FAQ

A long list of questions and answers is included here because we feel it's better to put out all the information we can in order to be transparent about everything.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to fund-raise to qualify for a Service Dog from Pawsitivity?

A:

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: The amount spent on rescuing, socializing, training, and placing, and providing a decade of support for a service dog through our organization is about $33,000--this amount is approximately the same for ALL service dog organizations.
Financial aid (up to half) is available to those who qualify (you would raise $16,500).

If you do not have the resources, i.e. savings, to ensure that you can raise your half, we totally understand, and in that case, we highly recommend another organization which is ten times as large as us: Canine Companions for Independence--their area code is 740 and their phone number is 833-3700.

Note that while CCI does all the fundraising, that means that their waiting list is many years long. 

Do you have any dogs available now?

A:

No, I'm sorry, right now our waitlist is closed (sorry). Please check back on this page for updates.

Why do some other charities require little or no fundraising?

A:

All service dogs, no matter what organization they are from, take six to twelve months to train and thus cost approximately $33,000 to from start to finish. All the hours of training, all the food and medical bills and transportation costs, they usually add up to this same number (it just takes that long to individually and extensively train the dog). 

  • Some large charities raise the full $33k themselves and then ask the families to fundraise nothing or very little, and those charities are heavily funded organizations, often with multi-million dollar budgets.
  • We are a small organization, training just two to three dogs per year, and while we do fundraise, we only fundraise part (almost half) of what it takes to raise and train a service dog, and thus ask for families to fundraise the rest. We hope eventually to do so much fundraising that the families won't have to fundraise as much, but we are many, many years away from that goal.

Will insurance or the county help pay for the dog?

A:

No, in our experience, neither insurance nor county services will help pay for a Service Dog. A good way to think of this situation is to think of a person with blindness--while their doctor may prescribe a Service Dog, an insurance company will only pay for a cane, not a dog. If you want a Service Dog, you have to get one yourself through an organization, not through insurance.

Note: We realize that this is probably not the answer you wanted to hear, but hopefully, at least now you have the information and can make a fully-informed decision.

Are you a 501(c)(3) charity?

A:

Yes, and all donations (including stock certificates) to Pawsitivity are tax-deductible. Our EIN is 47-1446634, and we are certified "Platinum Participant" on GuideStar Exchange charity review.

Would you train our dog to be a Service Dog?

A:

No, because even if you have the right breed, the process really works best when we select and train the individual dog. We know this isn't always the answer people want to hear, but choosing the individual dogs we work with is an integral part of the process.

Can we assist in selecting the Service Dog?

A:

No, sorry. Even with the right breed, it's the rare individual dog that has the right combination of temperament, health, and lack of being traumatized by anything. We do work extensively with you to make sure that the Service Dog we train is the right match for you.

Where do you get your dogs?

A:

At Pawsitivity, we feel is of utmost importance to make sure that every candidate dog has the temperament, health, and abilities to go through the six to twelve months of training to be a service dog. All our dogs are adult "second chance" dogs that we get through shelters, breeder donations, and owner-surrenders, usually from the southern part of the US, which we then transport to be trained here. Finding the right dog takes an extensive search, and since about one out of a thousand dogs is appropriate for service dog work, we have an thorough checklist before we even meet the dog, and then a long evaluation procedure before the dog becomes a candidate for training. 

Do we have to live in St. Paul, MN, to get a Service Dog?

A:

Exceptions can be made to the following guidelines, but generallY:

Children: If the dog is for a child, we recommend within driving distance of the Twin Cities metro area, which basically includes the state of Minnesota and adjacent states. Unfortunately, it's hard to make the process work if you're not close by.

Grand Ave Vet helps with service dog in training

Adults: If the Service Dog is for an adult and you live out-of-state, the process works best if you are willing and able to come visit for training sessions.

 

What breed of dogs do you use for Service Dogs?

A:

Service dog being petted

A short answer might be, "We use rescues, so it could be anything". 

A slightly longer answer is "Usually choose Goldens and Labs and mixes of Goldens or La

bs for service dog work." 

But both those answers have a LOT of exceptions, and in general, how a specific dog tests out is much more important that what breed he/she is. 

