MS Service Dog training in New England - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-22-2010, 10:35 AM Thread Starter
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MS Service Dog training in New England

MY wife has been diagnosed w/ MS. I also have a 1 yr old GSD female who is intensly loyal to her. I am looking for a MS Service Dog training program in the New England Region that is available. Anyone know of any. The existing lists of service dog schools, when contacted, suddenly 'shut-down' (i.e; snobby as all get out and with just about the same manners as a drunk) when I tell them I have a GSD that I need to be trained for my wife. Any help would be appreciated.

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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-22-2010, 11:32 AM
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Training schools or orgaizations (at least all of those that I know of) do not work with previous pets of their clients. Many have their own breeding programs, most work with certain breeds, and those who go outside to find a dog have staff to pick out candidates.

To use your own dog you will have to find a private trainer experienced in training to an advanced level and preferably one who has worked with previous service dogs. They will evaluate your dog and give your their opinion if your dog seems like a likely candidate.

Training a dog with an experienced mentor will average about 18-24 months and there is no guarantee that your current dog will work out. To help you get an ideal of what will be involved in just the basics go and look up the requirements to pass a CGC (Canine Good Citizen) evaluation through the AKC.

Next go to ATTS (American Temperament Test Society, Inc.) at . These and medical testing will help you decide if you have a suitable candidate to even consider to become a SDIT. (Service Dog In Training).

The CGC and the ATTS are not required of course but if your dog would not be able to pass either one then it is not ready to go to SDIT status.

Also before you start putting thousands of $$ into the training of your dog you may want to step back and do an evaluation of do YOU think your dog with training will be able to meet the minimum standards of knowledgeable organizations such as:

Minimum Standards for Service Dogs
Delta Society

To find a good trainer in your area you can check with your vet, local boarding facilities, local dog clubs, and ask your dog friends if they know of any. Do not take the word of a couple of people. Check them out. Do these trainers show and compete in matches, shows, or field trials? Talk to current and past students. Sit in on several training sessions.

Remember that the majority of pets and dogs not chosen by experts never make it as a SD. However you go -- the best of luck to you.

TJ aka Theresa A. Jennings
Pyro vom Wildhaus aka Kaleb ~S.T.A.R.~
Family Companion, Non-Profit Mascot, In-Home Service Dog

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-24-2010, 08:35 PM
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Originally Posted by ILGHAUS View Post
Remember that the majority of pets and dogs not chosen by experts never make it as a SD. However you go -- the best of luck to you.

Nor do many pups chosen by professionals.

While the numbers vary, Canine Companions for Independence officials state:

"Our rate of success from birth to graduation with a handler is about 35 to 40 percent. Not all dogs make it for the same reason not all people make into the Olympics. It takes a very talented dog. It costs about $15,000 to $25,000 to feed and train a finished dog that graduates."
New Mobility: The magazine for active wheelchair users


Throughout the guide dog industry, about 50 percent of puppies that enter training end up becoming guide dogs. At Guide Dogs for the Blind, 65 percent of all dogs graduate.
Pet Talk: Guide Dogs for the Blind graduates its first class of the year in an emotional ceremony |
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-07-2010, 08:10 AM
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Hi Mike,

Sorry your wife is having to deal with MS. I had just typed a long message and EEEEK! lost it...I have some ideas and advice for you, but can't retype the whole thing now, so for starters, there is a woman in Vermont, Barbara. [email protected] , who is a dog behaviorist-author, and disabled service dog trainer. She had a German shepherd (GSD) service dog in the past herself. Barb may have some contacts for you, and she also does long distance consults. On her web site is also some wonderful info on the first 2 years of a service dog's life:
Check out the link to Foundations to Fluency the First Two Years in the life of an Assistance Dog
There are a ton of video clips (free to view). She also has a 4 DVD set for sale on her web site. Barb is well respected and would not steer you wrong.

