Frequently Asked Questions about Service Dog Consultations
What is a service dog consultation?
A service dog consultation is a chance to get your questions answered about service dog training, ownership, handling, or any other issues related to service dogs. A consult takes two hours, and we pack a lot in! Depending on what is most relevant to you, we may cover any of these topics: what a service dog is, the road to training a successful service dog, behavior and training issues to address, solving existing behavior problems, the legal definition of service dogs, and the next steps to take to achieve your goals, among many other topics.
What happens at a consult?
Before the consult, you’ll fill out a questionnaire about your dog’s behavior, health, habits, training, and your service dog training goals. This helps us make the most of our time together.
On the day of the consult, I’ll come to your home (or for those outside my area, we’ll meet at a rented training space in Orange or Northampton, MA.). I’ll start by going over your dog’s behavior and health from the questionnaire and get additional details. I will also be observing your dog and making notes on what would be most helpful for training. Getting a sense of your dog’s temperament, personality, and behavioral history is necessary to allow us to tailor a plan that fits your dog’s needs as well as your own.
We’ll also discuss the type of tasks you’d like your dog to perform, where to train, how to train, and management solutions.
What is included in a consult?
- Written recommendations for your dog
- A folder of handouts about service dog training
- Lifelong access to our library of over 80 handouts and articles
- A month of email follow-up for questions after we meet
Will we start training my dog during the consult?
Sometimes, but often there’s too much else to cover. During the consult we’ll create a plan for how to get your dog to the next level with training, including training, enrichment, and management.
What if I don’t have a dog yet? Should I wait to do a consult till after I get my dog?
Don’t wait. For one thing, I sometimes have a wait-list, so it may be several weeks before we can meet. For another, actually the best time to do a consult is before you have acquired your dog. There is a tremendous amount you can do when deciding where and how to get your dog to increase the chances that your dog will succeed. We are available to do behavioral assessments on puppies or dogs you are considering adopting. We can also help you choose the best breed, age, or type of dog for your situation. Getting the right dog is the most important step of the process.
My dog doesn’t have task training yet. Should I wait to do a consult till we are further along?
Don’t wait. Too often significant behavioral issues have already arisen by the time I’m called for a consultation. It is always easier, more successful, and far less expensive to prevent behavioral issues and training problems than to try to fix them once they are entrenched habits.
What is the best way to prepare for a consult?
Write down your questions before the consult. Have your questions at hand so we can cover what matters to you. This can be anything: something you read about service dog training that you’re not sure is accurate, a behavior problem you’re struggling with, or any issues about living with, training, and working with your dog.
Also, try to relax and to take care of yourself so that you can focus at the consult. Depending on the situation, this might mean checking blood sugar, taking medication, having a friend attend to help take notes or remember questions, or anything else that feels supportive. We will be going over a lot of information, so do what you need to be able to get the most out of it.
Why do a service dog consult with At Your Service?
I have been in the service dog field since 1998 and have trained multiple service dogs to a high level of proficiency and professionalism. I have written about service dog training for respected publications such as Partners Forum. Further, as a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer — Knowledge Assessed, I have professional certification and qualifications as a positive dog trainer and a network of other training professionals to consult with.
Most importantly, I have helped people like you to successfully turn unruly SDiT candidates into working service dogs. Simply put, I am the most qualified person in our region to answer your questions about service dog training. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer or a service dog trainer. I have the experience, skills, contacts, and credentials to back it up.
What is your service area for service dog consulting and training?
Because service dog training is a specialty and it is often hard for people to find a qualified trainer in their area, we provide different options for people in different locations.
- We offer the full range of services (consulting, owner lessons, day school, and group classes) to clients in these and other nearby towns: Wendell, New Salem, Orange, Athol, Erving, Montague, Turners Falls, Deerfield, Greenfield, Shutesbury, Leverett, Sunderland, Northfield, Petersham, South Deerfield, Warwick, north Amherst, and parts of Pelham, Belchertown, and Hadley.
- For those in Western Mass., or the North Quabbin region who want to train a service dog but are a little farther away, we also provide in-home consults and owner lessons depending on the location.
- For those outside our service area, including people in the Boston or Albany area, other New England towns, etc., we provide in-person consultations at one of the training facilities where we rent space. These include Mount Tully Kennels in Orange and Animal Alliances in Northampton.
- Finally, we offer service dog consultation by telephone for anyone in the United States or who is outside our service area and unable to travel.
What is the cost for a service dog consult?
The rate is $215. Depending on location, there may also be mileage charges. Mileage and drive time are round-trip. After the first 30 miles (15 miles each direction), mileage is 55 cents per mile.