  • An exception, for example, pictured here, is a gentle German Shepherd we trained for an adult. Usually, service dogs are not allowed to be petted when working, but his handler would occasionally make an exception with children because so many children are afraid of that breed.
  • Note that we have started using more mixed-breed dogs in the hope of seeing fewer genetic problems.
  • Note also that German Shepherds (which can be aggressive) and Bernese Mountain Dogs (which can be short-lived) and Beagles (which are too focused on smelling to do other tasks) and Standard Poodles (which are pretty rare) are sometimes used in other service dog programs, although we choose not to use those breeds for the reasons listed here.

These are a lot of exceptions, we realize. The problem is that there isn't a specific breed that has been bred for generations to be service dogs. Instead, there are a few, rare individuals that could be good candidates for service dog work (we estimate that about 1 out 1000 dogs is a good candidate for this job).

We wish there were more breeds that made good Service Dogs, but other breeds don't have a good track record. Personally, we LOVE each and every AKC dog breed, but...each breed was originally created for a specific purpose and their resulting characteristics don't match the requirements of a Service Dog. 

The Service Dogs we choose to train need, for our program, to have a rare combination of: A. Low energy, and B. High intelligence. This combination is not common in dog breeds (smart dogs tend to be high-energy, while low-energy dogs tend to not be very trainable).

In addition to those requirements, Service Dogs also need to have the following three attributes: A. Have low prey drive, B. Be good with all strange dogs, and C. Be good with all strange men.

If all these requirements aren't enough, the breed also needs to be the right size because small dogs can grow fearful from being stepped on in crowds, and also because overly-large dogs are difficult to put under tables and out of the way in airplanes and buses.

That's a lot of requirements!

If you want an even longer answer, click here.

Why not other breeds?

A:

We wish there were more breeds that made good Service Dogs, but other breeds don't have a good track record. Personally, we LOVE each and every AKC dog breed, but...each breed was originally created for a specific purpose and their resulting characteristics don't match the requirements of a Service Dog. 

Service dog helping during school concert

The Service Dogs we choose to train need, for our program, to have a rare combination of: A. Low energy, and B. High intelligence. This combination is not common in dog breeds (smart dogs tend to be high-energy, while low-energy dogs tend to not be very trainable).

In addition to those requirements, Service Dogs also need to have the following three attributes: A. Have low prey drive, B. Be good with all strange dogs, and C. Be good with all strange men.

If all these requirements aren't enough, the breed also needs to be the right size because: A. Small dogs can grow fearful from being stepped on in crowds, and B. Overly-large dogs are difficult to put under tables and out of the way in airplanes and buses.

That's a lot of requirements! For the above reasons, we have found that we usually work with Labradors and Goldens (and mixes of those breeds).

How long do these large breeds typically live?

A:

About 10-13 years, sometimes longer.

Do we actually get to own the dog?

A:

Yes. Some charities "co-own" their service dogs, but not Pawsitivity, and we will never forcibly "take back" the dog (even if the handler passes away, the dog can be kept by the family as a loving and supportive pet).

Note that all rescuing and training is funded by donations from past donors--your donations will help Pawsitivity rescue and train future dogs and each participant "pays it forward". Once we match dog and person, the dog is yours--we will spend six to twelve months in rehabilitation and training, but the dog is yours the whole time. :-)

Does the vest and belt harness come with the dog or would that be something we would need to purchase?

A:

Service Dog on the escalatorEverything is included.

Also, if you don't happen to have a crate, dog bed, dog dishes, bones, toys, and such, we'll send those, too. The idea is do everything possible to set you up for success. We'll even give you a big bag of the same grain-free dog food of the same brand the dog has been eating. If you ever want to switch dog food brands, use a different dog bed, etc., you always can, but it's nice to make the transition as smooth and easy as possible.

What vest patches do you use?

A:

For the main patch, we always use our logo (which says Pawsitivity Service Dogs), but there's much more flexibility with the other patches. We work with the handler/family to decide what works best (perhaps Autism Service Dog, or Please Do Not Pet, or Ask to Pet, for instance). Note that while we will make recommendations for what patches we will place on the vest, the final choice is always up to you (and you can always change the patches later, if you wish).

Can a person get health insurance or life insurance for a dog?

