Owners now able to train their own pets to become assistance dogs

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(ABC Newcastle: Annabelle Regan ) ABC Newcastle

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Annabelle Regan

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June 13, 2018 16:27:31

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Jannette Nobbs hopes that once specially trained, Chester will become more attentive to her PTSD symptoms.
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Trainer Carmel ‘Fudge’ Kaczmar and assistance-dog-in-training Indy. (ABC Newcastle: Annabelle Regan )
“When we started back in 2011, it was a whole lot harder,” she said.”I’d have to ring places before I went there and say, ‘We’re bringing along an assistance dog’ and they’d say, ‘No pets allowed’.”And then you’d spend half an hour on the phone trying to explain what an assistance dog is.”Today, I don’t [have to] make as many phone calls.”Ms Kaczmar said legitimate assistance dogs had a licence so if businesses were unsure, they could just ask the animal’s owner for confirmation.Let working dogs workMs Kaczmar said that although sometimes hard to resist, when assistance dogs were working, they should be given a wide berth.”Let’s say someone has PTSD and maybe they have dissociative disorder, so one moment they’re walking through a shopping centre and the next moment, a trigger happens and that person believes they’re back at whatever caused the PTSD,” she said”The dog is going to interact with the person that they’re supposed to be helping to try and ground them, to bring them back to reality, so nothing disastrous happens.”You don’t want to interrupt that process — and you don’t know it’s happening so you might just see the dog cuddling into that person.”Just let them do their work.” (ABC Newcastle: Annabelle Regan )
She is one of only five individuals in Australia able to conduct the public access test for people who have trained their own dogs with her support.Ms Kaczmar said she decided to open her classes to the public to help cut down waiting times for trained animals.”It takes two years, and we can only do two to four at a time, so that means a long waiting list,” she said.”So we thought, ‘let’s see if people can train their own dogs’, and we’ve had some really good success with it and we’ve got quite a few out there working now.”However, according to Ms Kaczmar, not every dog can be an assistance dog and the first step is choosing the right dog for the right person.”If someone has a disorder where, let’s say it’s multiple sclerosis and they might lose their balance, it’s no good trying to train a chihuahua,” she said.”We’re going to need a very tall dog but then again, if you have diabetes and we’re trying to train a diabetic alert dog, a chihuahua might be just fine.”Educating the publicThough assistance dogs are becoming more common, Ms Kaczmar said education for the wider public was still necessary to enable greater accessibility, which she said had improved in recent years. I’ve been devoted to him and he’s been a protector,” she said.Together with his owner, Chester is now undertaking training from Newcastle-based organisation Miracle Assistance Dogs.”I just want to get him trained so that in public places he’s well-behaved and sets that barrier between me and other people,” Ms Nobbs said.”I want him to be able to go into the house and have look for intruders before I enter, just to alert us if there’s anybody in there.”And just to continue to bring me back to the present and support me, and sense when I do have anxiety and panic.”Right kind of dogCarmel ‘Fudge’ Kaczmar, an approved assistance dog trainer in Queensland, is also qualified with Transport NSW to conduct public access tests to certify a dog and its handler as fully qualified assistance animals. Australia is seeing an increase in demand for assistance dogs trained to work with a variety of health conditions including autism, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).It takes two years for suitable dogs to be trained but one Newcastle organisation is hoping to cut down that time by helping owners train their own pets.Chester, the PTSD support dogJannette Nobbs, who has PTSD, owns Chester, a four-year-old Golden Retriever.”I was diagnosed about two and a half years ago, and Chester has been there the whole way,” Ms Nobbs said.”He is able to bring me back to the present when I need to come back, he nudges in when I am in an anxious or panic state and wakes me up if I have nightmares.”Ms Nobbs said although not formally trained for the role, Chester had made a significant impact on her wellbeing.”He’s the one that got me out of the house. Photo:
Indy, an assistance-dog-in-training sits attentively in class.
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