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Donna Hill's

Service Dog Training Institute

Frequently Asked Questions

It depends! We aim to be transparent as there should be no secrets in training a service dog. Training your own service dog (or for a family member) is not rocket science but it does take some reflection, insight, patience and empathy for your dog if you want to build a functional service dog team. You are learning to be a dog trainer. The teaching approach we use for both you and your dog is kind, ethical, and effective. We provide the guidance, you carry out the practical.
 
If you are a paper and pen person and like to read, you will probably enjoy our online format. If you are a mature learner, and can stay focussed, you’ll love what we offer. 
If you like understanding the behavior behind what a dog does, you will love our program! 
 
Our videos are short snippets of real dogs learning. We show mistakes both handlers and dogs make while learning and how to fix them. We offer our service to help you be successful with your service dog or assistance dog. That is our goal.
 
If you prefer one to one training, we offer web cam consults and in-person learning in Nanaimo, BC. Come for a visit!
 
We won’t bombard you with marketing and emails. We only send out what is necessary. There are no external ads on our website to wade through.
 
Though a fun (and often entertaining!) process, training your own service dog to public access can be a challenge. If you create a support team and are self-motivated, you will do well. Many of our students go on to become dog training coaches for humans and dog trainers (teach only dogs). We love life-long learners!
If you are starting from a young puppy, you can expect to take 2 to 3 years to learn and apply the skills and behaviors you need as a team to be confidently working in public. Partly because your dog needs to mature physically, emotionally and socially and that takes time, experience and practice. Partly because you need to learn the skills and are living your life as you train. It will take less if you are starting with an adult dog. How long depends on how well you can apply the learning, how often you train and how fast your dog learns and generalizes behaviour and other factors. Some people with disabilities put the training on pause while they deal with their disability.

As long as it takes for you and your dog to work through it.  Every team will work at their own speed.  Service Puppy program is designed to take about 2 months (again depending on where your pup is at when you start), but the others will vary depending on you and your dog’s previous learning experience, how often you train, transportation availability and other factors.

Anyone over the age of 18 years can take the classes. You can live anywhere in the world as long as you can read and speak English (or can translate the text to your language) and have access to high speed internet and a functioning webcam. If you are a minor, you must have a parent or guardian actively overseeing the training. They sign up on your behalf.

People with a disability, therapists, counsellors and other medical professionals can take the classes.

Professional dog trainers can take our classes.

If you are training your own dog, your medical condition or disability must be stable. If you are newly diagnosed, we encourage you to wait to start the training process until you understand your disability and are able to manage it well. Caring for and training a service dog takes much focus, energy and time on top of your medical condition. Taking on a puppy is like having a new baby for the first two years.

If you do better with listening than reading, then using a screen reader might work for you.

If you are hard of hearing, the short video clips do not have closed captioning as most videos only have the sound of the marker. There is rarely any ‘talking head’ type videos in the class videos.

Self-motivated lifelong learns who want guidance do well in our programs.

If you are starting with a puppy, that’s easy! “Service Puppy” then the numbered classes “Foundation Concepts” after that. Once your pup is 6 months old, you can also take Settle/Relax and Loose Leash Walking at the same time as the Foundation Concepts classes. Then the optional classes after that.
 
If you are starting with an adolescent or adult dog, then start with our numbered “Foundation Concepts” classes. Taking them in order will help you to learn what you need to know as you progress through the numbers and your dog will also learn what he needs to know. If your pup is 6 months old, you can also take Settle/Relax and Loose Leash Walking at the same time as the Foundation Concepts classes.
 
From there take the Public Access classes. The Nailed it! Class can be taken from about a year old if your dog is not in a fear period.
 
There are also webinars for useful information such as on reading and responding to stress that you can take any time.
 
Even if your dog already “knows” some of the behaviors, it will be helpful to you both to learn them in a different way. That will solidify the learning for you both. 
Otherwise, assess what you know about dogs and if you already understand specific concepts, then don’t take what you don’t need.

 All modules contain step by step text, videos, photos, diagrams, and discussion questions to get you thinking after you have tried the training. 

The text takes you step by step though the process. There are tips for success and problem-solving ideas for common training challenges for teaching each behavior.

Short video clips (most 10-30 seconds long) demonstrate the steps with real dogs learning the process and text description is before each video. Here is a sample lesson to give you an idea of how the content is presented.
Each behavior is broken into as many objectives as needed and each objective is on its own page so you can focus on just that one. 

The questions in the discussion sections get you to reflect on the class content. Your answers may be recorded in your journal via text, voice or video so you can review them at any time to refresh your memory. 

There is a progress bar so you know how far you are in each module.

We love our new format as it breaks the learning into tiny pieces and you can see your progress at a glance! The program is mobile-friendly and the design is simple.

