SDS Minimum Standards title image

Minimum Standards for Service Dog Programs and Trainers

The Service Dog Society would like to announce the release of its Minimum Standards and Ethical Guidelines for Service Dog Programs and Trainers. This document has been created with counsel and input from professional dog trainers, programs, certified behaviorists, veterinarians and specialty veterinarians, as well as service dog handlers.

These standards and guidelines will be the foundation of our Directory. In order for a service dog program or service dog trainer to be listed as a resource on our directory, they must adhere to these standards. The Service Dog Society will be accepting applications for inclusion beginning January 1, 2018.

The full text of this document has been provided below for your convenience.

The PDF version of this document may be found by following the link: SDS Minimum Standards for Programs and Trainers


Purpose

These standards have been created in order for members of the community to better be able to choose or recommend both service dog trainers and service dog training programs. These standards shall also serve as guidelines for trainers and training programs to follow in order to provide the highest quality services to their dogs and clients.

This document is specifically addressing those trainers and programs within the community that market themselves as specializing in the training and placement of service dogs.

Definitions

Trainer: An individual who professionally trains service dogs, but is not operating under the umbrella of a larger organization.

Training Program: An organization that trains and places either “started” or fully trained service dogs for clients with disabilities.

Service Dog: A fully trained Service Dog.

Service Dog in Training: A dog that is being trained with the purpose of becoming a fully trained Service Dog.

Puppy Raiser: An individual contracted through an organization to raise and socialize future service dogs.

Candidate: A dog that is being considered for Service Dog training.

Client: The individual with disabilities that a dog is or has been trained to assist. This would also include any individuals who legally or contractually represent the disabled individual.

Minimum Standards and Expectations for Trainers/Training Programs

  • Programs and Trainers shall not deny services to clients based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, political affiliation.
  • Programs, Trainers, and Puppy Raisers shall conduct themselves with professionalism in all interactions, remaining civil and respectful.
  • Programs and Trainers shall be expected to keep personal details of a client’s situation confidential unless given written permission by the client.
  • Programs and Trainers should maintain regular communication with the client during training and for the purpose of follow-ups.
  • Programs and Trainers should have in place a clear written contract to protect both the program/trainer and client. Programs should also have a clear written contract in place with Puppy Raisers.
  • Programs and Trainers shall be upfront regarding charges and payment terms and include these details in their contract.
  • Programs and Trainers should maintain documentation of training sessions and provide copies to the client for legal purposes.
  • Programs and Trainers shall make themselves available as expert witnesses to the dog’s training if needed in a legal situation.
  • Programs and Trainers shall educate Puppy Raisers and especially the client on the proper ways to handle and care for their dog.
  • Trainers and Program Trainers should be able to demonstrate working knowledge of learning theory, canine behavior, proper care, safety, service animal laws and the ability to adapt methods to individual client needs.
  • Programs and Trainers shall provide a minimum of three client references who have fully trained Service Dogs.
Trainers
  • Trainers should have a minimum of 2 years experience training service dogs.
  • Trainers should be available for correspondence within 48 hours with any current client unless previously notified to expect otherwise.
Training Programs
  • Programs should have a minimum of 2 years experience training service dogs as a whole. Individual trainers within the organization can have less experience as long as they are operating under the supervision of a more experienced trainer.
  • Programs shall make themselves available to clients for assistance for the life of their placed service dogs should any issues arise, whether they be behavioral, health related, training needs or otherwise. This should be clearly outlined in the contract.
  • The contract between program and client shall clearly outline the conditions in which repossession of the service dog is warranted, as well as the protocol for repossession.
  • The contract between program and client shall clearly discuss replacement dogs if and when the need shall arise (due to illness, death, client needs, behavioral issues). The contract shall describe if they provide such replacements, under what circumstances and for what cost.
Boarding
  • Programs and Trainers shall board no more dogs than they can regularly work with, provide vet care to, feed, water, provide mental and physical exercise, and potty regularly.
  • Boarded dogs should have clean, warm, safe sleeping arrangements.
  • Boarded dogs should immediately be given veterinary care when necessary.
  • Clients should be communicated to in no less than 12 hours if their dog is lost, ill, injured or any other issue arises.
  • Boarded dogs should be interacted with enough daily that any signs of illness, pests, or injury can be recognized immediately and attended to.
  • Programs shall maintain written and video records of training sessions with boarded dogs and provide a minimum of weekly progress reports to the client.
  • Programs shall reply to any communication from a client within 24 hours while the client’s dog is in their care.
  • Programs shall reply to any communication from a client within 72 hours while in a contractual relationship with the client.
  • Boarding facilities shall be cleaned of waste no less than once daily.
  • Boarding facilities shall maintain or provide all necessary vaccinations and preventatives while in their care.
Puppy Raisers (Programs)
  • Puppy raisers should be thoroughly screened by the program and have an in-home check to ensure the raiser can provide for the physical and emotional needs of the puppy and the home is a safe environment for a puppy.
  • Puppy raisers shall only raise one puppy from a program at a time.
  • Puppy raisers under the age of 16 should raise a puppy only under the mentorship of a parent or other designated adult. This designated adult may be a parent/guardian or other screened adult member.
  • Puppy raisers should have a good understanding of puppy development, socialization requirements, basic obedience training and proper use of training tools.
  • Puppy Raisers shall maintain records of training sessions with the puppy and provide a minimum of weekly progress reports to the program.
  • Puppy raisers should not be doing any public access training with the puppy in non-pet friendly entities without direct permission from the program and the covered entity.
  • Puppy raisers will promptly report any illness, injury or drastic behavioral changes of a puppy to their contracted program and provide immediate veterinary care from a licensed veterinarian in the event of an emergency.
  • Puppy raisers must uphold a good public and social image for service dog handlers and the program they are raising for. They should understand handler/service dog etiquette as well as state and local laws regarding dogs and service animals.
  • Puppy raisers shall adhere to and uphold their outlined contract with a program. Breach of a contract should result in removal of the puppy from the raiser along with a behavioral assessment of the puppy.
  • Any breach of these standards shall result in immediate removal of the puppy raiser from the program, with no exceptions.

