Answers to frequently asked questions about Pawsitivity Service Dogs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a fee for a Service Dog from Pawsitivity?


Short answer: Yes...half of the cost.

Long answer: Luckily, there is a clear-cut answer for the cost, determined by a peer-reviewed study: For any organization, the approximate amount spent on rescuing, socializing, training, and placing, and then providing support for a Service Dog throughout its life is $33,000. Source: Coutts, Jason. "Cost of Canine Programs Across the United States." Syracuse, New York: American Society of Canine Trainers, 2012. This $33,000 cost is approximately the same for ALL Service Dog organizations.

Half of $33,000

  • Some organizations do all the fundraising (but have long waiting lists).
  • At Pawsitivity, we raise up to half, and your responsibility is the other half of the costs, which is $16,500.

If you do not have the resources, i.e. savings, for 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 pays for all the costs, that policy creates a waiting list that is many years long.

  • Bonus question #1: What is a Service Dog worth? You can calculate your own personalized answer.
  • Bonus question #2: Is a Service Dog tax-deductible? Yes--a Service Dog is a tax-deductible medical expense.

How the process goes:

  1. Pawsitivity partners with rescues and shelters across the country to find that "one-in-a-thousand" dog that tests as being appropriate for training. Check out our page on breeds to find out more about the difficulties of finding the right candidate dog for training. We find that our selecting and training the dog works better than having you (or us) train your current pet dog.
  2. Once we have spent a month or so evaluating the dog and confirming that his/her suitability for training, then we open up the application process for people to apply. You can sign up for updates to be notified when we open up for applications.
  3. We select who we believe might be a good fit for the dog we're working with, and then we contact that person for an interview. If everything works out, we the train the dog (and the person). We fundraise half the cost of training, and your fee is the other half.
  4. Even after graduation, we are available for questions and advice throughout the Service Dog’s life.

Why do some other charities require little or no fundraising?


Some large charities raise the full $33k themselves and then ask the families for nothing, but those charities are heavily funded organizations, often with multi-million dollar budgets.

Our smaller organization trains just two to three dogs per year and because we are so small, we just don’t have the depth and breadth of resources that much large organizations have. So while we do fundraise, we only fundraise part (up to half) of what it takes to raise and train a Service Dog, and thus ask the families for the rest. We hope eventually to do so much fundraising that the families won't have to contribute, but we are many years away from that goal.

Will insurance or the county help pay for the dog?


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?


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

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


There are 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 have any dogs available now?


We don't have a Service Dog available now (sorry), but feel free to sign up for updates to be notified when we open up for applications (about twice a year).

Can we assist in selecting the Service Dog?


No, sorry. We've found that the process works best if we find the dog--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. 

Would you train our dog to be a Service Dog?


No, and here's why:

Even if you have a dog that was properly socialized as a puppy to other dogs, crowds, and loud noises; has low reactivity/high biddability/low tenacity; has high pack drive/medium prey drive/low fight drive/low flight drive; and has been trained through positive reinforcement; even then, 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.

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


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

Children: If the dog is for a child, we recommend that families only apply if they live within driving distance of the Minneapolis/st. Paul metro area, which basically includes the state of Minnesota and the adjacent states. Unfortunately, it's hard to make the process work if you're not close by.

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.


Where do you get your dogs?


All our dogs are adult "second chance" (rescue) 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 we estimate about one out of a thousand dogs is appropriate for service dog work, we use the following steps:

1. We have a thorough checklist before we even meet the dog.

2. If the dog passes the checklist, we then we personally test the dog.

3. If the dog passes the test, then there's a month-long evaluation procedure.

4. If the dog passes the evaluation period, the dog becomes a candidate for training.

What breed of dogs do you use for Service Dogs?


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

A slightly longer answer is "We usually choose Goldens and Labs and mixes of Goldens or Labs for Service Dog work." 

But both those answers have a LOT of exceptions, and in general, how an individual dog scores on temperament testing is much more important that what breed they are. One 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 (and more individual dogs) that made good Service Dogs, but other breeds don't have a good track record.

