Trainers of Assistance Dogs Project

Menu: Click across the green arrows to view active and completed project stages. Consultation takes place at every stage of the project.

Case for change

The expansion of assistance dogs into fields covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and other health streams has brought an increasing demand for greater regulation and skilled delivery of assistance animal training.

This project will capture the skills required for animal trainers to specialise in Assistance Dog Training and embed these in units of competency and existing qualifications.

The need for this project emerged as part of consultation for the Pet Care & Animal Training Project in 2020. Stakeholders identified lengthy waiting lists for assistance dogs, but a shortage of adequately trained candidates, as well as potential future changes to state-based and NDIS licensing and regulation requirements which would require assistant dog trainers to potentially obtain formal credentials.

Accredited training, that utilises national units and qualifications, will support existing regulation and alleviate concerns associated with non-accredited trainers. It will also support the training and skills system to meet the high demand for assistance dogs, alleviate welfare concerns, and ensure readiness for changing regulatory environments.

The Australian Industry Skills Committee (AISC) approved this project, out of the 2021 Annual Update to the IRC Skills Forecast (see pages 47-51).

The Animal Care and Management Industry Reference Committee (IRC) will oversee this project as part of their responsibility to support engagement with the sector, and to ensure the project meets industry stakeholder needs.

Skills Impact will manage this project, consistent with the 2012 Standards for Training Package Development.

Download Project Proposal (see pages 47-51)

 

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Project Plan

Growing evidence and awareness for how assistance animals can improve the quality of life for people with disabilities is driving demand for more assistance dog trainers. It is a job role with one of the highest projected growth rates to 2024 which, at 10.5%, means there will be over 2,000 new entrants to the industry. Assistance dog trainers need to be skilled at working with both the dog and individuals with disabilities. It takes considerable investment to train an assistant dog, and not for profit organisations such as Assistance Dogs Australia and Guide Dogs Australia have waiting lists of over two years. For this reason, many people are turning to independent dog trainers. It is important that people undertaking this work are adequately skilled, to support higher success rates, a better return on investment and wellbeing outcomes for the dog and client.

The expansion of assistance dogs into fields covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and other health streams has brought an increasing demand for greater regulation and skilled delivery of assistance animal training. There are also widespread calls by industry for nationally recognised training to ensure workers possess the core skills to prepare dogs for a variety of purposes and client needs.

Assistance dogs are now supporting an expanding range of disabilities and impairments (e.g., epilepsy, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, mental ill-health, mobility and hearing and sight impairments). Trainers need to be skilled at training the dog to be ready for different environments and tasks, as well as training the client in how to care for their dog. They need knowledge in canine behaviour, breed, characteristics, health and welfare, as well as the impacts of different disabilities that their clients have. They must also understand applicable legislation, risk management strategies, and public and workplace health and safety guidelines.

National skills standards will support industry in their efforts to have greater input, leadership and oversight into the training processes and accreditation for assistance dog trainers.

Project Scope

This project proposes to develop up to 13 new units of competency and 2 new skill sets to address the skills required for animal trainers to specialise in Assistance Dog Training. The units could be included as a specialisation in the existing qualification (Certificate IV in Animal Behaviour and Training).

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Relevant Occupation

Assistant Dog Trainer

Timeline

July-August 2021
Initial scoping

September-October 2021
Development of draft qualifications, skill sets and units

November-December 2021
Drafts available for broad consultation

February 2022
Validation of final drafts

March 2022
Finalisation of Training Package components

April 2022
Independent Quality Assurance, and Edit and Equity review of Training Package components

April 2022
IRC consideration for sign-off and submission for endorsement

Project Team
Danni McDonaldIndustry Skills Standards Portfolio Manager traindogs.project@skillsimpact.com.au
Diana McNaughtonIndustry Engagement Manager diana@skillsimpact.com.au
Anna HendersonIndustry Skills Standard Contractor
Opportunities for stakeholder input

Stakeholder input is appreciated throughout the duration of this project. The documents will be drafted in consultation with Subject Matter Experts and their networks. Opportunities to provide targeted feedback will occur when the draft materials are made available in November 2021, and again for validation of final drafts in February 2022. However, your feedback is welcomed at any time, and will help us in drafting the units.

