Assistance Dogs Northwest places professionally trained dogs that provide their partners with the freedom and confidence to live more independent lives. Assistance Dogs Northwest does not place emotional support or psychiatric assistance dogs.
Assistance Dogs Northwest’s Assistance Dogs receive approximately one to two years of training before graduating. In order to graduate, the dogs must pass rigorous health and temperament screening during this time. Graduates receive additional training which is sometimes necessary for dogs helping partners with progressive disabilities.
Training begins at about 7 weeks of age when they enter the training program. The first three months of training is Puppy Training class. The puppies learn basic commands, socialization and housebreaking. After graduating from Puppy Training, the puppies enter a three month Basic Training class.
During Basic Training, the puppies learn to work around wheelchairs and continue perfecting their obedience skills. They also are taken on numerous field trips to get them used to different types of environments such as grocery stores, airports and city streets.
Those that pass Basic Training enter 3-6 months of Advanced Training where they learn skills such as turning on and off lights, opening doors and retrieving items. At this time, field trips become more challenging and the dogs must be able to ignore distractions such as cats, birds and food on the ground.
Dogs that pass Advanced Training are tentatively matched with an applicant on the waiting list. The matching process is complicated and is based on several criteria, including activity level, environment and personality.
The dogs finally enter the 3-6 month Graduate Training where they are trained specifically for the needs of their potential partners. At this time, the dog’s trainer will limit their speech and mobility to match that of the dog’s prospective partner. Examples are only using one side of the body or speaking only in a whisper.
Team Training Camp
Dogs that pass Graduate Training then attend an intensive two to three week Team Training Camp with their partner. The Team learns to work together and the recipient must memorize the 90 commands that the dog already knows. Students also learn about canine psychology, health care and how to bring out the best in their canine partner.
Teams that pass Team Training Camp celebrate their accomplishment with a graduation ceremony that marks the beginning of their new life together. Past graduates, trainers, puppy raisers, breeders, sponsors and supporters all attend graduations and join in celebrating the successful accomplishment of each graduating team.
Assistance Dogs Northwest provides follow up visits and training for the life of each team. This is especially important for graduates that have disabilities that are progressive. The dogs continually learn new skills that may be needed to help their partner.