If you are looking into getting a service dog, this is a good place to start. The following are all questions that have been asked of us, and our goal is to provide information ahead of time, so you can make an informed decision.
- Are you a 501(c)(3) charity?
- Would you train an owner’s pet dog to be a service dog?
- Does one have to live in St. Paul, MN, to get a service dog?
- Do you train Diabetes Service Dogs?
- Can a person get health insurance or life insurance for a dog?
- What will the bonding/training meetings be like?
- Do you train service dogs for people in Canada?
- Does the handler actually get to own the dog?
- Has the service dog been trained trained specifically with the handler in mind, or has training been generalized to people with disabilities instead?
- Has the service dog been trained to respond to hand signals in addition to verbal cues?
- What's the difference between Standards, Tests, and Tasks?
- What factors influence whether a Service Dog will help a person?
- Is a service dog worth the time, money, and energy?
- What are the benefits to the caregivers?
- Are service dogs appropriate for children?
- At what age can a child get a service dog?
- Will a child with autism bond with the dog?
- Can the service dog be brought to school?
- What are the ADA rules?
- What vest patches do you use?
- Does the vest and belt-harness come with the dog or would that be something the handler needs to purchase?
- What type of ongoing communication with the family will be included once the dog is placed?
- What happens when the dog dies?
- When at home, how should the dog be treated?
- Do you have a general dog care FAQ?
- How do you train your dogs?
- How do you train the families?
- How does a handler travel with a service dog?
- What is the history of service dogs?
No, and here's why:
Even if a person has 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.
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.
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 again 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.
There's no company that offers life insurance for a dog, but there are places to get dog health insurance.
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.
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer (first, in English):
- 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, 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):
- 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.
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.
Once we match dog and person, the handler owns the dog--we will continue with the dog’s rehabilitation and training until graduation, but the dog is theirs 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.
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).
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.
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.
- Cost: Training a service dog costs $39,000 (Pawsitivity asks you to provide half, which is $19,500).
- Benefit: The health care savings alone makes the service dog, with an effective life span of 8 years, a cost-effective strategy (saving an average of $92,664). This health savings benefit is in addition to any increase in the financial earnings of the parents.
- Increasing the independence of the person
- Reducing the use of care support compared to other aids/professional help/informal care?
- In some investigated cases, the dog may be with them 24-hours a day. In this situation, they not only lessen health care costs, they also contribute to a large extent to the quality of life of the client and their environment.
- In addition, in these researched examples we see enormous savings in informal care and voluntary care.
A helpful study 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.
 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.
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).
- 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.
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 the dog might accidentally knock them over, and the. The child might be afraid of the dog. 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.
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.
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.
- A Service Dog can only be owned by someone who has a disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- 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.
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 the handler needs to purchase?
Everything is included.
Also, if the handler happen to have a crate, bed, dishes, bones, toys, and such, we'll send those, too. We'll even give the handler a big bag of the same grain-free dog food of the same brand the dog has been eating. If the handler ever wants to switch food brands, use a different bed, etc., they always can, but it's nice to make the transition of the the dog’s beginning their life with them as smooth and easy as possible.
We are always available for questions, either by phone, email, or in person.
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).
- Short answer: We work directly with the family so the family will know how to handle the service dog and keep up the training. We don't use classes, but rather, always work one-on-one with the family.
- Long answer: Here's a much more complete explanation on how we train the recipients of a Pawsitivity Service Dog.