In the one time purchase classes you get access to the program you paid for immediately and all at once.

No. You only need basic dog equipment like a leash, long line, walking harness, treat pouch, healthy food rewards and toys. Crate and/or exercise pen (X-Pen).

Everything else we use are objects found in and around a home and garage or can be found in thrift stores, garage sales or borrowed from friends and family for short periods. Larger objects (if you choose to buy them) may be resold when you are done with them. 

Once you get to teaching tasks, then you may need to purchase specialty harness etc. At that point you should have a better idea of what you need.

Each person needs to think long and hard if they are able to train a dog through the process. Do you have the right dog? The right support system? There is nothing worse than not going into this process without understanding the huge endeavor you are undertaking. There’s a series of FREE blog posts to get you started in the right direction.

Do you have the financial resources to maintain a dog? Here’s a blog post on Estimated costs involved.

Do your physical abilities, medical conditions, or anxiety levels limit how well you will train your dog? Can you create the environment that a dog can thrive in? Do you have access to transportation and can you train in public?

Check out characteristics of a good service dog trainer-YOU!

It depends on you.

If you choose to take the individual programs by concept area, then you can take only the classes you want and need. 

Yes! It is imperative that you have at least started building your support system. Program dogs have not only professional dog trainers but also dog walkers, veterinarians, occupational therapists, psychologists and other staff to support the handler and dog in the process. They also have access to resources that you will have to source out in your region. As an owner-trainer, you need to create that community that you can depend on. Our program is just one part of a much larger support system you need to have in place.

Our classes are priced individually depending on how much material is in each one.   

The Service Puppy Program is a one time charge of CAD $50 that allows you access to the material for 2 years.  

Our Library is available as it’s own monthly subscription of CAD$11.00 and includes over 150 blog posts, over 300 videos, audio files, webinars, related research papers, fun quizzes, 2 times a month live Q/A with Donna etc. New material is added regularly. This is our best value and many people have trained their own service dog using just the library resources.

Webinars are individually priced as well.

Check out the link for the price of our web cam consults.

General registration for self-study service dog classes is the first Wednesday to the second Wednesday of each month. Webcam sessions and in-person sessions can be purchased at any time. The service puppy class is available all the time so you can get started sooner during this important period of life!

Because we offer a “Pay As You Go”, it depends: What knowledge you are starting with. What skills your dog is starting with. Will you need weekly web cam help? Will you need in-person help?
 
Our library starts at CDN$132 per year. People have successfully trained their own service dog from the resources in the library and a few webcam sessions to get them started. 2 years = CDN$264
 
Assuming you are starting with a young pup and only take all of our basic self-paced classes the total would be about CDN$600 or CA$300 per year for two years.
This does not include task classes or behavior modification help.
 
If you also add weekly web cam sessions, that would add more.
 
If you do in-person assessments, practice tests, take webinars etc that will cost more. Check out our In-Person Service Dog Training Link 
for more information on that. 

For the Library and Classes, we are only set up to receive Canadian dollars. The  platform automatically converts the Canadian fees into your currency on your credit card or Paypal account. You do not need to have a Paypal account to use your credit card.   We try to display a “currency converter” button on each of the class/webinar pages so you can get an estimate how much it will cost in your own currency.

For web cam and in-person sessions we can accept e-transfer from Canadian banks and credit unions.   

We hope in the future to offer more currency choices for payment.

Yes, if you are in the Nanaimo area, you can purchase a one hour web cam and sets of 6 one hour in-person sessions with the instructor. See detailed information about that. 

Yes, you can purchase sets of 3 x 30 min private web cam sessions. There are to be used only as support for our self-study programs (Service Puppy and Train the Dog). The web cam sessions are scheduled at a time convenient for you and the instructor.

These web cam sessions may help to keep you accountable and motivated to train but you must still guide your own training. You can choose to submit maximum of 2 minute long video clips of you training your dog the class behaviours each week and get personal feedback about your technique and your dog’s progress or do some live training with the instructor. The time is intended to be used to ask class-related questions and clarify class materials.

Expiry, Cancellation and Rescheduling

Web cam sessions must be used within 30 days of purchase. That’s to keep you on track. You must also give the instructor at least 24 hours notice to reschedule otherwise you lose the session. If you are a “no-show” for a session (forget it etc), then it counts as a session. Unused webcam sessions do not carry over to the next month. We want you to train now, rather than put it off. The instructor is in Pacific Time zone so please plan accordingly. 

What 30 Minute Web Cam Sessions Cannot be Used For:

  • We cannot discuss topics that are outside of the realm of our “Service Puppy” or “Train the Dog” Program and service dog training in general.
  • These include dog or human-aggressive behavior, dogs that resource guard their handler, fearful dogs, dogs with moderate to severe separation anxiety etc. Find a local in-person trainer to help you overcome these issues.

