Are you thinking about training your own dog to become a therapy or assistance dog? We can help.
Our trainers have years of experience training the following types of assistance dogs:
- Hearing Alert Dogs
- Assistance Dogs for manual and power wheelchairs
- Bracing Dogs for those with balance problems
- Psychiatric Support Dogs
- Facility Therapy Dogs
We can teach your dog to wake you up if the fire alarm goes off, to pick up your keys if you drop them, to help you move up and down the stairs, pull your wheelchair and more. We can also help your dog achieve the level of obedience required for public access rights.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Thanks to the new guide dog laws in B.C., it is now possible to get legal certification for your independently-trained assistance dog.
To do so, you must have documents signed by your doctor asserting your need for such a dog, and your dog must then prove that he/she is capable of behaving appropriately in public.
That means your dog must be well behaved, obedient, and comfortable in public places, from restaurants to skytrains.
Certification is performed independently by the Institute of Justice.
It is important to understand that Wag the Dog cannot certify your dog.
Nor can we guarantee that your dog will be able to pass the certification test. Please understand that assistance dog schools such as Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) use purpose-bred dogs, socialize them extensively over their first year, and then spend another six months to two years teaching them their assistance skills and honing their obedience, and even so, fewer than half of the dogs graduate from the program.
So there is no way to guarantee that your pet will have the right temperament or achieve the right level of obedience to pass certification.
What we can do is help your dog learn the required skills and guide you in the process of training your dog, so you can have the best possible chance of success.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between a therapy dog and an assistance dog?
A therapy dog provides comfort and support to the public within a certain environment, for example a school or hospital. Therapy dogs can be certified through independent certification bodies to give them legitimacy, but they do not have any legal rights to go into public. You must get permission from the facility in question to bring in your dog.
A certified assistance dog, on the other hand, has been certified by the provincial government as your personal medical aid due to your medically-recognized disability.
Your doctor or psychiatrist has confirmed your personal need for the dog and the B.C. Institute of Justice has put you and the dog through a rigorous 40 item test. The government issues you legal ID as a service dog team and you now have the legal right to bring your dog wherever you go.
For more on therapy dogs versus assistance dogs, you can read our detailed guide here.
Should I get a dog from a charity or hire you to help me train my own?
The answer to this question is complicated. There are many benefits to getting your dog from a charitable school, including but not limited to the following:
- It is cheaper. Assistance dog schools are charities and other than some basic application fees your dog will be provided to you free of charge, despite the thousands of dollars that the school poured into the dog’s raising and training. Meanwhile, if you train your own you are responsible for all of the costs of raising a puppy including vet bills and trainer fees.
- It is easier. For those whose mobility or dog handling skills are limited, the task of raising an active, naughty pup and turning it into a well-behaved citizen can be daunting or well-nigh impossible, especially when you consider that it will likely be a couple of years before your dog is well behaved enough to achieve certification. A dog from a service dog school will come to you trained and ready to go.
- Certification is guaranteed. The school will only place a dog with you when it has already passed certification. By contrast, a dog you train yourself may never be able to pass certification and remain a pet forever.
Given the above, why do some people pursue private certification? It usually relates to the following:
- Long wait lists. Service dog schools are charities and their dog-output is directly related to their funding. Many schools have waitlists of three or more years, and some are not even currently accepting new applications.
- Ownership. Service dog schools retain ownership of their dogs and have the right to reclaim their dog from you at any time for any reason. Some people want to feel that their dog is truly theirs.
- Special needs. Some people have a need or disability which doesn’t fit easily into the categories of dogs trained by assistance dog schools.
- Dog has already been trained by an unrecognized school. The province of BC does not recognize all of the service dog charities out there, and some people moving into the province may discover that their dog must pass the certification test in BC before they have public access rights.
So, when deciding whether to train your own dog or not, it is important to consider your situation, your finances, and your timeline.
What does assistance dog certification entail?
In order to have your dog legally certified as your assistance dog, you must submit a form which has been signed by your medical professional confirming your need for the dog. They will also ask you for a passport-style photo of you to put on your ID and will ask you questions about your dog’s training, skills, and why you need the dog.
Once you have been processed they will contact you with a testing date and location. You will be asked to pay a $200 fee for the test.
The test is run by the Institute of Justice and is closely modelled on the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test which organizations like PADS use to certify their dogs.
It consists of 40 items that focus on your relationship with your dog, your dog’s comfort and manners in public, and your ability to control your dog.
Your dog must pass with a 100%. Failing one item on the test – for example, if your dog stands up when being patted or barks at a passing dog – will mean that you will not be certified.
