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​​​Service Dog Training

There are approximately 400.000 service dogs in the US. Usually a fully trained service dog costs around $ 25000 and the waiting list is 1-2 years. Unfortunately most people don’t have that kind of money on the side for that purpose and not the time to wait. We started to train service dogs because people in need approached us. Working with us costs a fraction of what it would cost you to purchase a fully trained service dog.

We work together as a team with the owners and teach them how to train their dog. We believe that this way of owner-service dog-training is a great way to accomplish what is needed for less money and less time. In order for a dog to learn what the dog needs to learn, and what signals to watch out for, a lot of close contact is required. If owners are not around for their dog’s training, that opportunity for contact is lost.  Also, training your own service dog requires that the owner learns more about their own illness/disability so that they can train their dog to help them with it. This process is an opportunity for personal growth, and many owner-trainers find the service dog training process therapeutic. When owners are involved in their dog’s training, they are learning how to train their dog the whole time, and are able to use these training methods to keep up training over a lifetime. This is opposed to someone else training a dog, and the owner learning in a one or two week session the names of the commands.  We believe that the owner–service-dog-training this is the most beneficial way to train a service dog for everybody involved. We all learn and bond together. That’s why we stepped in and that’s how we helped many families.

We train puppies and adult dogs depending on the owners need, dogs from breeders or rescue dogs. The dog needs to have certain qualities like an even, good temperament, the dog needs to be devoted and bonded, and the dog needs to have the ability to perfom a task.  We trained service dogs for people with PTSD, Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes, Celebral Palsy, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), Myasthenia Gravis, Stroke victims, Heart Disease, severe Asthma, and people with all kinds of mental, emotional or physical disabilities.

The definition of a Service dog is: “Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability.”

Starting to train a puppy our training starts with puppy imprinting, raising a well balanced, well socialized, confident, loyal and bonded dog. Training starts as soon as the dog comes home mostly with 9 – 12 weeks of age. We get the puppy owners started with some private sessions to immediately point them into the right direction about the “do’s and don’ts”. Then the dogs start with puppy class, move on to basic obedience and intermediate obedience to be sure that the dog knows all the basic commands, learns how to do behave around people and other dogs in a group setting, learns to stay focused even with distractions. In addition we meet for private lessons to train the dog for specific tasks such as detecting low sugar and alert with bark or touch, call for help, keep the person awake, stay with the person, lead the owner out of a crowded restaurant, etc. Important part of the training is also to introduce the dog into the community through visitations to restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, public events, playgrounds airports, dog parks etc. We do not only train puppies, we are also training young dogs, adult dogs and even senior dogs as long as they are able to provide all the services and tasks that are required to help their owner. We are able to work with an existing dog in the family or we can help to find a perfect match. Training always starts out with teaching basic commands at home and in group settings then specific task training will be added.

We make sure that even with a service dog in training it is not just all about work and encourage a lot of playtime in between. We work with treats and praise using only positive training methods. It is beneficial to do rather short lessons throughout the day than long hours of training and integrate the training into the daily life. Our goal is that the service dog  loves what she/he supposed to do and feels happy to please her/his owner. 

We start early to let future service dogs wear a vest so they learn whenever they wear the vest they are working. The law does not require that service dogs wear a vest, but we found that it is rather beneficial especially in public. First of all the dog really learns to get into “work mode” when the vest is on and it keeps people from distracting and approaching the dog while “on the job”, which can endanger the owners life.

Being able to work with owners to train their service dog is one of the most rewarding parts of our work and what usually starts out as a work relationship ends up becoming a friendship for life with humans and their dog.

