Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deposit on new litter, dispirited at program self-righteousness

Pre pickup 4 weeks 5 days old

Well, the good news is the deposit is down on the next litter. And I am high, if not at the top, on the priority list. So I should be good with getting my choice of puppy. The only problem is I may have to go to the Hunter Valley to test/pick up the puppy!! We'll see, it depends on timing really.

I have had some feedback from some experienced assistance/service dog trainers on my temperament testing, and it seems it was pretty good - so I just have to repeat it times 8 for this coming litter. I am assuming there will be some quick exclusions though, like with the first puppy I tested this last time. It was obvious he was completely wrong for me!

Despite that side of things going well, and feeling good about the directions I am going with my research and planning, I am feeling dispirited by the low number of owner trainers in this country, and how the programs - and in particular one program - completely dominates the assistance dog world in Australia. I don't think it's a good thing at all. When looking up information on laws, guidelines, training etc in Australia, all you do is find information on this one program. Not only that, they hold themselves to be the most brilliant program in the world, and everyone that doesn't uphold their exact standards (owner trainers would find it necessarily impossible to, so must come under this heading) are worthless. To the program trainer assistance and guide world here in Australia, owner trainers (OTs) seem to be slimy scum from the bottom of a slurry-like green stinking toxic pond, or at least that is general view! I am afraid that unless OTs continue persist and believe that it is possible to train their own dogs, and the government doesn't actually start to make it easier, then eventually we will stop fighting for individuality and just wait our 2-4 years for a program dog from THE program.

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Not only that, I am afraid that when it comes to public access, eventually with this monopoly of program dogs, you won't be allowed in a lot of places unless you are from THE program - or at least, A program. Sigh. Maybe OTs here need to make an organisation to represent ourselves or something.... it would at least give an idea of how many of us there are, and within the organisation we could make some agreement on training minimums... (Delta Societies Canine Good Citizen for a start?? Equivalent to the AKC CGC) It just seems like THE program, and certainly the guide dog programs (they are even worse) lump every OT into the same catagory: hopeless. Without my North American owner trainer companions for occasional feedback, I would feel completely lost. As it is, I feel lonely. There are definitely bad OTs, I am not disputing that, but some of us make a real effort. I mean, here I am and I haven't even started training yet.... and I have read so much, joined a LOT of groups (WITH professional trainers), and really really taken my time to get it right. If the dog clearly isn't working, I am definitely not going to work an unhappy dog, as some do. I will certainly uphold standards I believe to be professional. I am considering doing a Certificate III in Dog Training and Behaviour (by distance with two pracs in Melbourne), to add to my knowledge, and the Cert would also allow me to practice as a dog trainer afterwards if I wished. The only thing holding me back is a) money and b) they want me to train the larger dogs in a wheelchair.... my wheelchair is pretty bleugh (a cheapie), so I'd need another, lighter, far more expensive one to really be able to train properly from a chair. It's also the idea of *having* to use a chair for something, and needing to get used to it really as an extension of myself. I've always used them as a tool, if you appreciate the distinction. I would need to spend a reasonable amount of time in the chair getting more of a hang of it.

Even if the Cert III doesn't happen I am going to be doing one on one sessions with a professional trainer here in Canberra who has trained assistance dogs before, probably every month - maybe every fortnight... depending on how we are going at the time. That would basically be to give us a good training plan, to have a professional eye watching over us, and to train us for the Delta Society CGC. If the dog ends up being suitable, eventually I would love to train him as a Therapy Dog, as I know well how horrible hospitals are, and I'd love to be able to brighten up peoples days. That would be through Delta also.