Ethical Guidelines for Service Dog Candidate Selection

  • Aggressive dogs shall not be trained for service work. SDs should show absolutely no signs of aggression (lunging, growling, nipping, excessive barking, baring teeth) towards people, animals, objects.
  • No dogs with a record of a bite will be trained for service work.
  • Candidates should be assessed for suitability for the intended tasks and/or work
  • Dogs are chosen appropriately for the lifestyle, disabilities, skill, age, and size of the client
  • Puppies that will be raised and trained for service work should be evaluated by a certified behaviorist.

Ethical Guidelines for Service Dogs in Training

  • Training methods should be humane and not cause physical, mental or emotional harm to the dog.
  • Service Dogs in Training should be clean, groomed, and free from illness when in public.
  • Service Dogs in Training should be completely house-trained before training in public places.
  • Programs, Trainers, and Puppy Raisers shall provide age and maturity appropriate training opportunities. Public outings for young dogs should be limited to 5 mins per months of age.
  • Programs and Trainers shall follow all federal, state and local laws while training, require clients and Puppy Raisers to do the same, and should educate clients as to what the applicable laws are.
  • Service Dogs in Training should be a minimum of 1 year (preferably 18 months) and have a minimum of 6 months training and 3 months public access training before *graduating* to full Service Dog status
Mobility Work
  • Programs and Trainers shall only train dogs for mobility work that meet the ethical height and weight guidelines for such work.
    • Service Dogs providing any sort of mobility assistance should be a minimum of 50 lbs (when fit and lean) and of sturdy build (rather than slight or delicate).
    • Service Dogs providing only light mobility work should be a minimum of ⅓ the handler’s weight. Light mobility includes forward momentum and guide work.
    • Service Dogs providing moderate mobility work should be a minimum of 40% of the handler’s weight and height. An example of moderate mobility work would be counter-balance.
    • The Service Dog Society does not support the use of a dog for “heavy mobility” work. This would include bracing, transfer work, or breaking a fall.
  • Formal mobility work and mobility training should not begin until growth plates have been confirmed closed, hip and elbow joints have been rated by the OFA or PennHip and the dog has been thoroughly evaluated by an orthopedic veterinarian and deemed suitable for such work.
  • Foundational training and handling may begin at a younger age, but this training should not involve any weight bearing or pulling.
  • The Service Dog Society does not support the use of rigid handles of any height.
  • The Service Dog Society does not support the practice of tethering dogs to children or vice versa. This is neither safe for the dog or the child.

Ethical Guidelines for the Placement of Service Dogs

  • Applicable health testing should be completed before being released to client (programs)
  • Dogs will not be placed in an unsafe or unstable environment (programs)
  • Dogs will be trained, placed and “graduated” based on their own individual maturity levels rather than an arbitrary age or length of training (programs and trainers)
  • Clients should be able to provide for the dog’s mental, emotional and physical needs.
  • Clients should have a disability according to the ADA definition, with the nature of their disability being such that a dog can be trained to mitigate it.