Our one hour web cam sessions can be booked for general planning, problem solving common unwanted dog behaviors that arise during adolescence, getting help with specific shaping issues and other topics that are not related to class topics. Please email us before booking a one hour session if you are in doubt. 

Click this link to book our web cam sessions with the instructor.

We want our students to succeed. Especially in the beginning, instructors can help students to develop good training habits. This will speed the training process and keep both you and your dog motivated to keep training. 

All of the modules in each of the Pay as You Go are accessible as soon as you purchase the class. 

To ensure your dog is well-rounded, for our certificate program, we require that you take the service puppy modules at some point in training even if you have a puppy older than 16 weeks. This allows you to identify and fill in any learning gaps you or your dog may have during the behaviors for adolescence and adult dogs. The service puppy modules also help you understand that the early exposure your puppy may have or missed will affect him later in his life. This will help you to identify and fix any missed concepts and specific behaviors.

All dogs must be a minimum of 18 months of age before they start learning the tasks so they are physically, socially and emotionally mature enough to handle doing the tasks. Let your dog learn to be a good community member before taking on the responsibility of being a working dog. We recommend that you take the basic courses first, then use your knowledge to successfully teach the tasks. It will speed the process for you and your dog. 

There is no refund once you have paid for the modules.

At least 24 hours notice must be given to reschedule web cam sessions with the instructor. If 24 hours notice is not given or you don’t show up for a web cam session, the session will be forfeited. 30 min web cam sessions that are not used by 30 days after purchase are forfeited. Refunds can be given for webcam sessions if 48 hours advance notice is given but a US$10 processing fee applies.

No. Please choose carefully. If you subscribe to our Library you can cancel before the month is up but you will not be refunded for the current month you paid for.

We do not have a scholarship program at this time but we recognize that many people who have disabilities have a low income or are on income assistance. This means that without fundraising many people cannot afford to pay up front for training classes. Offering our programs as a Pay as You Go and monthly subscription allows us to keep the cost low on the short term. That makes it possible for more people to participate. 

Hit the ‘refresh’ button on your browser (or reload the page). It will appear in the box on the My Courses page (located under your name on the top menu bar).

Some older browsers are also not supported so try a different one.

For owner-trainers who are realistic, it usually takes about 2.5 to 3 years if you get your dog as a puppy to the point of full functioning in a public access capacity. There are several reasons for this: you are not a professional trainer with highly developed skills, you are not training your dog full-time, periodic health issues may stall the process, you are living your life and have other responsibilities like family or a job, and you may not have easy access to all the resources a program facility would have on site. For example, you may have to travel to practice on specific training equipment.
You can be using your dog at home and in pet-friendly locations before this time if the dog is able to perform the needed tasks in those environments.

There is no globally-accepted or even country-wide standard of training for service dogs. Each organization sets their own minimum standards. Having said that, our programs help you to prepare your dog for the bigger picture and challenges of real life as a service dog.

Our program far exceeds the minimum requirements of the British Columbia Guide and Service Assessment test. This is test is a basic test equivalent to the Public Access test (PAT) done by the Assistance Dog International (ADI) and International Association of Assistance Dogs Partners (IAADP) organizations. If you live in BC, all 40 parts of the BC test must be passed in person to qualify. We offer an in-person practice of the test if you are local or willing to travel to us to see if you are ready to take the test and where the holes in your training might be. If you are planning to fly with your dog, you will need to hold yourself and your dog to a higher standard as flying can be very stressful for you both due to the small space, high vibrations and loud sounds.

No. Dogs themselves cannot be certified. Only teams of the handler and dog can. Only in-person programs that are accredited by bodies like Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF) can certify service dog teams that are recognized by any level of government for public access or by transportation providers such as trains and some airlines. 

Our “Train the Dog” program teaches you, the handler, to train your own dog. If you need or want certification, check to see if your local government has a way to test owner trained teams. If an online program says it can certify anywhere the world, they are mistaken. If you apply for service dog certification online by filling out some forms, and they do not do an in-person test, that certification is not legally valid anywhere. 

If your province or country requires or recommends certification, you will have to go through an authorized third-party tester to be certified as an owner-trained team. For example, in British Columbia, Ministry of Justice  administers the assessments for service dog certification. 

Even if you do not legally need it, taking an assessment test such as a public access test voluntarily is a helpful way to determine where your service dog team’s strengths and weakness are. You can then focus on retraining the weaknesses to make you a better service dog team in public. 

No. This program only covers the theory and practical skills for teaching dogs. We do offer tips on how to adapt training for specific handler disabilities. In general though, teaching people to teach dogs takes higher level skills and also a person who really enjoys working with other people. It also takes a higher level of mental coordination to manage both dog and person at the same time.  Our program also does not cover the business side of a people training business. 

