The program was developed over the past few years by K9s For Warriors to establish a dedicated K9 trainer apprentice program and prepare new graduates to easily transition into full-time dog trainers. The curriculum emphasizes things, such as acceptable training methods and dog learning theory, along with behavior and modification.
Lora Toney, K9 trainer manager, first started the program back in 2018. She soon realized that those dog trainers have different approaches when it comes to Service Dog training. “When it came time for veterans to hold their service dogs accountable, or if they made an incorrect decision, the veterans weren’t always sure how to troubleshoot or problem solve because the training styles varied so much,” Toney noted.
K9s For Warriors will be spending the next several years formulating an apprentice program that ensures uniformity and quality control to address the problem. Toney said, “One of the biggest lessons we teach apprentices is that veteran handlers won’t have the same level of communication ability or confidence that trainers have, especially in public settings.”
Toney also added, “We are teaching these dogs to help the Warriors make better choices when they’re in public settings. Our goal is to get the dog to act based on the environmental context of a situation, without being directed to do it by the handler.”
Apprentices were assigned to train 12 dogs each with different strengths, weaknesses, and temperaments. They are then assessed through research assignments, exams, and skills evaluation on the 5th, 10th, and final weeks.
These apprentices are also evaluated on their abilities to read dog body language and are allowed to make any course corrections as needed. Most of the dogs in training came from high-kill rescue shelters.