My name is Beth Bolcer and I am writing to tell you about my experience with Alison Armao, Gudrun Kaiser and their fantastic company, Leader of the Pack HHI. I have a pain syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) which effects my ability to walk without pain.  When my Peekapoo, Dolce, was about 3 or 4 years old, I noticed that he was acting strange at times.  Eventually, I realized that he was reacting to my antiseizure medication being too low.  He was getting it right every time and I had never trained him to do this. He was able to warn me ahead of time so I could adjust my medication and prevent an attack.  I had done some basic training with him on my own, but I wondered if someone could train him the rest of the way to become an actual service dog for me.  My neighbors had used Alison for basic training and highly recommended that I call her.  Alison came to my home, since it was difficult for me to get to her, and we discussed the possibility of Dolce being trained to be my service dog and she was ready, willing and able to do it.  It was obvious that she had done this before and knew exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Dolce’s training was everything I hoped for!  Alison worked with both of us from where we were with training, found our weak spots and began teaching me to prepare Dolce for the life of a service dog.  She also reviewed all the requirements with me for what he needed to do to become a legal service dog.  I did not want to take short cuts, I wanted Dolce to be fully trained and comfortable in this new role. She also individualized the experience for me by determining what activities Dolce could help me with. We made a signal that Dolce could give me when my medication was too low and she taught me how to train him.  Now he doesn’t get upset because he knows exactly how to communicate with me to tell me to take my medicine.  One thing in particular that I wanted, was a way for Dolce to get help for me if I ever was unconscious.  Alison helped me design a system for Dolce to set off my home alarm to get me help in an emergency.  The first method didn’t work because Dolce was not heavy enough to set off the panic button, so Alison “rigged up” a new design that worked BEAUTIFULLY!   She taught me how to train Dolce to use it and it has given me so much peace of mind to know that he can now get help if he sees that I’m in trouble. My friends and neighbors are shocked that Dolce is able to bring me my cane and numerous other things when I drop them.  Alison taught us SAFE ways for a small dog to do these tasks for me.  Gudrun came into the picture when I took Dolce to their classes to prepare him for his Canine Good Citizen test.  This was such a great group and I would highly recommend it to everyone with a dog. They prepared us along with numerous other dogs to act properly in social situations.  This aspect was critical to Dolce being able to maneuver in restaurants, hotels, stores and everywhere else I would be taking him.   Gudrun was excellent with Dolce and he has a special fondness for her!  They even taught him a little agility training which he loved. He passed his Canine Good Citizen test with flying colors. Leader of the Pack HHI has given me the best gift I could ask for…peace of mind.  I worried that Dolce may not be happy with the limitations of a service dog, but I was very wrong.  He loves to put on his work vest and take care of me.  He knows that when the vest goes on, he is going to work (and may get a special treat).  I know that he is prepared to help me no matter what situation I get into and he is my true partner as I deal with my limitations.  He loves to train, so I continue to use the skills that Alison and Gudrun taught me to train new skills as they come up.  I also love the fact that they are still always available to me if I have any questions.  I was in the hospital for 3 weeks and Dolce stayed with his Grammy until I could get home again.  Alison helped me to make decisions that would be best for him during this difficult time and she was there for me to help Dolce adjust when I returned home.  Knowing that Dolce has these skills gives me such comfort that he will know what to do in case of an emergency.  As a matter of fact, I DID have an evening where EMS had to help me in the middle of the night.  I warned them that I had a service dog and that he would meet the EMT’s at the door.  When they arrived, I commanded Dolce for the first time ever, to “bring them to Mommy, bring them here” and he did exactly that.  He showed them right where I was and stayed in a “down-stay” while they worked on me and took me out.  I couldn’t have been prouder of how he handled the situation and I give total credit to Leader of the Pack HHI. He’s been my service dog for two years now and I wouldn’t trade one minute of it! For anyone who has limitations and is considering training a service dog, Alison and Gudrun are the people you are looking for.  Their knowledge, compassion and understanding of the situation is invaluable to training your dog to help you in dealing with whatever you need help with. I hope you follow my lead and allow Leader of the Pack HHI to train your service dog so you can have a partnership like Dolce and I.

Alison Armao 

Leader of the Pack HHI