as requested, a reward will follow.

24. Is there any training equipment or practices you don’t allow?

 

We don’t believe in, nor allow, the use of aversive training methods or equipment. This means we also will not employ the use of pain, fear, nor intimidation to get results. This means that we will absolutely not allow the use of choke or prong collars, electric or shock collars, or other aversive punishments or any other tactics that invoke fear or anxiety.

25. Would I make a good candidate as a Service Dog Handler/successful owner-trainer of a Service Dog?

Have you ever heard the saying, “it takes a village?” Well, this also applies to owner-training your own service dog! In addition to requiring a support person that you can turn to when times get tough, you will also need both a secondary and tertiary handler in case of emergency. Furthermore, there are number of qualities that an owner-trainer should possess as the prospective handler too. The below list is a minimum set of qualities that a person should have to be able to succeed:

  • You must love dogs!! You’re going to spend a ridiculous amount of time with this pup, so you had absolutely better love them, respect them, and be willing to put up with the difficulties of raising a puppy (e.g., the chewing, the biting, the jumping, the whining, the barking, etc.)

  • While a minimum requirement for a service dog is that the handler has a legal disability under the ADA, handers should have a condition which is predictable and manageable. Handlers should understand that caring for, training, and raising another life form will be difficult (see question #26 for further information). You must also have a disability that will not impact the upbringing of your dog. Handlers that are in a constant state of anxiety or stress may negatively impact their dog. If your baseline emotional state is constantly that of intense anxiety, it may be difficult to train your dog to respond to an anxiety attack if it has been so normalized for them.

  • You must be understanding, empathetic, patient, and flexible. This process is not easy. You will have setbacks. There will be times when you need a break, or you need to delay training. This can have a massive impact on the 2-year training timeline. So, you must be mentally prepared for these circumstances.

  • You need to have the ability to follow instruction, problem solve, focus, have good hand-eye coordination and have excellent work ethic. Training dogs requires a lot of work. There’s always going to be challenges and times when we will have to figure out another way to train a cue.

  • You need to be able to work with your dog on your own with little supervision or assistance.

  • You should have had experience raising dog or have dog dogs in the past. This will give you a realistic expectation of all of the trials and tribulations of raising a puppy.

  • You must be curious, love to learn, be observant, and be open to new information and constructive criticism. This process will require non-stop learning. You must be open and willing to change, to absorb new information and train in a way that may not be what you’re originally used to. If you previously trained with pinch collars or physically pushed down your dog’s butt when they didn’t want to sit, you’ll need to be able to transform and change tactics to a positive methodology instead. If you are resistant to change, and are not open-minded, this will impede your ability to progress. Science has shown us that the only thing constant is change, so you must be willing to adapt and adhere to the latest scientifically proven training and behavior modification information out there. You need to remain unbiased about evidence-based research; for example, there are certain times when it’s appropriate to spay/neuter your puppy – too early and it can negatively affect their physical and mental health, and too late can increase health risks as well. (We absolutely recommend all SDs get spayed or neutered!) You also need to be willing to positively accept and learn from constructive criticism and understand that any feedback our trainers give to you is not meant to be a personal criticism, but rather a constructive piece of feedback to help you in the long-term. It will also be helpful to be able to use a video-recording device to film your training and be able to watch the footage later with a trainer to reflect on and get feedback from your solo training sessions. You’ll have to be willing to talk about what went well in a training session and where you might improve. Be willing to self-evaluate, and then change your own behavior.