It is important that training provides a skilled and flexible workforce for the future. The units need to reflect real work experience. So, if you work with assistance dogs or in the disability sector, Skills Impact appreciates your input and assistance.

Please register your interest in project updates and consultation opportunities by following the newsletter subscription link. Alternatively, contact the project team on traindogs.project@skillsimpact.com.auor 03 9321 3526.

N.B. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Webinars will be held to replace the face-to-face consultation workshops Skills Impact would usually host around Australia.

Stakeholder Consultation Process

A list of key stakeholder organisations has been identified for this project based on their industry role, size or specialty. Skills Impact will ensure contact is made with each of these organisations to seek their involvement and views on all draft skill sets and units. Consultation is not limited to the organisations on this list, they have simply been identified as the most, likely to have a key interest in the development and outcomes of this project

If you are aware of an organisation that you think should be involved, please contact the project team to ensure they are contacted by us.

  • Animal Care Australia
  • Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities
  • Animal Therapies Ltd
  • Assistance Dogs Australia
  • Australian Lions Hearing Dogs, Inc
  • Australian Support Dogs, inc
  • Australian Veterinary Association
  • Canine Essentials Pty. Ltd
  • Canine helpers for the Disabled inc
  • Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs of Australia
  • Delta
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Empower Dogs
  • Good Dog AAI
  • Graceful Dog Training
  • Guide Dogs Australia
  • Guide Dogs VIC/TAS, SA/NT, NSW/ACT
  • Guide Dogs WA (Western Australia) – Visability
  • Guide, Hearing and Assistance Dogs (Qld Gov)
  • Helping Paws Service Dog Training
  • In the Paws of Angels Inc
  • Integra Service Dogs Australia Ltd
  • K9 Assistance Australia
  • Leader Dogs for the Blind
  • MindDog
  • National Disability Insurance Agency
  • Office of the Victorian Skills Commissioner
  • Paws for Assistance
  • Personal Assistance Dog Solutions
  • Pet Industry Association of Australia
  • Pets Australia
  • Righteous Pups Australia, Inc.
  • The Royal Society for the Blind, Guide & Assistance Dog Service
  • Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia
  • Vision Australia

Development

An improved understanding of the benefits of assistance dogs has seen an increased number of people accessing them for support, for a broader range of conditions. The expansion of assistance dogs into fields covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and other health streams has also increased demand for greater regulation and skilled delivery of assistance animal training. Industry has also called for nationally recognised training so that workers possess the core skills to prepare dogs for a variety of purposes and peoples’ needs. Not for profit organisations such as Assistance Dogs Australia and Guide Dogs Australia have long waiting lists, which has seen more people access the services of independent dog trainers. It is important trainers performing this work possess the skills to work with dogs and people to achieve the best outcomes.

Industry subject matter experts are being consulted to define the skills required to train dogs for different environments and tasks, as well as to train people in how to care for their assistance dog. This will support industry in its efforts to have greater input, leadership and oversight into the training processes and accreditation for assistance dog trainers.

Subject matter experts have met to discuss the job roles and functions required for this work. Key skills requirements were discussed in relation to ensuring animal welfare, matching people with assistance dogs and compassion fatigue. Seven units and two skill sets have been drafted to incorporate these key skills requirements and are under review by the subject matter experts and a group of key contributors. The drafts will then be made available for broad stakeholder feedback.

Development outcomes and next steps

Draft units and skill sets that describe the skills required of trainers of assistance dogs will be made available on this webpage for broad stakeholder consultation and feedback mid-November, under the ‘Drafts Available’ menu above. Your input is welcome, please feel free to register your interest to keep informed of project updates and when draft documents are available for feedback.

