Aspen Service Dogs, a government of Alberta approved service dog organization, has lent expertise to Medicine Hat College throughout the creation of the Service Dog and Canine Studies Management diploma program and will be providing puppies, like Kojack pictured in front of Medicine Hat City Hall, to the program next fall.

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Published Nov 16, 2021

Medicine Hat College announced last week it will be offering a Service Dog and Canine Studies Management diploma program, beginning in fall 2022. The two-year program will be the first of its kind to be offered by a post-secondary institution in Canada.

“The goal is to create fully-trained service dogs, as well as fully trained handlers for the dogs,” Timothy Spielman, dean of MHC’s School of Business and Continuing Studies, told the News.

The program, created in partnership with service dog organizations across Canada, not only teaches students about how to care for and work with the canines, but also focuses on business development skills so students can work within a variety of roles if they choose not to become a service dog handler.

“We have a broad range of courses,” Spielman said. “We have things like accounting and marketing because those (teach) core business skills … Many of the opportunities that come up in this field are for smaller businesses or for folks to start their own shop.”

Maria Illes, co-owner, chief trainer and program director at Aspen Service Dogs, a government approved service dog organization based in Edmonton and operating out of Calgary and Medicine Hat, agrees there are many career fields open to students who complete the program.

“Maybe not everybody who finishes (the program) wants to be an instructor and train service dogs but the program is set up very well and people can even open their own grooming shop or open a pet dog training school. There is more than one opportunity for people finishing this program,” Illes said.

Aspen Service Dogs is one of the organizations which has worked with MHC and will be supplying dogs to the program, as well as hiring graduates.

“We’ve been working closely with MHC for probably about two years to give them some industry input on the importance of creating more certified service dog instructors because there is such a demand for service dogs, however there’s such a shortage of instructors,” Maureen MacKay, Aspen’s other co-owner and chief executive officer, said.

“How it works right now, because there is no such a school producing certified instructors or trainers, is to hire somebody who has experience with dogs and put them in your apprentice program and hope for the best,” said Illes. “This way, we will shorten the time. We can hire finished students (of the program). With any school you finish, you need to build experience but they already will have the background and they know exactly what we need … We are looking forward to starting this program.”

Spielman also hopes the program will help fill a need in the service dog industry.

“There’s a long waiting list for folks who (need) service dogs and, of course, (training the dogs) take time,” he said. “Because we’re partnering with service dog organizations, our goal is to help them increase the volume of service dogs and trainers.”

Spielman believes there is a possibility of expansion for the program. He confirmed to the News that MHC has been approached by businesses in need of dogs trained in other forms of service.

“We think we have the capacity to serve more than one marketplace with (this program),” he said. “We’re investigating the opportunities.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Medicine Hat News. See article HERE.

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