What Is Service Dog Academy?
Service Dog Academy is a board-and-train option for service dog handlers and owners of service-dogs-in-training. SDA offers home-style boarding with an intensive training focus for working service dogs and service-dogs-in-training. When your dog is at SDA, s/he is a full-time student.
SDA students receive…
- Skilled training every day on the behaviors that matter most to you
- All the care, comfort, and attention of boarding in a home – with the sounds, sights, events – and love and affection – of a home
- 24/7 PETS – Prevention, Enrichment, and Training Strategy. SDA students are not allowed to practice bad behavior. Your dog will either be training, relaxing under supervision, enjoying quality enrichment, or peacefully crated.
What Makes Service Dog Academy Different?
One-to-One Attention for Service Dogs
Unlike other board-and-trains, we don’t take pet dogs, and we usually only board one dog at a time: your dog! SDA is for service dogs only. We focus on the high-level training service dog partners need and expect. Except for our well-trained resident dogs (including a former service dog) and occasionally one other SDA student, your dog is the only dog here.
This means that your dog…
- Receives undivided, quality, one-on-one attention
- Stays in a family living space, not in a garage, basement, or kennel
- Learns good behavior from other dogs. In many B&T situations, dogs learn bad habits from each other, such as barking in their crates or playing rough. This won’t happen at SDA
Highly Skilled Training
Many board-and-trains use harsh, punitive training (e.g., shock, choke, or prong collars) and lack in-depth experience with service dogs or reputable, science-based certification.
SDA is a cut above:
- Your dog’s training will be conducted by Sharon Wachsler, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, and service dog training specialist
- Your dog will receive positive-reinforcement, marker-based training, the most efficient and effective training currently known
Ongoing, Long-Term Training
Most pet dog trainers offer B&T for specific pet dog problems or basic training, such as coming when called, polite greeting, basic manners, or house training. They train for three or four weeks and then the pet goes home, where the owner must take over training to maintain the new skills. This works well for many pet dogs – getting them to an “elementary school” level of proficiency in basic manners. However, it is not enough for service dogs. For one, many owners struggle to maintain training or find that training has not transferred sufficiently from the trainer to themselves. For another, that level of training proficiency is often all that is needed for most pets, but not for service dogs.
At Service Dog Academy, we’re training canine PhDs. Service dogs require a high level of training, skill, consistency, and complexity which cannot be achieved in a few short weeks of intensive training. Instead, SDA pupils typically trade off months at school and months at home. They train for four-to-six weeks at SDA, then go home to you to train for a period of time, then return for another month of training. This process of cycling between school and home creates solid skill base for both dog and handler. It also ensures that your dog’s training has transferred to you so that your dog is successful with continued training with you, where it matters! Service dogs in training with SDA continue to train with us until they are fully trained working service dogs.
Is SDA Right for Your Dog?
Excellent Canine Candidates
SDA applicants must be service dogs or service-dogs-in-training that are in excellent health and have the fantastic temperament of a suitable service dog. Usually we prefer to take young adult dogs because their temperament is already formed and known.
Adult SDA candidates generally should already be
- crate trained
- house trained
- quiet (not habitual barkers)
- able to ride happily in the car
On occasion, we may accept a puppy or adolescent dog into SDA. We understand that a puppy might not yet be fully crate trained or house trained and waive that requirement.
NOTE: Most dogs – including many wonderful dogs – are not cut out to be service dogs. Only a handful of dogs we work with every year are appropriate service dog candidates. To be accepted into SDA, we must believe your dog is very likely to succeed and be happy and healthy in this career path. Before your dog is accepted into SDA, s/he will need to be assessed and go through a trial training period.
Assessing dogs as prospective SDiTs is a complex process. There are several stages of assessment. The first level of assessment occurs when you contact At Your Service Dog Training by phone or email. We will gather some information on your dog. If it sounds like SDA might be a good option, you will fill out a questionnaire on your dog’s behavior, health, and habits, as well as on your service dog needs, goals, and training experience. After we review the paperwork, we will meet for a consult and make recommendations.
We will meet in person, along with you and your dog. Based on this in-depth discussion, if your dog does not seem like they would be happy as a service dog, we may recommend other options, such as career-changing your dog to a pet or working with us to find a more likely prospect.
If your dog seems like they might do well with service dog training, we’ll set up a small number of private lessons – usually three to five – to get a better sense of how you and your dog work together. We’ll evaluate your dog’s progress between lessons. If your dog is doing well with training, we’ll move on to a Service Dog Academy initial trial.
If you live outside the region, we can modify this process with an initial phone meeting, followed by referral and notes from a trainer in your area, and then in-person lessons where you and your dog travel to train with me for the initial assessment.
SDA Initial Trial
Your dog will stay at SDA for an initial stay of 3 – 21 days. We will plan for 3 weeks (21 days), which includes transition lessons with the owners/handlers, however some dogs will only stay for three-to-five days.