  • You need to be organized, prepared and resourceful. As noted in the first part of this answer, you need a large support system of people to help you. You will need folks in your life that can help you when the mental and physical challenges of training a service dog and raising it get tough. You will need both a secondary and tertiary handler that you trust and that will agree to your training philosophy as not to undermine or contradict your training. You will also need to be willing to ask for help. There will be times when you need someone else to help you in your training sessions and there will be times that if you aren’t prepared you may set your dog back in training. Are they advancing faster than you anticipated? If so, we always need to be at least one or more steps ahead of our dogs. We also need to be organized and prepared. What happens when you SDIT vomits or has an accident in public? Are you immediately prepared to clean up the bio-hazard and sanitize it instantly? You had better be! You will absolutely be required to carry the equivalent to a diaper bag, but with dog AND human supplies! When travelling, training, working in public you must always carry a supply bag containing the following:

    • Any medications needed for you and your dog

    • Poop bags

    • Enough dog food for one night should you get stranded or miss a meal and human snacks

    • Paper towels (at least a ½ a roll!)

    • Sanitary wipes

    • Hand sanitizer

    • Training treats

    • At least two full water bottles

    • Travel water and food bowls

    • An extra leash and collar

    • Travel bedding or something your dog can rest on for sustained periods of time in public (e.g., a half of a thick yoga mat, a bath mat, a thick blanket)

    • Emergency first aid kit packed with things for both human and canine use (e.g., band-aids®, medication, hydrogen peroxide (enough that should you require use for accidental poisoning you are prepared), milk of magnesia,  gauze, non-stick wound care, antibiotic cream, medical wraps (Coban wraps) or other self-adhering bandages, tweezers, antiseptic wipes, nitrile or latex gloves, Celox® hemostatic granules (to induce blood clotting), Styptic powder (induce nail blood clotting), burn gel with lidocaine in it, eye wash, cotton swabs, instant cold packs, a towel, syringe (for fluids), scissors, flashlight, a muzzle, first aid manual (you’re not always going to have wifi!), and a thermometer, etc.

    • Emergency contact information – not only for you, but information on your dog. Contact information for your dog should you become incapacitated (e.g., phone numbers for secondary, tertiary handlers, emergency veterinarian, animal poison control)

    • A chew toy, snuffle mat, or other type of enrichment to stave off boredom when your SD is required to be patient for long periods of time

    • Grocery bags (to put paper towels, sanitary wipes, bio-hazard in in case of canine accident)

  • You must be financially stable and be prepared to spend a significant amount of money. Dogs are expensive and taking excellent care of them, even more-so! You are going to have to pay for not only the dog and the training, but also the routine and non-routine veterinary bills, canine health insurance, canine general liability insurance (most states require this for SDiTs), food, treat, toy, bedding, equipment costs (especially when they grow out of it from puppyhood!), as well as the cost of puppy kindergarten classes for early puppy socialization. Also, are you financially prepared if you need to career-change your dog and start over?

  • You must be willing to speak up and out for yourself and your canine. Remember, you are their only advocate. You must be willing to be assertive when the time calls for it while still maintaining full professionalism and kindness. At some point, you will, undoubtedly run into access issues in public and will need to stand up for your rights to be treated fairly and justly without causing conflict. You will need to know and understand what your legal rights are and be able to educate others on these rights.

  • You must, at all times, keep your dog, your dog’s equipment and yourself well-groomed and clean. Remember, you are a representative for the service dog community.

  • You must have a clean background check! We will not work with anyone with animal abuse charges, domestic abuse charges, or any other violent charges against animals or people.

  • You must be willing to provide proper enrichment for your dog to ensure their mental, physical, emotional, social, and instinctual needs are met. This means that you at bare minimum must meet ALL ethical considerations of raising, training, and caring for a canine.

  • You must maintain appropriate weight for your dog. Canines that are overweight, and especially those that are worked often in public, absolutely must maintain a healthy weight or risk severe health risks and increase the chances of needing to retire your SD early.

  • You must be willing to put in the time and the commitment to training. You should be working with your dog between 1-2 hours per day, at least 5 days a week. This may be broken up into many 5-minute sessions throughout the day or in larger chunks of time. However, in addition to focused training time, always take the opportunity to have ‘teachable moments’ with your dog if one should arise outside of your formal training time! This also means that you must be willing to get out of your house and conduct the trust-building exercises of socialization. You will need to generalize almost all of your cues both in home and in public, especially for task work!