If you want an even longer answer, click here.

Why not other breeds?


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, the Service Dogs we work with also need to have high pack-drive, pretty low prey-drive, low fight-drive, and low flight-drive. 

- The breed must also have the traits of low reactivity/high biddability/low tenacity (which is a rare combination).

- If all these requirements aren't enough, the dogs also need to be the right size because small dogs can grow fearful from being stepped on in crowds.

That's a lot of requirements! More details are on our page about breeds.

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


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

Please describe the training program the Service Dog receives?


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).

At Pawsitivity, we use the same method that both the U.S. Army working dog program and Guide Dogs for the Blind uses:

"All of the dog training is based on positive reward or feedback" -- U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.[1]

Because of its effectiveness, “training procedures are similar for all types of service dogs. Trainers use positive reinforcement techniques"[2] (emphasis ours).

Why Do We Train This Way?

More effective

As Pawsitivity learned (in our 2017 Positive Training workshop in Portland, Oregon), Guide Dogs for the Blind, the largest guide dog school in the United States, used to train with the old-school aversive methods,[5] but upon switching to modern positive-reinforcement methods they not only increased their pass rate, but also, "the dogs can become full-fledged Guide Dogs in half the time."[6] The Canine Department of the Netherlands National Police Agency reported, “[With] the first dog, [it] took me eight months to train him to follow a laser. With operant conditioning, it now takes me four weeks.” [4]

Fewer side effects

One of the big advantages to using positive reinforcement is that there isn’t the same risk of side effects. Simply put, "animals become afraid, either of people in general or of specific individuals as a result of aversive handling".[11] Not only does the dog find this kind of training unpleasant, but the use of aversives also can damage the handler's relationship with the dog. Most dogs will sell their soul for a tiny bit of hotdog (or, for high-drive dogs trained for police work, a rousing game of ball throwing). We can also use praise, and we can build in real-life rewards, such as getting to walk through a door. The dog doesn’t just get to run through—by sitting and waiting for the release word, the dog gets rewarded by getting to go outside for a walk. Or when out for a walk, the dog is rewarded by getting to cross the street after sitting. There's many ways a handler can reward a dog for doing what you want him to do, which also helps to keep up his training. The dog doesn’t know it’s work—it feels like a game. This way, both the dog and handler win. A 2014 study in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine concluded that side effects (aggression) often occurred when dogs were taught using aversives. Thus, “There is no consistent benefit to be gained from e-collar training but greater welfare concerns compared with positive reward based training.”[7] A 2013 study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science found that owners who used methods based on positive punishment and negative reinforcement were more likely to report their dog was aggressive toward family members or strangers outside.[8]

Less stressful for the dog.

Another study from Applied Animal Behaviour Science looked at two classes of dogs being trained to sit. One group lured its dogs into a sitting position with a treat, and the other group pushed down on its dogs’ behinds to force them into position. The study showed that with positive reinforcement, the dogs were 15 times less likely to cower or slink away from their owner. Additionally, the dogs trained with positive reinforcement were more likely to look their owner in the eye. Because we want to encourage a service dog to look at his/her handler and to initiate social interactions, this study’s conclusions dramatically demonstrate how much richer the handler/dog relationship can be with positive reinforcement.[9] Positive-reinforcement training is also much safer[10] (and presumably less stressful) for the handler and their family, as well.

Dogs will offer behaviors

Another advantage of positive reinforcement shows itself in that a service dog trained this way will offer lots of behaviors. With use of adversities, one runs the risk of the dog “offering fewer and fewer behaviors” because “not behaving is not the same from the dog’s perspective as exhibiting improved behavior.”[15] In other words, if a dog doesn't fear punishment for doing the wrong thing, the dog will feel free to try various approaches to getting rewarded until the dog finds the right one. 

Positive Reinforcement


[1] Military Working Dogs: Guardians of the Night, Linda Crippen TRADOC, May 23, 2011, U.S. Army, https://www.army.mil/article/56965/Military_Working_Dogs__Guardians_of_the_Night.

