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Dr. Ps Dog Training

Delta Society: "Beyond the Limits"
by Michael Sapp, Sr.
Chief Operating Officer
PAWS With A Cause
4646 South Division
Wayland, MI 49348
616-877-PAWS (TDD/V)
800-253-PAWS (TDD/V)

January 2, 1998

A food for thought article . . .

I have read with great interest the articles lately about Delta Societies plans to train and place 600,000 shelter dogs.

In reviewing the limited material that is available about this project, I have to many questions that are unanswered that come to my mind.

After 18 years of procuring about 35 percent of the over 1,300 Hearing and Service dogs we have placed from Humane Societies and Animal Control Shelters, we have found that only 25 percent (or 1 in 4) dogs from these sources make it all the way through training and are placed with a disabled person.

These dogs pass both of our temperament tests and started training before they "washout" due to any of many reasons. The three largest washout problems are aggression (to humans and/or animals), hip dysplasia, and other medical problems. Since dog training is far from an exact science, there are too many variables that can and will happen during the 6 to 8 months of training that each dog goes through.

If Delta's plan is to place 600,000 dogs over a 10-year time frame, they must place 60,000 trained dogs yearly. Based on our humble 18-year experience of using shelter dogs, the Delta Society will have to procure 240,000 dogs each year to do this. In looking at this plan, I question whether all of the 14,000 trainers are going to have the facilities to house 20 dogs to provide five totally trained Assistance Dogs.

If we assume a cost of 10,000 dollars for an Assistance Dog, then some rough calculating reveals that the costs for a small organization (whether profit or not) to house, feed, heat, and provide medical care for each dog for 6 months of training will be close to 3,000 dollars. This is only 15 dollars per day and if you add the cost of a trainer working with the dog for 160 hours at 10 dollars per hour over the 6 months, you can add an additional 1,600 dollars. But I have not met many competent trainers that charge 10 dollars per hour. Most of the trainers I have heard about are charging 35 to 100 dollars per hour. If we use 40 dollars an hour for the 160 hours, we will add 6,400 dollars to the cost of each dog. Now we are at 9,400 dollars and this has not included any team training, follow-up, or miscellaneous costs (e.g., leads, collars, harness/packs).

Let us say that we take the up-front costs of 3,000 dollars and just find a private trainer to work with you and your dog for the 160 hours at 40 dollars per hour over the 6-month time frame. You still have 6,400 dollars in costs and the client covers all the other costs incurred for this time.

What if after 5 months of training, the team is out in public and the dog decides to become aggressive towards someone or something? What recourse does the client have at this time? Is there a refund policy? What happens if the client does not want to replace the dog because they are attached? As we all know, dogs cannot be guaranteed as they think and will take advantage of situations and people if given the opportunity. In the case of shelter dogs, we have no idea what may have transpired in their life. We can attempt to set them up for every conceivable thing we can think of, and just when we think we have it made, something triggers a bad experience from early in their life. Statistics show that there are 900 dog bites daily or 328,500 yearly. The cost in these bites is about 100 million dollars each year.

Another question I have is what happens if the trainer moves out of state, and a person's disability changes a year after they become a team and they need the support of adding new tasks to the dogs training. Do they have to find a new trainer at 40 dollars per hour to help them with the new training they need?

We have 125 trainers across the country that look in shelters for dogs and we still only average 1 in 4 dogs making it completely through the training. This is 1 in 4 of the dogs we take out of the shelter. That is not the 50 to 75 or more that were tested. Sometimes they go to several shelters before they find those four dogs. They may test 300 dogs to get four.

Over the last several years, we have kept very detailed records for all of the shelter dogs that came through our program and this is the break down for January 1995 through June 1997. Note that these are dogs, which passed both temperament tests at the shelter and at the Training Center.

Total dogs from shelters600
Aggression [people/cats/dogs/food]113
Fear Phobias58
Hip Dysplasia210
Other Medical Problems67
Other problems with adjusting to kennel environment16
Total Shelter Dogs Completing Training136

In the last conversation I had with Leader Dogs, they have the same ratio of success with dogs coming in off the street or from a shelter and they have been doing this for 58 years.

Based on this data, each of Delta's 14,000 trainers will have to have four dogs in training at any one time for every one they place. I am not sure that everyone has the facilities for this. I know personally, I cannot add 4 dogs to my household of 5 already.

I think Delta has the right idea, but to come out publicly and raise millions of dollars stating they can place 600,000 dogs from shelters over a 10 year period is pushing the limit of reality just a touch to far for me. That is why this article is called "Beyond the Limits" of reality.

I have yet to see any data from Delta that states they have a pilot project training these dogs. If they have a project it has been the best kept secret. If not, how then can they honestly raise money for something that has not been proven to work?

Copyright © 1998 PAWS With A Cause

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