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Owner trained vs. Professionally trained
By: Myra Markley

Don't let the title fool you. I'm not saying that an owner trained dog isn't a professional working dog, nor that an owner can't become a professional trainer. Rather I'm simply trying to differentiate between those dogs trained by their owners and those trained by organizations that specialize in service dogs.

This is also not a pros and cons list. Rather its simple facts about Owner Trained and Professionally Trained service dogs. After reviewing the list you can decide if you want to train your own service dog or if getting one through an organization would be better for you.

Owner Trained Professionally Trained
Before you can start service work the dog much be trained in basic obedience or you may never get the desired result. All these dogs have already been through obedience.
Even after months and months of work your dog may not be suited as a SD. Dogs that simply can not handle the job need to be allowed to stop and simply be a pet again. This means you will either need to keep the dog, or find it a new home - in either case you'll need to start over with another potential SD and try again. These dogs have already been screened and will function as service dogs.
Working with your own dog helps to build a very strong bond between the pair of you. It will take awhile for the SD to adjust to its' new life with you.
Learning to train your dog will allow you to more effectively teach new skills and behaviors to your dog. Chances are you have no experience training dogs and if you do need the dog to learn a new skill you will need professional help.
The dog learns your limitations and adapts to your unique body language the entire time you are working with the dog. This may make it seem as if the dog knows what you are thinking before you give it a command. These dogs will need extra time to learn your movements and commands.
If you use special aids for mobility (wheelchair, walker, scooter) your dog will learn from the start where to and how to walk with you. These dogs will need extra time to learn their proper placement.
Selecting the dog
Which dog to get? This required research in to the breeds, their abilities and temperament. Then find a breeder and start assessing potential dogs. This process can take awhile especially if you start off with a small puppy. These dogs have been bred for this type of work and socialized from puppy-hood for this type of lifestyle. If they aren't going to make it as SDs they simply aren't trained as such and are adopted out as family pets. Only those who can make it as SDs will be presented to you.
If the dog is already your pet you have already bonded and the dog will be eager to work with you. SD and handler pairings don't always go smoothly. Some dogs simply won't work with just anyone they are paired up with. The pairing process often takes a few weeks and during that time you'll be asked to work with several different dogs.
Time & Cost
Dogs aren't cheap. You need to get the dog, feed the dog, house the dog, take care of all medical issues, buy toys, training tools and it all adds up very quickly. You'll easily spend $2000 in the first year, more if you need to hire a trainer to help you as you learn to train your dog. Sometimes these dogs are given to the disabled person. Other times you'll be asked to pay for the dog. Grants and fundraising assistance is often availble. The dog may still be legally owned by the organization that trained the SD and while the new handler is responsible for all costs once the dog comes home.
Training a SD takes anywhere from 1-2 years of working hours every day depending on the tasks the dog needs to perform. Not many owners can afford to put that much time and effort in to training their own SD. If you get one that is already trained you will save yourself a lot of work and many stressful days.
Most SDs don't start SD training until they are around a year old. The first year of life are spent on socialization and obedience. Then you'll spend another year or more working on your dogs SD skills. This is a serious time commitment for you considering the dog wont even start being "useful" until its about 2 years old. From the time to pick up the dog, it'll be working for you. No major time requirements are needed for socialization and training only up-keep of the SD behaviors.
If you work with your own dog you generally don't need to travel far to find the dog. You'll probably need to pack your bags and spend 1-2 weeks in a hotel while the organization is working with you and the dogs to select the right match of dog and handler. This is an expense (food, lodging and time) you will need expect.

All that being said I personally am in favor of both types. Professionally Trained SDs are wonderful for those that can't train their own dog. I also love to see Owner Trained dogs working with their handlers. I myself, with a little help from a private trainer, trained my own service dog. I know there is no way I could have done it alone and while it has been a very taxing and sometimes stressful experience for me personally I wouldn't have changed a thing. My SD has matured from a bouncy puppy in to a very useful and faithful friend. In addition I have learned a lot about dogs, behavior, breeds and training from real hands on experience.

Copyright © K9s @ Work 2008
Owner: M. Markley