Answers to your questions about our training services and whether we are the right training service for you and your dog.
Q: What kind of training do you offer?
A: We specialize in service dog training and in manners training and behavior modification for pets and puppies. Here is more information on both types of services.
Service dog training: We provide assistance dog consulting and training — for individuals with disabilities and their families, as well as consulting for trainers and presentations for businesses and community groups — about all aspects of private service dog training. We can consult and train around numerous types of disabilities, but our specialties are mobility service dogs and psychiatric service dogs.
For people who have not yet acquired their dog, we strongly recommend pre-adoption consulting and dog search support (helping you make decisions before acquiring a dog or finding the right dog).
We can also address questions about emotional support animals (ESAs) and what training might be needed for an ESA, and how to adapt training techniques or equipment for handlers with disabilities.
Training services for service dogs include private, in-home training — coaching you to train your dog — as well as day school where we train your dog at your home or in public, and Service Dog Academy (board-and-train). We also offer group classes for future service dogs, as well as presentations, workshops, and speaking engagements on service dog training to other trainers, disability organizations, health care professionals, the general public, etc.
Pet dog training: We offer private, in-home training for puppies and manners training for pet dogs, as well as behavior modification for dogs with behavior issues. Our pet training focus includes our specialty group class on skills for future therapy dogs.
Q: How are you offering services during COVID-19?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we began offering training consults and lessons online, using Zoom (video conferencing). Our clients have had such good results with online training — sometimes combined with on-site lessons outdoors, when that is appropriate — that we plan to continue to offer online training from now on. Online training is particularly helpful for these situations:
- Behaviors that occur primarily in the home (including counter surfing, conflict between dogs in the household, issues between dogs and cats dogs and kids, jumping on people when they walk through the door, separation anxiety, etc.)
- Training solid foundations in behaviors that will be transitioned outdoors or to more distracting environments. (Just like you wouldn’t try to teach a child to swim by throwing them into the deep end of the pool, it is best to train the foundation behaviors your dog needs in low-distraction settings, not in the situations that overwhelm their ability to think.)
- Dogs that are fearful or reactive to strangers
- Service dog training and consulting (as there are many parts of the country where there are not skilled, experienced positive-reinforcement trainers who specialize in service dog training)
As the situation keeps changing, it’s hard to predict exactly when we’ll start offering on-site indoor group classes or indoor private training in client homes. However, we have been training dogs all through the pandemic with online training, with excellent results, and we will continue! Please read below, and see the additional attached information, to learn what we can offer, or find out more about online training.
With private training, do I have to be present for dog training lessons, or will you come to my house and train my dog for me?
A: We offer both types of training services:
- Owner training lessons with owners focus on giving you the skills to best train your dog.
- Day school sessions allow us to train your dog for you several days a week. However, we will still meet with you periodically (usually once a week), to transfer those skills because you will need to maintain and continue your dog’s training.
Q: Do you come to my area?
A: For pet dogs, our day school and owner lesson service area includes Pioneer Valley towns within 30 minutes of Hadley or Northampton, including Amherst, Deerfield, Easthampton, Florence, Granby, Hadley, Holyoke, Leeds, Leverett, Northampton, South Hadley, Shutesbury, South Deerfield, Sunderland, and Williamsburg.
For service dogs, we may travel a bit farther, including south to the Springfield area and north to the Greenfield area. If you are outside our area and would like our help with training your service dog, we offer private service dog lessons and consultations in a rented space in Northampton.
If you’re not sure if we cover your town, please contact us to inquire.
Q: Do you offer board-and-train?
A: We offer board-and-train for service dogs only. We only take carefully screened service dog candidates into the SDA program. Please see our Service Dog Academy page for more information. SDA is a good option for SDiTs that are not within our in-home training area but close enough for you to drop off and pick up your dog once a week.
Q: Do you work with all breeds of dog?
A: Yes. We work with all sizes, ages, breeds, and types of dogs.
Q: Do you have group classes?
A: Yes, we offer specialty group classes for service-dogs-in-training and future therapy dogs in Northampton, MA. We also occasionally run other specialty classes, such as Outdoor Manners, Coming when Called, Shaping, “Helping Hounds” (fun and useful tricks), etc. If you’re looking for a specialty class, just ask. We are always interested in adding new classes. Learn more about group classes.
