Service dogs

Ari the therapy dog

Schnauzers as service dogs

My husband and I are trialling the suitability of standard schnauzers as service dogs (also known as psychiatric assistance dogs, PTSD dogs or therapy dogs). Our first student, Ari, is progressing well and already attends a variety of appointments with her owner/trainer. Our interest is focussed on service dogs who support a person’s mental wellness on a daily basis.

Ari’s strength is her intelligence in being able to differentiate between social contexts. What that looks like is Ari’s abilty to recognise and adapt behaviour to different situations. Ari will play off lead in the park with other dogs, practising her socialisation skills. When required, Ari will switch to ‘work mode’ and keep her focus on her owner when needed attending appointments in a commercial zone or office.

Therapy dogs are different

Most assistance dogs are trained to be either in ‘work’ mode or in their kennel. I can only imagine the importance of a seeing eye dog being constantly vigilant to it’s owners needs without distraction; there is no ‘downtime’. Therapy dogs however meet a different need; our belief, based on advice from therapists, is that the natural behaviour of a dog and unscripted interaction with their owner is as important therapeutically to the owner as is a trained response.

The difference between other assistance dogs and therapy dogs is important; a general estimate of the cost of training an assistance dog is $40,000. Accepting the idea that therapy dogs are different from other assistance dogs lowers the need for extensive training and allows the wait list for service dogs to be met by organisations like minddog who offer alternative lower-cost training methods.

Training requirements

The definition of what is a service dog in Australia is within the ‘DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION ACT 1992 – SECT 9 Carer, assistant, assistance animal and disability aid definitions’.

In WA, the State government requires a service dog to pass the PAT (Public Access Test). Details on the PAT test can be found here and the WA govt approval process here.

Therapy dogs in Perth WA

It’s early days for us and we want to hear from others who are finding solutions to this community need. So, if like us you are an organisation in Perth WA with an interest in service dogs, please feel free to contact us.