Service Dog Program Overview at Alaska Dog Works

October 27, 2010

Robert Forto

Each and every service dog that is trained through Denver Dog Works and Alaska Dog Works and with Michele Forto and her team has an individualized training plan. Michele trains for autistic, mobility, medical alert, and psychiatric service work. In each case, the needs of the individual are met and training of each dog is specialized for their handler’s specific needs. It takes approximately two years to train a service dog and takes a tremendous amount of patience, handling and work from everyone involved, including the family members of the service dog recipient.

While on occasion we can train a dog that you already have, we have found over the years that there are several breeds that work better than others. In the past, we have found that German Shepherds make good service dog candidates for autistic, psychiatric, mobility, and medical alert service dogs because of their temperament and protective tendencies. German Shepherds have been used for hundreds of years as service dogs and have proven bloodlines. We have found Labradors to be well suited for service as well. Some mixed breeds make good service dogs and recently we have found that Labradoodles work well as service dogs.

Timeline of Service Dog Training

1. Initial Interview.

During the initial interview you will be asked several questions, these are to determine that the right dog is selected for your specific needs as well as ensuring that your training package is designed individually for you. Note: While most of our service dog clients are in the Denver, CO and now in the Anchorage, AK area, we do train service dog teams nationwide. We can develop a training plan for you no matter where you live.

2. Establish a timeline for the service dog training program.

It takes 24-months to train and prepare a dog to begin working as a service dog. There are exceptions to this and in certain situations the timeline may be shorter or even longer.

3. Requirements.

All that is required is a simple doctors note stating that you would benefit from the use of a service dog. It is against HIPPA for me to ask you what your ailments may or may not be. The doctors note is required whether your ailments are visible or not.

4. Find a suitable dog.

Although you may already have a dog, seldom have what it takes to work day in and day out. We will evaluate your current dog, but understand that over the past decade we have only found three to be temperamentally sound to do the work necessary. We work with several breeders that breed dogs specifically for service work. These dogs are not your ordinary pet. These dogs have been bred to have the temperament, the personality, the size and structure to perform the duties of a service dog.

5. Fundraising/Financing meeting.

Please note that we are a for profit service dog training school and with that it enables us to keep the costs down and affords us the ability to allow you to make monthly payments (upon approval). If you choose to obtain your own fundraising/financing to pay for our service that is up to you, we cannot get involved with any fundraising, grants, bake sales, etc. because we are the direct recipient of such funds. The price breakdown is explained during your initial interview process and kept very private.

6. Board and Train 12 weeks.

Each puppy/dog will learn puppy obedience, crate training, house manners, leadership, confidence building, basic obedience commands; sit, down, come, stay, wait, look, off, no, extended stays, mild distractions, beginning off leash work, heel/loose leash walking. In twelve weeks time your puppy/dog will have the foundation for service work and will have learned 30 commands including some of his/her specific commands for you personally.


In some cases, mostly psychiatric and autistic, you will participate in weekly private lessons at the training center while your puppy/dog is participating in the board and train, this has been proven to help with the bonding process and especially with our psychiatric clientele it helps reassure them that their new puppy/dog is trustworthy and confident enough to be their guardian. If you are out of the area, these lessons will be incorporated into our home training sessions.

7. In Home Basic Obedience.

This transfers what each puppy/dog has learned with us to you.  More specifically we will work on house manners, travel manners, come at twenty feet, and extended stays for leadership.  I will also begin to work with you during this time, but in the home only.  Traveling will come later. Each puppy/dog will be tested in basic obedience at this time. Remember, that we can work with you nationwide (travel and expenses are not included in your original package price).

8. Canine Good Citizen Training.

Each puppy/dog will undergo CGC training as it is our first true test to see if they can handle working in public. Dogs must be six months old to be enrolled in CGC. During the 12 week board and train (link to camp works program page) the puppy/dog is exposed and participates in this class. At six months of age the puppy/dog participates with their handlers.

9. Register for Service Dog In Training and begin Public Access Training.

This will begin at the home and build on transferring into public settings.  We will do short trips at first building up to full day trips. This portion of the training is the most stressful on the dog, the caregivers, and the handler. There will be good days and there will be bad days. The classes will take place according to schedules and difficulties that may arise with the new team. It should be noted that the puppy/dog will undergo exposure and socialization in public settings during their 12 week board and train.

10. Equipment, Vests/Backpacks, Supplies, Registration/Test Fees.

These are not included in the package price. These fees vary extremely from client to client and we have opted to keep the costs separate.

11. Specialized Training.

This training will begin on day one of the board and train and will continue throughout the training program and life. The certification organization that we use requires each service dog to successfully complete six specialized commands.

12. Test and Certify the Service Dog.

Each puppy/dog will undergo several tests throughout the training program and at different stages of life. The first test is the temperament test, then CGC, then first initial public access test, and so on. Once your dog has passed all requirements and is registered as a service dog, he/she will be required to undergo re-testing or re-certification every 2 years.

13. Re-certify every two years.

We re-certify every two years to ensure that the puppy/dog and handler are continuing to work well as a team, that no issues have developed and the team is in good working condition.

14. Retirement.

Please note that the average working span for a service dog is about eight years. When your service dog is about six years of age, it is time to start to look for a new dog and begin the training process all over again. This is another reason why we re-certify every two years, it gives us the opportunity to check the dog’s temperament and ensure that a veterinarian has cleared the dog to continue working at its prescribed capacity for his/her handler. Retirement can be a difficult situation on both the handler and the dog. We are here to assist with the transition.

Each and every service dog is trained to meet the requirements of the specific handler. In other words we do not keep a stock of service dogs that are ready for placement. We have developed and designed our service dog training program around incorporating the handler and truly building a lasting bond and team. We train service teams.

Please contact us today of give us a call at 303-578-9881 in Denver or 907-495-9109 in Alaska anytime.


About robertforto

Robert Forto is the owner of Dog Works Training Company in Alaska, a canine behaviorist, mushin' down a dream, sports nut and radio show host. Robert writes a lot about his observations in Alaska, pop culture, music, and of course dogs!

View all posts by robertforto

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