Prior to training, each dog is tested to ensure that it has the proper temperament and a high intelligence to be able to handle the training. Training assistance dogs involves two phases. Phase One includes puppies from 8 weeks to 16 weeks old and is about 18 months long. It consists of obedience training and socializing. After assistance dogs successfully complete Phase One, they are put into a more specific training regimen that usually takes from 6 months to a year.
“After Phase One, there is a high percentage of dogs who have a ‘career change,’” notes Blue-McLendon. “Some dogs do not perform as expected during the Phase One training and they are ‘career changed,’ for example they become therapy dogs where they visit places like nursing homes or they become pets. It takes a dog with a special personality to be placed as an assistance dog.”
At the end of a successful training, a dog is matched with its new partner/owner. According to the ADA, the dog’s function is to assist the individual and is not a pet.
“If you see an assistance dog in its jacket, always ask the owner if you can pet the dog,” notes Blue-McLendon.
According to the ADA, people with disabilities cannot be asked to remove their service dogs from the premises, unless the animal is out of control.
According to Blue-McLendon, the most common breeds who complete the training programs are: Labrador, Labradoodle, German Sheppard, and Golden Retriever.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. CNHI News Service distributes this column.