I've been reading the training manual from National Service Dogs and it's fairly comprehensive. I think it'll be a good reference for us.
Some of the information surprised me. Like how only 40 % of service dogs end up going into the school with the child. And how many families decide their child doesn't need a service dog when the first one is due to retire. NSD also offers the option of providing a companion dog (a dog who has not passed the tests to qualify as a service dog, but who is well trained and will do well with an autistic child). The companion dogs qualify as pets instead of service animals, meaning they can't go with the child everywhere, but still provide emotional support.
It makes me think that I'm right to believe that Dave and I were unusual in waiting to see whether or not a dog would be the right tool for Alex. I can certainly understand other parents going on the list as a default. It's a long wait time and it probably falls under the "couldn't hurt" point of view.
Another surprise was learning that the dogs are trained to ignore other people and animals while in jacket (aka working). They're also trained to ignore any food that is not given to them by their handler. I can see the latter being a necessity. Like a child with autism, a dog can't understand the social difference between a treat from a kind stranger and a tasty tidbit being held by another person. By keeping the boundaries clear, it reduces the chance of incidents.
There are all kinds of things to think about now and I'm still worried about being able to grasp it all enough to pass the final test. But I keep reminding myself that this isn't a "weed out the unworthy" kind of test. NSD wants us to pass and it's critical to make sure we've actually learned what we need to in order to have the kind of help that we want. But I'm still pretty sure I'll have butterflies until we're on our way home from Cambridge, with a happy dog in the backseat.