I think she may agree that though both your dog's temperament and health must be checked out before any decisions are made about pursuing formal service dog training, it makes sense to start with a temperament evaluation, since the physical checks will need to include hip films under general anesthesia (to check for hip dysplasia) and probably elbows as well. I feel you should have the films read by a veterinary orthopedist, not just the local vet. The films can be sent to the OFA for the evaluation (your vet will know how), though the OFA won't certify hips until 2 years of age, as some dogs don't show dysplasia younger. Or you might want to discuss with your vet finding a vet who can do the PennHip evaluation, which can be done at a younger age. Even if your dog comes from several generations on both sides with good hips, dysplasia can still crop up in a puppy--take it from one who knows. And at 1 and 2 years of age, even a dog with severe dysplasia may run and jump like a gazelle and seem totally fine. It will only lead to heartbreak for your wife AND the dog if service dog training has already been done, or started, and then you find out.

As for the temperament eval, more on that later, but if you contact Barb or anyone she may point you to, be painfully honest in answering any questions about your dog's behavior, and make no excuses for the dog. He (or she) is who he is, and no matter how bright and devoted, may or may not be right for public access, where people can be very unpredicatable. It is a measure of your love for your dog (and your responsibility to the public and to other service dog partners) that you not put him into a situation that does not suit him. A lot rides on this for your wife and the dog. The wrong dog would be miserable as a service dog, finding it stressful rather than fun, or potentially becoming a liability to your wife and the public. Your wife needs a dog that will not stress her physically or emotionally, but be an asset and added pleasure even in difficult situations. If this dog is right, wonderful. If not, you may consider keeping him as a pet and still getting a service dog. If finances are an issue, as they are for so many families and individuals when there are disability-related expenses, sponsors can be found to help with costs.

So...first step--determining if this dog is the right dog.

Meanwhile, begin reading all you can be reputable writers on dog behavior and body language, learning, etc. There are some wonderful web sites and YouTube videos.

Regardless of past experience, I hope you and your wife will consider operant conditioning training (clicker training) in particular due to your wife's MS. This method will enable her to teach the dog using almost no physical strength or manipulation of the dog's body, and she can do much or all of it from a wheelchair, if ever needed, so fatigue, flares, or exacerbations will not need to hold her back.

Vancouver Island Assistance Dogs has posted a wonderful series of videos showing service dogs learning various tasks with these methods. These can be views and downloaded for free at:

If you do choose operant conditioning training, or want to ask some very nice and experienced service dog trainers and partners some questions about the method (there are many misconceptions about it, such as that your dog never work without food rewards if you use this method) check out the OC-Assist-Dogs Yahoo Groups email list at:

Amongst its members are some of the top clicker trainers in the country, and they are a really nice group of people.

More later.


Last edited by cindy r.; 08-07-2010 at 08:17 AM. Reason: web addresses didn't appear correctly
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-07-2010, 08:27 AM
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Would you be willing to send the dog elsewhere in the country for training if the right trainer with GSD (or similar breed) experience can be found? This would probably necessitate them doing their own follow up evalutation of the dog, and after training, your wife (and possibly you or a friend) going to stay for a few weeks in their area.

This is just one approach, so I don't mean to imply it is the only or the best way to go, but if it's not one you'll consider for whatever reason, that's fine.

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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-07-2010, 04:36 PM
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Hi Mike,
Delta Society's entire web site is wonderful, but if you haven't done so, you and your wife should definitely use their National Service Animal Resource Center
Delta Society - National Service Animal Resource Center

There's a woman named Fran Jewell in Idaho who had been training small numbers of GSD's as service dogs or guide dogs. She uses positive reinforcement/operant conditioning methods. If she would no longer do this, would not take a dog who had passed an eval by your vet and a behaviorist, or you don't want to send the dog away for training and then go for team training when the dog is fully trained, she might know of someone closer to you to recommend. Her web site (follow link to instructors):
Positive Puppy Dog Training LLC
Fran Partners with one of the most respected clicker trainers in the country (Morgan Spector).

Jeanne Hampl, who I believe started the Prison Pet Partnership in Washington State, years ago had trained a Rottweiler service dog for a woman I knew on the old service-dogs email list. I believe the woman lived in Arizona. Perhaps Jeanne could also give you some guidance, whether she still trains service dogs herself or not. She has many contacts in the service dog community, I'm sure.
The Assistance Dog Club of Puget Sound

Contact: Jeanne Hampl.
Address: 7898 Greyhawk Avenue; Gig Harbor, WA 98335.
Phone: (253) 853-1984.
Fax: (253) 853-1985.
Email:[email protected]
Web site:
The Assistance Dog Club of Puget Sound helps club members train their own service animal and will assist members in selecting an appropriate animal. The club meets in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.

