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RT Service Dog Program FAQ!
Ruff Translating’s Service Dog program has grown substantially, and we are so excited to help more teams reach their training goals and empower folks with disabilities to have further support and independence. To keep this program growing, we thought we would take a minute to go over our Frequently Asked Questions about service dogs! These are helpful for those folks considering a service dog program, as well as those within our community who are in other training programs.
Q. What is a service dog?
A. A service dog is a dog that has been trained specifically to address a minimum of three (3) tasks for a handler with a disability in order to allow them to have more independence. For example, a psychiatric service dog may offer medication reminders or even bring pill bottles. A mobility service dog may help a handler down the stairs or up from a chair. For the full definition of an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) service dog, check out this link. It will answer most common questions about public access, as well!
Q. How much does it cost to train a service dog?
A. This one is tricky to answer. At Ruff Translating, we customize every single service dog’s training to the handler’s individual needs. We find that this not only produces the best results, but allows our handlers to be as involved in the training process as much as they want or are able to. We offer everything from puppy raising, day programs, respite boarding, and private lessons. While we do have a baseline outline of costs we can provide you, it is always just an estimate. What we can promise is that we do not recommend more services than are necessary to achieve your goals and that as a company owned by a transgender person with disabilities and a working service dog, we are very aware of cost limitations. In general, a handler should expect to spend upwards of $20,000 over a two year period to train a service dog. Many handlers choose to do fundraising to help defer those costs. We operate on a pay-per-service system, so payments for your dog’s training are incremental and allow for budgeting.
Q. Do you train rescue or mixed breed dogs for service work?
A. Yes! We do train rescue dogs and mixed breed dogs for service work. All of our service dog candidates are very rigorously screened. We require a two-hour temperament test for any dog that is to be considered for service dog work. If you are thinking of looking for a prospect, we strongly recommend speaking with us first. We will behavior test any dog we can for qualifications. That being said, it is our utmost professional opinion that getting a dog from a breeder produces candidates that are most likely to graduate as service dogs. There are SO many factors that influence dog behavior, and part of that is genetics and even the process of a puppy being weaned! With all of the factors that contribute to training, we really want to have as much information about our puppy service dog in training (SDIT) as we possibly can so that we can ensure a successful team. A dog must be under 18 months old to be eligible for service dog in training screening at RT and preferably under 1 year.
Q. Can you train a service dog for multiple people?
A. No. A service dog is a unique living medical device that is individually tailored to one handler. “Tasks” are behaviors taught to a service dog based on a person’s need for assistance. We have found that households who have multiple members with disabilities, however, often benefit from having a service dog in their home. Ejay’s service dog Rio is known to scent alert other people to panic attacks (when at their home) and offer deep pressure therapy to those same folks. Even with that however, service dogs are deeply bonded to their handlers and should always prioritize that person’s health over every other option to engage.
Q. I would like to get an “Emotional Support Animal.” Do you offer training for that?
A. An “Emotional Support Animal” is not a trained dog by definition. It is more about the individual who owns the dog. “Emotional Support Animal” is a designation a mental healthcare provider can make to establish that a person’s health would benefit substantially by caring for a pet of some kind. We support the use of Emotional Support Animal documentation from healthcare professionals to ensure housing security for an established patient. Otherwise, there is no actual specialized training required for an ESA, and we welcome your dog into our general training services, which can be personalized specifically for your training needs for your ESA. We resist the idea of ESA training as a specific form of dog training, as it is not specialized to have a base universal meaning and often deeply harms service dog handlers with legal access rights to public spaces. As professional service dog trainers, our focus is on making service dogs more accessible to those who would benefit from one as part of their symptom management and ensuring that every dog we work with is working towards being a great neighborhood resident in general in all of our training programs.
Q. What types of service dog training do you offer?
A. We focus on service dogs for mobility and psychiatric assistance. We also offer cardiac alert and support (POTS), seizure alerts and recovery, and blood sugar detection. None of our service dogs are eligible to graduate our program until they demonstrate exceptional public access behavior and obedience and can successfully and reliably demonstrate six (6) -- but preferably eight (8) -- tasks in a distracting environment. If you are looking for a service dog outside of those listed, please reach out, as this is not an exhaustive definition and we may be able to help.
Q. What is the difference between a psychiatric service dog and an “Emotional Support Animal”?
A. An emotional support animal is any animal that has been designated by a mental health professional to provide a benefit to their owner’s health by being a part of their home and life. A psychiatric service dog is a dog who is trained to assist with psychiatric disabilities through concrete tasks and is highly trained to perform their work in any environment.
Q. How long does it take to train a service dog?
A. It varies, but generally, it takes 18 to 24 months to fully train a service dog. Many of our dogs that we begin work with at 8 to 12 weeks are able to graduate just before the two year mark, but it truly depends on each handler and dog. For our dogs that are primarily mobility support, graduation times are delayed so that we can confirm growth plate closure, do necessary physical conditioning, and ensure that conformation and body condition are ready for physical tasks.