[2] Hand, Carol. Cool Careers Without College for People Who Love Animals. New York: Rosen, 2014.

[3] Coren, Stanley. How Dogs Think: Understanding the Canine Mind. New York: Free Press, 2004.

[4] From a three-year project for the Canine Department of the Netherlands National Police Agency, 1996, Simon Prins, coauthor of K9 Behavior Basics: A Manual for Proven Success in Operational Service Dog Training (2010).

[5] Adams, G.J., and K.G. Johnson. "Sleep, work, and the effects of shift work in drug detection dogs Canis familiaris." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 41 (1994): 115-126.

[6] Guide Dog News, the Quarterly Publication of the Guide Dogs for the Blind 59, no. 2 (2009).

[7] Cooper, Jonathan J., Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, Hannah Wright, and Daniel Mills. “The welfare consequences and efficacy of training pet dogs with remote electronic training collars in comparison to reward based training.” PPLoS ONE 9, no. 9 (2014): e102722.

[8] Casey, Rachel A., Bethany Loftus, Christine Bolster, Gemma Richards, and Emily J. Blackwell. "Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 152 (2014): 52-63.

[9] Deldalle, Stéphanie, Florence Gaunet. “Effects of two training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog-owner relationship.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior 9, no. 2 (2014): 58-65.

[10] Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. "Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 117, no. 1-2 (2009): 47-54.

[11] Rushen, Jeffrey, Allison A. Taylor, and Anne Marie de Passillé. "Domestic animals' fear of humans and its effect on their welfare." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 65, no. 3 (1999): 285-303.

[12] Shaw, Julie K., and Debbie Martin, eds. Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses. Ames, IA: Wiley, 2015.

[13] Mech, DL. “Whatever happened to the term “Alpha Wolf?” International Wolf 18, no. 4 (2008): 4-8.

[14] Appleby, David. The APBC Book of Companion Animal Behaviour. London: Souvenir, 2010.

[15] Overall, Karen L. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier, 2013.

Do you train Diabetes Service Dogs?


Short 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 by the Service Dog agency, but afterward, the client would continually need to reward the dog with practice sessions twice weekly for the rest of its life (or else the training will slowly extinguish). Unfortunately, ths model is not particularly practical for most people.
  • However, we have trained a mobility service dog (for a woman who had her leg amputated because of her diabetes) 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, although other experts think it's the smell of the sweat).
    • Twice, the Service Dog 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 woke up the husband by pawing him. The handler tells us that without her service dog she most certainly would have slipped into a coma.
    • 4/20/17: Update: The handler has been doing very poorly health-wise, and when she slipped into a 32-blood-sugar "nap" the dog was able to wake her up with uncharacteristic behavior--he barked (which he never does) and pawed at her (which he never does) until she woke up and got help.

If you would like to be updated as to when we are accepting applications, click here.

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


Yes. While we love working with veterans, we also work with non-veterans (civilians) with PTSD. We also work with children as well as with adults. Whether the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder comes from a workplace accident (such as with Bear's man), an explosion (like Harley's man), or the PTSD has co-morbidity with other disabilities (as with several of the dog handlers), we will work with your individual circumstances and needs.

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


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?


This is a question that we've hesitated to put on our FAQ because the meetings are so individualized. Not only do plans change for each person, they can also change from meeting to meeting as we discover more about each other. Thus, it's difficult to put together a generalized plan that works for everyone. On the other hand, it's nice to know an approximation of what to expect, so in the spirit of knowing at least some information, the following is how we usually work:

The first “training meeting“ is usually focuses on bonding. 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 this first 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 (such as affection, treats, outings, and toys).

Further sessions then get more into the actual training. It sounds odd, but the first lesson is about how to reward the dog because it's the foundation of training (and the dog/handler relationship). Further sessions involve training you on cues, reading the dog, public access, our protocols and recommendations. Finally, there will be a final test (or review, if you wish) at the end.