Using the Delta Society s-dog trainers directory, I came up with a number of programs that are distant but from you but say they will evaluate and train a person's own dog, and will do final team training in the person's home. (I assume trainer brings dog back to you after training and stays a few weeks.) Many will train for multiple disabilities (in case seizure response became needed, for instance, and these below show photos of GSD's amongst dogs they've trained. I think you can find others with the search function. Search on Maine. Click the link to each program's individual listing, and the details of if they'll work with your own dog will be listed. Then check out their own web site. Caveat emptor: I do not personally know the program's I will list below. Each should be thoroughly checked out. The Delta Society search page is at:
Delta Society - Service Animal Trainer Directory

Some of the programs that might help that I came up with just in a quick search:
Assistance Dogs of Texas, Inc.


[email protected]



(972) 617-3136

Canine Help of Zorros Dynasty


[email protected]



(540) 268-1331



Elliston, VA

This one didn't show photos of GSD's but says they use dogs from rescue and various breeds:

Carolina Canines


[email protected]



(910) 362-8181



Wilmington, NC

Carolina Canines


[email protected]



(910) 362-8181



Wilmington, NC

New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs


[email protected]


NLMAD - New Life Mobility Assistance Dogs - About the Dogs


(336) 838-2215



Wilkesboro, NC

Texas Hearing and Service Dogs, Inc.


[email protected]


I'm sure if you search more thoroughly you'll come up with others. Be sure to read up on how to choose a trainer or program. Quality of trainers, facilities, etc. can vary WIDELY. Look for programs that are ADI members.
Home - Assistance Dogs International
ADI is an organization for trainers/programs that agree to maintain certain standards.

Also check resources at IAADP, the organization for people with, or interested in getting a service dog. Membership has MANY benefits.
International Association of Assistance Dog Partners
Their section on "Finding Mr. Right" has great resources including on temperament testing:
Selection Criteria: Finding Mr. Right
What Type of Dog is Needed?
Temperament Screening Tests
Screen for Aggression
Health Screening Specifics
Breed Traits, Size, Age, Gender
A Puppy vs An Adult Candidate
Sources to Consider and Costs

Read up on Delta Society's section on Training Programs Overview:
Delta Society - Overview on service animal training programs

How do I know if the program or trainer is legitimate?
How long does it take to train a service animal?
Is it better to deal with a trainer whose business is nonprofit or for-profit?
What can I do if I have a complaint about a service animal trainer?
What happens to animals that start training but don't become service animals?
Can I choose the service animal I like best?
How do I find a trainer?

and also Getting a Service Animal: Consumer Considerations:
Delta Society - Consumer Considerations for Getting a Service Anim

Finding a very experienced and talented local trainer who has not trained a service dog but is willing to work with you may also be an option, but they will not have any experience with your wife's disabilities and how they can change over time, won't know legal considerations, be able to advise on access issues and funding the dog's training, etc. And it puts the burden all on you to decide on training methods, etc. If you go this route, at a minimum you want someone with objectively PROVEN, ADVANCED training skills, such as someone who has titled multiple dogs to the UD level in obedience, possibly been an AKC obedience judge, or done Search and Rescue dog training with multiple dogs. If possible, and experienced service dog trainer may well be a better choice. Another consideration is how upsetting it might be to the dog to be sent elsewhere for training, however. The head of one program told me years ago that they used Labs instead of GSD's because shepherds don't switch homes well or kennel well. When looking at programs, consider those that have full time professional trainers may be superior to those that have volunteers train the dogs. Also, would an out of state trainer let the dog live in their home while training was done, or kennel the dog. I wouldn't want a dog of mine kenneled, but some adjust to it fine. When Perri and Pru were young and not yet fully trained, we had to fly out of town and decided to leave them with the vet technician who we knew through our vet, and liked. She kept our girls with her own dogs, but when at work and at bedtime, her dogs were kenneled at her home. Pru did fine. Perri went into mourning for me and stopped eating. Though the vet tech began to bring Perri and Pru into her bedroom every night to sleep, played with Perri , tried hand feeding, and did her best to cheer Perri up, Perri lost about 7 lbs in 7 days. Prudence, on the other hand, seemed to think she'd been sent to sleep away camp and had a blast. I never left them with someone again. For Perri, it was apparently traumatic. Perhaps that was partly due to my having gotten her at 6 months, rather than as a young pup, and her remembering one change of households. Your dog might do fine with it.