The purpose of this initial board-and-train is twofold. First, your dog will be trained in the skills they need for their current age and level of training – usually basic manners, but more advanced dogs, may train in public access or task work. This high-quality, intensive training will benefit you and your dog no matter the outcome. Secondly, by living with your dog, your trainer will get a much clearer idea of your dog’s personality, temperament, and trainability.
Generally speaking, it takes about three-to-five days for a dog to settle in a new setting and learn efficiently. During this settle-in period, when a dog may be more stressed than usual, they tend to show the “cracks” in their temperament. Much as you can put your best foot forward when you are well-rested, comfortable, and happy, but may show your tendency to be grouchy, weepy, or reserved when you are tired, in pain, etc., our dogs often show behavioral tendencies we don’t expect when they are in new situations. Because working as a service dog is inherently stressful at times, and is extremely stressful for the dogs that are not cut out for it, it is extremely helpful to know how a dog copes with a big change like suddenly living in a new place. We have found that about half of the dogs who come for SDA show temperament traits within the first five days that make successful training as a service dog unlikely. In these cases, owners will have the option of having the dog continue the B&T to receive the skilled training, or taking their dog home and getting a refund for all but the initial $600 payment.
After the trial B&T and transition lessons, your dog will either be accepted into SDA for further training, or you will be advised of other options for your better-behaved pet dog.
SDA Training Process
Dogs that have a successful initial training period are accepted into SDA. With the in-depth information about you and your dog that we’ve gathered through the intake and assessment process, we are able to provide a good estimate about the length of time and the costs involved in training. Based on this information, a detailed lesson plan and package estimate are drawn up. A typical plan would involve rotating periods of your dog boarding with us for intensive training, followed by transition lessons with you before your dog returns home for a few weeks for team training, and then the dog returns to SDA again.
During team training at home, the owner/handler is required to keep up with training homework, including submitting written and video homework of the dog’s progress. This process of periods of intense board-and-train, followed by periods of team training, will continue until your dog is fully trained.
Once my dog is accepted, what can I expect?
Service Dog Academy students receive…
- Intensive daily training in a home setting from a professional service dog trainer when they stay at SDA headquarters
- Team transition lessons with you at SDA headquarters at the beginning and end of each stay so that you are able to confidently continue with training at home
- Weekly online or telephone check-ins during team training at home, including written and video homework and feedback
- When teams are ready for public access work during team training on their own, they receive custom public access cards that address common questions about their SDiT, with applicable state and federal laws and contact information
- Your dog is trained in excellent manners, public access decorum, and two or three of the assistance tasks that will be most useful to you
Service Dog Academy graduates receive…
- At the end of the training process, graduating teams take a Public Access Evaluation and receive a written report of their PAE, including their passing grade
- Teams that pass their PAE will receive a vest with the At Your Service Dog Training logo and a letter on our letterhead indicating that your dog has been trained as a service dog to reliably perform assistance tasks
- All clients receive lifelong access to At Your Service Dog Training’s client portal with over a hundred service dog training handouts and its client Facebook group with training tips and videos. We are also always available for any questions, concerns, or follow-up training for the life of your team
Timeframe and Cost
We screen carefully to try to set up service dog teams for success – focusing on the dogs and handlers that are likely to go the distance. When a dog is an excellent candidate and a handler is committed to the training process, training is faster and less expensive. These are the teams we try to develop and work with to create the highest likelihood of success. Despite this, it is impossible to say for sure how much it will cost and how long it will take to train your service dog. Dogs and people learn at different rates, and sometimes unexpected events (illness, family emergencies, or dog health or behavior issues) may throw training off course.
With this understanding of a great number of variables, you should expect it to take six to 16 months to fully train your dog. The average is usually a minimum of 10 months. Generally speaking, this is broken up into manners and public access training and task training. Manners and PA training for an excellent adult dog candidate usually takes between four and eight months total – i.e., two to four months of board-and-train and two-to-four months of team training at home or about six months on average. Task training varies a great deal with the type of tasks. Typically task work takes between two to eight months.
Remember that cost will vary with the length of time needed, as well as which tasks must be trained. A service dog that has no previous bad habits, some basic manners, and needs to be trained in medication reminder, symptom interruption, and deep pressure for a handler with PTSD may be trained in six months for $12,500. Whereas another service dog that needs to be trained to retrieve items, open and shut doors, turn lights on and off, and alert to a medical condition may take 12 months at a cost of $20,000. You will receive an estimate once your dog is accepted into SDA.
These initial costs are fixed and current for 2020:
- Initial consult = $222 (plus mileage and/or space rental, depending on location)
- Two to five initial owner lessons = $100 per lesson for single lessons or $480 (96 each) for a package of five (plus mileage and/or space rental, depending on location)
- SDA Initial Trial = 3,045 for 21 days. Note that if your dog is released from the B&T any time in the first four days, there is a non-refundable portion of $600 for that initial assessment period
- Daily rates for ongoing B&T clients may be reduced after the initial trial period, once the dog is accepted for long-term training
For low-income clients, scholarship funds may be available to defray some of your dog’s training costs.
How Can I Enroll My Dog?
If you think your dog is ready for Service Dog Academy, contact us to get started! Call 413-336-0598 or email email@example.com.