When an applicant has been accepted into the training program, the next step is to clearly define the tasks and skills needed to best assist the applicant with his/her disability in day-to-day life. The applicant will meet with the training staff so that they can understand these needs and begin to identify potential dogs which may be suitable. Dogs are matched with applicants based on the dog’s skills, strengths, temperament, and energy level, and the applicant’s needs, experience, personality, and lifestyle.
Once a dog who is nearing the completion of their advanced training phase have been identified, the team training phase begins. The training program is customized to the individual client’s needs and abilities.
Detailed Description of Team Training
Initial Training Period (2 weeks)
The process begins with a two week “boot camp” of daily training sessions covering basic training principles, vocabulary, dog behavior and body language, grooming, play and exercise, nutrition, health care, illnesses and emergencies, public access, the rights and responsibilities of service dog partners under the law, family interactions and more. The client will have hands-on training sessions to practice basic obedience and specialized service dog skills and behaviors both at our training center and on outings in public.
Training takes place for approximately 6-7 hours per day, 4-5 days per week (Monday through Friday) over the two week period. The client will need to arrange his/her work and home schedules so that this is possible. The family and/or other members of the client’s support system will be required to attend one day of training during the intensive training period.
During this training period, the client will work with a variety of dogs who are in the advanced training phase. Although the training staff has identified at least one dog who may be suitable for the client by the time the client begins training, working with a variety of different dogs with different personalities also helps the client repeat and solidify important training concepts and skills. The client does not take the dog home during the initial training period. However, clients have the option of staying at Hero Dogs in our cabin with the dog during this training. Staying on site is strongly encouraged during the second week of training.
If, at the conclusion of the initial training period and upon passing a public access test, the training staff feels the client has mastered the basic lessons and can meet the dog’s physical, mental, and emotional needs, the client and dog will go home together.
0-6 Months After Placement
Upon successful completion of the “boot camp,” the team commit to a weekly training session (approximately two hours per week) under the supervision of a Hero Dogs staff trainer for the next six months. This training will take place in a variety of locations, including at the Hero Dogs facility, the client’s home, workplace, school, medical appointments, and various other public locations.
The dog remains the property of Hero Dogs during this time. Clients must agree to adhere to all Hero Dogs rules and regulations concerning the care and training of the dog, including daily exercise, training, and grooming requirements. Failure to do so or to meet the training commitment will result in removal from the program and return of the dog to Hero Dogs.
When the client and the trainer both feel that the team is ready (after the six month commitment has been met), the team must successfully pass a two-part certification, including:
- a written or oral examination which covers the client’s knowledge of dog care, dog behavior, training principles, specific vocabulary, and public access,
- a practical test of basic obedience and specialized skills
If the team does not pass the certification examination, they will be given additional time to prepare and practice before taking it again. Up to three attempts to pass the certification will be given, but if the team cannot pass after three attempts, the client will be released from the program and the dog returned to Hero Dogs.
6-12 Months After Placement
During this period, the client meets with the training staff in person at least monthly. This training will take place in a variety of locations, including at the Hero Dogs facility, the client’s home, workplace, school, medical appointments, and various other public locations. This training is intended to prepare the client and the dog to take the public access test at the end of the one-year-mark.
When the client and the trainer both feel that the team is ready (after the second six-month commitment has been met), the team must successfully pass a public access test.
Once all requirements have been met and ownership is transferred to the client, the client becomes responsible for all of the usual costs associated with owning a dog.
If the team passes all portions of the certification examination, a graduation ceremony is held for the client, the Hero Dog, and all of the people who have been and will be part of the team’s journey. Graduation is typically held once per year, and all teams that have certified since the prior graduation are recognized.
Re-certification of a team is not required, either by Hero Dogs or by law. However, if the client wishes to keep the Hero Dogs vest and identification tags or cards, and have access to the support services provided by Hero Dogs, the team must re-take and pass the certification examination every two years. Even though the vest and ID tags or cards are not required by law, they do ease potential public access difficulties and give the team a professional appearance.
Hero Dogs is committed to the success of its service dog partnerships. We provide support to each team for the life of the partnership, at no cost to the client, through:
- Follow-up training
- Advice or consultations with staff trainers or Client Services
- Bi-annual re-certification
- Other support services where necessary
All teams are required to complete and return an annual update questionnaire, including a behavior survey and documentation of an annual veterinary exam.