Certified service dog coach Mary Hager, CPDT-KSA, KPA-CTP’s numerous credentials also include the CTDI and the FFCP. She owns MuttSchool, which has three locations in Kansas. Mary and her team of trainers offer a range of dog training classes including puppy training, good manners, behavior consultations, dog sports and service dog training.
What made you decide you wanted to train service dogs?
In the late 1990s, I was a dog sports instructor working for a dog training company in Phoenix, Arizona, when I was invited to assist with the training of a few service dogs. That was my first experience training service dogs, and I found it very rewarding to be able to use my knowledge to make a difference in people’s lives. Fast forward to 2010 when I found myself living in Manhattan, Kansas, next to a military base. As the owner of MuttSchool, I kept receiving requests for service dogs trained to help veterans and soldiers with PTSD. After taking on a couple clients where the owner did the training while being supervised by our instructors, we decided to expand and open MuttCare, a nonprofit organization that offers scholarships for those with financial needs to be able to afford the services offered by MuttSchool to train an assistance dog.
Tell us about your work training service dogs.
Most of the dogs we have trained through MuttSchool are service dogs for people with PTSD, autism, anxiety and depression. We have also trained dogs for people who needed sound alerts, scent alerts, seizure response, mobility tasks and behaviors to assist people with traumatic brain injuries and Parkinson’s.
Tell us about your dog training business.
MuttSchool is a comprehensive dog training business. We are dedicated to helping dogs and their people build relationships based on trust, compassion and understanding. We offer group classes, private lessons and day school. In day school, we train the dog during the day at our facility and the owner takes the dog home at night. Owners of assistance dogs in training can utilize any of these services.
We have 15 employees and three locations in Kansas. MuttSchool instructors have trained over 5,000 Kansas dogs since our business began in 2007. Our staff includes credentialed trainers, including seven CPDT-KA certified trainers and two CPDT-KSAs. Additionally, one of our trainers, Kate Conner, is a certified service dog coach, like I am. She is also MuttCare’s financial officer.
Has offering service dog training had an impact on your business?
The biggest impact on our business is that assistance dog clients tend to bring in long-term, consistent income. Most service dog clients train their dogs for around a year and a half to two years and are more willing to continue their dog’s education through additional classes, seminars and other events. The average pet parent that trains with us stays around six months until they feel the dog’s training is good enough to meet their needs at home.
Why did you enroll in the SDC program?
I had seen Veronica advertise the service dog coach certificate course on several Facebook groups that I am a part of. Being a CPDT-KSA, I was searching for a course where I could also get skills credits to complete the CEUs to renew my certification. I was already formulating the plan to set up MuttCare as a 501(c)(3). The Service Dog Coach certificate course was the perfect solution to help me work toward both of these goals.
The aspects I most enjoyed about the SDC course were the training exercises and having to work with my dog on more advanced skills. Also, I enjoy being part of a cohort of other trainers with similar interests. This is a wonderful networking opportunity.
What has surprised you about working with service dogs?
The biggest surprise has been the relationships we form with our clients. Clients teach us as much as we teach them. After training service dogs through a supervised owner training system, I can’t imagine training an assistance dog without working directly with the owner from start to finish. I find it so rewarding to provide the personal touch and customized task training that we currently can offer our clients. I think it’s important that service dogs are always taught by professional trainers who are educated in the most up-to-date dog training methods. By offering that level of expertise, we are able to give our clients a more customized, personal approach to service dog training.
What advice would you give to trainers thinking about getting involved in service dog training?
Take the Cooperative Paws Service Dog Coach™ program and find a mentor to help you out with training your first service dog. It is a truly rewarding field.