A:

There's no company that offers life insurance for a dog, but there are places to get dog health insurance.

What will the bonding/training meetings be like?

A:

This is a question that we've hesitated to put on our FAQ because the meetings are so individualized (and also that the plans not only change for each person, they can even change meeting to meeting as we discover more about each other), that it's hard to put together a generalized plan that works for everyone. It's nice to know something of what to expect, though, so in the spirit of knowing at least some information, basically:

The first meeting is mostly about bonding, not training. By the time we meet, you'll have already mailed in a dirty t-shirt so the dog has been sleeping with it (so the dog will already know your scent by the time you two meet). Much of the meeting is getting to know each other, asking and answering lots of questions, and helping the dog know that you are the source of all sorts of wonderful things (affection, treats, outings, toys).

Further sessions then get more into training. It sounds odd, but the first lesson is about how to reward the dog. Sounds silly, doesn't it?, but it's the foundation of training (and the dog/handler relationship). Sessions involve training you on cues, reading the dog, public access, our protocols, and recommendations, with a final test (or review, if you wish) at the end. Sessions are scheduled for an hour each (better many small meetings than a few long ones) every couple weeks, unless you are from out of town--then we schedule two-day sessions with one 2-hour evening meeting and one 2-hour morning meeting. You can tell that we're already starting to talk about "unless you're out of town" and other exceptions, so rather than get into all other exceptions and how the plan is modified for each person or family, we hope that the above gives you at least a general idea of how the sessions are scheduled.

Will you train a PTSD dog for a non-veteran?

A:

Yes. While we love working with veterans, we also work with non-veterans (civilians) with PTSD.

PTSD Service Dog

Do you train diabetes service dogs?

A:

Mobility service dogShort answer: No.

Long answer: Yes and no.

  • According to other service dog trainers, there's a huge problem with what is called "client compliance," which is basically that it's too much to ask the handler with severe diabetes to keep up the training. In other words, the training can be done, but the client would continually need to reward the dog with practice sessions each week for the rest of its life (or else the training will slowly extinguish).
  • However, we have trained a mobility service dog (for a woman who had her leg amputated) and this responsive, smart, bonded dog who had "learned how to learn" started spontaneously alerting his handler to her low blood sugar (from the smell of ketones on the handler's breath) and twice he has alerted to when her blood sugar dropped to 25. Both times the handler was sleeping, and once the dog woke her up and the other time she wouldn't awake so the dog went into the other room and awoke the husband. The handler tells us that without her service dog she most certainly would have slipped into a coma. 

Why does Pawsitivity stay small, why not expand and train 40 dogs a year, like many other organizations?

A:

Pawsitivity Service Dog in the grocery storeThere are some other terrific Service Dog organizations which are much bigger and train ten times as many dogs each year. We stay small and only train 2-3 dogs per year because we believe that this kind of individual attention is the best way (for us) to ensure that the right dog, the right training, the right family, and the right child are all matched and trained individually, forming the best chance for a successful match.

Do you start the process with puppies, or do you place fully-grown dogs?

A:

We only train full-grown dogs, to ensure that the dog has the appropriate temperament. Plus, we place a high value on rescuing dogs.

Has the Service Dog been trained trained specifically with me/my child in mind, or has training been generalized to people with disabilities instead?

A:

The dog will be specifically selected and trained with your disability, needs, and circumstances in mind.

At what age can a child get a Service Dog?

A:

Assistance dogWe've found that the process works best when the child is seven years old or older. When kiddos are younger, there's always the possibility that they might accidentally hurt the dog, and while we choose a dog that has an inherently gentle temperament, we want to make sure the dog and child are in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Other than the general guideline that the child should be at least seven years old, we don't have formal age policies for matching a person with the dog because so much varies from person to person. Each person with a disability has their own capabilities (and each family has their own situation, resources, and desires). Whereas one family may be using the dog mainly for the mother to use the dog as a social bridge for the child, tethering, motivation, and teaching empathy, another family might have a teenager who is able to directly use the dog in terms of a dog/handler team (and thus the parents don't interact with the dog much at all). We realize that this answer includes a lot of generalities, but the hope is that it gives you a better idea of how the dog and person (or family) are matched up.

Please describe the training program the Service Dog receives?