  • You must also have access to reliable and safe transportation. This means that if you have a personal vehicle you plan to use, how do you ensure your dog is safe while being transported?

 

26. Is owner-training my own service dog and having a service dog in general, right for me?

At Mission Empawthy© LLC, we believe in transparency, and as such we aren’t going to sugarcoat the cons of owner-training a service dog (regardless of the program you choose) and having a service dog in general:

Cons:

  • Handler Functionality- Most importantly, the Handler must be able to function without the use of a Service Dog in their day-to-day life (this is not to say this would be easy), this is because Service Dogs are the most versatile “medical equipment” while simultaneously can be the least reliable – meaning the Handler must not have an unhealthy reliance upon their canine. Canines get sick and injured just like their human Handlers. You will need to be prepared and plan for times when your service dog is out of commission, needs a break, should not go somewhere due to safety concerns (e.g., a woodshop) or is simply not allowed to enter a place you need to go (e.g., note that churches, surgical rooms, meal preparation areas etc. are not covered for service dog access under the ADA). Additionally, at some point you WILL need to retire your canine, and at some point, they will pass away. This means that you will need to work closely with your healthcare providers to ensure you have a gameplan for your own health to ensure you don’t have too much of a reliance upon your service dog.

  • Reliability of the Canines- Canines are not always 100% reliable in their cues and tasks. They are not machines and they can have accidents! Be prepared that at some point, your dog is absolutely going to pee, poop, or throw up in public; even the most well-trained dogs still get sick! Dogs, just like people, also have bad days. They may not want to listen, may be distracted, or simply not feel well. Be prepared mentally that at some point you WILL be embarrassed!

  • The Expense- Having and training a service dog is a luxury. SDs are very expensive. In addition to the obvious training and equipment costs that come along with using a trainer and using a canine to assist one’s disability, service dogs will require high quality food, veterinary care, grooming, and of course lots of treats. Don’t forget puppies grow! Therefore, you will need to purchase multiple sizes of equipment while you puppy grows into adulthood.  Mission Empawthy© LLC may also refer the handler to other professionals that are likely incur costs (e.g., referral to a behavioralist). Additionally, if training requires beyond the usual roughly two-year timeframe, additional costs will be incurred as well.  The other down-side to owner-training your own service dog is that you don’t have the luxury of easily “career changing” your dog and swapping it out for another one like traditional SD programs do. In those circumstances, traditional programs will absorb the cost of the career-changed dogs so that you are guaranteed a fully trained Service Dog. Owner training can be very risky. Many owner-trained service dogs still need to be washed out. So, a handler should be mentally and financially prepared that they may have to “wash-out” or “career-change” MULTIPLE dogs. Remember, excellent temperaments for Service Dogs are rare! So, in some instances it may actually cost MORE to owner-train a service dog versus getting one through a traditional Assistance Dogs International© Accredited program.

  • The Commitment – There’s a massive time and energy commitment due to all of the factors that a Handler and canine must learn. Having and training a service dog is grueling and exhausting work. In dog training, “slow is fast,” therefore it is critically important that handlers have extreme patience, diligence, and empathy for their canine partner while they simultaneously learn how to train, how to handle the dog, how to cue, and how to work in public. Even if your SDiT passes the PACT (Public Access Certification Test), training for your SD never stops. It will be your responsibility and accountability to keep your service dog on top of their game, and in excellent working condition. Remember, training is still an excellent enrichment activity for your dog! Much like when people don’t use a foreign language that they’ve been taught for some time, tasks can get rusty for service dogs, so it’s important to brush up on training and ensure your dog is always in impeccable working condition. Are you the kind of person who wants instant results? Then a service dog is not right for you. Training your own SD will take hundreds and hundreds of hours, not to mention the fact that it may take up to a full year to bond with your dog! Don’t rush to pick a breeder, a puppy, or to take your SDiT absolutely everywhere. You may inadvertently miss a behavioral issue that could have been prevented if you just took the time to slow down and listen to your dog. We “listen with our eyes” to our dog’s behavior and physical and emotional signals that they are emitting. A yawn from a young pup might mean they’re tired, OR it may be a subtle sign of stress! You must be patient with your pups/dogs. You want to avoid burnout and behavioral issues. Prevention is key when it comes to behavioral issues, so if you’re rushing to train perfect obedience, you’re likely to overlook things that may be a nuisance behavior in the near future!