Got to run...HTH.

Cindy R.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-08-2010, 01:13 PM
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Hi Mike,

I wanted to add that at a year of age, you have no time to lose if your dog has not yet been getting much socialization outside of your home.

Before you start any of this, please review the free videos on the links below along with your wife, so you can become quite expert in picking up on signals that your dog is uncomfortable and you need to intervene and are progressing too quickly.

The earlier the better in terms of socialization and exposure to the outside world (within reason). However, this must be done in a logical and organized progression, starting with easy, relaxed, uncrowded settings and situations so that the dog has positive experiences and is not stressed. Progress at your dog's pace to more advanced situations and settings and stop at any signs of stress and go back to easier things until the dog is ready to progress again.

For instance, when introducing the dog to strangers, first start in uncrowded areas and let them just walk by. If possible, do this with people you know but the dog doesn't know, at first. Choose calm, relaxed, people who know dogs. If the dog is relaxed, let them approach, greet, and pet the dog. Progress to calm, friendly strangers. Add in kids after adults are going well, and use care. The high voices, darting movements, and unexpected actions can be unsettling to some dogs. Again, start with calm, dog-experienced, well-behaved kids progressing older to younger, and starting with kids you know (or know of), who will listen to directions.

If your dog seems less than enthusiastic at being petted by strangers that is fine as long as he/she is relaxed. He/she doesn't need to enjoy them touching, but does need to learn to accept it politely. While many people with assistance dogs elect not to let the public pet the dog, and even have the dog wear a sign or patch to this effect, members of the public will do so anyway.

In my experience, it is a disadvantage to have an overly friendly service dog become used to being petted while working, as the dog loses focus on his partner in trying to solicit pats from strangers. However, as an assistance dog partner with a more reserved GSD, which some people find intimidating by breed reputation, and who never solicited attention from strangers in her life, it was an advantage to allow her to be petted while working in public. When people who fear shepherds or dogs in general see the dog be approached by a relaxed dog lover, it puts them at ease and helps to counteract their unfounded assumptions about the breed. It's a wonderful way also to educate the public as you chat, and to meet nice people.

Initially Perri was fairly indifferent toward strangers. Teaching her to shake hands with them changed nothing; she did it to please me. Except kids. She adored and was fascinated by children.

Our breakthrough came when I decided to stop encouraging her to be friendly and instead took her out for training with my husband Tim and his VERY friendly Lab, Prudence. If Perri didn't want to greet the strangers, I let the leash go loose enough that she could hang back a step or two while Pru, Tim and I met people and acted like they were the best thing since sliced bread. Pru got fussed over, and I made a big deal of what a GOOD GIRL Pru was. Perri soon decided she was missing out on a lot of fun. (Pru would have made a great politician. She loved nothing--except maybe water--better than greeting the public, shaking hands, and kissing babies ;-) ).

As your dog progresses in public places, advance from natural environments (parks, neighborhoods) to more suburban and then urban ones, and from very quiet and uncrowded to noisier and more crowded.

Keep in mind that some dogs may have issues with certain sexes, ages, or races of people based on a past experience or lack of experience. They may have issues with people in uniforms, funny hats, people with beards or mustaches, etc. etc. All these exposures should be pleasant and relaxed.

If your dog likes treats and knows to take them VERY gently, you can bring some healthy treats and let people offer the dog a treat to build positive associations, but when in doubt they should toss the treat to the dog, and if you let them feed it directly, instruct that they put it in the flat of their open palm and let the dog gently take it so no fingertips get nibbled.

Watch for signs of stress such as panting and shedding, as well as all those covered in the following excellent videos:
Jean Donaldson's free videos on dog body language posted on YouTube. This is the link to Part One.

Watch parts Two through Six, available here:
YouTube - ‪PerfectPawsStudios's Channel‬‎

Zoom Room's guide to dog body language and to play gestures:

Learn to speak dog

You should also learn Turid Rugaas' Calming Signals. If possible, get the book and/or video. Your public library can probably get the book through interlibrary loan if you ask. These are signals dogs use to express discomfort with a situation, or to dissipate stress, so are important for you to pick up on. At times they use them to calm others (dogs, people). You can learn to use these same signals to calm your dog.

