Emotional Support Dogs (ESD) Advanced

Based on the philosophies of Therapeutic Dog Training, WellPaws is a unique therapeutic program that is part discussion-based and part practical activities.

Participants are supported by psychologists, mental health clinicians and professional dog-trainers to develop strong and healthy relationships with their dogs. For those individuals who have a diagnosed disability, our team will support you and your dog to develop the healthy habits that will provide you with the emotional support you need.

The course is delivered in two modes;

  • A full-time 5-day program suitable for individuals (and support person) who have the capacity to attend the training centre each day, OR

  • A part time program suitable for parents or carers where individuals with disabilities only attend for two days of the program.

The Emotional Support Dog (ESD) therapeutic program will teach the skills necessary for participants and their parents, families or carers to develop strong, supportive relationships with their dogs. The program includes therapeutic group discussions, supportive dog-training lessons, and education about dogs. Based on the philosophies of Therapeutic Dog Training, as developed by our Director Melanie Jones, the program includes the following aims;

  • Develop skills by learning Life Lessons of Dogs including mindfulness, playfulness, and relaxation
  • Improve healthy communication skills
  • Develop a greater appreciation of boundaries, respect, co-operation and consistency
  • Understand the impact of human stress on dogs, and learn ways to manage this (both for the dog and the humans)
  • Identify & manage unhelpful patterns of behaviour in ourselves and our dog
  • Develop skills to effectively train your dog to be a happy and social member of society
  • Address any behavioural problems your dog experiences and make links to your own role in contributing to or remedying these problems
  • Improve your understanding, communication and bonding with your dog(s)

The content is facilitated by both mental health professionals and dog-trainers using a trauma informed approach, and a responsive method of delivery. It is an expectation that participants (and their parents/carers) will both benefit and learn from the group experience, supporting each other’s development through the program.

Location: Lead The Way Institute Training Centre, Unit 5/91 Dorset Road, Ferntree Gully, Vic. 3156

Dates: All upcoming course dates can be found on the Application Form

Cost:  $2050 (GST exempt)

Funding: We accept payments from self-managed and plan-managed (by financial administration/intermediary) NDIS plans. Please contact us if you would like more information at admin@leadthewayinstitute.com.au
Medicare rebates are not available for this program

Full-time 5-day Intensive

This therapeutic program runs Monday to Friday with participants and their dogs attending the centre 9.30 – 4.30 each day, with morning, lunch and afternoon tea breaks.

Participants should have the capacity to physically work with the dog (e.g. holding a lead, giving verbal commands, moving around the facility) and the ability to learn over 5 consecutive days. It is ideally suited to adults or older adolescents with a range of difficulties such as PTSD, anxiety, ASD or mobility constraints. Each participant may have an optional support person attend the course with them, to assist with the physical, cognitive and/or emotional demands of the program. It is a requirement that the support person is consistent, as the learning across the week is sequential and cumulative – hence a new support person arriving on day 3 or 5 may not understand the concepts taught earlier in the week, and may therefore not be able to provide effective support.

Youth & Family Curriculum

The youth and family intensive is tailored to young people (teenagers and young adults) who are still living with parents or carers. This curriculum, therefore, takes on more of a family focus, actively engaging parents in the dog’s development. Parents/carers are encouraged to support their young people to engage with their dogs in healthy and effective ways.

Adult Curriculum

The adult intensive is aimed at those people who are living more independently, but may still have support people or carers who assist them. Handlers may take a more active role than their carers or support people, whilst discussions and skill building has an increased focus on personal growth and independence.

Part-time program

The part-time therapeutic program spreads out the 5 day course over three weeks.

Days 1-3 are designed for parents or carers alone (9.30 – 4.30), whilst days four and five are shorter days (9.30 – 3.30pm) where individual participants with a disability will also attend. This program is ideal for children or young adolescents, or for adults whose disability prevents them from being able to attend the full-time program. It is an expectation that the parents/carers will be the primary handler for the dog, and that the participant may have limited ability to handle the dog, but will benefit from supported and structured interaction.

Each participant may have up to two support people attend the program. The support person(s) must also live with the participant and the dog, or provide regular and ongoing support, as they will be taught the bulk of the dog handling and training skills. It is a requirement that the support person(s) is consistent, as the learning is sequential and cumulative – hence a new support person arriving on day 3 or 5 may not understand the concepts taught earlier in the program, and may therefore not be able to participate effectively.

Requirements for Dogs

Dogs attending this program must be at least 6 months old. They must have been living with the participant for at least 3 months, and must have a strong and ongoing bond with the person(s) who will be providing support to the participant. The dogs are not required to have any previous training, as all dog-training skills will be taught from scratch. Dogs must be friendly with people, and must have NO history of aggression to their owners or the participant.

Please Note: There is no legal definition or regulation for Emotional Support Dogs in Australia. In some cases, having a letter from your mental health practitioner may allow the dog to have access to your accommodation. Completing this program will NOT allow your dog Public Access (to shops, restaurants, schools etc), and will not provide the dog with certification as a Service or Assistance Dog.

Individual support and assessments

If the therapeutic program is not suitable for you or your family, Lead The Way Psychology & Animal-Assisted Therapy Clinics offer a range of individual supports, and Therapeutic Dog Training can be provided at our Boronia clinic. For more information see Train Your dog Help Yourself™.

If you would like an assessment to determine your own or a loved ones’ suitability for a companion, support or assistance dog, please see the clinic page here.

Service and Assistance Dogs

This therapeutic program will provide the skills and knowledge to develop healthy relationships with a companion dog in order to benefit from the emotional support they can provide. This is distinct from a service or assistance dog, who is trained to do certain tasks that can mitigate a disability. For example, a seeing eye dog or guide dog will help their recipient navigate obstacles; a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dog may interrupt a panic attack; a medical alert dog may notify their recipient of an upcoming seizure or a drop in blood sugar. Because of service and assistance dogs’ life-saving work, they are permitted to have public access, meaning they can go into shops, restaurants, schools etc.

It is important to note that service and assistance dogs must have very special temperaments. They have to be able to stay focussed on their life-saving job, in the face of ANY distraction. They must not get distracted by children playing ball, cats running, dogs fighting, or people eating. They must have the confidence to ride on escalators and lifts, slippery floors, and noisy trains or trams. They must not be bothered by loud noises, crowds, equipment, traffic or music. The dog must not become stressed or upset or bothered by all kinds of situations and settings. They must be able to focus for long periods of time, and stay in ‘work mode’ all day. For these reasons, not all dogs are suitable to be service or assistance dogs.

If you think your dog might be suitable to become a service or assistance dog, you are allowed under Australian law to train it yourself. We may be able to support you through our WellPaws programme. Please note that this programme will roll out through 2021 and we have strictly limited numbers. All dogs will need to begin their training journey at the Emotional Support Dog level, and it is crucial to understand that not all dogs will be suitable to achieve Assistance Dog status under Australian Law (and therefore public access). Please also remember that whilst not all dogs can be assistance dogs with public access, all dogs can provide comfort support.