The making of an assistance dog

The unique training of an assistance dog lasts 18 months and starts when the puppy is selected at the age of 8 weeks. The puppy is placed with a carefully chosen family where it will spend the next 12 months.

The family will undertake the daily socializing of the puppy, teaching it good habits, and keeping it in good health. The puppy will enjoy positive interaction with people in various environments.

Selecting the puppy

Mental as well as physical health is a priority when we select a puppy for future assistance and social work. All puppies undergo thorough health checks including x-rays of hips and elbows.

Before advanced training at 18 months the dogs are mentally tested as well.

The dog should seek contact, be cooperative and playful with good hunting qualities. The dog must react appropriately when surprised by sudden sound or motion. It should work independently with concentration and focus without showing recurring discomfort. These qualities are fundamental when we select a future assistance or social dog.

Advanced training

At 18 months the dog is ready for the next part of its training - the advanced training. The training takes place with the STH instructors and lasts for approx. 8 months.

During this period the dog is taught 50 signs in a number of combinations. The dogs are trained in varying environments; at home, in shopping centres/shops and other public places.

The versatile training makes the dogs confident when working in different situations.

Team training

When a team of assistance dogs has finalized advanced training they are matched with the successful candidates from the STH waiting list. The candidates are invited for team training.

Team training lasts for three weeks, an intense and exciting period where the dogs and their users get to know each other, learn to cooperate by means of the 50 signals.

During the three weeks the teams are taught almost 100 hours partly theory about dogs' behavior, needs, learning psychology, etc, and partly practical training, grooming, exercise and play.

Access to public places

After completed team training the assistance dog team may wish to take a public access test. When the test is passed it allows the user to bring the assistance dog to places where dogs are not normally allowed, for instance supermarkets, restaurants, shopping centers, busses, trains, airplanes, etc.

The assistance dog wears a special STH ID-vest which signals that the dog is at work.

Follow up

The association is characterized by keeping in contact with all assistance dog teams to ensure continued success for the teams and to offer follow-up training several times a year, where all the teams meet, train and share experiences.

Traning of assistance dogs

STH receive numerous inquiries about the possibilities of training, education and/or employment with the association. We appreciate the interest but presently STH do not offer to train others or to assist others in training assistance dogs. Undertaking to train a dog for somebody else is a great responsibility, in particular when this person has a physical disability.

STH take this work very seriously and find it important to explain why not everyone should venture into training of an assistance dog, even if you have experience with training of family dogs.

Training an assistance dog is a long and demanding process. The special training, the actual learning of the practical tasks is only part of the project. The assistance dog trainer must have good knowledge of the various illnesses and physical disabilities, which ressources does the person have and what aids can be used. The trainer must naturally also possess profound knowledge about dog behavior and needs and be able to share this knowledge, e.g. about learning, training and behaviour.

The trainer must have great insight in the specific circumstances to be able to "match" the disabled person with the "appropriate" assistance dog. Next, the skills the dog has learned must be adapted to match the user's requirements.
Experience with "problem solving" is neccessary to ensure initial success but also in the continued follow-up training of the teams.

There are several who offer to train assistance dogs at a fee, but unfortunately not everyone has thought the process through and realized the great responsibility they have assumed. STH have received several inquiries from people with shattered dreams of an assistance dog caused by inconsiderate people, and have thus chosen to make this clear and simple statement:

An assistance dog must be happy and well adjusted to inspire joy and be of benefit!

STH - Following international standards

STH follow international standards for selection, health inspection and aptitude tests, training, co-training, and if necessary, public test, and follow-up on the assistance and social dog teams according to ADI (Assistance Dogs International).

STH's chief instructor Liselotte Christensen is a member of the Delta Society whose mission is to optimize people's health and well-being through cooperation with assistance and therapy dogs (and other animals).

STH is a full member of Assistance Dogs Europe (ADEu), and thus a member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI).
ADI is an international assocation of accredited assistance dog organizations whose purpose is to establish and promote high standards in all aspects of assistance dogs selection / acquisition, training and partnership. ADI enables communication and sharing of experience between member organizations and ADI works to inform the public about the use of assistance dogs and ADI membership.

Read more about Delta Society and ADI here:
http://www.deltasociety.org  -  http://www.adionline.org