A:

Our Service Dogs receive six to twelve months of training, including several months of training to your specific needs and circumstances (this last period depends on how extensive your needs are). While circumstances vary, our goal is for training to be fun and positive through reward-based training (treats for training and intermittent reinforcement after that) as opposed to primarily punishment or modeling because studies have found that then the dogs are less likely to have behavior problems such as fear and aggression.

Service dog on the street

What type of ongoing communication with our family will be included once the dog is placed?

A:

We are always available for questions, either by phone, email, or in person.

What type of expenses are incurred over time in keeping the dog?

A:

Typically, the expenses associated with keeping a service dog are the food and vet bills for the dog. For veterinary questions during the life of the dog, we encourage you to call us for advice. (Mandatory disclaimer: Our health advice, while always available, should not be considered a replacement for veterinary treatment.)

Note that many veterinarians offer discounts on services for assistance dogs.

You can use any brand of dog food you want, but we use and always recommend a no-grain dry food. The brand we use is Orijen at $75 per 28-pound bag (free delivery), which is about twice the price of even the best dog food sold at most stores. Note that online websites like Chewy.com will deliver for free anywhere in the US. You can use any food you like, but we find this high-quality food (either Orijen or a similar no-grain brand) pays for itself in the lack of vet bills,

Tax breaks: Medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of adjusted gross income, including the cost of maintaining a Service Dog, can be deducted from your taxes. Here's the IRS page on medical expenses for more details.

Why is the quality of a Service Dog trainer or program important?

A:

Service dog in a storeHigh-quality, individualized services can help ensure that service dogs are well-selected and well-trained. Such services also help parents develop greater competency working with their child's service dog and maintain a successful dog-handler relationship.

 

Can the Service Dog be brought to school?

A:

Short answer: Usually no.

Long answer: Sometimes, if the teacher wants the dog there (and even then, for a maximum of two hours). With adults and Service Dogs, (like a guide dog for the blind) the adult is in control of the Service Dog and makes all the decisions. With a child, it's still basically the adult (parent) who is in charge, even though the Service Dog is for the child. Because even the best-trained dog just doesn't have the cognitive ability to make decisions for the child, thus an adult must be in charge. In other words, it’s usually too much responsibility to ask a child to control a dog and tell it what to do at school, thus, as a result, most schools ask that the child leave the Service Dog at home. So while some teachers and principals actually bring up the idea of a Service Dog and suggest that the parents get one for the child to bring to school, there are often other circumstances (such as limited resources) where having a dog in class makes a teacher's job harder, not easier. We believe that a Service Dog can be a great tool, and if the teacher wants the dog there every day, or even once in a while, that's great - but if the teacher doesn't want the dog there, that's okay, too. Of course, with the autism spectrum in particular, there are so many different symptoms and circumstances, that it really does depend on the situation.

Longest answer: For a more detailed answer with examples, check out our page on Service Dogs in Schools.

What happens when the dog dies?

A:

All good things come to an end, and a dog's life expectancy is perhaps ten to twelve years. When a service dog dies, we request that you please notify us. Personally, it would be also nice if you sent us a picture of where you bury the dog or spread their ashes (that's optional, but really nice). At that point, some families find that their journey with the service dog is now over and they don't need a service dog so much any more, but if you decide you would like us to find and train another one for you, you would then go to the top of our waiting list. So, some families may let us know as the dog is getting sick, or other families let us know if the dog goes unexpectedly, but either way, the process takes perhaps a year because we need to finish up the current dogs we're training (up to six to twelve months), then find and train a dog for you (takes six to twelve months). 

What factors influence whether a Service Dog will help a person?

A:

The success of a Service Dog depends on the competency of the trainer, the individual dog, the family's motivations for getting the Service Dog (and expectations of what a service dog can achieve), and the ability of the family and community to welcome the Service Dog.

Are Service Dogs appropriate for children?