 

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Drafts Available

Assistance dog trainers need to be skilled at working with dogs well as individuals with a range of disabilities. They need knowledge in canine behaviour, breed, characteristics, health and welfare, as well as the impacts of different disabilities that people have. They must also understand applicable legislation, risk management strategies, and public and workplace health and safety guidelines. There is an increasing demand for skilled trainers following the expansion of assistance dogs into fields covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). There are also widespread calls by industry for nationally recognised training to ensure workers possess the core skills to prepare dogs for a variety of purposes and client needs. Industry are being consulted as part of this project to define the skills required to train dogs for different environments and tasks, as well as to train people in how to care for their assistance dog. This will support industry in its efforts to have greater input, leadership and oversight into the training processes  for assistance dog trainers.

Thank you to those who provided feedback on the draft units of competency and skill sets for trainers of assistance dogs that were made available for feedback on this website from 26 November 2021 until 5 January 2022.

During this time, feedback was collected via the online feedback hub, consultation webinars and email. The drafts, including any comments made on the feedback hub, are still available for viewing below.

Feedback was sought on whether the draft units and skill sets reflect the current skills standards and practices of the industry and whether job functions are accurately described.

Feedback was especially sought about:

  • the correct use of terminology related to certain job functions, such as ‘coaching’ or ‘instructing’
  • the correct way to describe the health and condition of dogs, such as ‘dog wellbeing’ or ‘dog work/life balance’ or enrichment’
  • what would be reasonable and effective evidence of performance when it comes to assessment
  • whether group training in some units is appropriate.

A User Guide is also being developed to provide advice on delivering training based on the contents of these units and skill sets. Suggestions were encouraged about suitable information to include in the guide, including information that may not be able to be captured within the units and skill sets.

Your feedback will inform further work on the final drafts, which are expected to be available for industry comment and validation in February 2022.  A summary of the feedback and how it was addressed in the final drafts will also be available.

Unit code and nameLink
ACMADT3X1 Select appropriate equipment for an assistance dog and handlerView draft unit
ACMADT4X1 Assess prospective handler’s suitability for an assistance dogView draft unit
ACMADT4X4 Instruct handlers with disability to train assistance dogsView draft unit
ACMADT4X5 Train dogs using operant and classical conditioning techniquesView draft unit
ACMADT5X1 Train dogs in specific and complex tasksView draft unit

The draft units can be downloaded in Microsoft Word format by clicking here.

Skill Set code and name Link
ACMSS000X5 Assistance Dog Introduction Skill SetView draft skill set
ACMSS000X6 Assistance Dog/Handler Team Training Skill SetView draft skill set

The draft units can be downloaded in Microsoft Word format by clicking here.

The units developed as part of this project are proposed for inclusion within selected animal care and management qualifications. A set of questions about the proposed inclusion of the units into qualifications was uploaded to the feedback hub to collect your feedback on suitable placement. You can view the questions and any comments made below.

The questions can be downloaded in Microsoft Word format by clicking here.

Summary of Consultation to Date

The units of competency and skill sets have been drafted in consultation with Subject Matter Experts. They have considered the feedback that was received out of Workforce Functional Analysis workshops throughout September and October 2021. People with experience across the assistance dog training sector have participated and provided information on the skills and knowledge required for training of assistance dogs and working with people with disabilities. Drafts were developed and distributed back to all contributors for initial consideration and feedback, which has been incorporated into the drafts that are available for feedback from 24 November until 5 January 2022. Thank you to those who provided feedback during these activities.

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Validation

Assistance dogs are trained to help people with disability live their lives more independently. With the expansion of fields covered by the NDIS and greater evidence of their benefit, assistance dogs are supporting an expanding range of disabilities and impairments, including epilepsy, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, mental ill-health, mobility, hearing and sight impairments.

Trainers of assistance dogs must possess the skills to work with dogs and people to achieve the best outcomes for both. They need knowledge in canine behaviour, breed, characteristics, health and welfare, and the different disabilities their clients have. They must also understand applicable legislation, risk management strategies, and public and workplace health and safety guidelines.

Thank you to those who provided validation and comment on the final draft qualification, skill sets and units of competency for Trainers of Assistance Dogs which were made available on this page from 4 February until 20 February 2022. Also available for Validation was the new release of the Companion Volume: Trainers of Assistance Dogs User Guide to accompany units of competency.

