Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Building a Relationship with Dogs: ADI North American Trainer's Conference

“Every dog is a unique individual,” says Suzanne Clothier. Having worked professionally with animals since 1977, Suzanne has a wide range of experience, including obedience, agility, breeding, canine midwifery, puppy testing, and kennel management. She teaches relationship centered training methods, and we’re happy to have her as the presenter for the Assistance Dogs International North American Trainer’s Conference.

Today is the second day of the Trainer’s Conference that we are hosting at the beautiful and serene Camp Hebron. The conference is focused on Suzanne’s Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool (CARAT™), an assessment tool for creating a profile of a dog with well-defined traits. This tool can be used for any dog, and for assistance dog organizations, it can help with assessing puppies, breeding stock, and potential assistance dogs, as well as help trainers create training plans for each dog.

Although other assessment tools exist, CARAT™ is unique in that it is much more detailed and is one of the few tools with statistical validity. Guiding Eyes for the Blind uses CARAT™ to assess their dogs, and they have found that they could correctly predict whether a dog would be successful in the guide dog program in 87.4% of the cases. Susquehanna Service Dogs has been using CARAT™ since 2008, and we feel it has helped in our formal evaluations of our dogs, as well as helped us see and understand each dog’s behavior. As a result, we can make better choices about each dog’s role in our program.

Over 50 people from 25 different assistance dog organizations are attending the conference. All of them are members of Assistance Dogs International (ADI), a coalition of nonprofit organizations that train and place assistance dogs. All members of ADI must adhere to certain standards and ethics in their training and placement of dogs, and members meet regularly to share ideas, attend seminars and conferences, and work to make improvements in training methods, placement and the use of assistance dogs.

We are very excited to see members from so many service dog groups here at the North American Trainer’s conference. As we all learn more about CARAT™, we will all use similar language when we assess and talk about the dogs in our programs, which is especially important. Many assistance dog organizations build strong relationships with each other and often exchange puppies or use breeding stock from other organizations. If we all use the same language when we describe a dog and its traits and personality, we will have a greater chance of training that dog within our programs and successfully placing the dog with its partner.

The assistance dog organizations at the conference include:

Assistance Dogs of the West

Blue Ridge Assistance Dogs

Canine Partners for Life

Canine Partners of the Rockies

Circle Tail, Inc.

Dogs with Wings

Eagles’ Wings Service Dogs, Inc.

Eyes Ears Nose and Paws

Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation

Fidos for Freedom

Hawaii Fi-Do Service Dogs

Indiana Canine Assistant NetworkLink

Japan Hearing Dogs for Deaf People

Kids and Canines

KSDS, Inc.

New Horizons Service Dogs, Inc.

Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS)

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society

Paws with a Cause

Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs

Paws’itive Teams

Prison Pet Partnership

Saint Francis Service Dogs

Service Dogs of Virginia

Susquehanna Service Dogs

And we don’t want to forget about the canine attendees. Although Camp Hebron does not allow pets, they have graciously welcomed the assistance dogs to the conference.

Prescott from Canine Partners for Life

Padriag from Blue Ridge Assistance Dogs

Jabin from Eagles' Wings Service Dogs

Alepo from Canine Partners for Life

Dexter from Fidos for Freedom

Basil from Susquehanna Service Dogs

We are learning a lot from Suzanne, and we hope everyone is enjoying the conference as much as we are!


  1. Organic Wrinkle Balm stick is a patented, all-natural balm to treat and prevent skin fold disease, infection and discomfort.100% pet safe. wrinkle balm