A:

Service dog visiting child in hospital

Among the factors that should be carefully thought through are the child's:

• Desire to have a Service Dog. The child does not have to be obsessed with dogs, but it''s important that the child like dogs, and that the family is ready to have a dog in their lives.
• Ability to care for the dog (or usually, the family's ability). 
• Lifestyle.
Disability-related needs. The autism spectrum, for example, has so many different symptoms, and each child is so different from all the others, so we work hard with you to make sure that a Service Dog will be appropriate for your specific needs and will help make the circumstance of your life more manageable.
Even the best-trained dog requires some work, and with a child with autism, that work is usually distributed across all family members. Our job is to make your life easier, not harder, and we will do our utmost to make sure that the dog-family fit is a good one. Ideally, caring for the dog (e.g., feeding, exercising, bathroom needs, etc.) will be a smaller burden compared to the many benefits of having a Service Dog.

Will my child with autism bond with the dog?

A:

In general, yes, but not in the same way people without autism do. Since children along the Autism Spectrum have difficulty showing emotion, sometimes we can't see the bonding directly and only see the bonding in a reduction of the child's symptoms. As Temple Grandin says, "When you take a drug to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, you have an objective test to measure blood pressure and the amount of sugar in the blood. It is straight-forward. With autism, you are looking for changes in behavior."In most families, the dog bonds most strongly with the other members of the family, not the child with autism, and yet families report that there is a significant quality of life improvement because:

Service dog in a car

In most families, the dog bonds most strongly with the other members of the family, not the child with autism, and yet families report that there is a significant quality of life improvement because the child is behaving better, both when the child is interacting with the dog and just because the dog is around. Families report that the dog is a benefit to rest of the family, too, by alleviating some of the stress that comes with caring for a child with autism.

Is a Service Dog worth the time, money, and energy?

A:

There are several studies addressing this very question. Although many of the benefits associated with a service dog cannot be monetized, one study on how animal-assisted interventions help adolescents with mental health issues suggests that there is considerable potential monetary benefit in addition to therapeutic benefits. According to the report:

Cost comparisons:

At Pawsitivity, our conclusion is that if your family is a good fit for a Service Dog, the benefits of living with a Service Dog (including financial benefits) outweigh the other factors.

What are the benefits to the caregivers?

A:

Service dogs help caregivers, tooA helpful study was conducted by Burrows, Adams, and Millman in 2002 and in 2008 found out a lot about an Autism Service Dogs and parents, and these results can give you a good idea of what to expect. A Service Dog isn't just for the child - it also serves as a calm and obedient family dog, helping the family deal with stress. Family and friends also go through so much when trying to help, and this responsibility is a significant hardship on the community. Thus:

  • Parents and siblings need comfort and an outlet for their stress.
  • Having a loving Service Dog in the family helps because the dog can lend a sympathetic ear to the family (when they want to talk to the dog), and and to dog can be there for each member of the family to cuddle, play, and exercise with.
  • Caregivers are comforted to know that they have a tool available at all times to help with their charge.

The study found other benefits to parents in having a Service Dog in the family, including:

  • Parents or caregiver can bring the Service Dog to the doctor's office with the child, and know that the dog will be a good tool to help relax both everyone.
  • Caregivers felt more relaxed at night because the dog was with the child.
  • Caregivers felt more in control and calmer in general because the child had a Service Dog.
  • With parents of children with autism, the parents consistently claimed that although the dogs couldn't be specifically trained to prevent the child from wandering, many dogs figured out on their own how to prevent the children from bolting and running away.

We realize that having any dog in the house is increased work (picking up poop, feeding the dog, etc.), but the goal is that the work in taking care of a dog is more than balanced by the benefits, not only in helping with the child with autism, but also in helping the entire family deal with stress. 

Source: Burrows, K. E., Adams, C. L., & Millman, S. T. (2008a). "Factors Affecting Behavior and Welfare of Service Dogs for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder". Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 11, 42-62.

How does travel work with a service dog?

A:

Service dog traveling on an airplaneService Dogs can help people with disabilities become more mobile. It may seem intimidating to travel on an airplane with your service dog, but it can help to realize that to the people who work on the airline see passengers with disabilities traveling with their service dogs all the time.

