Service dog coach Alison Patrolia is a certified veterinary technician (CVT), certified Fear Free professional and a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator, in addition to holding her SDC credential. Alison has over 23 years of experience as a CVT, and she is working toward her Veterinary Technician Specialty – Behavior (VTS-Behavior) certification. She is also a registered therapy dog handler through Pet Partners. Alison works for a nonprofit organization, Hub City Service Dogs, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
What made you decide you wanted to train service dogs?
This was not so much a decision as it was as an organic process. I was asked to be on the board for Hub City Service Dogs and help organize the program. After being involved for about a year, our trainer left. We had clients who needed help training their dogs, so I transitioned into the role of training director for the organization.
Tell us about Hub City Service Dogs.
When two young girls in our community were diagnosed with type I diabetes, we realized that there were not a lot of options for service dogs in our area. One of the girls was the granddaughter of a veterinarian in the practice I work for. He helped found Hub City Service Dogs in 2013. I joined the organization in 2017. We serve a 150-mile radius around Hattiesburg, Mississippi, providing personalized, specific task training. Hub City Service Dogs is a small organization, but we are growing.
Can you tell us about your work training service dogs?
At Hub City Service Dogs, we primarily train service dogs to help people with type I diabetes, PTSD and severe anxiety. We are open to training for people with other diagnoses depending on what specific tasks are needed. We usually start with puppies and place them in the home with the client for the duration of their training. This helps to build a bond and provides a sense of purpose for our clients. By coaching our clients throughout the process, we help them to navigate various scenarios that will likely occur. We find our clients feel confident and empowered when they are coached and work through the process with us.
Has training service dogs had an impact on your work as a dog trainer?
Working with Hub City Service Dogs has impacted my dog training work by helping me to be a better trainer. I feel that it has made me a more patient person with training clients and their dogs.
What motivated you to enroll in the SDC course?
I learned about the SDC program from a trainer who joined our clinic in 2018. She also works with me at Hub City Dog Training. We both took the foundations course, then I decided that I needed to take the full course. At that time, we were restructuring Hub City Service Dogs, focusing more on owner-training as opposed to having our trainers do the bulk of the work. We also began allowing owners to train their existing pets as service dogs when it was appropriate (although we still prefer to help clients select and train a service dog candidate), and narrowed our focus to fewer types of service dog. Taking this course validated our belief that the direction we were taking was possible.
What did you like the most about the SDC course?
I loved everything about the course. I could not wait to watch my lessons and do my assignments. I loved all the information that we received to help educate not only our clients but the public as well.
What has surprised you about working with service dogs?
I have been surprised by how much I love working with our service dogs and our clients. We become a team. I love watching the human-animal bond develop and our clients gain confidence and enjoy living their lives. It is so rewarding.
What else do you love about what you do?
One of my passions is providing education. It has always been important to me to help people understand how to enhance the human-animal bond by understanding the animals that coexist with us on a daily basis. Now I can also teach people about service dogs. It can be confusing if you are not part of that world, so it is important to me that I educate those around me and my community about service dogs.
What advice would you give to trainers thinking about getting involved in service dog training?
It can seem scary to venture into the service dog training world. Utilize resources such as Cooperative Paws for service dog training information. You will learn so much that will help your service dog training skills and confidence as a trainer. Become a certified service dog coach to show your clients that education is important to you. Network with other coaches. I love that if I have someone inquiring from out of state, I can look at the Cooperative Paws website and recommend a service dog coach near them.