Thanks to input from multiple stakeholders during the ‘Drafts Available’ stage, adjustments were made to the draft skill sets and units to ensure they reflect the specialist skills required for Trainers of Assistance Dogs, including clarification of language and adjustments to content to focus on the wellbeing of dogs.

During the ‘Drafts Available’ stage, discussions were held to determine suitable qualifications to host the units of competency – the Certificate IV in Animal Behaviour and Training was updated to include these units. In addition, a specialisation for Assistance Dog Training was added to the qualification, with special packaging rules developed to accommodate this. Stakeholders were encouraged to review this proposed specialisation so that the packaging rules allow for appropriate selection of units for an Assistance Dog Trainer outcome.

The draft documents and any comment made are still available to view below.

The final drafts will shortly progress through to the Finalisation stage of the project which includes quality assurance of the documents and review and feedback from the State/Territory Training Authorities. They will then be forwarded to the Industry Reference Committee for consideration and sign off, before being submitted to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) and State and Territory Ministers to consider and approve for publication on training.gov.au. feedback has been considered and applied in these final drafts will be available soon.

This qualification will be updated to receive a code change as a result of the inclusion of a new specialisation, and new units being added to the elective bank.

Qualification code and nameProposed changesLink
ACM40322 Certificate IV in Animal Behaviour and Training
  • New Trainers of Assistance Dogs units added to elective bank
  • Assistance Dog Training specialisation added

Changes deemed Equivalent.

Viewfinal draft qualification

In general, units were updated to use agreed upon terminology, and to remove superfluous content in Knowledge Evidence (some of which has been moved to a Companion Volume User Guide if relevant). Performance Evidence was clarified and ‘physical conditions’ in Assessment Conditions updated to better reflect assistance dog training work environments.

Unit code and nameProposed changesLink
ACMADT3X1 Select appropriate equipment for an assistance dog and handlerUpdates in Performance Evidence, Knowledge Evidence (addition of treat pouches, removal of specific DDA references, addition of desensitising/socialising equipment) and Assessment Conditions (references to use of “mannequin” dogs if required.)View final draft unit
ACMADT4X1 Assess prospective handler’s suitability for an assistance dogUpdates in Performance Criteria (addition of contingency planning, new element added around dog suitability for tasks), Performance Evidence (reworded for clarity), Knowledge Evidence (removal of specific DDA references, addition of risk assessment)View final draft unit
ACMADT4X4 Instruct handlers with disability to train assistance dogsUpdates in Performance Criteria (new Element added regarding dog and handler bonding) and Performance Evidence (for clarity of outcomes).View final draft unit
ACMADT4X5 Train dogs using operant and classical conditioning techniquesUpdates throughout to make unit suitable for training of all dogs, not just those who may become assistance dogs.View final draft unit
ACMADT5X1 Plan and conduct assistance dog training in specific and complex tasks

(Was previously ACMADT5X1 Train dogs in specific and complex tasks)

Title updated to better reflect unit outcomes. Minor changes throughout.View final draft unit

These skill sets were developed to capture the skills required for different roles performed in training assistance dogs. The draft units linked above are incorporated into these skill sets.

Skill Set code and name Changes since last draftLink
ACMSS000X5 Assistance Dog Introduction Skill SetPathways Information section updated to reiterate that completion of skill set alone is not enough to qualify a learner to instruct Assistance Dog handlersView final skill set
ACMSS000X6 Assistance Dog/Handler Team Training Skill SetNo changes required since last draftView final skill set

The Companion Volume: Trainers of Assistance Dogs User Guide was developed to provide additional advice on implementation of the new Trainers of Assistance Dogs units of competency. It was populated with content recommended for inclusion by the Subject Matter Expert Working Group to provide detailed information and examples for trainers and assessors.

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Finalisation

There is increasing demand for skilled assistance dog trainers, as evidence and awareness grows for how assistance animals can improve people’s lives. With a projected growth rate of 10.5%, it is predicted there will be over 2,000 new entrants to the industry by 2024.

