Thursday, January 8, 2015

How to find a Good Service Dog Program

As most of you know our family was scammed by a service dog program. I was so new to the service dog world that I had no idea how to spot a bad program. I have been receiving some messages and emails asking how to find a good programs, so I thought I would write a post about it.

The big thing to remember is "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is". If someone is promising you Lassie reincarnate with under 18mo of training time, turn and walk away. Lassie was a TV character and does not exist, that being said Service Dogs are a tremendous help and can be life changers but they are still dogs and can still make mistakes.

Red Flags of programs/organizations to stay away from: (this is not all inclusive)

*If a program claims to be a non-profit but can not give you paper work or proof to show that they are a 501(c)3 company.

*Does not help with fundraising or give you a fundraising packet. Even before you sign a contract I would have them show you examples of fundraisers they have helped with and find out what happens if you don't hit your goal. Also is their a time limit to your fundraising. Also what happens to the money if you don't hit your fundraising goal in time.

*Do not follow their States laws for service dogs in training. For example many states have laws that you must be a licensed trainer or be on a list in order to have public access with a service dog in training.

*Refuse to allow you to see a contract before putting a deposit down. 

*Refuse to show you vet records and training records of the dog they match you with.

* Does not health test any of their dogs. Does not do OFA (hips, elbows ect) or PennHip testing on mobility dogs. In order to do OFA tests the dog must be 2yrs old or older. Penn Hip testing can be done at a year old. Each breed has a recommended list of health testing that should be done for common problems in that breed. These could effect whether or not that dog becomes a service dog or how long the dog will be able to work as a service dog.

*Refuse to show you any proof of the experience of their trainers. Most professional trainers will have some continuing education certificates, have competed in dog sports and/or be registered with one of the professional dog training associations. Also check to make sure any certificate they do give are real by calling the issuing program/organization and ask them if the trainers are in good standing.

*Claims their dogs have 100% success rate in becoming service dogs. Even the bests programs have dogs that wash out. Not all dogs are cut out to be service dogs and there is nothing wrong with that. Usually the dogs that wash out are placed with their puppy raisers or adopted out to good homes.

* The program places puppies or dogs under the age of 1yr as fully trained Service Dogs. Service Dogs take close to 18mo and sometimes up to 2yrs to fully train.

*Anything express or instant. Training a service dog takes a lot of time and slow is best when training is concerned. 

*Use of prong collars on every dog that they train and/or puppies. If a program has to resort to using prong collars on all their dogs or on puppies. I question their ability to train service dogs.

*Claims their dogs are 100% reliable. Dogs are not machines they are living breathing beings and even the best dogs will have an off day or make a mistake.

*Claim that they can train any dog to predict seizures. You can not train a dog to predict a seizure, however some dogs (a very small percent) have a natural ability to sense a seizure before they happen. 

*Places dogs as fully trained service dogs that are not trained in tasks that mitigate the persons disability. For example dogs that sole purpose are to provide emotional support or comfort.

*Program does not train the dog tasks that you need. If a program will only train a certain amount of tasks or certain types of tasks. Service Dogs should be trained for an individual to mitigate their disability. For example if a dog is trained in seizure response but you do not have seizures then that is not a legitimate task. The program should get to know you and help you figure out what tasks you need.

*Place dogs with small children and promote tethering the dog to the small child, leaving the dog and child unsupervised or to function as a babysitter in place of parental supervision. Service Dogs can do a great deal to help children but they are still dogs, not robots or baby sitters. Also tethering can be very dangerous for both the child and the dog, for example if the dog bolts or quickly moves away from the child it could cause the child to fall. On the other hand a child who is tethered to a dog during a meltdown could accidentally hurt the dog and the dog can not move away.  (this is different than older children using hands free leashes)

* A program does not offer continuing training or team training. Handling a service dog takes some know how, they also need to be trained continually or they can become sloppy in their work. If a program/organization does not offer any team training or continuing training after you take the dog home they probably don't have your best interest in mind.

What You Can Do:
So what can you do to find a good program out side of looking for Red Flags? There are many things.

1) Look for Complaints - You can not please everyone but when it comes to raising a large amount of funds take any complaints you find seriously and talk to everyone possible.  Google search the program, call their states Attorney Generals Office and find out if there are any complaints, call the Better Business Bureau, go on facebook service dog groups and ask around.

2) Make sure they are licensed on the state and federal level to do business and are in fact a non-profit and in good standing.

3) Ask for references - from their vet office, past clients and again service dog groups on facebook can be a huge help in this area.

4) Ask to come and see the facility if you are able to also sit in on a class or two before signing a contract. If you are long distance ask for a video chat, virtual walk through ect.

5) Ask about their training methods. Get the details of they philosophy on the training methods they use. If you feel uncomfortable with any of their methods then walk away.

6) Know where the dogs are coming from. Do they have their own breeding program? if so are they in good standing with the AKC or UKC? Use rescues? Use wash outs from other programs? How they get their prospects can tell you alot about the program.

7) Ask how they temperament test and socialize their dogs. Again how they pick their prospective service dogs for training can tell you alot.

8) Ask what happens if the dog you are matched with washes out or is not a good fit for you? Do they replace the dog with another or refund your money?

9) Do your research on all of the above. Make sure you know how temperament tests and socialization works. Become an expert by knowing what you expect out of a program and a service dog before talking to them. Talk to the service dog community on facebook or in forums other handlers have so much they can teach and share with you.

If a program is not willing to talk to you about any of these things or does not get to know you before signing a contract then I would walk away. Remember this is a big deal you will be raising a large amount of cash for them and a service dog is a huge commitment.  Do not let desperation or fear make the choices for you, you have to be your own advocate.

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