Pawsitivity Service Dogs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in St. Paul, Minnesota, EIN 47-1446634, founded in 2012. We train service dogs for many disabilities and specialize in empowering veterans and families.

Check out our annual report and financials.

As you will see, the impact was substantial and often life-changing.”

- Quote from our independent, third-party Impact Evaluation.

What are the unique strengths of Pawsitivity?

  • We know every single client personally and work with them personally.
  • We serve people as their whole selves, based on their own priorities and needs.
  • We train service dogs to do what the client wants, regardless of what we think they should want.
  • We chose clients based on their level of motivation to achieve three types of goals: social, emotional, and physical goals (not just focusing on one type of goal).

How do donors know that their donations are being spent wisely?

  1. Proven. Pawsitivity is one of the few U.S. service dog nonprofits to have its outcomes assessed with an independent third-party Impact Evaluation
  2. Effective. Pawsitivity exceeds the Charities Review Council's top rating standard, spending an outstanding 82.18% of gifts on programs.
  3. Transparent. Our financials are publicly available, including our IRS 990s, CPA reviews, and annual reports with detailed SOP, SOA, and SFE. All our annual reports are in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Pawsitivity has earned Charity Review Council's highest rating (Meets Standards) and achieved Guidestar's Platinum Status.

Our training style for both dogs and families is very personalized. Pawsitivity's goal is to find the best solution for each particular dog/handler partnership, so we only work one-on-one with clients, rather than teaching classrooms full of people and dogs. We find that this warm, friendly, personalized style is the most effective way to find successful solutions for the complicated lives of veterans with disabilities. Pawsitivity is a full member of Animal Assisted Intervention International (AAII), the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, and is committed to positive reinforcement training methods (the same methods the U.S. Army uses).

In addition to our mission of training service dogs to empower veterans, we are committed to supporting veterans and underserved communities in our policies and as part of everything we do. Pawsitivity assets are invested in Vanguard’s FTSE Social Index Admiral Fund, which is composed of companies that meet environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) criteria. Pawsitivity’s dogs are trained with veteran-owned America’s VetDogs treats and bathed with Black-owned Pardo Naturals shampoo. Half of Pawsitivity’s staff are people of color and 2/5 of our board are minorities.

Service Dogs by Tom and Julie Coleman, CPDT-KA

What kind of programs does Pawsitivity run?

In addition to training service dogs for veterans and families, Pawsitivity is a national leader in service dog training.

  • Teaching other service dog providers. Our textbook, Service Dogs: The Rescue and Training of Heroes, won the Midwest Book Award for 2016.
  • Helping rescues. Pawsitivity has created a mobile phone app to help shelter workers discover rescue dogs that are most appropriate for training.
  • Sharing with educators. Pawsitivity’s Theory of Change and Logic Model are published on ResearchGate, which is available to all academics and nonprofits.

Who is Pawsitivity?

Who we are at Pawsitivity Service Dogs

The staff: 

Tom Coleman (he, him, his) and Julie Coleman (she, her, hers) are a married couple who founded Pawsitivity Service Dogs in 2012. Before they founded the nonprofit, they had satisfying careers but they did not have children. They definitely felt the need to do something to help make the world a better place. Sometimes people seek out what the world needs and sometimes the world finds them. In their case, the world's need came to them. One of their best friends had married a woman who had a child with autism. She told the couple about how much their pet dog had helped her child. What this young mother had really wanted, though, was a service dog to help her child. Unfortunately, there wasn't a service dog nonprofit in the area that specialized in autism spectrum disorder. After much discussion and research, Tom and Julie decided to work together to get the training and put together a nonprofit organization that could fill this need. Their original goal was to empower families of children with autism by partnering them with life-changing service dogs. Through the years, they found themselves working more and more with veteran families because the need is so great. Soon, they shifted their focus to "empowering veterans and families."