Costs, Schedule, Logistics
Q: When do you schedule consultations and lessons?
A: Currently, we are booking private consults and lessons at the times below. This sometimes changes depending on our schedules in a given week:
- Monday morning and afternoon (assistant trainer)
- Tuesday mornings, afternoons, and evenings (both trainers)
- Wednesday mornings, afternoons, and evenings (both trainers)
- Thursday mornings and afternoons (both trainers)
- Friday afternoons and evenings (head trainer)
Q: Do you have a wait list?
Sometimes. It depends on the time of year, your location, and other factors. Often we can set up a consult within a week or two, but when we’re very busy there may be a wait of up to two months. We’ll let you know if this is the case. When there is a wait, we can add you to our waitlist in case something comes up earlier. If you were referred — by a veterinarian, another trainer, or a client — we will give you priority. If you need to work with someone sooner, we can refer you to a good trainer in your area. Get in touch to schedule, for a referral, and/or to be added to our wait list to be notified of earlier openings. Thank you! (Note: Group classes are open for registration right now.)
Q: How much do you charge?
A: The rate for each service is listed on the page that describes that service. The basic hourly rate for private training is $100 with our head trainer and $75 with our assistant trainer. However, for many services, we offer packages at discounted rates. For service dog packages, we offer additional discounts for “bulk” pricing. If you are interested in a specific service, and you don’t see the rate listed, we can send you our rate sheet or a quote based on your training needs and location.
Q: Do you offer any discounts?
A: We offer discounts to low-income, disabled people who are training service dogs. More about these below.
While we do not offer discounts for pet dog training, we try to make services affordable by offering payment by credit card or setting up a payment plan to allow you to spread payments out over time. If you’d like to set up a payment plan, please let us know before we schedule.
For people who are training a service dog, we offer two types of financial assistance:
- For anyone on disability benefits who is training their own service dog we offer a small discount on all private training (consults, lessons, etc.). If this applies to you, please let us know whether you’re on SSI, SSDI, or VA benefits (and if on VA benefits, what percent disabled according to the VA).
- We offer scholarships for current At Your Service clients, based on both financial need and selection criteria of the dog and team. Find out more about the Maimes Service Dog Scholarship Fund.
Q: Do you provide trained service dogs?
A: We work with individuals and families to help you train your own service dog. For the right situation, we do offer a service dog board-and-train option (Service Dog Academy) which significantly reduces the amount of training you’ll need to do with your dog and can include us training your dog’s assistance tasks. If you’re not sure whether to get a trained dog or train your own, we are happy to do a consultation and make a recommendation based on thoroughly assessing your situation. In some cases we recommend getting a trained dog through a service dog program, in other cases we encourage owner-training. It depends on the situation. We can also help you decide whether a service dog is right for you, what type of dog to get, and provide other information and support on service dog training and related issues. For clients who are looking for the highest likelihood of success and the most skilled training, we recommend working with us to find the right dog for you to train and then using our Service Dog Academy board-and-train option.
Q: I want to train my own service dog. How should I start?
A: Absolutely the best way to start is with a pre-adoption consult with dog search support. The overwhelming majority of people who want to train their own service dog start with a dog who is ill-suited to the career. Sixty-three percent of the dogs we have assessed for people who want to train their dog as a service dog are completely unable to be trained as public-access service dogs. Only 15 percent of our clients start with a dog that has the characteristics that make it likely to succeed. (The other 22 percent are dogs that are “maybes” based on age, health, behavior, etc.)
Another huge hurdle for most people is the massive commitment of time, energy, and money required to train your own service dog. Starting with the right dog and with reasonable expectations will set you up for success. We hear frequently from clients about things they’ve read on the internet or been told about service dog training that is not true. Much of the information on the internet — and even advice from well-meaning family, friends, veterinarians, doctors/therapists, and other dog trainers — is inaccurate. Get accurate information and real answers before you start.
We also strongly recommend reading these informative blog posts:
- Service Dog Questions and Answers (SD FAQ)
- Avoid these 5 common service dog training pitfalls
- How long will it take to train a Service Dog?
- What does it cost to train a service dog?