Most people call the airline ahead of time and let the airline know they'll be traveling with a service dog (they may put a note on your ticket), but you go through security just like everyone else. Security will inspect the dog's vest and such, just like they would do with people. The procedure varies, but often the handler walks through the security booth, leaving the dog, then calls the dog through, and then the dog is directly inspected by security. Sometimes the TSA does a hand swab on the handler, too.
When you arrive at at the gate, you'll board with the dog, and then go to your bulkhead seat, which gives you a little more room at your feet. Some handlers with a service dog prefer to buy "stretch seating" or "economy comfort" so they get the extra room a bulkhead seat would provide, but also get the under-seat baggage room (this option costs money, but some handlers find the extra cost worth the expense). The dog then lies at your feet during the trip. The goal is to make everything as easy as possible - many passengers and flight attendants often don't even realize there was a dog on board!
On board the airplane with service dog

You will probably feel more secure bringing paperwork (doctor's notes, the dog's service dog graduation certificate, immunization records), but the airline often doesn't ask for any of this paperwork. Optional: Many passengers find it helpful to have medical documentation as a way to discreetly communicate information about their needs to security, and so the TSA has created a Notification Card that passengers can use for discreet communication. Use of this Notification Card, or of medical documentation, does not exempt a passenger from screening, but the card can be a nice reassuring way of smoothing out situations.
We've always recommend that you do not get a connecting flight because would add too many hours, and you would need to bring the dog outside to pee (and find a spot for them to pee outside), and then go back through security. Instead, we've advised that a direct flight is the way to go. At one point, a Pawsitivity family told us that they prefer a connecting flight, because when traveling with a child with a disability, two 2-hour flights are more manageable that one 4-hour flight...however, they have since changed their mind and now agree that a direct flight is their choice, too.

Airport securityInside the airplaneService dog on the airplane

These photos show three different elements (the first two show Xander and his man going through security then finding their seat, and the third photo shows Homer as he is flying).

What are the ADA rules?

A:

Here is the official law, here is frequently asked questions about the law, and the following is a summary in our own words:

  • A service dog can only be owned by someone who has a disability (a rough guideline is if the person qualifies for SSI and can't work).
  • The penalty for "impersonating" a person with a disability is severe because it is punishable by federal law.
  • A service dog must be leashed, behave appropriately in all circumstances (thunder, noisy crowds, other dogs), and the dog must be specifically trained with a task (such as a guide dog that leads a person who is blind across the street).

If you want more detail, here is our complete explanation of the rules and regulations.

 

What is your Mission Statement?

A:

Pawsitivity’s Mission is to rescue, train and place service dogs for individuals with disabilities, focusing on children with autism. Sometimes a dog is not appropriate for a child, and then we train the dog for an adult with other disabilities.

What is your Vision Statement?

A:

Vision Statement:

To provide the highest-quality trained service dogs.

To provide highly-individualized lifetime support for each dog-handler team.

To be financially independent with funds available to those clients who need assistance with the fundraising process.

What is your Privacy Policy?

A:

Here is Pawsitivity's Privacy Policy.

Note that this privacy policy is mainly about keeping your medical and financial information private (as all good websites are supposed to do), but also, we believe that your personal privacy is important, as well. We will not post online or in print about you or your family without your permission. Privacy is important to both you and us, and we feel that you should always have choices and feel empowered and in charge of everything that is shared (or not).

When at home, how do we deal with other dogs?

A:

Pets: If you have a pet dog, (not recommended, but a common situation), we will help with procedures to have the dogs get along. Your pet dog will probably have special privileges (being allowed to go on the furniture, perhaps), and your Service Dog will have different rules, but dogs are okay with that set-up and will soon learn that different rules apply to them. Pet dogs get pet privileges, Service Dogs go by stricter rules. But that's okay--dogs like to work, and they like having clear boundaries and rules.
Dog parks: You really don't want to bring your Service Dog to a dog park. 

Olaf in training

Dog parks are really for pets, not Service Dogs, because your service dog is trained to work (and not to play with other dogs). Now, you will still want to play with your service dog when he's not working, but a dog park is just not the appropriate place for a Service Dog. Basically, you want to want to continue the training of having your Service Dog to focus on you, so your service dog will not be looking to other dogs for attention and fun.

Friends' dogs: Likewise, you wouldn't want your Service Dog to be playing with friends' dogs. If you have to go over to a friend's house and they have a dog, it's best to leave your Service Dog at home because otherwise, the dogs would want to play, and you don't want to encourage that behavior. If there is a special situation (like you are going over to one person's house every single day) then maybe an exception might want to be made, but in general, you don't want your Service Dog to be playing with other dogs, rather, you want your Service Dog focused on you.