Tom and Julie's training in dog obedience and behavior is extensive. Tom is an American Kennel Club-approved Canine Good Citizen evaluator (#88541) and he serves as the Executive Director of Pawsitivity Service Dogs. Julie Coleman has CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed #3164407) certification and she works as Pawsitivity's Head Trainer and Managing Director. Julie's CPDT-KA title is one that less than 2,000 trainers have worldwide--to even apply to take the test requires a minimum of 300 hours of experience in dog training within the last three years. Julie is a professional member of the APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers #85974) and has taken dog-training seminars in person from Dr. Ian Dunbar, Sue Sternberg, and Connie Cleveland, as well as presentations at ClickerExpo. Julie holds a BA in Psychology from Carleton College, a certificate in First Aid and CPR for dogs, and a certificate in Understanding Autism from the University of Kent. Both Tom and Julie trained at CATCH Dog Training Academy at the Saint Hubert Animal Welfare Center in Madison, NJ in positive-reinforcement force-free training methods, using the techniques of Jean Donaldson. Both have also studied at the Ranch (Karen Pryor National Training Center) with Ken Ramirez, as well as studied the Volhardt Four-Drive dog assessment theory at Mahogany Ridge in Culpepper, VA. 

Julie is the introverted one who does most of the service dog training. Meanwhile, Tom is the more extroverted and works one-on-one with the families receiving service dogs. Both Tom and Julie have unrelated Master's Degrees--Tom in Theatre Directing from Northern Illinois University and Julie in Art History from the Chicago Institute of Art. Julie has been compared to a Border Collie because of her precise, organized working style, while Tom's personality is more of a Golden Retriever who is positive, warm, and a great listener. For better or worse, Julie works on her shyness while Tom always has to work to rein in his enthusiasm.

Tom and Julie are supported by two other part-timers, Ray and Frannie. Ray Nichols is a U.S. military veteran and he is certified as a Master Dog Trainer by the Catch Canine Dog Training Academy. Frannie Kass is the Education Manager. Frannie is a former Pawsitivity client, has trained extensively with both dogs and horses, and runs the Instagram account, "Respect the Lex."

The board:

Dr. Kris Butler, President; Dr. Michelle Parkinson, Vice President; Dave Mackmiller, Treasurer; Julie Coleman, Sergio Valverde.

The professional volunteers:

Dr. Jen Seidl DVM of the Grand Avenue Veterinary Center volunteers her medical services. Dr. and Professor of Psychology Kim Halvorson of Metropolitan State University donates her professional expertise and guidance. Dr. Beth Rausch, DVM of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls has partnered with Pawsitivity for a research study, as well as served as our medical advisor.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do you get the dogs?

We work with rescues, shelters, and breeders across the U.S. Each of these places uses a test they use to determine if a dog would be a good for training to be a service dog. These tests include elements like: Will the dog not jump up on a stranger, and will the dog let a stranger touch them all over, including their toes and teeth. Other tests include: Walk the dog walk nicely on a leash without pulling, then jump into the backseat of a car they have never been in. Will the dog ignore another dog that is barking and lunging at them. Will the dog play fetch with a stranger. Will the dog mildly startle and then recover easily if the tester loudly bang pots and pans with a spoon, as if there is thunder. The breeds of dogs that tend to work best are labs and goldens, but Pawsitivity has worked with many different breeds.

How do you train the dogs?

When we work with a rescue dog, there are four stages of training. In the first stage, the dog gets a thorough exam by a veterinarian. Then, we spend about a month making sure there aren’t any characteristics that are too hard to work with e.g. too timid, any aggression. This month is also spent teaching them manners, such as making sure they potty outside, don’t jump up on people, don’t bark at strange dogs, etc. 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. Stage two involves basic obedience such as down, sit, and stay. Sometimes we then give the dog to a foster for six months to see how they react to living in a different environment with different stimuli. Stage three is back with us, working on public access skills like going inside hardware stores, pet stores, and such. Stage four involves finding the right veteran for that particular dog, training tasks for the dog to help the veterans, and training the veteran so that they can partner with the dog. After graduation, we provide lifetime support for the veteran/service dog team.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the award-winninng service dog nonprofit, Pawsitivity Service Dogs. Take the next step: donate to help us train life-changing service dogs to empower veterans and families.