Sessions are scheduled for an hour each (it’s more productive to have many small meetings than a few long ones), and they are set for approxomately every three weeks. Note: This schedule is different if you are an adult coming in from out of town--then we schedule two-day sessions with one 2-hour evening-meeting and one 2-hour morning-meeting.

Rather than get into all the other exceptions and how the plan is modified for each person/family, we hope that the above gives you at least a general idea of how the sessions are scheduled.

Do you train service dogs for people in Canada?


Short answer: Yes.

Long answer (first, in English):

  • Yes.
  • We are located in the U.S. state of Minnesota (which is close to Canada), and we are in the city of St. Paul. We are a ten-minute drive from Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, and there is a nearby hotel called the Saint Paul Hotel. When you arrive, we recommend using a taxi from the airport to go to your hotel before meeting us because then you can rest from your trip. When we meet for the first time (sometimes at the University Club on Summit Avenue, which is five minutes away by car), we recommend using a taxi or Uber to get there.
  • Nonstop flights are available from Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg, and there are connecting flights from Ottowa and Quebec City. Just like out-of-state handlers from other parts of the U.S, we usually recommend three overnight visits (each with a meeting in the evening, and a meeting the next morning), although some handlers do more. The handler flies back on the last trip with the service dog at their feet.
  • There is no quarantine of dogs from U.S. to Canada and no import restrictions on Service Dogs traveling with their handler.

Long answer (en français): 

  • Oui.
  • Nous sommes situés à l'état américain du Minnesota (ce qui est proche du Canada) et nous sommes dans la ville de St. Paul. Nous sommes à dix minutes en voiture de Minneapolis / St. Paul Aéroport International, et il y a un hôtel voisin appelé l'hôtel Saint Paul. Lorsque vous arrivez, nous vous recommandons d'utiliser un taxi de l'aéroport pour aller à votre hôtel avant de nous rencontrer, car vous pouvez vous reposer de votre voyage. Lorsque nous nous rencontrons pour la première fois (parfois au Club de l'Université sur Avenue du Summot, à cinq minutes en voiture), nous vous recommandons d'utiliser un taxi ou Uber pour y arriver.
  • Les vols sans escale sont de Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Edmonton, Calgary et Winnipeg. D'autres vols proviennent d'Ottowa et de Québec. Nous recommandons généralement trois visites de deux jours. Le propriétaire revient sur le dernier voyage avec le chien de service à leurs pieds.
  • Il n'y a pas de quarantaine américaine de chiens au Canada et aucune restriction d'importation pour les chiens de service voyageant avec leur propriétaire. Nous sommes désolés, nous ne parlons pas français et nous espérons que vous pouvez parler anglais avec nous.

You may already know this, but Canadian Service Dogs laws vary a bit from province to province, and the laws have different names. Note that we are not lawyers, but here's a summary:

  • Alberta: The Human Rights, Citizenship, and Multicultural Act, which allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, or deaf, and now, under the Human Rights Amendment, to all physically disabled.
  • British Columbia: The Human Rights code allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or physically disabled.
  • Manitoba: The Manitoba Human Rights Act, Chapter H175, allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, as well as people with a physical or mental disability.
  • New Brunswick: The Human Rights Act of New Brunswick allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: The Human Rights Act which allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability.
  • Northwest Territories: The Northwest Territories Humans Rights Act allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability.
  • Nova Scotia: The Human Rights Act, which allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability.
  • Ontario: The Human Rights Act, which allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability. Ontario has legislation banning pit bull breeds but we never train pit bull dogs.
  • Prince Edward Island: The Human Rights Act, Chapter H-12, allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability.
  • Quebec: The Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, especially R.S.Q. E-20.1, allows Service Dogs for people with a handicap. En français: Service de chiens pour personnes handicapées.
  • Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, allows Service Dogs for blindness, deafness, or people with a disability who have a physical reliance on a service animal.
  • Yukon: The Yukon Human Rights Act allows Service Dogs for people who are blind, deaf, or have a physical disability. 