If you are over an hour away, you may meet me at the training space I rent in Orange (Central MA) or Northampton (Western MA). Clients share the rental fee at a rate of $10/hour, for a total of $235 for the consult at a rented training space.
Do you have a wait-list?
Sometimes. It varies depending on location, time of year, and type of training needed (pet versus service dog, basic manners versus behavior modification, etc.). Contact us to get information on current availability. Even when we do have a wait-list, we do our best to give priority to urgent cases (including any puppy under 16 weeks), and referrals by a veterinarian, another trainer, or a client. Get in touch to schedule, for a referral, and/or to be added to our wait list. Thank you!
There is usually no wait for group classes (unless current classes are full), so if I’m offering a class that I think might be appropriate in the meantime, I’ll let you know. (See our list of classes.)
Don’t be daunted by the wait. Get in touch now to schedule, for a referral, and/or to be added to our wait list to be notified of earlier openings. Thank you!
I am on a very limited income. What if I can’t afford a private consult?
I do my best to offer various affordable and reduced-cost options (see below). But it is also an unfortunate reality that owning and training a service dog is a big commitment in every way. It is an enormous time commitment. It is also a large financial commitment. In addition to the costs associated with any dog, there are added costs for equipment, health, grooming, training, and maintenance that are unique to service dogs.
Training (including treats, equipment, classes, and private training lessons) is often one of the biggest price tags because a service dog combines the costs of a pet, a specialized piece of medical equipment, and a highly trained sentient being. Many people do fundraisers to help pay for training.
The most cost-efficient way to budget for dog training is to do a consult before you even get your dog. If you already have your dog or puppy, set up a consult immediately. It is much faster, easier, and more effective – and therefore cheaper – to prevent behavior problems early versus trying to solve them later.
However, because I am sensitive to the financial issues and want all service dog teams to succeed, I also offer the following forms of support to make sure that cost does not hinder your success:
- Discounts to low-income people on SSI, SSDI, and VA benefits who want my help in training a service dog
- Payment plans that allow you to spread out payments for up to a year after a consult
- Information on books, videos, lists, and other resources that will help you to do a lot of your dog training on your own, if you have the motivation and skill to make it work
- New! Group service dog consults for a more affordable consultation option (see below)
New! More-affordable option: Group Service Dog Consults
I am always trying to find ways to make my high-quality, comprehensive services available to everyone who needs them. If finances prevent you from meeting for a one-on-one consult, I am now offering periodic Group Service Dog Consultations and Group Pre-Adoption Consults as a more affordable option.
Group Service Dog Consults are offered about three times a year. Before the consult, you’ll fill out a questionnaire on your dog and your service dog needs. Then we’ll meet as a group for two hours where I’ll go over the most common and useful information from my extensive experience with service dog consultations, along with a brief training exercise, and plenty of time for everyone’s questions. Owners receive a folder full of service dog training information and a follow-up with notes of written recommendations.
Group Pre-Adoption Consults are offered twice a year. Before the consult, you’ll submit answers to a questionnaire about your needs and preferences for a service dog (including issues like disabilities and lifestyle). We’ll meet as a group for two hours where I’ll go over the most common recommendations for finding the most suitable dogs. And I’ll answer questions and make additional recommendations specific to your or your family’s situation.
Group consults are $99 per family, with an additional $20 discount for handlers with proof of disability benefits (SSI, SSDI, or VA). Registration is required, so you must contact me to sign up if you plan to attend. These are the next group consults:
- Next Group Service Dog Consult is Sun., Jan. 6 at 11 AM (Northampton)
- Next Group Pre-Adoption Consult for Service or Emotional Support Dogs is Sun. Feb. 10 at 11 AM (Northampton)
What’s the difference between a private consult and a group consult?
A private consult is focused completely on you and your dog. I will be able to get a very thorough impression of your dog from both the written history and our discussion, and I will also get a clearer sense of you and the handler’s disability and training needs and challenges. We can address how to modify any training or behavior issues you’re already having and set up a more specific training plan. A private consult also offers:
- Printed handouts and written recommendations for the specific topics we discuss
- Lifelong access to my client portal with all of my training handouts
- A month of email follow-up with answers to your questions or other materials
I am pet dog trainer and I have just started working with a client who wants me to help train a service dog. Can you help me learn the ropes?
Yes. I often consult with other trainers and pet professionals on service dog training. I can help you set up a training plan, figure out how to choose or train assistance tasks, give you guidance on public access training, or help you understand service dog laws, terminology, or standards in your area. Get in touch to set up a Pet Professional Service Dog Consultation.
How do I set up a service dog consult?
Use the form below. I look forward to meeting you and helping your dog to become a great canine assistant!