This week, Patriot Service Dogs has been running our second Advanced Training of 2021! If you follow PSD through the digital newsletter, social media, or sponsor updates you’ve likely seen photos and news on this class of veteran/service dogs teams. It’s an exciting time for everyone in our community, but we know that it can be hard to understand all that goes into this final step in the dogs’ training from short posts and photos. So, we’re answering the most common questions we get about Advanced Training here!
Why is Advanced Training Needed?
After two years of training, it might seem strange that we put our dogs through this final week of training before they are placed with their veteran--don’t they already know everything? Yes! The dogs know more than eighty commands and have been exposed to a wide range of environments. They are ready to be fully-certified service dogs. But the incoming class of veterans have only read the manual. Advanced Training is for the veterans.
At Advanced Training, we teach the veterans how to use all of those eighty commands and we make sure the teams are bonding. Everyone who has ever had a dog knows that they have their own personalities, and while we do our best to play matchmaker between veterans and dogs, there is no way to really know if they are going to form the bond necessary to work as a team until we see the veteran and the dog work together. Sometimes, it’s just the right match and the bond is there almost immediately. Sometimes, we see the bond continue to grow over training. On very rare occasions, the dog and the veteran are just not a good match for each other. In any case, we need Advanced Training to test the connection.
Many veterans who come to us have never had service dog experience, so Advance Training is also an opportunity for our community to share with them what we know about the realities of having a service dog--you’ll never leave home with poop bags, you’ll forever be checking the temperature of the ground, you’ll have to get used to people commenting on your dog, you’ll have to know the ADA law protecting your dog, you’ll have to develop a response when someone tries to pet your dog. Brining a service dog into your life is a major undertaking. We want to make sure the transition goes as smoothly as possible.
Who Makes it Happen?
There is no short answer to this question. Every Advanced Training is a major undertaking for our organization. After months of interviews, visits, and evaluations, the final matches are made for the dogs. Then, weeks more of brainstorming, planning, and community outreach goes into creating the schedule. Finally, we welcome the veterans and Advance Training really begins.
Patriot Service Dogs depends on a battalion of volunteers to help organize the meals, airport pickups and dropoffs, and anything else the veterans may need during their week with us. Members of the PSD board help run training and logistics. Shamrock Animal Hospital spends a day with the veterans going over basic medical care and the medical history of each graduating dog. Alumni from our WOOF program join us to lend their skills as trainers. And the administration at Lowell Correctional Facility allows a group of volunteers and veterans into the prison to work with our current inmate-trainers. By the time the week comes to a close, most members of the PSD community have contributed something.
Then, we organize graduation day!
Do We Ever Do Follow-up Training:
Yes! We are required by the regulations of Assistance Dogs International to see our teams at certain intervals and to re-certify their Canine Good Citizenship and Public Access tests, but we go further than these requirements to make sure our teams are successfully working together. We require veterans to send regular evaluations on their dogs for the first two years of their placement so that we know if any issues have arisen. We also like to just stay in touch with our teams!
When a veteran and their dog are doing well, we love to see them working together, but we hope they feel comfortable coming to us for help when small challenges arise. In the past, we have advised veterans when they’ve needed help balancing the demands of maintaining their dog’s training while bringing them into their family lives. We’ve also taken dogs while veterans were receiving medical treatment and used that time as a “refresher course” for the dogs. Patriot Service Dogs is committed to our teams for the life of the dog, not to the end of Advanced Training.