  • The Gamble- No matter how much you train and socialize your SDiT, service dogs may be incredibly variable, unpredictable, and inconsistent even if they come from the same litter! Remember, at the end of the day, they’re not robots. They are animals. There is a chance of the canine not passing the PACT or requiring to be failed from the program (e.g., “career changed” or being “washed out”) or not even passing the initial temperament test into the program to start. Dogs may develop reactivity as they grow up or may develop poor behavior no matter how well socialized or trained; either or which may disqualify a dog from this program. Service dogs MUST have absolutely impeccable temperaments. That means they have to be 100% trustworthy in all scenarios including novel ones. For example, if a toddler runs up and jumps on your dog and grabs their muzzle, your dog must be able to tolerate such a blunt situation. They must not be distracted easily. They must not be willing to take food from strangers (only you! – this is for their own safety). If for some reason you as their handler become incapacitated, they must also be generalized and reliable with a secondary and tertiary handler and if you’re unconscious, they must maintain their integrity and temperament should they need to be removed by emergency medical services. They must be able to remain calm, especially since we’re training psychiatric service dogs and the service dog must be able to remain focused to task even in the middle of a mental health breakdown. It’s also critically important that your service dog is not just reacting emotionally to your emotional state, but is reacting because they have been trained to complete a certain task when cued of this emotional state from the handler. Not every dog is cut out for this work – this is also an ethical consideration; you want a laid-back dog, but not one so laid back they don’t want to task or be willing to travel everywhere with their handler, conversely, do you don’t want one so hyper they’re not willing to sit still through the movies or a long work day in the office if their handler has a more sedentary lifestyle. Remember, there are absolutely ZERO guarantees with owner-trained service dogs. Even traditionally trained service dog programs who breed litters, hand pick the puppies, and are trained from day one after being born, have relatively high “career change”/”wash out” rates (only around 50% of dogs will pass!!)- this should be quite telling. Will be you able rehome a puppy that washes out or turns out to be inappropriate for service work? Will you be able to mentally and financially handle re-starting the process after losing so much time, money, and resources into a puppy? This is why we recommend that Mission Empawthy©, LLC trainer’s assist in helping pick out your puppy from a prospective litter. However, even if you do successfully train a Service Dog that passes PACT and is now considered a fully trained Service Dog, you must remember that service dogs aren’t a magic elixir. They are also not a magic wand that is going to make everything right in the world. In fact, they can actually make your life a lot harder. They will slow you down, draw more attention to you in public, and will require a lot of work! (see also the rest of this Answer for other possible negative impacts.)