How long will it take to train my dog?
This depends on your dog’s age/current level of training and your personal circumstances/needs. If you have an adult, well socialized, obedient dog who provides you with emotional/psychological support and you want to brush him up to certification standard, your dog could be ready within a few months. If you are starting with a young puppy and you want the dog to become an assistant to someone in a motorized wheelchair, it will probably take two or more years.
Will my dog-in-training receive public access rights?
Until your dog is certified, you are not protected by any legal right to bring your independently-trained dog into public. However, it is important that you do so anyway. From movie theaters to skytrains, your dog must be socialized and comfortable in public places if you wish to have a hope of passing certification.
While you have no legal right to bring your dog into public, you can still do it as long as (and this is important) you do not lie or mislead people about your dog’s certification status.
It is not illegal to bring a dog-in-training into a mall or restaurant. The mall or restaurant can decide to allow puppies in training into their building and most in Vancouver area are quite tolerant of in-training dogs.
However, it is illegal to pretend that the dog belongs to a service dog charity or that it has any legal right to be there.
Tell people that your dog is in training, and if you are asked to leave, then leave politely and without argument. Use an in-training vest and avoid the colours and insignia of local service dog schools (yellow or blue for PADS, blue for BC Guide Dogs) so you don’t accidentally mislead people.
It is illegal to pose your dog in training as a member of a recognized school or as a certified dog if it is not. You could be prosecuted and fined up to $3,000.
You will find that most places are understanding and welcoming of assistance dogs in training and you will be tolerated on public good will.
Altercations regarding a well-behaved puppy-in-training are rare, but they happen and you must expect to occasionally be turned away from various establishments.
95% of the time, however, as long as you are honest and open about your dog’s status, your dog will be accepted without any problems.
How much does it cost to train my own dog?
Much like the question about the time it takes to train, the costs can be highly variable. Ultimately it depends on how many sessions you need to pay for.
If your dog is already well trained and you just want help brushing up for the certification test, then you might only need to spend $300 or so on training, plus the $200 certification testing fee.
But if you are starting with a small puppy and you need your pup to learn a lot of complex skills, and you are struggling with your pup’s training, you could spend several thousand dollars to achieve the results you need.
We encourage our clients to start gofundme pages and we will support and promote their fundraising efforts in any way we can.
If my dog doesn’t pass certification, can I ask for a refund?
When you hire us, you pay for our knowledge, expertise, and experience to help give you and your dog the best chance of success at certification. The end result depends both on your ability to follow our advice and your dog’s individual temperament. Remember that even specially-bred dogs flunk out of assistance dog schools 50% of the time, so we certainly cannot guarantee you a better chance with your own dog.
That being said, we will not continue to encourage/take money from someone whose dog clearly is unsuited to certification.
If we believe that your dog is unlikely to pass due to high anxiety, behaviour problems, or other reasons, we will tell you so.
Do you offer price breaks/discounts to people on disability income?
We try to keep our rates reasonable and we will do what we can to accommodate those who are low-income, but we rely on our training income and must still charge for our services. If money is a big concern for you, we strongly urge you to consider assistance dog charities or consider applying for grants or running your own fundraising efforts.
We support our client’s fundraisers in any way we can.
How many dogs have you trained under the new assistance dog laws?
To date, we have three clients who have trained with us from start to finish and passed certification, and several more for whom we offered practice tests and pre-certification assessments who have also passed.
None of our clients who have attempted the test have failed.
We have many more assistance dog clients who are still in training. Since the law is relatively new, and since it can take years to get a dog to certification standard, most are not yet ready for certification.
What if I don’t want to pursue certification? Can you just teach my dog the skills I want at home?
Yes! You don’t have to pursue certification to benefit from a well-trained dog.
Do you want your family pet to wake the kids up if the fire alarm goes off in the night? Do you want your golden retriever to put down the shoes and start putting away the laundry? We can absolutely help train those skills.
Others are interested in preparing their dog to be a facility therapy dog through St John’s Ambulance and we are happy to help with that as well.
Where are you located?
Carol Millman is located in the Tri-Cities and Amelia Kellum is located in Hope. We are often willing to travel to help a client with disabilities, but we do charge travel fees depending on your location and our ability to come to you depends on how heavily booked we are.
I think my dog is ready for certification. Can you do a practice test with me?
Yes! If you feel comfortable with the training but you want a professional opinion on your dog’s readiness for testing, we will happily meet you to do a practice test.
When can we start?
If you are interested or have further questions please feel free to contact us for more information.