I read assistance dog stuff every day, training theory, forums, yahoo lists, watch videos, read books....... I mean, because of this, I don't believe I am worthy of being dismissed out of hand as a trainer/handler. I have made a very thorough attempt to educate myself and believe I have a solid understanding of a good range of dog training theory. Some of the problems come about because much of Australia has no mechanism to certify or even recognise OTed dogs. No one is going to administer a PAT (public access test) because there is no one to administer it, in much of Australia that is. This allows for different standards of OTs. However, look at the attitude of one of the Guide Dog Associations:
In this regard, this Association takes the position that people who claim access under Section 9(f) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 should be able to demonstrate a genuine need and also a level of training of the assistance animal comparable to that of guide dogs in order to accompany the person in public places. In order to implement the Act a person's disability needs confirmation as indeed does the training of the assistance animal to alleviate the disability. We would also point out that there are 30 000 Australian's each year who seek medical attention following dog attacks. This statistic alone suggests caution in widening access rights beyond those necessary to enable mobility. Full Article

Sigh. The high and mighty guide dog association assumes that assistance dogs will bite?? The dog's training must be proved? I'd love to have some sort of government PAT process set up, or even programs that would administer PATs, or even registered dog trainers??? - but until then there is no mechanism for proving an OTs dogs training. So what? Just bar us? And even worse, the last sentence spells complete doom for medical alert dogs, medical response dogs, autism dogs, and as for a psychiatric assistance dog...... well I can't ever see them being approving of those very special and important dogs. I am not sure whether the Association in question has changed its tune since that little gem, as it had no date on it, but there have been others, more recently - that was just the first I put my finger on. It is just sad that we can't all work together to improve the lives of people with disabilities, and improve the training of working dogs- if they believe there is something lacking. Their excuse is that they have worked so hard for so long to get the rights they have for guide dogs, they don't want dogs with lesser training coming along and wrecking it for all. I can understand the worry - so help everyone get PATs in place! Then we can prove our training once and for all.

THE program doesn't often *directly* address owner trainers, but certainly believe that all teams need to be given PATs (which I do too!) which is obviously a problem for owner trainers right now. However, they seem to believe that only programs affiliated with ADI (Assistance Dogs International) can do the training of assistance dogs, so I guess that's me gone. I plan to follow ADI guidelines for working towards public access myself (ADI is great, guidelines are great, I just don't like THE program's self-righteous single mindedness), so really we are on the same page.... but they just don't like the stray sheep that aren't in the flock. Of course, as I said before I can understand legitimate concerns about OTs that don't do the level of research and preparation that I have done, and just wander into it randomly - really just take a pet into public and call it an assistance dog - but they have to realise that not all of us are like that, surely? Don't just lump us into one big group? (<g> Clicker joke there. wow how sad)

There is a fantastic submission on the Human Rights Commission website (where the Guide Dogs Association quote also came from) from another owner trainer backing up the OT point of view:
I am extremely concerned that the Act [the Disability Discrimination Act] and its implementation continues to reflect and accept that assistance dogs may be either owner trained or trained by a specific organisation; for example guide dogs and hearing dogs. The wording of the act should NOT just reflect mainstream users and training organisations, such as guide dogs and hearing dogs and mobility impaired dogs, otherwise people like me with very real and disabling disabilities, who have responsibly and seriously trained their own dog to be an assistance dog, would be excluded. This in itself would be discriminatory and serve to isolate and reject responsbile owner trainers of assistance dogs, such as myself, from being able to participate fully in life within the wider community. It is crucially important owner trainers of assistance dogs, not be marginalised or discriminated against. Full article
So Australia is pretty backwards on Assistance/service dogs, very backwards when compared with much of North America. In many ways it makes me even more determined, but I tell you what, just finding information is so hard! For the very first time yesterday, after more than a year of research, I saw something about registering assistance dogs in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory). I'm going to have to try to find out more  about it.... I did do a big phone around many months ago, trying to find out if something like that existed and found nothing, but maybe there is some sort of registration. That's how hard it is just to find information. Of course, go to a program and you're spoon fed......

Meanwhile lupie has flared up, but I am seeing my fancy specialist on Friday, so we'll see what he says.


  1. The Assistant Dogs in Australia that I know of that were owner trained, did have to take and pass a PAT by one of the big groups.

  2. That's interesting - I assume they must be in Queensland... that's the only state that has any requirements of that sort and it's pretty new. However I didn't think the groups offered it yet, I thought they were still arguing over who should administer PATs. I'd be interested to know who did their PAT if you happen to talk to any of them again - but don't go out of your way to ask for me! It's hard to find out new developments, there is no central place to call or anything and I live in the small 'territory' that sounds the capital city, not a big state so we don't have the same infrastructure here. Thanks a lot for the info.