Minimum Standards of Behavior for Fully Trained Service Dogs

  • Service Dogs should remain focused on their handler and not attempt to solicit attention from others while working.
  • Service Dogs should not be disruptive or out of control.
  • Service Dogs shall not also be trained for any type of protection or bite-work. These do not qualify a dog for service work and in fact, disqualify the dog from service work.
  • Service Dogs should be clean, groomed, and free from illness when in public.
  • Service Dogs should be completely house-trained before working in public.
  • Service Dogs should not vocalize in public unless it is a task.
  • Service Dogs should not sniff people, animals or objects in public unless tasking.
  • Service Dogs should remain calm and confident around medical equipment including, but not limited to: wheelchairs, rollators or crutches.
  • Service Dogs should ignore any food in public places.
  • Service Dogs should not attempt to gain access to items unless specifically cued to do so.
  • Service Dogs should be individually trained to perform work or tasks to mitigate the handler’s disability.
  • Service Dogs should be able to perform their trained task(s) in public with 90% reliability.
  • Service Dogs should maintain a loose leash at all times unless performing guide or forward momentum work.
  • Service Dogs should be able to settle out of the way when the situation calls for it without blocking the walkway or causing a tripping hazard.
  • Service Dogs should be proficient at basic commands including: Sit, Down, Stay, Recall, LLW, Settle and should perform each with 90% reliability.
  • While a formal public access test is not required, fully trained SDs should be able to display the following skills:
    • 90% reliability in performing a disability-related task
    • Entering and exiting transportation safely
    • Calmly and safely riding in transportation
    • Calmly and safely walking through a parking lot
    • Calmly and safely entering and exiting a building
    • Calmly and safely walking through a store on a loose leash without interacting with other people, animal or objects, unless instructed to do so for a task.
    • Sit-stay and down-stay in the presence of a shopping cart, food on the floor, people walking by, a child walking by, another dog walking by, being touched by a stranger.
    • Responding to their name or a focus cue despite distractions.
    • Remaining settled and tucked away in a waiting room or restaurant.
    • Calmly and safely riding in an elevator and navigating stairs.

Inclusion in the Directory

In order to be considered for inclusion in the Service Dog Society business directory, programs and trainers must confirm their adherence to these standards and agree to operate by them in the future.

Membership is free at this time. Members will have access to Service Dog Society logos to use in their marketing materials (website, pamphlets, emails, etc) to indicate their adherence to these standards.

Programs and Trainers shall provide the following documentation to be considered:

  • 3 clients with fully trained Service Dogs to be contacted as references.
  • 5 minutes worth of video demonstrating training sessions with client dogs.
  • 5 minutes worth of video demonstrating public access behavior and skills for a minimum of 2 fully trained client service dogs. There should be a minimum of 2 minutes of video for each individual dog.
  • If offering boarding services – pictures of the sleeping areas, training areas, and equipment dedicated to client dogs.
  • A blank copy of the contract provided to clients.
  • A signed copy of this document.

Membership Renewal

  • Membership is required to be renewed yearly.

Programs and Trainers shall provide the following each year:

  • 1 new client reference (with a fully trained Service Dog)
  • 1 new client reference (with a Service Dog in Training)
  • 2 minutes of video showing training sessions with 1 or more client dogs.
  • If offering boarding services – pictures of the sleeping areas, training areas, and equipment dedicated to client dogs.
  • A signed copy of this document.

Removal from the Directory

  • Any breach of these standards shall result in immediate removal from the directory, with no exceptions. Programs and Trainers must wait a minimum of 1 year before re-applying.
  • Clients are encouraged to come forward with their feedback of trainers and programs as pertains to these guidelines.  Complaints will be promptly investigated.
  • Programs and Trainers are expected to respond to the Service Dog Society’s attempts at communication regarding these standards within 2 weeks, or membership will be put on hold.

Contact

For feedback, questions, and concerns regarding membership or this document please email [email protected].

Service Dog Society
The Service Dog Society is dedicated to the education, training and support of service dog handlers, their friends and family, service dog trainers and programs, puppy raisers, businesses, the general public, and anybody else who has questions about these marvelous helpers.Our goal is to provide as much information as possible, in a centralized location and in an easy-to-follow format. We know first hand how overwhelming the process of getting and/or training a service dog can be, for everyone involved! Our hope is to alleviate some of the confusion and difficulty that is a part of the process.