In the last year, The Dog Knowledge and our non-profit subsidiary The Dog Knowledge Service Dog Foundation have been contacted by local newspapers, magazines, reporters, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Green Beret Foundation and in December, 2013 NBC’s America Now filmed at our facility for over 5 hours. The segment aired on Tuesday, February 25th at 9:00am, and is available online here.
Recently there have been stories written about the fact that you can buy an “online service vest” for your dog and take your dog into public places posing your dog as a “service dog.” As trainers of service dogs, we had to laugh at this discovery — this practice has been known to us for years and years!
The reasons are many that this practice needs regulation. Reasons such as:
- Business owners are afraid to question even the most obvious “fake” service dogs for fear of being sued.
- These “fake” service dogs have been known to bite people as often they are untrained.
- These “fake” service dogs have been known to visit restaurants, department stores, etc. and have been seen urine marking items or having a potty accident.
- Owners of the “fake” service dogs are well versed in the law and know that business owners have their hands tied to complain about even disruptive behavior from a service animal.
While this story may have people aghast at the people taking advantage of the hard fought laws that the Americans with Disabilities have worked to gain over the years, we as service dog trainers feel that there is a far deeper, far more sinister, far more heinous fraud that is being committed in the name of the Service Dog/Therapy Dog or Assistance Dog industry.
That fraud is regarding the dog trainers who are preying on people with disabilities and raking in billions of dollars from the unknowing seeking a service dog as well as from donors thinking they are giving to a good cause. These trainers and agencies promise to train a dog for a variety of disabilities. We recently received a phone call from a desperate father of an 11 year old child with severe autism who has never spoken. The father attended a forum for families who are dealing with autism. Present were a number of vendors including a noted “shock collar trainer” who promised the families of autistic children that he would sell them a “package” for $20,000.00 that included an 8 week old Goldendoodle puppy, collar, leash, etc. The family could visit the puppy once a week for a one hour playtime. In 3-4 months the puppy would go home with the family as a certified autistic service dog complete with an online vest and credentials. Just like there’s no Santa, this scenario is impossible. But what a great scam!!! Week after week the excited family grows more and more fond of the puppy and becomes emotionally attached to this cute little bundle of joy. After 3-4 months of training and by the time the puppy is 6 months of age they are completely emotionally attached to the puppy and excitedly bring the puppy home as a working service dog. We can assure you that this puppy is no more an autistic service dog than any dog that they could have rescued from the humane society. But the puppy makes the family happy, the 11 year old son seems more settled and the family would never question the dog’s abilities or what exactly made the puppy worth $20,000.00.
Even many of the non-profit agencies that have been started to work with families and dogs are nothing more than money making vehicles for the founders.
There are many excellent non-profit companies that train service dogs. However, when we research the industry we keep coming across the price tag of $30,000.00 attributed to raise and train a service dog. So for each dog that enters into a service dog program, someone has arbitrarily come up with what we feel is an inflated figure to teach a dog to assist someone with a variety of disabilities. Using “positive reinforcement” free shaping training, we have been able to achieve the same results that many agencies claim take 2-3 years and $30,000.00. And since time is money, reducing the time it takes to train a dog greatly reduces the amount of money required to train a service or assistant dog.
Look online and you will see dozens of “workshops” run by trainers where you bring your pet dog for 10 days to 2 weeks and the trainer will teach you to train your dog to be a seizure alert dog, diabetic alert dog, epilepsy alert dog, PTSD service dog, autistic service dog, etc. and certify your pet dog as an actual service dog. The prices range from a few thousand dollars to thousands of dollars. There is one trainer who claims that for $1,300.00 he will teach your dog in 4 DAYS to become a diabetic alert dog. And the beauty of this fraud is that the trainer most likely gives decent information. Having said that, is there any way possible that a “pet dog” could possibly learn the obedience necessary along with the skills needed to be a service dog in a couple of weeks, much less 4 days? Absolutely Not.
But because the service dog industry, therapy dog training and dog training itself are all unregulated industries, there are no standards for the following:
- Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer whether they have ever trained a dog or not.
- Anyone can claim that they can “certify” a therapy dog or service dog whether they have ever trained a dog or not. Normally this claim comes with a hefty fee.
- Most of these dog trainers select disabilities that make judging a dog’s success as a service dog difficult to determine such as PTSD, autistic, seizure alert, epileptic alert, allergy alert, etc.
- Most of the “new generation” of dog trainers are using shock collars to train dogs and have absolutely no understanding how to train a dog using positive reinforcement and a dog’s natural desire to please.
ABSOLUTELY NO SERVICE DOG SHOULD EVER BE TRAINED WITH A SHOCK COLLAR. NEVER.
At The Dog Knowledge and our non-profit, TDK Service Dog Foundation, we have very strict criteria to certify a dog as a service dog. As a rule, we almost never take “pet” dogs and train them to be service dogs. However, in the event that a pet dog shows all the correct personality traits we have worked with young family pets to make the transition into service.
Before we ever consider working with an individual to place a service dog, we ask that they provide a letter from the medical doctor that is treating their disability stating that in the opinion of the physician, the patient would benefit from a service dog and the services that the dog would need to perform. While this requirement might be stepping on ADA toes, we know that we would have to produce the same letter if we wanted to draw government social security benefits for a limiting disability.
All of our therapy and service dogs must have excellent obedience under all circumstances before they are considered for service dog training. Service dogs should learn to be almost invisible and only interested in working with the person they are assisting. Therapy dogs should have that same excellent obedience and temperament. However, therapy dogs should be willing to be handled and sometimes handled roughly by patients, the elderly, children, etc.
Throughout this industry there needs to be vast reform. While we are not trying in any way to reduce the privacy of those with disabilities, we have never met anyone with disabilities who would object to having something similar to a nationally accredited “passport” for their service dog. This “passport” would ensure that any assistance dog be trained to the highest obedience standards and have skill sets that provide a legitimate service. And as trainers, we have no objection to individuals who are willing to learn how to train and take the time to train their own dog. But once that dog is trained, it is only fair that an impartial board with strict standards ask to be shown the obedience and skills of a dog before he is allowed to be around anyone under any circumstances.
While we would like to see sweeping reform in the dog training business requiring dog trainers to have more of an understanding than a “shock collar” to teach a dog, we can start by eliminating the unscrupulous dog trainers and non-profit agencies that are preying on the disabled in the name of service and therapy dog industry.
For more information on what it takes to train and certify a service dog, please visit our website with information on our non-profit at http://www.dogsdoinggood.com or for general training and therapy dog certification visit our website at http://www.thedogknowledge.com.