All behaviors are taught using the most current training approaches as demonstrated by ethical research.  Principles of learning theory focus primarily on positive reinforcement and careful use of negative punishment and rarely mild negative reinforcement). This is important when building confidence to learn. You don’t want a “shut down dog” as a service dog. Modeling, luring, targeting, capturing and shaping are used and errorless learning help the dogs succeed. We vary the type of reinforcers we use (food, play, affection, real life reinforcers once the dog has learned and generalized behaviors). In the process, we also teach you to read your dog’s body language so communication is two-way and you learn how to respond appropriately. You are working together as a team, after all and will need to learn to trust your dog once he is working as well as he needs to learn to trust you!

We believe that there is enough punishment in everyday living and that people with disabilities already suffer enough of it from society that they don’t need to use it in training their dogs. In the case of PTSD dogs, the use of punishment just continues the cycle of learned helplessness in the handler.

We want to empower our students, both dog and handler! The use of punishment and aversives (things the dog tries to avoid and does not like) breaks down the bond that we are trying to build with the dogs. The use of punishment also inhibits behavior and often results in passive or dogs that are shut down, especially if the person is not skilled at delivering the punishment or the dog has a sensitive temperament or is physically sensitive.

That makes if difficult down the road when we want to teach the dog new behaviors. The dogs don’t try as they have leaned that not doing anything is usually what is wanted. There is also a greater risk of unwanted side effects when using coersion and punishment. These may appear as fear, frustration or aggression. Professional guide dog and service dog programs that have switched to using positive reinforcement have improved their success service dog rate from 50% to 80% or better or are able to career change the dog into something he is more suited for rather than just removing the dog to pet status.

When using positive reinforcement, you do not need to have strength or speed. The dog figures out what is needed on his own and is marked and rewarded for his choices. This builds dogs that are willing to take risks in a learning setting and can learn to do almost anything! A service dog needs to be able to problem solve for the handler. This makes it the ideal approach for owner-trained service dogs. Plus, using positive reinforcement will change handler’s lives for the better!

While we recognize that it takes people time to change habits, we ask that as much as possible that you focus on using positive reinforcement when training with us. The use of corrections and aversive sounds and body pressure can inadvertently poison a wanted behavior as well as unwanted ones. In real life when emergencies require it, you can certainly pull your dog off the street when a car is coming or to prevent him from eating something he shouldn’t but for every day interactions, use management to prevent things from happening while you teach  your dog the behaviors you would rather him do. Life happens and we have to react to it but we can be prepared!

Yes! Incorporated through the programs are protocols that will help you deal with common behavior challenges. There will also be a concept program (mid 2023) on dealing with general behavior modification. If you need more help with creating a behavior modification plan, we are available by web cam for an extra fee. If you are better with in-person help, then by all means find a local trainer to help you deal with these issues. Your dog is a dog first and exhibits dog behavior. That comes before bing a service dog.  If your dog has experienced trauma, then you need to get in-person professional behavior modification to resolve the issues. If you are a student, we may be able to refer you to someone close to you. (Sorry, we do not offer that service to non-students)

Yes, training a few dogs to the point of being able to work in public and do medical tasks for a handler is a great starting point! We teach you both the theory and practical aspects of training a service dog. You need to understand and apply the theory if you want to be able to train more than one service dog. We do not issue any sort of certificate for competing the self-study program at this time.

If you have additional questions about becoming a service dog trainer, your best bet is to make a list of questions and book a one time web cam session with us. Our instructor is happy to share her service dog training experience and resources during the session.

Informally, Yes. You can book a group of web cam consults and we can make a plan on what you need to know and how you might handle specific challenges with both dogs and your clients. You control the direction and content of the web cam sessions so you get what you need to know. At this time we do not offer a in-person mentoring program in Nanaimo, BC Canada.

Yes! All the same handler skills and dog behaviors are needed for therapy dogs. The only exceptions are tasks and that therapy dogs need to truly enjoy being with and handled by strangers.

In Canada, contact: Canadian Association of Guide and Assistance Dog Schools http://www.cagads.com/programs.html

In the USA, contact ADI accredited members listed on the ADI site:
https://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/members/programs-search/

Look for a trainer who uses positive approaches during day training or board and train. Ideally, look for one that has your dog live in their home rather than in a kennel situation.

Make sure they use tools that are no-coercive like a Y-chest walking harness rather than a prong or electronic collar.

Using such services is buyer beware. Dog training is an unregulated industry and you may not get what you thought you were getting. You do not know what goes on behind closed doors and your dog could be scarred for life. Use higher criterion when looking for a trainer to help you train your dog since you won’t be present to see what is being done to your dog. Good luck!

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