Q. Do you have service dog classes?
A. No, we do not. We do group training on occasion with multiple handlers and have frequent gatherings that are social and training practice combined. We firmly believe that service dog training should be focused on the individual and candidate dog as a partnership -- kind of like coaching a competitive dance team. You *could* learn through a ballroom class, but if you are shooting for that big trophy, you and your partner definitely are doing a lot more work together without other teams distracting your trainer. We really want to give you our full attention, and adjust our lesson plans based on your learning style and disabilities so that you have the most success and support.
Q. Are you committed to Ruff Translating continuing to grow less ableist and more accessible?
A. YES. We fully understand that we only have our own lived experiences and commitment to learning to base our program on. We are constantly looking at ways that we can grow our inclusivity and are open to feedback when we’re not mindful of our own privilege. Our deep commitment to highly trained psychiatric service dogs -- including scent marking for panic attacks -- comes from Ejay’s personal disabilities and the desire to remain consistently accountable to disability inclusivity and health management options for mental health.
Q. What are your COVID-19 protocols?
A. We take COVID-19 safety extremely seriously. Our protocols change depending on the risk level of our location during a specific time, and we update through emails and social media when we make a change. We seek the advice of public health experts within our community to ensure that we are always doing “best practices” as much as possible. Regardless of our current protocols, the entire facility is sanitized daily, masks are always required for staff and clients, we use a professional laundry service for towels, blankets, etc, and have a professional cleaning company come in three times a week to clean on top of our general routines. We understand that part of being an ally to our community, and particularly to those with disabilities, is holding ourselves to keeping our personal risk low and following the best practices available to reduce risk of transmission.
Q. Do you train service dogs for youth?
A. We train service dogs for youth on a case-by-case basis. Training a service dog for someone under the age of 19 requires a substantial amount of support. If you are a caregiver interested in discussing whether a service dog would be a good fit for a young person, we recommend setting up a call with Ejay to discuss. It is a more delicate process to find a good fit for a youth placement, and we want to ensure the most success possible, so it is best to discuss this option in person. If you are a young person who is considering a service dog and are under the age of 19, please know that the commitment, financial and otherwise, to raising a service dog is substantial, and we may not be able to assist if other treatment and management options have not been fully explored.
Q. Do you have preferred breeds for service work?
A. Yes. We gladly consider the needs and preferences of each handler, but based on our experience, there are certain breeds that perform exceptionally well as service dogs. We have good relationships with vetted breeders who assist us in selection of pups based on what we are looking for. The two primary breeds of our program are standard poodles (for mobility, POTS, PTSD, psychiatric SDs, and much more) and border collies (psychiatric service dogs). Herding breeds are a particular specialty of RT, and border collies have several characteristics that make them excellent candidates for psych work in appropriate programs. We offer meet and greets with some of our in-program and graduated dogs to demonstrate why these breeds are our top candidates and are happy to discuss all options. We will not train toy breeds to do service dog work.
Q. Do you train “program completed” dogs and pair them fully-trained with handlers?
A. This is something we can discuss based on an individual handler’s needs. We prefer in most circumstances for service dog prospects to spend some time at home with their future handlers whenever possible. However, sometimes that isn’t feasible, and we will work with you to find a plan that works. We often offer a hybrid program where puppy boards with the trainers during the week and spends weekends at home for bonding with their handler. Many handlers choose to do this for at least a few weeks during potty training!
Q. How do I know if a service dog is right for me as part of my health management?
A. Service dogs are incredible tools and support. They can provide so much independence and confidence for folks living with disabilities. But they are also a substantial investment of time and emotional labor, aside from cost. Most handlers we know, no matter which program they come from, are surprised at how hard it is to learn to work with your service dog, even when they are impeccably trained. Partnering with an animal means that we also have to consider that animal’s needs and plan accordingly. Most handlers have a bag full of their dog’s items and “just in case” things that they also have to bring with them. It takes time to fully pair with your service dog, understand when they are offering help, and learn to take that help! When it is meant to be, it can be incredibly powerful, but it is not a management option for everyone. We have found that service dog handlers who have other modes of support as well (medication, community, whatever that looks like for them) do best as handlers. Those folks who are hoping that a service dog will be the primary “treatment” for their health needs will be very disappointed. As powerful as dogs are, they are not a cure for any symptoms or disability. Ejay is always available to schedule a time to talk about what life is like as a service dog handler. It’s one of the benefits of working with someone from a lived experience!
Q. How do I get started with a Ruff Translating Service Dog?
A. If you have read through this and feel ready to move on, let’s chat! Please set up a call with Ejay using his online call calendar, and we can answer further questions and talk more in depth about your needs. Please note that we are incredibly committed to finding the ideal candidate for each handler's needs, and finding that candidate can take up to one full year when working with responsible breeders before even beginning the training process.
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