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Owner Assisted Service Dog Training Program

What is Owner-Assisted Training

In our Owner Assisted Service Dog Training program in Wilmington, North Carolina, qualified clients will be able to train their own dog as a service dog under the direction of Four Paws NC staff and experienced volunteer trainers.


  • Individuals must have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disability Act.

  • The disability must be documented by a medical doctor or psychiatrist.

  • Dogs starting training must be at least 6-9 months of age and be potty trained with some basic obedience. 

  • Individuals must be willing and able to commit to attending 60-minute classes 1 day a week for 10 to 12 months depending on the skills needed and the dedication of the individual.

  • Must continue training for at least 20 minutes a day when not in class.

  • Must be willing to participate in scheduled outings in the community. 

  • Owner Assisted Training (OAT) is a service offered to assist people who have their own dogs to train the dogs as their service dog.

  • The owner of the dog does the training under the guidance and direction of Four Paws NC staff and volunteers following a curriculum of training. 

  • No training experience is needed.

  • This service is fee-based. 

Training Philosphy

Four Paws NC uses reward based training methodology.  Head-halter collars, similar to a horse brindle, are used for training and control.   Alternatively a cloth martingale collar may be used. Commands and skills are taught through repetitive action training.  All service dogs in training are given down-time to rest and play.

Provider Trained

  • Demand for trained service dogs high; inventory low

  • Limited to what dogs are trained for

  • The provider does all the training of the dog

  • Training time is 12 months or greater per dog

  • Replacement dogs for prior clients take priority

  • Waitlists greater than 5 years

  • No cost to the client

  • The provider selects the dog the individual receives

  • The provider may own the dog for 3 years

Owner Assisted Trained

  • Individual uses their own dog 

  • Dog must be at least 6 months old and owner must have had the dog for at least 6 months

  • The individual does the training under our direction

  • Individual and dog have an established bond

  • Individual is engaged in the process

  • Skills essential for the individual are taught

  • Training is accomplished within 10 to 12  months depending on the skills needed

  • Standards are maintained for a quality trained dog



How Does it Work?

  • OAT is a fee-based training curriculum that considers the needs of the person and their disability, the dog they have, and the skills that are needed. 

  • The individual submits an application to enroll in the OAT program.

  • Our team reviews the application and conducts a consultation with the person. 

  • Following the consultation, a time is arranged for our team to assess the persons' dog in the public location.    

  • After the assessment of the dog, our team will determine if the dog is suitable to begin service dog work, customize a training plan, and set a date to begin training classes. 

  • Classes are in a small group format or individual. 

  • Our full training package includes a minimum of 40 hours of guided training, detailed training plans, accompanied public outings, and coaching. 

  • After a final assessment, you will receive a letter attesting to the training achieved, a service dog identification card, and a vest for the service dog.

James and Mollie training.jpg

Why Train with Us?

We have over 30 years’ experience training service dogs


What makes our classes different than a regular obedience class?

  • Training a service dog is very different from training a pet dog.

  • Most dog trainers do not have the experience and understanding of this type of training, as there are many small but important differences when training a service dog.

  • Each level builds upon the previous one, the commands are taught in specific ways to start off with a solid foundation, and most trainers do not understand the needs of a person living with a disability. 

  • We consider the person and the dog throughout the training and adjust the plan as needed without relaxing standards.

  • Our training includes real-life practice out in the community where the dog will be used when it completes training.  

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