With long wait lists at Assistance Dogs Australia and Guide Dogs Australia, many people are turning to independent dog trainers. At the same time, the expansion of assistance dogs into fields covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and other health streams has brought an increasing demand for greater regulation and skilled delivery of assistance animal training. It is important for trainers of assistance dogs to have access to nationally recognised training, so that they are equipped with the core skills to work with both individuals with disabilities and dogs to achieve the best results for all involved.

Industry has driven this project to define the skills required by trainers of assistance dogs. As a result, five units of competency have been developed to capture the skills required to train assistance dogs for a broad range of purposes and to work with and instruct prospective handlers. Two skill sets have been developed to support the specific skills required for assistance dog training and for introducing an assistance dog to a handler. The new units have been added to the Certificate IV in Animal Behaviour and Training as electives, and packaging rules for this qualification have been updated to provide an assistance dog training specialisation. The Companion Volume: Trainers of Assistance Dogs User Guide was developed to provide additional advice on implementation.

Key Changes
  • Five units were developed to reflect the skills to train assistance dogs, select appropriate equipment for a handler and dog, assess the suitability of a prospective handler for a dog and instruct handlers to train dogs. The units reflect the importance of the monitoring and maintenance of dogs’ work/life balance, condition, and physical, emotional, mental health needs. References to relevant legislation have been incorporated into the units as applicable.
  • Two skill sets were developed to capture the skills required to introduce an assistance dog to a handler and to provide potential dog handlers with the skills and knowledge to train an assistance dog.
  • The Certificate IV in Animal Behaviour and Training was updated to include the new units and a specialisation for assistance dog training was added.
  • The Trainers of Assistance Dogs User Guide was updated to provide additional information to assist RTOs with delivery, including:
    • human bond with dogs
    • animal welfare and the 5 types of enrichment
    • types of assistance dogs
    • legislation relevant to assistance dogs (including the NDIS and dog public access training)
    • associative and non-associative learning
    • choosing and assistance dog
    • owner/handler expectations about the assistive support of a dog and contingency planning
    • assistance dog training details
    • feeding dogs
    • dog training equipment
    • organisational links.
Summary of Consultation

A Subject Matter Expert Working Group was established to identify the skills and knowledge required for training assistance dogs. The broader industry was consulted on the draft documents at two different stages – the ‘Drafts Available’ and ‘Validation’ stages. Industry from across Australia provided input via the Skills Impact feedback hub, webinars, email, and phone.

Summaries of how feedback has been considered and applied at each of these two stages is available to download below.

 

The final draft units, skill sets and qualification have undergone an edit and equity and independent quality assurance process, including review by the Animal Care and Management Industry Reference Committee and State/Territory Training Authorities (STAs/TTAs). The drafts have now been submitted to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) for their support, after which they will be forwarded to and State/Territory Skills Ministers for consideration. A Case for Endorsement has been developed to provide information about what changes have been made, who has contributed, reasons for the changes, and their implications. A Companion Volume Implementation Guide has also been produced to help registered training organisations (RTOs) implement the updated units, skill sets and qualification.

The submitted documents are available for download below. 

Click here to download the Case for Endorsement

Click here to download the Companion Volume Implementation guide Part 1

Click here to download the Companion Volume Implementation guide Part 2

Click here to download the submitted document in Microsoft Word format

Qualification code and name
ACM40322 Certificate IV in Animal Behaviour and Training

Click here to download the submitted documents in Microsoft Word format

Unit code and name
ACMADT301 Select appropriate equipment for an assistance dog and handler
ACMADT401 Assess prospective handler’s suitability for an assistance dog
ACMADT402 Instruct handlers with disability to train assistance dogs
ACMADT403 Train dogs using operant and classical conditioning techniques
ACMADT501 Plan and conduct assistance dog training in specific and complex tasks

Click here to download the submitted documents in Microsoft Word format

Skill Set code and name
ACMSS00046 Assistance Dog Introduction Skill Set
ACMSS00047 Assistance Dog Handler Team Training Skill Set

Subscribe to updates about the project

Subscribe to the Skills Impact newsletter to keep informed about project updates. Make sure to select ‘Animal Care and Management’ as your industry of interest on the subscription form.