Do we actually get to own the dog?


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 may 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 funds 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 continue with the dog’s rehabilitation and training until graduation, but the dog is yours the whole time. :-)

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


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

Has the Service Dog been trained to respond to hand signals in addition to verbal cues?



Note that this is one of the questions that Temple Grantin (autism researcher) recommends that potential service dog owners ask a service dog nonprofit (all her other recommended questions are also included in this list of questions and answers).

What's the difference between Standards, Tests, and Tasks?


Pawsitivity pre-screens, selects, and trains each Service Dog to perform specific tasks for a specific individual with a disability. Pawsitivity gives each dog an in-depth health screening, including neutering or spaying, if needed. After training, each Service Dog must pass a public access test. This test ascertains that the dog can handle the stress associated with functioning as a Service Dog in public.

Specifics of the test:

  • The Service Dog must tolerate public areas including stores, malls, movie theaters, grocery stores, public transportation, trains, airlines, work, and other places that do not welcome pets.

  • The dog must not eliminate indoors or in an area that is not suitable for the dog to do so.

  • The dog must walk calmly on leash.

  • The dog can be safely loaded and unloaded from a vehicle.

  • The dog must let handler recover the leash if accidentally dropped.

  • The dog must be comfortable in narrow aisles. 

A Service Dog must be able to perform specific tasks for the person with a disability. Examples of these tasks include protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person to take prescribed medications, turning on lights, and opening doors. Additionally, a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, for instance, may have several of these disabilities, plus they may experience disabilities unique to them, so each Pawsitivity trains each Service Dog with the individual's needs in mind. 

Not directly tested, but additional benefits:

Along with the above elements that Pawsitivity directly tests during training, Service Dogs often provide several additional benefits and they may:

  • Serve as a “social bridge”, facilitating social interaction for the handler.

  • Provide a calming presence and increase confidence.

  • Provide safety and security.

  • Reduce emotional agitation.

  • Give a sense of pride and purpose.

  • Aid with everyday social challenges.

  • Help lower overall stress levels (for both the child and their parents).

  • Help the handler gain success and independence.

  • For children, having a Service Dog often decreases the child's meltdowns and other disruptive behaviors, as well as bring improvements in their performance of daily routines and more social interactions.


"One family visited Disney World because the presence of the Service Dog meant their daughter could cope with the long car ride to Florida and was able to take in the new environment without being overwhelmed. Other families reported that ferryboat rides, airplane flights, weekends spent at a cottage, and hotel stays were all more manageable with the assistance of the Service Dog. For many of these parents, sending their child to day camps or overnight camps with the dog was the first step in giving themselves some respite from the constant demands of care for their child".

"Sentinels of Safety: Service Dogs Ensure Safety and Enhance Freedom and Well-Being for Families With Autistic Children", Kristen E. Burrows, Cindy L. Adams, Jude Spiers, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 2008.

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


Typically, the expenses associated with keeping a Service Dog are the food and vet bills for the dog. For non-veterinary questions during the life of the dog, we encourage you to call us for advice. (Mandatory disclaimer: Our advice, while always available, should not be considered a replacement for veterinary advice.) Note that some veterinarians offer discounts on services for Service Dogs.

We use and recommend a no-grain dry kibble because it seems to be the appropriate combination of quality vs. convenience for families. You can use any food you like, but the brand and we use and recommend is Taste of the Wild, which is about $45 per 28-pound bag and online websites like Chewy.com will deliver for free anywhere in the US. Note that while there are cheaper options, we find this higher-quality food 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?


High-quality, individualized programs can help ensure that Service Dogs are well-selected and well-trained. Such programs also help parents develop greater competency working with their child's Service Dog and maintain a successful dog-handler relationship.


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


I wish I could find the source for this quote, but I've heard it said that the success of a Service Dog depends on our factors:

1. The competency of the trainer. This reason is why our head trainer, Julie Coleman, holds the designation of CPDT-KA (see About Us for more of our credentials and qualifications).

