Service dog coach Barb Gadola has a degree in education in addition to holding several credentials in dog training, including her SDC, CPDT-KA and KPA-CTP. She offers service dog training, pet dog training and behavior consultations through her business, Distinctive Dog Training in Kellar, Texas. She also serves as vice-president for a nonprofit service dog program, IDEA Service Dogs. This program supports people with disabilities who wish to train a dog for service work for mobility support, seizure and medical response, and tree nut allergen detection. Barb shares her expertise with other trainers by serving as a mentor trainer for CATCH Canine Trainers Academy.
Tell us about your dog training business.
Most of my business, Distinctive Dog Training LLC, is training people and dogs to live in harmony. I started part time in 2006, making the transition to full time in 2011 after quitting my day job. I do in-home training as well as board and train in my home. Working with puppies and adolescents, as well as service dogs in training, gives me my greatest satisfaction. Most of my service dog work is with mobility support dogs, although I also really enjoy teaching hearing alert dogs.
Please tell us about the nonprofit you are involved with.
I’m a vice-president with IDEA Service Dogs. We train the disabled person and their dog in a two-year program. We have group classes twice a month and a field trip to a local business once a month. We have multiple certified trainers on our volunteer staff and are able to offer individual coaching as well. Classes are small and each training group graduates together.
What made you decide you wanted to train service dogs?
I volunteered at an Arizona county shelter 20 years ago and one of our tasks was to test dogs for potential service work for a local nonprofit service dog organization. I was fascinated by the process and was always curious about how these dogs ended up being trained to help people. Once I became a full-time trainer, I kept getting requests to help people train their own dog for service work. For many years, I didn’t feel qualified to do this.
What motivated you to enroll in the SDC course?
I wanted to use the knowledge I have gained over the years to give back to those who struggle with physical challenges. This meant that I needed to learn more hands-on techniques as well as gain knowledge about how to incorporate service dog training into my business. I was very insecure about this before the course, and when I finished I felt more confident taking the next step with my business.
What did you like most about the SDC course?
The course forced me out of my comfort zone – in a good way. The online and in-person research requirements were very enlightening, and these are things I would never have done on my own. I learned a lot! I also enjoyed using my own dogs and training service tasks. We all had a great time.
What has surprised you about working with service dogs?
That they can be “just dogs,” but still be a working partner with their handler when on duty.
What advice would you give to trainers thinking about getting involved in service dog training?
Volunteer with a local service dog training organization, raise a puppy, get as much hands-on training experience as possible and learn the laws for your state.