22 May 2008

The Certification Issue and Why We Can't Get One

In SD circles, certification is a popular topic at the moment. It is also an urgent topic in the European Union right now. It is definitely a big worry for me. Molly doesn't have an opinion. All she cares about is helping me and doing the best job she can. The whole question of certification is a concern for me.

In our immediate lives, we have an issue with upcoming travel plans. We booked airline travel in September to the US with Continental airlines. It took a few phone calls to get everything confirmed with them, but it wasn't a big deal. They also said I needed to call SAS and British Airways, because they happen to be my carriers for the two short legs of my flight. SAS had no problems. BA has been back and forth. At this point I have been told twice I can fly with her, but I am trying to get confirmation in writing to make sure we don't hit any problems with departure day. They keep asking who certified Molly and who trained her. They are a bit hung up on the fact that I trained her myself. Their list of approved training and certification organizations doesn't even include a single one in Denmark. Even if I had a Danish program dog, they wouldn't want me flying with her on their airline.

Certification for a service dog is supposed to be some sort of proof of training and behavior. Some countries, like England, require it for all service dogs. Most, like the US and Denmark, do not. Molly is a legal service dog in Denmark because I have mobility problems and she is specially trained to perform at least one task for me that mediates my handicap. She meets the US requirements because she can perform at least two tasks and I have a medical issue that has a significant impact on my life. So we meet the requirements of my home country and my destination.

I take full responsibility for the behavior of my dog. She must be trained to behave properly in public. I accept that she may be refused access or required to leave any time she causes a disruption. Of course we can't just be thrown off in midair, but that is why I am making great efforts to train her properly ahead of time. Some flight is going to have to be her first.

As for the EU topic, check out EC Regulation No 1107/2006. The definition of a "recognised assistance dog" is currently under discussion. Unfortunately, the discussion is considering requiring certification of service dogs, which would make it very difficult, if not impossible, for those who train their own dogs to travel in the EU. The topic is still under discussion and I am hoping they will decide against requiring certification. There is no infrastructure in place for it and it would create a significant variation from the US laws, making it difficult for international travelers. Denmark is not the only country in the EU that does not require certification. I am doing what I can to contact those involved and express my concerns.

I am worried about certification requirements making it more difficult for handicapped individuals to obtain a legal service dog that meets their personal needs. Programs generally only give dogs to the most needy individuals, so that rules out many who can benefit tremendously from a dog and would be qualified to train one themselves. Purchasing a program-trained dog is beyond the economic means of the average handicapped or sick individual, so we are again prevented from getting what we need there.

Our ability to travel to attend certification programs is also limited by both health and finances. What we can afford is a clicker, an appropriate candidate dog, and hours and hours of training. Some may also be able to afford training classes if there is a local facility qualified to provide them. That isn't an option for us because the local facility we tried for Molly used outdated methods and an extremely hard hand. I am never putting a dog through something like that again. It is positive training methods only in my future and she is proof that is works. What we have instead is useful books and online resources that we refer to daily.

If you check out the resources I've provided, you can learn that many people have had great success training their own service dog using positive training methods. It takes time, hard work, and responsibility. It also means the dog is tightly bonded to the handicapped individual and meets that person's exact needs.

I feel very responsible for Molly's training and her behavior in public. If I have any doubts about her ability to behave on the plane, I won't fly with her in the cabin. When I take her with me different places, I am very alert to what she is doing and how she is reacting to people and things around her. I watch for signs of stress or discomfort. We have not yet started public access in shops beyond pet stores because her vest identifying her as a service dog has not yet arrived.

However, her behavior so far is very promising. Each time we go out, she is more and more relaxed about being around people and other things. She is completely housebroken and has not had an accident anywhere since she was 6 months old. Ever since we got her, she has been everywhere with us in the car and has never had an accident there. She is also perfectly behaved in the car and accustomed in that way to the noise and excitement of numerous environments. All she really is needing to learn right now to be well-behaved in public is that she isn't to solicit attention from people. She is already making terrific progress in that direction, including ignoring children who normally fascinate her.

Of course I will want to perfect her behavior beyond that, but that is the essential thing lacking right now IMO. A little more time and experience and I expect she will be easy to manage and very polite.

As for preparing for airplane flight, we need to make several trips to the airport to get used to the noise and hustle and bustle. We are working on mat training and down-stays to help make her comfortable staying in one position for as long as the flight is. She is already accustomed to spending the average work day near me without a lot of activity. We have a number of other practice activities planned to make sure that she will be content and relaxed on this flight.

I am probably doing more work than a certificate could ever show. I'm not relying on someone else to teach my dog what she needs to know. I want this dog to be my partner for as long as she lives. For that to happen, I need to take care of her and prepare her and do everything I can for her. I personally know how hard it is to teach a dog to do the things I need. I don't know if I could ever be so lucky as to have so close a relationship with another dog as I have with her.

Molly has already been given a year and a half of my life. I'm not about to throw that away. What does it take for people who get program dogs? A few weeks of training with a ready trained dog then they are sent home? I've been training Molly, for good and bad, since she was about three and a half months old. I know that I will continue training her every minute we spend together for as long as I am lucky enough to have her.

1 comment:

Tamandra said...

Good on ya for training your own dog! I also have an owner trained dog, who is now 7. I definitely agree with you about certification. I live in the states, and how the ADA states that a Service dog can be excused if they cause a disruption, or are badly behaved is enough. If the dog is helping you, is unobtrusive, then who has the authority to say otherwise? If we are able, why should we not flex our independence by training our own dog?
I also enjoy being able to train my dog in a positive way, and to bond closely with him from an early age.
Access disputes have become worse lately. I just lost my first lawsuit, because a restaurant said that I was disruptive. Now I just had another dispute, at an event that benefits people with disabilities!
I've written about it on my blog about my dog, too.