  • The General Public, Access Issues, & Conflict Resolution- the general public are not well versed on the laws and rights of Service Dog Handlers and where their Service Dogs may or may not be allowed to go. You WILL have to deal with conflict resolution and educating your fellow community member or businesses. This may include (but is not limited to): the public thinking you have a ‘fake’ Service Dog, people staring, untrained/unsocialized dogs that attack your canine, people constantly trying to distract your canine, people running over your canine’s tail with a shopping cart, businesses trying to deny you and your service dog access, etc. You may be harassed, belittled, or even assaulted due to the presence of the canine in public. You will have to be able to professionally navigate scenarios in which people have allergies, are terrified of your dog, or conversely, love your dog so much they won’t leave them alone! Every SD handler has stories of examples of situations that were uncomfortable at best. People may yell, call the police, call your dog, pet your dog, try to distract your dog, try to give your dog treats or food when you’re not looking, let their dog interact with your dog etc. You may have to deal with law enforcement, court, or other potentially traumatic and stressful situations. However, you must remember at the end of the day, you may be the only interaction that a person in your community has or will have with a Service Dog and their Handler. This means that you MUST always remember that you’re a representative of the Service Dog community as a whole and must act accordingly as their ambassador. You must be respectful, kind, and professional when handling conflict resolution in public and to know when and when not to try to educate others (Note- this is why Mission Empawthy© LLC ensures an “Educational Session” as a portion of the sessions to ensure handlers know their rights, the laws (for access, housing, flying on airplanes, working, transport, and laws regarding SDiTs), and language to use when facing a difficult situation, when a business or situation should be reported to the US Department of Justice, and/or how to create proof of an incident in a legal fashion (e.g., notifying persons of recording, or taking notes to pass along to DOJ). All of the people, children, dog owners, veterinarians, other disabled persons interested in a service dog, elderly, and others will be viewing you and your dog team as an example. They will be scrutinizing your every move and learning how you handle yourself and your canine partner. You are also acting as a representative of your dog’s breed, as a representative for yourself, and for Mission Empawthy©, LLC as well. Therefore, we must maintain ourselves in the best, most positive, and professional conduct at all times with a calm demeanor to ensure not to escalate a situation. This will ensure that we don’t give legislators reason to remove the right to owner-train our own service dogs! This also means that you must keep yourself and your canine and their equipment clean, well groomed, and in safe circumstances (e.g., you DO NOT want to be letting your dog go up an escalator!!) Additionally, your canine’s behavior should be absolutely flawless at all times. This may mean contacting your trainer, a behavioralist, or a veterinarian for assistance if need be.

  • Possible Negative Societal Side Effects- sometimes family and friends of Handlers can act very negatively towards a Handler getting a Service Dog and even alienate them (e.g., “Why after 20 years do you just now need a Service Dog?!”). They may see your SD as a “hassle” or as “attention seeking.” You may be uninvited to family or friend events; you may be alienated from certain communities or lose friends.

  • Possible Hazards to mental or physical health or increased/exacerbated mental Issues including but not limited to, Depression, Stress, Anxiety, etc.- many Handlers who don’t have Labrador Retrievers or Golden Retrievers (or even those who do!) will be accused of having a “fake” Service Dog, especially for Handlers with invisible disabilities. Canines can become a “spectacle” to the public especially during active tasking. This can cause unwanted attention and anxiety for the Handler. It can lead to increased stress and even depression or other negative implications on the Handler’s mental health. The training process can also be very intense and highly stressful for a new handler. Handlers who have never worked with or owned a puppy before (or even those who have) may find this process extremely challenging and outright exhausting and frustrating. Remember you’re going to have to deal with a little hair ball who sheds, jumps, bites, chews up your things, needs enrichment, exercise, to be groomed, and of course needs intense socialization. Handlers must ensure they fully understand what it is to train a puppy from eight weeks of age through adulthood. Remember, bringing a puppy home can be harder than bringing home a newborn human! Adolescent dogs can be extremely challenging as well – this is like the “unruly teenager stage” in which young dogs will push boundaries, will chew up things in your home, will be destructive, and may employ very poor manners! Therefore, it is critical that handlers understand this time will be very, very difficult, and it will require the utmost patience, empathy, hard work in training, and ensuring consistency in training to extinguish any poor manners before moving on to task training. This will be both mentally and physically exhausting. Service dogs are not for the faint of heart. Throughout the process, puppies and dogs may also pose hazards to both the physical and mental wellbeing of the handler. For example, dogs who pull excessively as young pups can cause a myriad of issues in the handler such as back strain, wrist strains, etc. It is important to understand that service dogs may not be the best choice to mitigate your disability, in fact, they may exacerbate it! The pros of getting a service dog may NOT outweigh the cons in some cases! Therefore, it is critical that you discuss all of these potential cons and pros with your health care provider to see if this is the right decision for you.

  • Possible Discrimination- even though this is illegal, some employers, businesses, or members of the public may discriminate against you due to their use of a Service Dog.