Be aware (and educate others) that dogs don't like to be hugged. In the dog world a paw across another dog's withers is a gesture of dominance, not friendship, so a person reaching to pet a dog across the withers (top of the back above the point of the shoulders) or reaching to throw their arms around the dog's neck to hug are not something dogs innately know to consider friendship gestures from enthusiastic humans. Doing this to some dogs is enough to elicit a growl or bite, especially when done by strangers or nonfamily members. Protect your dog from such human error until he or she is well advanced.

Eventually if your dog is able to be a service dog he or she must learn to tolerate the full range of human misbehavior and folly, whether your wife and you are relaxed or highly stressed, but these are advanced skills acheived through progressive socialization. If you build many positive experiences with public access, unfortunately, the unexpectedly inappropriate human behaviors will occur as you progress to less predicatable settings. By then you want your dog to view strangers of every description as nice, well-meaning but occassionally clumsy or inappropriate clods, whose foibles should be viewed as harmless and tolerated with grace and good humor.

Above all, try to have fun in this stage (as your dog will pick up on your emotions and those of your wife through your body language, tone of voice, breathing patterns, etc.), and to make this all fun for your dog. There is a saying in the dog world that the human's emotions travel down the leash to the dog, and it is absolutely true that your dog will be strongly influenced by how you and your wife are feeling, so keep it calm, relaxed, happy. If the dog misbehaves and you feel you've advanced beyond your or the dog's current capabilities, correct the dog (but accept this as likely arising out of some mistake of your own as the handler), then end things on a good note by having the dog obey an easy command, and praising. Then go home and regroup, and figure out how you need to do things differently.

Best of luck.

Cindy R.

Last edited by cindy r.; 08-08-2010 at 01:22 PM. Reason: change link
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-10-2010, 04:34 AM
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I located a former service dog trainer in Maine, through the member list on the web site of the Assistance Dog United Campaign (which helps provide training funds for people seeking service dogs).
List of ADUC Member Programs

Below is info from her web site. She seems extremely well qualified to help you. Best wishe, Cindy R.

Elsa Larsen, CPDT (in Portland, Maine)
[email protected]

Here's her web site:
My Wonderful Dog

About Elsa Elsa Larsen began her career in the field of dog training as a volunteer for the Assistance Dog Institute in Santa Rosa, California, a unique program that engaged incarcerated youth in the care and training of dogs to assist people with disabilities.
In June 2000, Elsa moved to Maine to start My Wonderful Dog, Maine’s only non profit dedicated to the training and placement of dogs for the disabled. Due to lack of funding, the non profit had to close it’s doors however, under the banner of My Wonderful Dog, Elsa continues to bring her humane training methods to dogs and their people in the greater Portland area. Elsa works with both puppies and adult dogs, teaches obedience skills and works with behavioral problems, including aggression.
Elsa has been training dogs professionally since 1997 and has earned her Certified Pet Dog Trainer credentials from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. To complete this testing process Elsa had to demonstrate her knowledge of the scientific principles of behavior and learning, ethology, animal husbandry, and business practices and ethics. Elsa continues to stay current on the latest teaching methods studying with some of today's top dog trainers including: Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Ian Dunbar, Dr. Nicolas Dodman, Leslie Nelson and Pia Silvani and Patricia McConnell.

Training Philosophy My Wonderful Dog utilizes a holistic, non-threatening approach to dog obedience. Only positive training methods are employed in my classes. My goal is to encourage pet owners in the use of the most up-to-date, humane, yet effective methods in dog training. I feel this can be accomplished through reward training. Reward training uses motivation to get results. So whether you are interested in some basic skills for your dog or fresh ideas on how to approach a behavioral problem My Wonderful Dog can help. The age of the dog doesn't matter- with patience and perseverance all dogs can be trained using cooperation not coercion.

My Wonderful Dog • Serving the greater Portland area
• In home training - at your convenience
• Puppies and adult dogs
• Obedience
• Behavioral problems
• Specializing in aggression
• Reasonable rates
• Over 10 years experience
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