The popularity of using dogs to assist humans in various ways has absolutely skyrocketed in the past year or so. We are receiving calls and emails every day from clients who would like a dog to help with:
- illness, including psychological illness ie PTSD, autism etc
- physical disabilities
- emotional support
- schools requiring a therapy dog or reading assistance dog
- medical professionals requiring a dog to assist in their practice
- organisations providing palliative care
- visits to aged care facilities
- visits to hospitals
Some dogs have an intuitive ability to do things – help people in distress, aid movements or relieve stress.
Therapy Dog – works with handler to provide comfort and joy to those in hospital, schools, aged care facilities, courts etc.
Service Dog/Assistance Dog – a service dog is trained to perform tasks to assist handlers with disabilities, ie hearing, eyesight, seizures etc.
Emotional Support Dog – gives comfort and support to handlers with anxiety or emotional related illness.
NOTE: Emotional Support Animals (abbreviated to ESA) are not recognised under Australian law. This term is vague and there are no requirements for an ESAs role or behaviour standards. This is because ESAs are not guaranteed access under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, unlike an assistance dog. An ESA may support a person through depression, anxiety or another medical condition but this does not mean that the animal is specifically trained to do so; rather, they do so merely by their presence.
Can You Train Your Own Dog?
Yes. But, there is no guarantee that a dog you choose will be suitable as a therapy dog, particularly if you would like to undergo the Public Access Test (PAT test) for your dog to accompany you in public places. Anxious or fearful dogs are not suitable for testing.
As puppies grow, develop and experience the world, behaviour can change.
How to Train Your Own Dog?
If you choose a pup, book into a puppy class from 8 weeks of age with a behavioural dog trainer who uses force free methods. Ongoing training can be provided by these trainers and will not cost you the earth!
We will provide training to prepare you and your dog for the Public Access Test. We will also provide honest feedback on the suitability of your dog as a service or therapy dog.
Trainers can be sourced via:
Pet Professional Guild Australia https://ppgaustralia.net.au
Delta Society Australia https://deltainstitute.edu.au
Organisations that may be able to assist you are:
Personal Assistance Dog Solutions - http://www.pads-australia.org
MindDog - https://www.minddog.org.au
Guide Dogs Victoria - https://www.guidedogsvictoria.com.au
Do you need to spend thousands of $ on a course or trained dog?
No, any skilled trainer can prepare you for the public access test. With the popularity of service and therapy dogs increasing, we are seeing specific training businesses emerge. Please thoroughly check credentials of any organisation before spending a considerable amount of money on a training program that may not be appropriate or necessary.
Pre-Trained Dog - Some organisations train and provide therapy dogs and there is a cost for this service.
The Public Access Test – what is it?
If you would like your dog to accompany you in public places such as shopping centres, they must undergo The Public Access Test. They must be retested to ensure they are safe to work in public places and do not present risk to the public. Here is a link to the test.
MindDog – The Public Access Test - https://www.minddog.org.au/the-process/public-access-test/
What About the Dog’s Welfare?
If you are considering a dog as a therapy dog within a school or business environment, please discuss potential risks and issues with a qualified trainer. Exposing dogs continually to stressful situations may present risk to all involved and reduce or end the dog’s suitability for the job.
We hope you have found this information helpful. At this point in time in Australia only Western Australia and Queensland have a clear structure in place for testing and retesting of dogs for public access. Other States need to look at establishing legislation or a code of practice urgently to meet the growing demand for service and therapy dogs requiring public access. We would encourage you to speak to your local Member of Parliament to highlight this need.