- Choosing assistance tasks for a service dog
- Public access for service-dogs-in-training
- How to succeed at public access training with your service dog
- Resources for training a service dog
- Puppy Socialization for future service dogs
- Buyer Beware: Choosing a Service Dog Program or Trainer
Q: Can you administer the Assistance Dog International (ADI) Public Access Test? Can you conduct the annual recertification of my dog and me for the assistance dog program we graduated from?
A: Only nonprofit programs that provides trained service dogs are eligible to join and be accredited with ADI. Only ADI-member organizations administer their PAT as it is specific to their own graduation standards. Sharon has created a Public Access Evaluation which is a useful tool to help you get a sense of where your dog is doing well with public access, and where improvement might be needed. We can help draw up a training plan to address those issues or work on the training with you. If your service dog program requires you to work with a certified professional dog trainer, we are happy to work with you and your dog’s school to conduct your recertification, depending on how it’s administered. Get in touch to discuss your needs and how we can help.
Specialty Training Questions (what we do and don’t offer)
Q: We have children or are expecting a baby. What should we do to increase safety, harmony, and good manners between our dog and the kids?
A: That’s a terrific question. We recommend different programs for babies and toddlers than for older kids:
- If you have school-age kids or grandchildren (5 years or older) who live with you or visit frequently, At Your Service offers the Doggone Safe “Be A Tree” program, which is a fun and effective way for kids to learn to be safe and respectful around dogs. This supports safety and well-being for kids and dogs, increases understanding, and supports your dog’s good behavior and training. Please contact us to set up a Be A Tree lesson for the kids in your family or at your child’s school.
- If you are expecting a baby, the best resource for you is the Dogs & Storks program. In Western Mass., Jill Rose at Paws of Nature offers this program at group presentations or can do private consults.
Q: Do you work with aggression and reactivity?
A: Usually, yes. Whether we take your dog’s case depends on our current case load and schedule and various other factors. We often work with dogs that are reactive to other dogs when out on walks or with dogs that are reactive to strangers who visit the home. If we are not able to start with your dog, we will try to refer you to a humane, reputable, and science-based trainer, behavior consultant, or behaviorist in your area.
Q: Do you offer agility, competition obedience, schutzhund, or other dog sports, competition, or title training?
A: No. We focus on the manners, obedience, public access, and assistance tasks for service dogs, and excellent manners for pet dogs, including raising and training puppies to be great dogs. As part of this training, we can advise you on tricks, therapy dog training, scenting, games, etc.
Q: How can I find a reputable, humane, science-based trainer in my area who specializes in areas you don’t offer?
A: There are a lot of variables in finding the right match. Whether you like and trust the trainer and feel listened to is important, as is whether the trainer offers the services you need, and whether their approach is both ethical and effective. We recommend starting with a search for a trainer in your area who has a certification from an independent certifying body such as the CCPDT or IAABC. Another good option is to find a trainer who has graduated from a reputable, science-based professional trainer vocational program such as Karen Pryor Academy or Academy for Dog Trainers.
For service dog training, please read our “Buyer Beware” article as we regularly hear horror stories from clients who have worked with other trainers with bad results. This includes trainers who have scammed them out of huge sums of money, wasted their time, harmed their dog, or even killed their dog.
For group classes in pet manners in our area, we recommend Animal Alliances (Northampton), Caryl-Rose Pofcher (Amherst), Marlene Layman (Belchertown), Barbara Eriksson (Warwick/Orange), or Elise McMahon (Montague)
If you’re not sure where to start, for serious issues (such as aggression, separation anxiety, etc.), we recommend searching by your zip code at International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).
What Training Is Like
Q: How long will it take for my dog to be trained?
A: We are better able to offer an estimate when we have more information — usually best done with a consultation. We have standard packages for some of the typical issues — day school for new puppies, ongoing training for service dog candidates, basic training for owners of newly adopted dogs, etc., and we tailor these to each client and dog. What we recommend depends on what your training goals are, what behavior issues are already occurring, how well you believe you can maintain management and training between lessons, and many other variables. After a consult, we do our best to suggest a training plan or package that is most likely to meet your training goals. However, since every dog’s rate of learning is different, and each set of goals are unique, we can never guarantee what level of training your dog will achieve within a set period.
