All dogs enter our Education and Training Center in Sylvania, Ohio for two to four weeks of evaluation. The initial evaluation includes a variety of tests to evaluate the dog’s potential as an assistance dog. Some of the things we test for are: food aggression, retrieving instinct, motivation to learn, social interest and sound sensitivity. This evaluation is either given at our facility or the pound/shelter.
Once the dog passes the initial evaluation, it begins a two to four week evaluation period at our training facility. During these weeks the trainers further evaluate the dog’s temperament and personality. The dogs are introduced to basic obedience and taken in public to see how they react to different environments. After the evaluations have been completed, the decision is made to accept or release the dog from our training program. If we accept them, a veterinarian appointment is scheduled to make sure they are physically able to perform the task needed for a service dog. After they are given a clean bill of health, they remain at our facility until a volunteer foster home is available.
The formal training program begins once the dog is placed in the foster family home. The training takes a minimum of six months to as long as 22 months to complete. The time depends on the age of the dog coming into the program. ADAI places all of our dogs with their partners at approximately two years of age. For example, a dog rescued from a shelter at one year of age will be in training for one year. The foster family training begins with basic obedience, house manners, and public socialization. Our foster families must attend monthly training class so that our training staff can assist them with the training and evaluate the dog’s progress. The dog-in-training progresses through various levels of training from beginner to advance while in the care of the foster family. See the information link to Standards of Training.
A very important component to the service dog training is public access socialization. It is essential that our dogs-in-training be exposed to as many situations as possible in the public setting. As service dogs they are allowed in every public venue with their partner, so our goal is to expose the dogs to as many environments as possible. Our volunteer foster families take their dogs to the grocery store, restaurant, movie theaters and the mall. They also take the dogs to their doctor and dentist appointments to acquaint them with the sounds and smells. Every situation is a learning opportunity for their future work as a service dog.
The final training level for the dogs is the last three months of the dog’s training program. The dogs at this stage return to live at our Education and Training Center where our training staff work with them on a daily basis. At this level, a consumer from our waiting list is selected for the dog. A list of commands and tasks needed by this consumer are then incorporated in the dog’s training plan. The training environment simulates the skills required once the dog is placed. Additional training equipment is incorporated into the dog’s training plan such as walkers and various types of wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment. The focus at this level is to realistically prepare the dog for the challenges and lifestyle of their new partner.
Once the dog has completed its training, the selected consumer is invited to our facility for two weeks of team training. During team training the bonding process begins for the consumer and their new assistance dog. Consumer team training consists of lectures, command practice sessions and community outing practice. The consumer learns how to properly care for their new dog, and begin working with their new partner. Once the consumer completes the two week team training, they take their dog home and begin a 90 day probationary period while they learn to adjust to their new lifestyle as an assistance dog team.
Follow-up and Certification
During the follow-up period, our Client Services Director is in weekly contact with the graduate to assist with problem solving and transition issues. It takes approximately four weeks for the dog to adjust to his new situation and partner. Our staff visits the graduate in his or her home, school or work environment after 30 to 45 days. All of our service dogs must pass the Assistance Dogs International Public Access test to complete their probationary period. Upon successful completion of the ADI Access test, ownership of the dog is transferred to the graduate. However, to maintain ADAI’s support for the life of the dog, the graduate must be re-tested every year to ensure the safety and competence of the graduate and their dog.
Unfortunately, not every dog has the personality and talents to become a service dog. It takes a very special dog to be able to handle the stresses and tasks of performing many commands in all types of environments. They must be happy, confident and motivated to assist their partner. A dog can be released from the training program at any time if he shows behaviors that would not be appropriate for service work. Some of these behaviors could be aggression towards other animals or people, fear of any environment, person or object and distractibility when training. ADAI has a Pet Home Adoption program for all dogs released from the training program.