The first thing to do when starting the search for a service dog in-training is to locate the most qualified service dog trainer you can find. Don’t get a puppy or a dog and then look for a trainer! Find the trainer first, and let them help you find a service dog prospect.
When looking for a trainer, find someone who has loads of dog training experience, has studied or apprenticed at a reputable service dog organization, understands disabilities and working with a disability population, knows dog breeds extensively, understands how to identify reputable dog breeders, and who has experience with shelter and rescue dogs and can evaluate dogs from these environments as well.
Don’t hesitate to ask a trainer any and all questions relating to these areas of expertise. Take notes, learn from their answers, and confirm what you’re told with your own backup research. You should feel comfortable asking a trainer outright what their experience is these areas and should not get any kind of defensiveness or reluctance to answer these questions.
The first thing an experienced service dog trainer can help you do is to select the breed of dog that will work best with your personality and disability. Depending on personal preferences and finances, this may be a puppy from a breeder or a puppy or dog from a rescue group.
Selecting the right breed, of dog or type of dog in the case of a rescue, is one of the first steps toward success in training. Size, activity level, coat type, shedding, drooling, friendliness vs. aloofness, other breed characteristics, and owner experience requirements are all factors that are important to choosing just the right type of dog for you or your child.
A good trainer can locate show breeders who use conformation dog shows to have the quality of their breeding stock objectively evaluated by experienced judges. They can interview breeders to discern whether appropriate health testing is regularly performed on the parents of puppy litters, that quality breeding and puppy raising practices are utilized, and that prospective owners are appropriately vetted, selected, educated and supported for the life of the dog. Additionally, a good trainer will make sure you are using a breeder whose contract requires that the dog be returned to them if a problem occurs and you are not able to keep the dog.
If a rescue dog is the right choice for you, an experienced trainer can locate the most reputable rescue organizations, look for dogs who are placed in foster homes rather than shelters in order to evaluate them in a more natural and less stressful environment, and can watch for desirable and undesirable breed characteristics throughout the evaluation process.
Once a breed and reputable breeder, or a type of dog and reputable rescue organization, have been chosen by you and the trainer together, your trainer can help you find just the right puppy or dog. A great trainer will have developed temperament and personality assessment tests to determine a dog who possesses the characteristics to fit into your life and assist with you or your child’s disability. Additionally, and sometimes most importantly, the trainer can watch objectively for the puppy who chooses his handler. This is especially important with child clients.
As tempting as it is to take in a dog that someone else gives you to train as your child’s service dog, or to buy or adopt the first wonderful puppy you call about, there is an enormous difference between a great family dog and an appropriate service dog. Of all the important steps toward a fully trained service dog, picking out the right dog in the first place is probably the most important step of all. Don’t scrimp on this step! You will reap the benefits ten-fold if you use a professional to guide you through this tricky part of the process. It may cost you more to hire a trainer to do this for you, but it will be money well spent. At Aretas, we feel so strongly about this that we reduce our training rate for clients who select their puppy from an experienced and reputable breeder or adopt from a reputable rescue with the assistance of an Aretas trainer.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”