Service Dog Training

Lila, certified at one year old

 

Our trainers have over two decades of combined experience training service dogs:

  • Hearing Alert Dogs
  • Assistance Dogs for manual and power wheelchairs
  • Bracing Dogs for those with balance problems
  • Psychiatric Support Dogs for PTSD, Anxiety, Autism etc
  • 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. Our clients have a high success rate and go on to pass the certification test at the Justice Institute of B.C.

Dipper, one of our many successful graduates.

Understanding Service Dog Laws

It is illegal in the province of B.C. to present your dog as a certified service dog if it is not, so you must understand what does and what does not qualify as a service dog.

Misunderstanding the law can result in a $2,000 fine.

BEWARE FALSE CERTIFICATION WEBSITES WHICH PROMISE TO “REGISTER” YOUR DOG AND SEND YOU A CERTIFICATION CARD IN EXCHANGE FOR A SUM OF MONEY.

NO LEGITIMATE CERTIFICATION CAN BE ATTAINED WITHOUT IN-PERSON TESTING OF THE DOG IN QUESTION.

THESE SITES ARE SCAMS!

The province of B.C. offers an avenue to service dog certification for those who train their dogs privately, rather than acquiring them from a charity. 

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 calm, focused, obedient, and comfortable in public places, from restaurants to skytrains.

Certification is performed independently by the JIBC.

Charlie is fully certified and has saved her owner’s life on a hike. She can also find your phone if you’ve lost it, and she does the recycling too.

It is important to understand that Wag the Dog cannot certify your dog. 

You must also realize 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.

Training an assistance dog is very different from training a pet dog.

There are many differences between raising a potential service dog and raising a pet dog, from the way we teach “stay” to the way we socialize them.

Willis – fully certified for three years now – alerts his handler when the barista calls out “extra hot latte?”

With our background in training service dogs, we know the key differences between the two and can help guide you in setting your dog up for success.

  • We know how to train your dog to stay out from underfoot in elevators and restaurants.
  • We know how to train your dog to ignore popcorn on the floor of the movie theatre.
  • We know how to train your dog to do what you want it do automatically, almost as if they have read your mind.
  • We also know how challenging raising and training your own service dog can be.

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 such as St. Johns Ambulance 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 service dog, on the other hand, has been certified by the provincial government as your personal medical aid due to your medically-recognized disability, which can be anything from diabetes to PTSD to multiple sclerosis.

Toby – in training

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 then issues an ID card, similar to a drivers license, identifying you as a recognized team.

We joke that its a drivers license for your dog!

For more on therapy dogs versus assistance dogs, you can read our detailed guide here.

Please note: Emotional Support Dogs are not recognized in Canada. 

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 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 Justice Institute 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.

A bribe can’t hurt, right?

Do I have legal rights if I am not certified?

That’s a complicated question. The best person to answer it would be a disability rights lawyer. But we can help with the basics.

The short answer is “yes – sort of – depending on the situation.”

The BC Guide Dog Act does not protect uncertified teams, and in fact, it criminalizes false service dog teams, putting you at risk of being fined if you pose your dog as a service dog when it is, in fact, simply an untrained – if well behaved – pet.

However, not all teams will be certified through the province of BC. After all, if you’re visiting from Ontario for two weeks, you should still have the right to bring your service dog.

People don’t stop being blind simply because they crossed into the province of BC, after all.

Therefore, any legitimate service dog is protected under human rights laws. A service dog, as a disability aid, should have the right to go where you go, just as if it were a wheelchair or a white cane.

IF the dog is genuinely assisting you with your disability, and trained to behave properly in public and IF you feel that you could successfully prove this in front of the BC Human Rights tribunal, then yes, you have legal rights.

Should you find yourself in front of the Human Rights Tribunal, you will likely be asked to produce proof that the dog is professionally trained by someone experienced with service dog standards, that the dog performs tasks (preferably at least three) related to your disability, and that your disability is genuine.

Or you can just get your dog certified and make it easier for everyone, most especially yourself.

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 by teaching him specific skills and accustoming him to public places, 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.

From puppyhood to certification takes a minimum of one to two years, as the puppy must hit emotional maturity before they can behave at certification level in a public place.

Will my dog-in-training receive public access rights?

No.

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.

Pepper’s handler is the youngest certified handler in BC, passing the test at only 8 years old.

 

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?

No.

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.

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?

Right away!

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If you are interested or have further questions please feel free to contact us for more information.