  • Time Involved – Picking out a puppy in the first place from a litter can be an extremely time-consuming task. You may go through multiple litters of puppies till finding a suitable candidate SDiT. This may mean months or years between litters depending on your resources! Do you have the financial means to fly all over the country meeting different litters of puppies after you’ve spent months interviewing breeders? In addition to the massive amount of time you will be required to train your dog, once your dog is a fully trained service dog you must be aware that simple errands that may have taken a quick half hour may turn into an hour and a half ordeal. This is because you will need to ensure your dog is adequately prepared to go out in public first. Are they groomed? Is their equipment (leash, vest, boots, gentle leader) all clean? Then they need to get dressed, loaded into the vehicle, and inevitably you will run into people who will want to talk to you. “Can I pet your dog?,” “Why do you need a service dog, nothing’s wrong with you.” “Hey you can’t bring that dog in here!” “Please show me your Service Dog ID card..[or other non-legal access issues].” Additionally, you will need to devote time for not only training, extra time to do your normal day-to-day activities, but you will also need to devote time to exercising your dog! Remember, service dogs put a lot more strain and wear and tear on their bodies as compared to companion dogs, so you need to keep them in peak physical shape. Remember, even if your dog is slightly overweight, this can shorten their life, increase their risk to disease, and heighten their chances of injury.

  • Extra Considerations – As if all the things listed above weren’t stressful enough, you must also ensure that you’re your service dog’s number one advocate. You must ensure that their health and safety is always protected and that you are ALWAYS maintaining the highest ethical standards with your service dog. This means that if you notice your dog is in a very novel situation and they are not comfortable, is it really ethical to “flood” them? No! This also means that you will always have to be on the lookout for circumstances which can be unhealthy or unsafe. You may have never noticed how much food and gum are on floors in public, but you will now! It is also your responsibility to make sure your dog is adequately protected against the elements/weather (do they need boots on? A coat? Goggles? Hearing protection?), against car accidents (how are you securing them in transit?), against situations in which you cannot be there (do you have a sign on your house indicating the presence of a service dog in case of fire?), against other animals or dogs (what do you do when a dog escapes their handler or fence and comes after your service dog?), against household poisons or landscaping poisons (What do you do if your dog ingested a large amount of garlic or an oleander plant from the yard?), against wear and tear on their joints (do you need a ramp to get in and out of your car to ensure your dog isn’t aways jumping in and out of your vehicle? Probably!) against ill-fitting equipment that could cause them harm (Is their gentle leader too tight? Their vest?) and of course against themselves (does your pup need to be crate trained to ensure their safety while you’re not with them – probably!!). Also remember that when choosing the right breed of dog for your SDiT, choose the best breed to mitigate your disability, not to look cute or intimidating etc. Additionally, this may go without saying, but YOU MUST LOVE DOGS!!! Additionally, even if you’re able to get your SDIT fully transitioned into a successful Service Dog, don’t forget- “Imposter syndrome” is very real. Even though you will have spent literal years of your life training this dog, you still may feel like you’re not valid in bring your service dog places!

 

 

Pros:

  • Possible increased independence

  • Possible increased confidence

  • Potential for decreased disability symptoms

  • Potential for sense of security (not to be considered a task, but rather a ‘good’ side-effect)

  • Possible calming effect (not to be considered a task, but rather a ‘good’ side-effect)

 

27. What if I need help with other "dog-related things" other than dog training along the way in my journey of owner-training my service dog?

We aren’t a veterinarian, veterinary behavioralist, a behavioralist, an animal nutritionist, a groomer, a lawyer, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a counselor, a medical professional, a mental healthcare specialist, a physical healthcare specialist, or any kind of therapist. Therefore, any questions directed to us that are outside the realm of our expertise as dog trainers should be directed to the relevant licensed, practicing, credentialed professional.  We follow this policy strictly, as we do not wish to overstep our bounds and knowledge and potentially risk harm to our clients and/or their canines.

