Back in 2019, I attended the School for Dog Trainers at Highland Canine Training, LLC. I studied their six-month Master Dog Trainer program, which covers all facets of dog training. It was an incredible experience, and one during which I built friendships that will last a lifetime.
In this series on Highland Canine, I wanted to lift the lid on their operations and highlight some of their amazing work. They do so many incredible things for dogs, their owners, and communities across the United States – and I wanted to write a few blog posts to talk about the people and the philosophies that set Highland Canine apart from its competitors.
If you missed it, here is the link to the first article in this series, where we looked at Highland Canine’s police and military dog division.
In this latest installment of the series, I want to focus on their Service Dog division. For over fifteen years, Highland Canine has been training service dogs and delivering them to families across the United States. These impeccably trained dogs play a pivotal role in improving the lives of their handlers and families.
Early beginnings of the Service Dog division
Shortly after opening their doors in Harmony, NC in 2006 by offering pet dog training and behavior modification, the senior leadership team at Highland Canine Training decided to expand their service offerings. Recognizing a need for fully-trained service dogs to help individuals with disabilities, Jason and Erin Purgason started by offering service dogs for people with mobility issues.
In 2009, the organization officially launched their service dog division – Assistance Dogs for Autism. This arm of the organization not only offers service dogs for adults and children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but it also provides service dogs for a range of other purposes. The following year, Rocket – a Standard Poodle – became their first fully-trained and delivered Autism Assistance Dog delivery, to a family in Florida.
Since then, the organization has gone from strength to strength. Their service dog process has been continually refined and polished over time, and every aspect of the process (e.g. puppy selection; matching the puppy with the family; task training; delivery of the service dog after completion of the training) is carefully managed.
Highland Canine also has very strong links with the local community, which sees them take service dog candidates into local elementary schools and retirement homes. These visits not only bring joy for the schoolchildren and elderly people, but they provide crucial socialization and exposure for these future service dogs.
Which types of Service Dogs are trained by Highland Canine?
Over time, Highland Canine Training has broadened its scope and now offers a wide variety of service dogs. Each dog is individually matched with its eventual handler, and the specific tasks to be trained will depend on the handler’s requirements.
Currently, Highland Canine’s Service Dog Division trains the following types of service dogs:
- Autism Service Dogs – Trained to help individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These dogs help increase positive social interactions and improve sleep quality. An autism service dog is typically trained to provide tactile stimulation or deep pressure therapy, and can also be trained for tethering or search and rescue training.
- Mobility Service Dogs – Trained to help individuals who struggle with movement in their day-to-day lives. These service dogs help their handler to navigate the world and increase independence and confidence. They are usually trained to provide stability or act as a brace when their handler is moving around, but they can also be trained to retrieve specific items (e.g. phone, keys) from around the home.
- Seizure Service Dogs – Trained to alert or respond to an individual experiencing an epilleptic episode. A seizure service dog can notify a family member in the home of the situation or press a medical alert button. As time is of the essence when a seizure is taking place, this vital intervention and/or reaction can make a substantial difference.
- Hearing Service Dogs – Trained to help individuals who have lost their hearing capability. They can alert their handlers to doorbells, fire alarms and other noises to help them in their day-to-day life.
- PTSD Service Dogs – Trained to help people who have suffered extreme trauma in their lives. In addition to offering companionship and comfort, they are usually trained to calm an individual who may be having a nightmare or flashback.
How long does it take Highland Canine to train a service dog?
The training process for a service dog trained by Highland Canine is extensive. There are several stages, from the initial puppy selection, to matching, to the task training, and then the eventual delivery. From beginning to end, it can take up to 12-18 months – which truly emphasises the quality and work that goes into these amazing service dogs.
Due to the popularity and quality of their service dogs, the company has a waiting list of at least twelve months.
The final part - the service dog delivery
Once all tasks have been trained and the dog is ready to live its new life with their handler, the delivery is scheduled – where the new service dog will put into practice what it has been taught throughout the training process.
The delivery is one aspect of Highland Canine’s service dog process that sets them apart from their competitors. Two of their professional service dog trainers spend three to four days at the family’s home. They cover all bases – from the basics of the trained tasks, to troubleshooting and maintaining the training moving forward. This part of the process is one of the main reasons that Highland Canine’s service dogs are so sought after, and it highlights their commitment to the dogs and families they work with. They want to go the extra mile to make sure that everyone is happy with the outcome.
Seeing these service dog trainers in-person – and the dogs they take as puppies, who are molded into top-notch service dogs – was truly a privilege.
It is hard to really quantify the amount of work that goes into every single one of these dogs, and even further, it is impossible to assess just how much of a difference these service dogs make to the quality of life of their handler.
Next time: In the final installment of this series, we look at the School for Dog Trainers itself! Learn about what makes Highland Canine’s educational establishment one of the best places to get your dog trainer education.