2. The individual dog. This is why we are so picky about the dogs that we train.

3. The family's motivations for getting the Service Dog (and expectations of what a Service Dog can achieve). This is one of the reasons this F.A.Q. is so long, and why we have so many detailed pages on this site. We feel that it's better to risk boring you with too much information, rather than not having enough.

4. The ability of the family and community to welcome the Service Dog. We place a high priority on working with you to make sure your transition to living with a Service Dog goes as smoothly as possible.

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


I love it when there is actual scientific data to help with decisions (both in training and in all aspects of life). In this case, there are several studies addressing this very question. One study[1] 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:

  • “Improved facilitation engagement, retention and compliance can have a considerable impact on the financial burden imposed by mental health care […]."
  • "Similarly, improvements in therapist and staff morale resulting from [animal-assisted interventions] can have important impacts on the quality and continuity of patient care.”

Cost comparisons:

  • Another study[2] estimated the lifetime per-capita societal cost (such as direct medical and non-medical care, lost wages, adult care, etc.) for a person with autism in the United States, and they estimated the cost to be $3.2 million per person(!).
  • The cost of lifelong care for autism can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention.[3] While this study didn't look at the use of Service Dogs, it can at least give you an idea of how lifetime financial costs can be reduced when medical symptoms are reduced.

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.

[1] Animal-Assisted Interventions in Adolescent Mental Health, Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, July 2004.

[2] JAMA Pediatrics, formerly Arch Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Michael L. Ganz, MS, PhD, April 2007.

[3] Autism Society estimate, using Government Accounting Office Report on Autism 2007.

What are the benefits to the caregivers?


A helpful study[1] found out a lot about an Autism Service Dogs and parents, and these results can give you a good idea of what to expect (even if it's not an Autism Service Dog, but another kind of Service Dog that you're getting).

While we recommend that, for the first six months "all good things come from the handler," in the long run, often a Service Dog isn't just for the handler—the Service Dog often also serves as a calm and obedient family dog, helping the entire family deal with stress. Families experience a lot of stress when caretaking for a child with special needs, and this responsibility is a significant hardship on them. 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 the dog can be there for each member of the family to cuddle, play, and exercise with.
  • Even if the family decides that the dog should only interact with the handler (and not the rest of the family) for the long-term, 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 feel more relaxed at night because the dog is with the child.
  • Caregivers feel more in control and calmer in general because the child had a Service Dog.
  • With parents of children with autism, the parents consistently say 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 handler, but also in helping the entire family deal with stress. 

[1] 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.

Are Service Dogs appropriate for children?


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 many different symptoms, and each child is 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, in particular, 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.



At what age can a child get a Service Dog?


We've found that the process works best when the child is seven years old or older, and here's why:

  • When children 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.

Will my child with autism bond with the dog?


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 we only see the bonding by the 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 non-Pawsitivity families, the dog bonds most strongly with the other members of the family, not the child with autism. Yet even those (non-Pawsitivity) families report that there is a significant improvement in quality of life measurements because the child is behaving better, both when the child is interacting with the dog and when the dog is simply around the child. Note that the dogs we have trained have a great track record of bonding with their child because we encourage a protocol of "All good things come from the handler" (the child should be the one who interacts with the dog, not the parents).

Pawsitivity 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.

Can the Service Dog be brought to school?


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, though, it's still basically the adult i.e. parent, who is in charge, even though the Service Dog is for the child. An adult must be in charge because even the best-trained dog just doesn't have the cognitive ability to make decisions for the child. 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, so it really does depend on the situation.

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

What are the ADA rules?


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, around 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?


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?


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?


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).

What vest patches do you use?


For the main patch, we always proudly use our trademarked 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.

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


Everything is included.

Also, if you don't happen to have a crate, bed, dishes, bones, toys, and such, we'll send those, too. 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 food brands, use a different bed, etc., you always can, but it's nice to make the transition of the the dog’s beginning their life with you as smooth and easy as possible.

