Certified service dog coach Amanda Hayward helps people with disabilities train their own dogs for service work through her business, Pets Education Training Support (P.E.T.S.) in Swan Bay, New South Wales, Australia. In addition to her SDC, Amanda’s credentials include a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services from the Delta Institute; she is also a member of the Pet Professional Guild Australia.
What made you decide you wanted to train service dogs?
I have always been in awe of how service dogs support people living with disabilities, enabling them to navigate life with more confidence. The freedom and independence they help provide is simply wonderful, and their level of training and behaviour has always fascinated me. After my second child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder level 2, including panic and anxiety disorder, at the age 4, I felt a stronger need to be involved in the animal-assisted sector, primarily working with service dogs.
Another reason I decided to focus on helping people train their own dogs for service dog work is the lack of support in rural areas, particularly where I am in the Northern Rivers, NSW. There is a high demand for service dogs, and this seems to be increasing in recent times. So many people are looking for advice, information and then ultimately help with training their dogs. I saw a huge gap and really wanted to help people who needed this to be available locally. Also, ready-trained service dogs are quite costly and waiting lists are years long. People simply don’t have the financial backing to outlay for one of these dogs, and it is certainly not ideal for them to be waiting three to four years for the dog to become available. Whilst the owner-training journey is not easy, it means that the dog and handler are already together and developing a bond, which is one of the most important parts of their partnership.
Tell us about your work training service dogs.
I help support people who have decided to go down the path of owner-training their service dog. This involves private training with the handler and dog to assist them in developing the skills needed to pass the public access test (PAT) as well as helping them train their dogs to perform specific tasks to help mitigate their individual disability. My program is flexible and based on the clients’ individual needs. While the end goal is the same, the journey will be different for each one. I ensure that each team is supported in a way that helps them achieve their goals and makes them feel comfortable with each aspect of the training.
Before embarking on what can be a long and sometimes arduous journey, I meet with the teams to assess the dog for suitability. We also discuss what the clients’ needs and expectations are and whether they are equipped to take this path towards having a service dog. I work closely with the teams right from the start. I offer private training in their home to start and then as they progress with their skills and confidence, we start to work in public places. I support my teams not only with their training, but through educating them about service dogs and their rights and responsibilities. I also keep an open line of communication with their health care providers.
Tell us about your dog training business.
I run a small dog training business serving people in my local area only. When I initially started, I was offering private consultations for behavioural issues as well as group training for companion dogs and puppies. Since turning my focus to owner-trained service dog teams, I no longer take on complex behaviour cases due to the time and commitment involved. Working with and supporting my service dog clients is a huge role and one I give my full focus to.
In addition to my work supporting people training service dogs, I offer private training for people with puppies, as I see the importance in getting people off to the right start. Ultimately, if people are educated in how dogs learn, how to manage problems early and dog body language, as well as the importance of correct socialisation, enrichment programs and fostering confidence in their pups, it will set them up for a successful life together. I also offer private training for companion dog owners who need help with basic manners or with training for emotional support and therapy (visitation) dogs. Setting people up for a wonderful future with a well-mannered canine citizen is my primary goal.
I am currently in the process of having a training room built, so I will be able to offer services in my home. I will offer private consultations and run group classes for my service dog clients so we can start working on skills in a safe group environment. Additionally, I’ll be offering puppy classes and classes for adolescent dogs.
Has offering service dog training had an impact on your business? If yes, how?
Offering service dog training has impacted my business in that I don’t take on any complex behavioural cases anymore. I have other force-free trainers in my area that I can refer such cases to, and these trainers have started to refer potential service dog clients to me. So ultimately, everyone is able to have their training needs met.
What motivated you to enroll in the SDC course?
My main motivation for enrolling in the SDC program was the fact that there was nothing similar offered here in Australia. Whilst work has been taking place to develop specific service dog modules to add to the Certificate IV already offered here (which I have completed), there is not a course that is specifically about service dog training. As I was starting to take on service dog clients, I felt it was necessary for me to obtain more skills and knowledge, so I was able to offer the best service possible. The information included in this course was both comprehensive and practical, and I felt it was the best way for me to further my education.
What did you like the most about the SDC course?
My favourite part of the course was the support offered by Veronica. Whilst the course content was comprehensive and the platform was easy to access and navigate, the support I received was overwhelming. Not only during the course, but the support offered in the Facebook group for graduates continues to provide a wonderful community of like-minded trainers working in the same field. I also liked the fact that Veronica has included information for trainers living outside of America, as laws around service dogs (assistance dogs here in Australia) can differ from state to state and country to country.
What has surprised you about working with service dogs?
Whilst I felt I was aware, prior to entering this area of training, that working with people with disabilities was going to be challenging, I probably wasn’t as prepared as I thought. I had spent eight months working as a dog trainer, supporting clients for a local National Disability Insurance Scheme provider. Every person is different, but also learning to factor in the individual’s disability, whether it be physical or mental, can require a lot of thought and preparation. Whilst it can present many challenges, I find it so rewarding when I can develop a training method that supports the learners’ individual needs.
What advice would you give to trainers thinking about getting involved in service dog training?
I would advise trainers looking at getting involved with service dog training to:
- Find an experienced service dog trainer who is happy to mentor you.
- Research the rights and responsibilities of service dogs in your area so you are well-versed on legislation, as clients will look to you for advice in this area. It is important that you have the correct information to offer.
- Try to gain some experience working with people with disabilities first if possible. This adds another whole new dimension to your training approach.
Is there anything else you wish to share?
Service dog training is a very complex and challenging, yet rewarding, area to work in. Knowing that you are helping people to live their best lives with their canine companions is simply wonderful. You need to be honest from the start about how the journey will look so that your clients understand that not every dog will be suitable for service dog work, even with all the training and effort put in. This can be the biggest hurdle for many teams. Be prepared to get emotionally involved. I feel it’s impossible not to when you work so closely with these teams for an extended period of time. But remember that you are not their health care professional, you are their dog training professional. Lastly, I would like to thank Veronica for her ongoing support and advice, which empowers me to move forward with my training with both confidence and pride.