28. What is Clicker Training?

Clicker training is a kind of marker training that uses a small hand-held noise box to help bridge the communication gap between dogs and humans and speeds up canine-learning and dog-training results. It’s fun, safe, effective, and importantly, the dogs love it! An obvious sign of a clicker-trained dog, is that it seems that their tails are always wagging.

A common misconception is that you’ll need a clicker for the rest of your life- it’s simply not true! Once we ensure that all of your dogs’ cues are under stimulus control and are generalized to working in public, we can fade away the clicker. Think of a clicker as a teaching tool or even as training wheels on a bike.

29. Why hire a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP)?

For peace of mind. Dog training is an unregulated industry in the United States. This means that anyone can call themselves a “professional dog trainer.” Hiring a KPA CTP assures that you and your dog are receiving guidance by a trained professional who has elected to undertake the most rigorous training program available and who is committed to only humane, ethical, and science-based training techniques.

30. Who determines if my SDiT passes their PACT ? What happens if I fail?

The PACT test is a is administered by Mission Empawthy©, LLC Staff. Should the handler and canine team fail, a mandatory re-training session will be administered depending on the criteria of failure.

31. Why do you ask SO many questions on your application form?

Our application aims to be as thorough as possible to ensure we match handlers with the most appropriate tasks for their disability, can guide them to one breed or another depending on their lifestyle, etc.

32. What support do you provide after graduation?

We always have an open door policy, and would be happy to assist with any questions. If additional training sessions are required to train a new task etc., these costs will vary on a case-by-case basis.

33. Will you train a dog to do protective work or detail?

Absolutely NOT! Service dogs are never intended to work as a protector or to be trained to bit, lunge at, threaten, or by any other means intimidate other people or animals.

34. What is the difference between an assistance dog, a service dog, a therapy dog, and an emotional support animal?

Assistance Dog: A generic term for guide, hearing, or service dog specifically trained to do more than one task to mitigate the effects of an individual’s disability. The presence of a dog for protection, personal defense, or comfort does not qualify that dog as an assistance dog.

Service Dog (SD): Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA. Service Dogs assist people with disabilities other than vision or hearing impairment. With special training these dogs can help mitigate many different types of disabilities.

Emotional Support Animal (ESA): a United States legal terms for a pet which provides therapeutic benefit to its owner through companionship and affection. An emotional support animal, sometimes also referred to as a comfort animal, is a pet that provides therapeutic support to a person with a mental illness. To be designated as an emotional support animal, the pet must be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional for a person with a mental illness. The prescription must state that the individual has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and that the presence of the animal is necessary for the individual’s mental health. Per the ADA, individuals with emotional support animals do not have the same rights to public access as individuals with a service dog. Emotional support animals may only accompany their owners in public areas with the express permission of each individual venue and/or facility management. Emotional support animals may live with their owners in locations covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) regardless of a “no pets” policy, and may travel with their owners on airplanes with documentation as required by the airline. Although most frequently dogs, other species may be prescribed as emotional support animals.

Therapy Dog (TD): Therapy dogs can provide physical, psychological, and emotional benefits to those they interact with, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, assisted living, and schools. These dogs are evaluated on their ability to safely interact with a wide range of populations, and their handlers are trained in best practices to ensure effective interactions that support animal welfare. Therapy animal handlers may volunteer their time to visit with their animals in the community, or they may be practitioners who utilize the power of the human-animal bond in professional settings. A therapy dog has no special rights of access, except in those facilities where they are welcomed. They may not enter businesses with “no pets” policies or accompany their handler in the cabin of an airplane regardless of their therapy animal designation.

35. Are you a healthcare provider looking for more information? Mission Empawthy©, LLC provides discounted consultation rates for informational sessions for group settings (e.g., counselling practice staff meetings etc.)

Please reach out to us at info@missionEmpawthy.com and schedule a group informational session today. This is a great way to get a high-level overview if suggesting a service dog is right for your clients as well as understanding what to (and not to) write in a recommendation letter on behalf of your client.

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