April 7, 2015

Image taken from the Assistance Dogs International Facebook page

Over the last several years research and anecdotal stories show that a dog can significantly improve the quality of life of an autistic child. This has caused a surge in interest and has unfortunately also created a surge in providers who are more interested in the $30,000 price tag than in helping a family.

Here are 7 tips on choosing a reputable organization.

  1. Are they a member of Assistance Dogs International? http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/

This organization has standards of training that all members must adhere to for training dogs. Some of these criteria include:

  • Monthly follow ups with the client for the first 6 months and annual checks thereafter
  • Humane training methods must be used to train dogs
  • Training dogs for proper public behaviors
  • Training dogs with basic obedience commands
  • Working with clients to ensure they understand proper training techniques
  • Working with clients to ensure they understand proper dog care and health
  • Work with clients to help them add new skills as needed

Businesses that are not members of this organization should be closely examined before moving choosing them. The Assistance Dogs International website has a search function to find local organizations.

  1. ADIReview the application process completely.

The demand for service dogs is very high and the availability of properly trained dogs is limited. Any business that promises less than a year for a dog is suspect.

Some businesses such as Autism Service Dogs of America http://autismservicedogsofamerica.com/for-families/application/ do charge a small processing fee with the application. Other agencies such as Paws with a Cause https://www.pawswithacause.org/what-we-do/dogs-for-autism do not.

The application process should involve answering questions like these:

  • How old is your child? (most programs require children to be at least 5 years old)
  • Who will be trained as a facilitator?
  • Do you have other pets? (Other dogs in the home can be a problem)
  • What kinds of support does the child need?
  • What therapies is the child currently participating in?

The application process should not ask questions around financial payments, though websites will usually have information on costs and fundraising.

  1. Get referrals

Finding the right dog is more involved than many people realize. It isn’t just about the training, but also the personality of the animal and the family who wants to adopt.

Getting referrals from previous clients is one way to learn more about the dogs and the agency. Ask for 3 families from your area that have received service dogs in the past 5 years. Contact these families and ask about training, follow up and how they feel about the agency.

It is important to get this range of time to ensure the agency follows up at least annually with the families. This will also highlight those agencies that stand out in continuing education with their clients.

This continuing education is important to ensure that as the child grows and needs change the dog is trained to perform new tasks as needed.

  1. Call the IRS and Better Business Bureau

This may seem like an odd step, but many organizations that provide service dogs say they are non-profit. A call to the IRS can verify this claim. If they are lying about that, they are probably lying about the dog too.

A call to the BBB can ensure there aren’t any complaints about the organization.

  1. Ask for the names and credentials of the trainers and volunteers

Checking to ensure that individuals are actually certified dog trainers can go a long way to verify the organization will provide an adequately trained dog. It is also helpful to ask about training techniques.

  1. Ask about the breed

Autism service dogs are often retrievers or Labradors or a mix of these. Dog breeds that have calm personalities and reputations as being family dogs are the best breeds. Question the organization about the breed, where they obtain the dogs and why they choose that breed.

  1. Sign a contract

Never send money (except a small registration fee) until a signed contract is provided. This is a service and it takes time. The contract should outline exactly what services are provided and the cost. If it turns out that the terms of the contract are not met, you now have a document that can be used to take legal action.

What to Stay Away From

  • Organizations that promise to provide a fully trained service dog in less than 1 year. Service dogs must be able to handle many different situations, both at home and in public situations. This training takes time and simply cannot be done quickly.
  • Organizations that promise to help you train your existing dog to be a ‘certified’ service dog. Again, this is a scam. While dogs that are pets can receive obedience training it is impossible to train them to the level of obedience needed in public situations in a few days or even a few weeks.
  • Don’t answer ads on Facebook, Twitter, Craig’s List or any other social media. Reputable organizations receive far more requests than they have dogs and have no need to advertise. The possibility that you will receive an adequately trained animal is very small. These scams are often cheaper than reputable organizations, but you get what you pay for.

It is unfortunate that the demand for service dogs is so high and greedy people have found a way to take advantage of families who are trying to help their children. Finding an organization and following their request process can take several years, but it can be worth it.

About the author 

Dawn Marcotte

Dawn Marcotte is the CEO of WWW.ASD-DR.com, a website designed to help teens and young adults on the spectrum live to their highest potential.

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