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Research Concurs with Brigadoon Service Dogs’ Philosophy: Matching Matters! (2016)

Chantelle Whelan, a researcher from the University of Nottingham, published findings from her Ph.D. entitled “Causes and Impact of Premature Retirement of Guide Dogs.” Her research looks at why so many guide dogs are retired within their first year of service and what impact it has on the handler.

The research has shone a light on the often-underappreciated complexities of guide dog (and service dog) partnerships. It found that, contrary to popular belief, behavioral issues were not the singular most common cause of failed partnerships. Instead, it was a variety of factors such as the dog’s temperament, the handler’s lifestyle, the handler’s previous experiences, and other influencers on the partnership’s relationship that really mattered. In addition, the research also found that the premature retirement of a guide dog is a very difficult experience for the handler.

This research reaffirms Brigadoon’s strong belief in the power of the bond between dog and handler. Unlike most service dog schools, Brigadoon does not serve clients on a "first come, first serve" basis. Instead, clients are matched with dogs on the basis of temperament and lifestyle compatibility, the needs and abilities of each partner, and the connection between the two.

Brigadoon's matching process starts with the application. The client fills out a form saying which traits they would like and which traits they wouldn't like in their dog, as well as detailed information about their own temperament, lifestyle, and needs. In the interview and during the home visit, this information is discussed further and expanded upon.

Once a client is on the waitlist, Brigadoon begins to keep an eye out for dogs that might suit that particular client. When a potential match is found, the client returns to Brigadoon to meet with the dog. The person spends time petting, playing, and interacting with the dog while Brigadoon trainers observe to see how the two are doing. At that time, the client may also meet with several other dogs at the school to compare and contrast how they like and work with different types of dogs. When a match is made, the client is notified. Team training, the two week period where the team learns to work together before taking a public access test to graduate, is set up. For some, team training might occur a month after being matched, while for others it may still be a year or more before they graduate with their dog. It all depends on the age and level of training the dog has reached. Some clients, especially children, will have sleepovers with their future service dog at this point to start the bonding process.

During team training, the team not only learns how to work together, but they also spend time bonding. In fact, for the first couple of days, they spend every minute tethered together—except when the handler is in the shower! When the team graduates, their bond is already very strong. Over the next six months, working on that bond is the team's top priority. By the time the team has been together for a year, they are an inseparable pair.

Brigadoon’s matching process means that clients receive a dog that will not only be an aid but also a friend. As the recent research has found and Brigadoon knows from experience, the better the match, the better the likelihood a team will succeed!

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