How does travel work with a Service Dog?


Service 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 employees who work with the airline see passengers with disabilities traveling with their Service Dogs all the time.

Most handlers call the airline ahead of time and let the airline know they'll be traveling with a Service Dog (because the airline may put a note on the ticket), but whether or not you call them, you go through security just like everyone else. Security will inspect the dog's vest and such, just like they 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 and it's time to board, you'll board with the dog when you seat is called. You will probably 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 and then they also get the under-seat baggage room (this option costs money, but some handlers find the extra cost worth the expense). Some handlers even choose to pay the extra money to fly first-class. 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!

You will probably feel more secure bringing paperwork (such as doctor's notes, the dog's service dog graduation certificate, and 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. The URL of the card keeps changing, but you can go to https://tsa.gov and search for it there. Use of this Notification Card, or of a doctor' letter, does not exempt a passenger from screening, but the card can be a nice reassuring way of smoothing out situations.

We've always recommended that you do not get a connecting flight because would add too many hours of stressful travel. Plus, 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, they found that two 2-hour flights are more manageable that one 4-hour flight...however, they have since changed their mind and now agree with us that a direct flight is (by far) their best choice.

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


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

What happens when the dog dies?


All good things come to an end, and a dog's life expectancy is perhaps ten 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).

1- 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.

2 - 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. If this is the case, some families may let us know as the dog is getting sick, or other families let us know if the dog goes unexpectedly. 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 (which takes six to twelve months). 

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


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. Dog parks are for pets, not Service Dogs, because your Service Dog is trained to work (and not to play with other dogs). Note that you will still want to play with your Service Dog when the dog is not workng, just not at a dog park. 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, but rather, you want your Service Dog focused on you.

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


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. 

”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" (and not from other family members). So whether it's food, fun, or affection, these 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 rewards still coming from the handler).

"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 outings, with a recommendation of two-hours maximum because you want to make sure the dog doesn't get stressed). 


The following answer is not comprehensive and each family's situation is so individual that we find it best to modify our recommendations for each individual family. With that caveat in mind, however, we hope that you find the following general guidelines helpful in your plannning:

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-and-two, we recommend the handler attend a beginning obedience class or use a 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, and we'll help determine what procedure should work best for your family.

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


When at home, we recommend putting the dog out to potty at least three times a day: in the morning, after 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 when 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, for instance, for a dog to confuse a mall that has trees with the outdoors. We always want to set you up for success, and this procedure helps a lot.

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


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 Service Dog behave with 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 because then the cat can communicate to the dog that he/she doesn't want to play. We will usually introduce them with the dog unleashed, 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 (and worst case, the cat has its claws for protection). The cat should have a safe space (like a tall cat-tree or a room with a cat-door) where the cat can always go to feel completely safe from the dog. In this way, the cat has “agency” and can devise its own long-term strategy for living with the dog.

When at home, how should siblings treat the Service Dog?

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 have to let the siblings play with the dog. (However, even in this case, you should give the handler and dog as much time together as possible so they can bond.)

When at home, how does a Service Dog ride in our car or SUV?


While there are many options available, most Service Dog handlers use one of the following two techniques:

  1. Put a crate in the back of your SUV (or in the back seat of your car), and then have the dog jump up into the crate.
  2. Have the dog wear his/her Service Dog vest (which has a handle on it), and string the seatbelt through the handle.

Either of these options keeps the dog safe and secure.

When at home, how long can a Service Dog be left in the house alone?


Usually a Service Dog is with their handler at all times (unless the dog is for a child, and then the dog is usually home with a stay-at-home parent), but there can be times when a dog has to be left home alone.

We have hesitated for a long time in posting the answer to this question because we don't want to encourage separating a people-oriented Service Dog from their handler or family. However, we recognize that circumstances do come up when a dog has to be left home alone (and sometimes, it might just be for an hour or two). In this case, we usually recommend leaving the dog in his/her crate with a new bone to chew on, and then the dog can then go eight hours without peeing.