Training Programs Overview for Service Animals

Finding and working with a service animal trainer that is right for you should not be taken lightly.  Below are some topics for your consideration when working with service animal trainers. Scroll down the page to find answers to these questions:

How do I know if the program or trainer is legitimate?
How long does it take to train a service animal?
Is it better to deal with a trainer whose business is nonprofit or for-profit?
What can I do if I have a complaint about a service animal trainer?
What happens to animals that start training but don't become service animals?
Can I choose the service animal I like best?
How do I find a trainer?

How do I know if the program or trainer is legitimate?

Without standards that must be met by all trainers, you are your own best advocate when it comes to evaluating trainers. Don't ignore your consumer instincts. Interview several sources and ask specific questions, such as:

• Where does the trainer get the animals?
• What methods are used to select the animals?
• What training philosophies, methods, goals and evaluation processes are used?
• What background does the trainer have to make him or her competent to assess your disability-related needs? Will the trainer communicate with your healthcare provider (who does have assessment expertise) to make sure the dog will meet your needs without creating additional problems for you?
• What guarantees of confidentiality will the trainer provide regarding your information?
• How will the training of the animal be individualized for your needs, now and throughout the working life span of the animal (possibly 10 years or more)? How will your disability needs be assessed and addressed?
• What is the trainer's placement record – how many animals are trained, and how many are successfully doing the work for which they were trained after one year?
• What happens to animals that fail to complete training?
• Is there a waiting list to receive an animal? How long must you wait? Does the trainer offer to "move you up" on the list if you pay more money?
• What are the details of the application process?
• Is there a system to resolve complaints?
• Can the trainer advise you correctly about your rights and responsibilities, including stewardship (e.g., licensing, behavior management) and liabilities?
• What kind of training will you receive as the handler? Is there flexibility for scheduling, personal limitations, etc.?
• What support system does the trainer offer for the working life span of the service animal?
• How will the trainer eet your ongoing training needs if your condition changes or if the animal does not work as expected?
• Can you get a list of references? (Note: You might be only referred to satisfied customers.)
• Who retains legal ownership of the animal? If the trainer or organization does, why? Does the trainer or organization have the right to repossess the animal? If so, for what reasons? What are the policies regarding the medical treatment and retirement of the animal?
• Does the trainer offer a contract? If not, how does he or she guarantee his or her services to you? Does the contract state clearly, in understandable terms, the trainer's obligations and your obligations for the animal's training and ownership?
• What are the costs involved with getting and maintaining the service animal?
• Does the Better Business Bureau, state or local licensing board, or state Attorney General's office have any omplaints about the trainer or business on record?

How long does it take to train a service animal?

Length of training time varies from trainer to trainer. Many trainers believe that it takes between 4 to 12 months of intensive training to produce a service animal. Reinforcement continues over the animal's lifetime and will be your responsibility. Some trainers train the animal, then bring them to you for an orientation program in your own home, neighborhood and workplace. Other trainers train the animal, then require you to go to their facilities for a period of time so that you can learn to work with the animal. Sometimes an individualized training schedule can be set up. Browsing through a few animal training books will show you that there are many different training philosophies and techniques. You will be responsible for learning to manage your animal's behavior, so be sure that the trainer you select teaches a training method you can understand and use comfortably.

Is it better to deal with a trainer whose business is nonprofit or for-profit?

Nonprofits and for-profits are business incorporation designations and do not reflect – or guarantee – a business's reliability, ethics or quality. Nonprofits and for-profits may be as small as one person businesses, or may have many employees. Both types of businesses must fund employee wages, office space, overhead, dog acquisition and maintenance costs, and other costs of doing business. Part of a nonprofit's annual budget might include fundraising (development) costs. Sometimes nonprofits are endowed with a base sum of money that is invested, and the interest income is used to support the agency.

One of the main differences between nonprofits and for-profits is that there are income tax breaks for nonprofits, and for the people who donate to them. Nonprofits are bound by guidelines for how they are run. In order to maintain nonprofit status, certain company information (such as the previous year's tax return) must be made available to the public, and certain activities such as lobbying may be prohibited. For more details about the differences between nonprofit and for-profit businesses, consult your local library.

What can I do if I have a complaint about a service animal trainer?

Having a contract that clearly identifies expected services and responsibilities can help to minimize conflicts, but disputes between consumers and trainers sometimes still occur. Licensed trainers are accountable for their business practices. If you have a problem with your service animal or with its trainer:

• Review your contract and the accepted business practices for licensure in your region to make sure you have reasonable expectations.
• Document your concerns. Include objective descriptions of the problem, dates and times, names of people involved and other related details, descriptions of all related conversations, and actions taken.
• Discuss your concerns with the trainer and allow the trainer an opportunity to respond to your concerns. Involve the trainer's supervisor or program director, if applicable.
• If the trainer is unable or unwilling to respond to your satisfaction, send a copy of your concerns to the trainer via certified registered mail, with a cover letter indicating what you expect to happen and a time by which you expect a response. You will receive a receipt for the letter from the post office indicating the trainer received your letter.
• Keep written records of all activities related to the complaint. Retain the originals.

If the complaint is not resolved, you can file formal complaints in your city/state and the city/state where the trainer is registered. You can also file complaints with the business licensing agency and the state Attorney General's office. If the trainer is a member of a fraternal organization that responds to complaints about its members (see Service Dog Organizations), you can also submit a complaint to that organization, and to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). (NOTE: the BBB is not an enforcement agency, but collects data about business complaints). Consult your local telephone directory for the contact information of the licensing, Attorney General and BBB offices nearest you.

If you think you have cause for legal action against the trainer, contact a competent legal service provider for more information.

What happens to animals that start training but don't become service animals?

Some animals are unable to be trained as service animals because of health or behavioral reasons. Some of these animals become companion animals (pets). Each trainer has his or her own methods and policies for determining the suitability of an animal, and for deciding what to do with animals that cannot complete training.

Some terms that organizations use for animals that are unable to be service animals are:
• Released dogs/animals
• Career-change dogs/animals
• Retired dogs/animals

Can I choose the service animal I like best?

Although many animals can be trained to do service work, not all of those animals are well suited to do the work in public and/or on a reliable basis. Many trainers will not accept your pet. Some allow you to state preferences as to breed, size and other characteristics, but the trainer makes the final selection. An independent trainer might be more able to help you to locate an animal that can meet your needs and appropriate preferences.

How do I find a trainer?

To access the Service Animal Trainer Directory on our website, click here.

Sometimes local trainers work with service animals but do not advertise. To find these trainers, network in your community with organizations that often have information about local resources for training:

•  Humane societies or shelters
•  Breed or breed rescue clubs
•  Obedience training clubs
•  Pet Partners® in your area. any service animal organizations
•  4-H groups
•  Pet supply stores
•  Similar organizations

Assistance Dogs International, Inc., a coalition of members representing organizations and individuals training & placing assistance (service) dogs, maintains a list of members on their web site.

Remember to check the trainer out to your satisfaction before entering into a contract with him or her.



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