I have spent a good deal of time telling you what to look for in a good DAD organization or a dog trainer. Here are a few things that should be a red flag/warning that will hopefully make you think about when you go through this process.
1. You pay $25,000 for a 12 week old puppy, that not only doesn’t alert (it most certainly won’t, yet), but isn’t even potty trained, that they call a fully trained service dog. While there are many programs that have “self training” or “started dog” programs, the successful ones will have some sort of progress payment program. It is in their best interest to make sure you are happy with your dog, and they will continue to offer periodic training sessions and on-going support. If the organization gets all the money up front, what’s in it for them? What happens when they don’t return your phone calls? You have a dog, they have your money.
2. Secret groups. If you are herded into a secret group on Facebook or some other webpage, be leery. It’s a red flag that things aren’t all on the up and up. While each group may have a different philosophy for how they train their dogs, there isn’t much in the dog training world that is a trade secret. As a matter of fact, if you have the time, inclination, a good dog, and patience, between books on Amazon and YouTube videos, you could possibly do this all on your own, and many have. The reason for the secret groups? Generally to herd you away from people that have questions, issues, complaints, or serious problems with the organization. To control the information that is shared. To keep an eye on you. And if people in those groups are there today and gone tomorrow? Perhaps they asked the wrong questions.
3. Their Facebook page doesn’t allow posts or comments. Why do you suppose that is? Is it because everyone has nothing but wonderful, amazing things to say about them?
4. The people in charge don’t actually have a dog. Or any connection to the particular disease they are training dogs for. They need to have an understanding of diabetes to know how to interpret what the dogs are telling them. They need to have an understanding of how insulin works. They need to have an understanding of how you are managing your disease so they can set up the dog and training to be the most successful.
5. They tell you that the dogs are 100% accurate, that this is easy, that this requires a minimum amount of work, that you will be able to sleep through the night, that you won’t have to test as often, etc. They aren’t. It’s hard. You better. And you will test more often than ever. These people are dog trainers. They aren’t Endo’s.
6. The organization tells you that 100% of the dogs that go through their training become service dogs. Not every dog is suitable or has the capacity or temperament to be a service dog.
7. They tell you that peeing, scratching, or biting is an alert, or that a 10 week old puppy is already alerting consistently and accurately with a paw swipe, but is actually telling the handler he is annoyed, please get out of my face. Your dog isn’t successful until it has a clear, distinguishable alert. Not a yawn. Not a shake. (these may be “pre-alert behaviors, but they aren’t alerts) Not a stretch.
8. After they get your money, the information isn’t as free flowing. The phone calls aren’t returned. The emails go unread.
9. Claim that their dogs will be able to alert from miles away.
10. Refusal to show you or give you any vet records for the dog they have assigned to you.
11. If you are out of state and they are placing a dog with you, do they have a plan of action for some kind of continued support? A recommended local trainer, or at least an understanding that training MUST continue
12. They don’t have any working teams that you can see, meet with, and talk to. You need to be able to talk to several working teams. Some of those teams should be mature working teams with dogs working for a minimum for 1 year.
13. The organization tries to control all information coming out about them, tries to spin concerns, and seems uncomfortable or defensive when questions are asked.
14. The dogs should be clean, well cared for, appear happy, and not fearful or aggressive.
15. If you are using a breeder/trainer, they should have nothing to hide. You should be able to visit the facilities, walk the kennels, and look at the dogs. The facilities should be clean, the dogs should look comfortable, and it shouldn’t be overcrowded.
16. It should be just as important for the organization to interview you as it is for you to interview them. They should want to know where their dogs could be going, what kind of home they will be in, what your expectations for the dog are, and if you are actively involved in managing your disease. Legitimate organizations will occasionally turn away people regardless of money if they feel the dog won’t be a good fit, the family isn’t committed, the dog will be kept outside, or that the scenario isn’t conducive to a dog being utilized successfully.
17. They won’t provide a health guarantee for hereditary conditions.
18. There is no formal application process. As long as you have $$ or a credit card, you can get a dog.
19. You are not allowed to interact with other families in the organization. Or as families have dogs delivered, they are shuttled out of the secret groups. This is to prevent families with dog issues/problems from expressing those issues with families that don’t have their dogs yet.
20. What exactly are the trainers credentials? What training or experience have they had?
21. This industry is currently fraught with scams. It never hurts to check with the attorney general or local Better Business Bureau.
22. Are the dogs raised in kennels until placement? What type of plan does the organization have in place to help these dogs integrate into your home life? If the day that dog is placed with you is the first time the dog has been in the house, you will have problems. The same goes with public access. These dogs are expected to go everywhere with us. School, work, grocery stores, movie theaters, subways, busses, etc. The first time this dog goes into a restaurant and walks by french fries, please make sure it is with a trainer, and not with you. Public Access logs should be kept, and hours should be tracked.
Please feel free to add your own red flag warnings below. This is by no means an all inclusive list. I will add to it as I see fit, in an effort to make this a valuable resource. If you have questions or concerns about where you are in the process with your org, let me know.