Q: Will we be going for a walk at our consult? I would like you to see my dog’s bad behavior.
A: It is unlikely we will need to go for a walk or that we will need to see your dog’s bad behavior. We usually get the best information by getting a very thorough history from you before and during the consultation, and by observing the dog’s body language and behavior when we arrive. If we need to assess the dog’s behavior, we may elicit it, but more likely we will ask you to get a short video clip when it occurs and email it to us.
Q: Why are we meeting in my home instead of at your training facility? What if my home is really messy?
A: We specialize in private in-home training, so we don’t have our own training facility. However, we sometimes rent a training space when it’s needed. We don’t have to meet in your home. If you would much rather meet somewhere else, let us know. We will be happy to schedule a consult or lesson at a rented training space.
If you’re within our service area and you’re comfortable with it, there are several advantages to meeting in your home:
- Dogs are the most “themselves” at home. A dog’s behavior at home is different from how it is in a training space. This can help me get a truer sense of their personality, behavior, and temperament.
- Most dogs — and people — learn the best in the environment where they are familiar and comfortable. Training usually goes faster and skills build more quickly at home.
- Most naughty dog behavior occurs in the home — jumping on people who walk through the door, counter surfing, barking out the window, etc. While it is possible to address these away from home, the advantage of meeting in home (especially for a consult) is that we can suggest specific prevention and training tips based specifically on what is occurring, e.g., where to put the gate or move the crate or train the greeting, etc.
- For service dogs, many assistance tasks must be trained in-home, such as getting a parent for help or pressing a call button or open the refrigerator, etc.
- Scheduling flexibility and cost are also sometimes advantages, as when we rent a training space, we pay rental charges and we have to schedule around their regular class schedule.
- We could not care less if your house is messy! We are meeting with you to assess or train your dog. The only thing we pay attention to in the home is how to make the best use of the space for training your dog.
Q: Will I feel comfortable and welcome training with you? Do you believe that people with certain types of disabilities can’t train their own dog?
A: At Your Service is committed to inclusive and empowering training services, geared to the individual. We always do our best to make our clients feel comfortable — dog and human like. We are used to working with and accommodating people with a variety of physical and mental disabilities. We do not believe that certain types of disabilities mean you are incapable of training your dog! We are always happy to adjust our training approach to make it work well for each team. We are LGBTQ friendly. We welcome clients of any religion, race, ethnicity, gender/gender expression, sexual orientation, age, disability, national origin, or immigration status. We love dogs, but we also love people!
Q: Which is better for my dog and my situation — group classes or private training?
A: It depends. Here are some considerations:
Private in-home training means we will train your dog in your home — or for socialization or public access training — we will train your dog in your community. Private training gives your dog (and you!) one-on-one focused attention. Often, the difference comes down to time and money…
Private training is best… If you have limited time. Private training offers more training support and individualized support, covering just the issues that matter to you. Private training is best for
- Those who want a trainer to spend more time training your dog so you spend less time on training
- Initial service dog training
- Dogs with behavior issues that prevent working closely around strange people and dogs
- Dogs or people who don’t learn well in the noise and controlled chaos of a group class environment
Group classes are best… If you have more time to train and limited financial resources AND if your dog is able to work around strange dogs and people. It is also usually best for puppies under 16 weeks of age who need socialization.
Here are additional pros and cons of private training versus group classes.
We recommend private, in-home training for these situations:
- Service dog consultations, especially for getting a service-dog partnership off on the right foot
- Puppy consultations — especially for new or first-time puppy owners
- Behavior modification, consultations, or training for dogs with behavior disorders (fearfulness, anxiety, handling issues, sound sensitivity, etc.) or for training problems that occur primarily or exclusively at home, such as hyper-greetings at the door, barking in the yard, etc. This starts with a behavior and training consult.
We recommend group classes for these situations:
- For new puppies, ages 8-16 weeks, we recommend Puppy Kindergarten as a terrific way to support socialization for your puppy
- For dogs that are comfortable around dogs and people and need basic manners training, where owners are able to focus and learn well in a group environment, and where finances are a major concern. In this case, a basic manners class with a rewards-based trainer is ideal. Depending on your location, we recommend these trainers for basic manners group classes: Animal Alliances (Northampton), Caryl-Rose Pofcher (Amherst), Marlene Layman (Belchertown), Barbara Eriksson (Warwick/Orange), Elise McMahon (Montague).