When at home, how can we keep up the training?

A:

While we will work with you during the training of the dog (and we'll be available throughout the life of the dog for questions and advice), we also have guidelines for once you have your service dog at home. 

1. "All good things come from the handler".

  • For all families, we recommend that for the first six months that "all good things come from the handler" (not other family members). So whether it's food, or fun, or affection, all good things should come from just one person because this procedure encourages bonding. After the first six months, then this procedure can usually be relaxed and the whole family can enjoy the dog (with the primary bonding still being for the handler).

2. "Two, Two" and Two". While this procedure may be modified for high-energy dogs, usually we recommend:

  • For the first two weeks, keep the dog in the house (except for bathroom breaks) because the dog will need this transition time to bond to you and get used to the new home, the new yard, the new family, and such.
  • For the next two weeks, do two daily training walks around the neighborhood because the dog will be used to your home by then and these walks will help solidify bonding.
  • For the next two weeks, take the dog to public-access outings, but only for five to ten minutes, because then both the dog and you will be getting used to doing these higher-stress situations together. (After the two, two and two, you can start doing longer public access, with a recommendation of two-hours maximum because you want to make sure the dog doesn't get stressed). 

3. Walks:

  • When the handler has no cognitive disabilities, we recommend two daily half-hour training walks.
    • At each street corner, you can practice rewarding sit or down. At red lights, you can practice walking in figure-eights. When you pass squirrels or dogs you can practice rewarding "watch-me." 
    • After the two-two-two, we recommend the handler use a beginning obedience class or private trainer with the dog because even though the dog knows the cues, it's nice for the handler and dog to learn the cues again with a different teacher (it's also nice bonding). 
  • When the handler has cognitive disabilities, the situation is different. Parents usually don't have the time or energy to do training walks (plus we want to help the dog bond to the child and not to the parents), so in these cases, training walks may not be appropriate.
    • We'll talk through the pros and cons of having parents interacting with the dog and together, we'll determine what procedure should work best for your family.
    • We realize that this answer isn't very comprehensive, but each family's situation is so individual that we find it best to modify our recommendations for each individual family.

When at home, when should we put the dog out to potty?

A:

When at home, we recommend putting the dog out to potty at least three times a day: in the morning, after they eat dinner, and before bedtime. If you have a fenced-in yard with a wooden fence, we also recommend installing a dog door into your back door.

Note that hen you are out working out in public with your service dog, we recommend having the dog potty against a tree right before you go into a building. Even though we recommend working only two hours at a time, it's easy to confuse a mall with trees (for instance) with the outdoors, and we always want to set you up for success. This procedure helps a lot.

When at home, should the dog be allowed on the bed or couch?

A:

Our default training is that the dog is not allowed on chairs or couchs, but if this behavior is desired for calming the handler, then you can decide later to relax this training. It's always easier to relax training than to train a behavior later. An exception: If the handler needs the dog to be in bed with them at night, we will train the dog in that manner.

  • Note that a service dog is not legally allowed to go on chairs or couches in public.

When at home, how will the dog behave with our cat?

A:
How will the dog handle our cat?

We will give the dog exposure to cats, but we highly recommend introducing the dog to your pet cat in a specific way, which we will supervise. It's best if the cat has claws, although it's fine if they don't. We will introduce them with the dog not on a leash, but under our (and your) close supervision. The goal is to introduce the animals together in such a way that the dog won't chase the cat like a squirrel, but rather, the cat will stare down the dog. The cat should have a nice high place (like a cat tree) where the cat can always go to feel completely safe from the dog, and in this way, the cat can devise its own long-term strategy of figuring out a good way of living with the dog long-term. 

When at home, how should siblings treat the service dog?

A:
If a child is to have the service dog, then you have a couple of options for siblings. If the siblings are old enough to have a lot of self-control, then best practice is to have the siblings not interact with the dog (which will encourage the dog to bond primarily to the handler). If the siblings are too young to have much self-control, then—it's not ideal—but we'll all have to let the siblings play with the dog. (However, you should give the handler and dog as much time as possible to bond together alone.)