Certified service dog coach Christin Benoit, CPDT-KA, offers coaching for owner-trainers with mobility, hearing and psychiatric disabilities to support them in their goal of training their dogs for service work. She also offers group and private training for pet dogs as well as boarding in Union City, Michigan, through her business, Comfy Critters.
What made you decide you wanted to train service dogs?
When I married my husband almost 30 years ago, I met his fun-loving uncle, a veteran with paraplegia. We often talked about how someday I would train a dog to help him. I felt a service dog would be so helpful, from providing mobility support, to retrieving items, to emotional support. I unfortunately never got the opportunity, but it was what inspired me to begin my dog training journey many years ago.
Tell us about your work training service dogs.
I currently am coaching more than half a dozen different teams, from puppies to almost 2-year-old dogs. I offer two different group classes, one for younger dogs and another with older dogs. These groups have the opportunity to work together from their time as young puppies through adolescence. I find that most of the teams really enjoy having these opportunities to work among others with the same goals. They have formed beautiful friendships, and I love the community support they offer each other. I include small field trips for these classes that are appropriate for the age groups, and then I help them work through different skills. My older dog group class has begun to learn more advanced skills, and they really enjoy learning together. I also offer one-on-one private sessions and Zoom coaching with those who need more support.
Additionally, I have taken on a standard poodle puppy this summer, who I named August. This is my first experience raising a puppy with the goal of him being a service dog. He has been an absolute joy to work with and he joins me for both of these classes.
Tell us about your dog training business.
Comfy Critters Pet Services: Our motto is “Where learning is fun for both you and your dog!” And that is my goal: for owners to enjoy the learning relationship with their dog, because when we have fun with our dogs we build a beautiful relationship that is built on connectivity and enjoyment together. I teach clients with a lot of different games for them to play with their dogs. They learn to not be rigid but instead to laugh with their dogs. I also teach them that learning takes place together all the time…not just at training time.
Has offering service dog training had an impact on your business?
Yes, It most definitely has. I have really enjoyed working with clients who want to train their own dogs to assist them as service dogs. These clients are very focused on learning.
What motivated you to enroll in the SDC course?
I have had Veronica’s book for a few years now. I bought her book the first year I began working toward my CPDT-KA certification. It was my goal to be certified through the CCPDT, one of the credentials recognized by the SDC program and then apply for her course. I felt like her course aligned with how I wanted to train dogs…I was not disappointed at all! In fact, the course was more than what I expected.
What did you like the most about the SDC course?
I loved the step-by-step learning of teaching a task. Veronica gave excellent feedback as I worked through that training process with my basset hound, Winston ChurchHound.
What has surprised you about working with service dogs?
How many people are not versed in the terminology of working dogs. Many think that ESAs are allowed to have the same access as service dogs, or that therapy dogs are allowed in all places. Also, how many people really pick the wrong dog for the task.
What advice would you give to trainers thinking about getting involved in service dog training?
Service dog training can be a great move if you enjoy helping clients who have different training needs. I have found it very rewarding to come up with unique ways of accommodating clients with disabilities. I absolutely love the “ah ha” moments when their smiles shine alongside their dogs. Watching their lives improve because they have their furry friend helping them is just icing on the cake!
Is there anything else you wish to share?
Adding service dog coaching to my training business has been more than just a smart business move. It has given me a strong purpose that I enjoy so much. Working with my clients and watching them grow in confidence, not only in working with their dog but also in their daily lives, is incredibly rewarding. This open door has given me a new perspective on my business and in my skills as a trainer. I face daily challenges and I absolutely love that.