Certified service dog coach Heather Dunn works at Lothlorien Dog Services in Scotland, where she offers a variety of pet dog training services including group puppy training as well as private lessons on life skills. Having recently earned her SDC, Heather is now expanding her work to include service dog training.
Why did you want to train service dogs?
I decided that I wanted to go down the service dog training route as a result of my own experience with my health and chronic pain issues. Teaching my own dog at-home service dog tasks really helped with my independence, confidence and mental health. I love the concept that a person’s favourite little companion can give them a helping hand performing tasks either at home or out and about.
Tell us about your work training dogs.
I am a part of the amazing team of trainers at Lothlorien Dog Services, where I help teach pups important life skills. I also teach young dogs focus work, leash skills and a solid recall. I teach in group classes as well as one-to-one environments. I also assist with other trainers’ classes or workshops. I am shadowing Claire Staines (the owner and head trainer at Lothlorien) on behavioural work to expand my knowledge and training skills toolbox.
Tell us about your process of getting your business ready to train service dogs?
I have done lots of research to make sure I understand all the laws for assistance dogs in Scotland. I have all my business paperwork in order and I’m in the initial stages of having it reviewed by a solicitor. It took me a while to find a qualified legal professional that was able to help out. During this time, I have also started writing training plans and protocols for service dog tasks that I can adapt to the needs of my clients.
Has learning about service dog training had an impact on your work?
Learning about service dog training has opened my eyes more to different clients’ needs and abilities. It has given me even more skills in adapting training for each client and each dog that is in front of me.
What motivated you to enroll in the SDC course?
Through my own experiences with chronic pain and illnesses, I understand that a person living with a disability can feel left out by society. I would like to help people living with a disability take back control by giving them confidence through training, with the added bonus of building an even stronger bond with their lovely companions.
What did most enjoy about the SDC course?
I loved how informative the course is in all aspects of service dog training, with amazing feedback and guidance from Veronica. I also found lots of topics and facts very interesting, like training accommodations and how to work with healthcare professionals; these are aspects of the work that I would not have thought of. The course is very easy to follow and engaging, with the added benefit of not feeling too rushed to complete modules even though there is a deadline. The platform is very easy to use, and Veronica gives you every detail you need for assessments, videos and quizzes. The course really helped me make sure I was on the correct path to start my service dog training journey for both my client and their four-legged friend. I was excited that I learned even more about my own dog when we were doing our video assessments together.
Has anything surprised you about service dogs or service dog training?
When doing the course I looked into lots of different aspects of service dog training, I was surprised by the multitude of ways you can train certain behaviours and all the different and challenging situations in which the dog needs to be trained and assessed for public access work.
What advice would you give to trainers thinking about getting involved in service dog training?
Service dog training does have lots of different elements so be prepared and plant your roots before diving into the deep end. The SDC course is a very good way to get you started as it will help you gain a better understanding of just how varied service dog training is. Be mindful that some people have multiple diagnoses. You can visit reputable medical organizations’ or charities’ websites to expand your knowledge, as well as communicating with your client about their specific symptoms.
Is there anything else you wish to share?
Two things that will be very helpful regardless of who you are working with are compassion and adaptability. Although there is a broad range of people who might be helped by a service dog, these two skills will always serve you well. The SDC course gave me a different perspective on service dog training and what life is like for people living with different disabilities than the ones I am living with, which has helped me be more adaptable and compassionate as a trainer.