- For service-dogs-in-training that already have had an in-home service dog consultation and/or a solid foundation in manners and obedience, group classes can be a useful adjunct to private training by offering situations where dog and handler are working around distractions and in more public situations. In this case, you can bring your SDiT through our specialty service dog classes: Therapy & Service Dog Skills, Public Access I, and Public Access II. Please find out more about these classes on our Group Class page.
Service Dog Consulting for Businesses, Community Organizations, and Pet Professionals
Q: I am a pet dog trainer. I’ve been getting inquiries about service dog training and have started working with a service dog client. Do you consult with other trainers on service dog issues?
A: Yes. Sharon is happy to work with you. She offers service dog consulting for pet professionals. There are several ways we can help you or your client.
- Team training with local trainers — if you are in Western or Central MA, Sharon enjoys taking a team approach with pet dog trainers in her area. She can consult and work with the client on service-dog related issues and may refer them back to you to work on manners and obedience, etc. She is happy to “share” clients with the pet dog trainers who are closer to them. This often works out well for everyone: it’s less driving for us, lower mileage costs for the client, and local trainers can continue to work with the dogs and clients in their community
The following services are available to trainers outside the local area — anywhere in the United States (more details here):
- Tandem consults — a consultation with you, your client, and Sharon, including access to our library of materials and preparation and follow-up support for you
- On-tap consulting for professional trainers — consulting by phone or online with trainers to provide guidance and answer questions about working with service dog clients as questions arise. She can help you set up a training plan, figure out how to choose or train assistance tasks, give you guidance on public access training, guide you on applicable service dog laws, terminology, or standards in your area, or answer any other questions you have about private service dog training
- Public speaking, webinars, or workshops on service dog training issues — get in touch about topics and scheduling
Sharon has also done webinars on these topics that are available online:
- SD, SDiT, ESA, Alphabet Soup?! What you need to know about US service dog laws and terms is geared to pet dog trainers who are interested in doing service dog training. It covers the differences between service dog, emotional support animal, therapy dog, etc., and also the legal definitions and how to know what the laws are in your state for SD trainers. Offered through Pet Professional Guild
- Working with Service Dog Owner-Trainers: It’s not about the dog is also especially geared to pet dog trainers who are interested in working with clients to train their own service dogs. It covers some of the unique aspects of SD training that make it quite different from pet dog training, in terms of the human clients. Offered through E-Training for Dogs
- Service Dog Owner-Training: Is This the Path for You? is geared to both clients and dog trainers. It covers some about laws and terms and also goes over the SD training process, how to find a trainer, etc.
Q: I would like to be a dog trainer or service dog trainer. Can I assist you or intern with you?
A: Yes, if you’re in our area and are able to drive to weekly observation sessions, we have a mentorship program that is equivalent to taking a year-long college course. It includes a written curriculum and opportunities for weekly observation and discussion. It is a great opportunity for motivated people to learn about dog training from the inside. College students can also work with their university to get course credit. Learn about internship opportunities with At Your Service.
Q: I am a teacher/scout leader/work with people with disabilities. Do you offer presentations or workshops for kids or adults about service dogs, dog training, dog body language, staying safe around dogs, or related topics?
A: Yes, Sharon is an experienced presenter and public speaker and happy to offer presentations on these topics. Please get in touch to discuss specifics and set up a workshop.
Q: I own a retail or housing business. A lot of people come in claiming that their animal is a service animal or an emotional support animal. Our security staff and managers are confused about the terminology and how to handle these scenarios. Can you help?
A: Yes, we can help. Your best bet is to start with the US Department of Justice’s FAQ on service animals and the ADA. Speaking to your lawyer may also be a good idea. If you would like more information and guidance, including ideas for signage or policies for your staff, contact us about a presentation. We have done presentations for a variety of business and community groups, including the entire security staff at Baystate hospital in Springfield. See what the managers at Thornes Marketplace say about Sharon’s presentation for their staff.