FAQ

Answers to frequently asked questions about Pawsitivity Service Dogs.

Frequently Asked Questions

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. 

Is there a fee for getting a Service Dog from Pawsitivity?

A:

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: For any organization, the approximate amount spent on rescuing, socializing, training, and placing, and then providing a decade of support for a service dog throughout its life is $39,000 [1]. This amount is approximately the same for ALL service dog organizations. Some organizations do all the fundraising (but have long wait lists). At Pawsitivity, we raise half, and your responsibility is the other half of the costs, which is $19,500.

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

Are service dogs tax-deductible? Yes--the fee for a service dog is a tax-deductible medical expense.

How the process of getting a service dog goes:

1 - Pawsitivity works with rescues and shelters across the country to find that "1-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 us (or you) 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 - When we find who we believe might be a good fit for the dog we're working with, 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 handler's fee is the other half.

4 - Even after graduation, we are available for questions and advice.

[1] Coutts, Jason. "Cost of Canine Programs Across the United States." Syracuse, New York: American Society of Canine Trainers, 2012: 24.

Why do some other charities require little or no fundraising?

A:

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?

A:

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

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

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

A:

Yes, and all donations (including stock certificates) to Pawsitivity are tax-deductible. Our EIN is 47-1446634, and we are certified 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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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:

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?

A:

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

- 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?

A:

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

Please describe the training program for the handler?

A:

During the six to twelve months it takes to train a Service Dog, we also train the handler and/or family. If possible, we set up monthly meetings so we can teach the handler how to give cues correctly and handle the dog in public places. If we’re not able to set up monthly meetings with the handler because a) you’re not local, and your schedule doesn’t allow it, or b) you aren’t local, and their disability prevents you from traveling, we have occasionally made exceptions where we travel to the handler.

We use positive reinforcement training and have a whole page discussing the benefits of this approach. In short, though, positive reinforcement is the most effective way to get the dog to bond to the handler.

You may be understandably nervous taking the dog into public places at first. To mitigate this, we provide plenty of public access training. The handler can then get used to the idea that they can take the dog into a restaurant or a shop and feel confident doing so. The handler will slowly get comfortable with the dog’s ability to respond to cues in various environments. These public access outings will give us plenty of time to work on general training techniques including not repeating commands, troubleshooting problems, etc. The Training Manual that we will give to the handler upon graduation goes over all these techniques, too. In general, training via the “five out of five” system we use is not only helpful but is also easy to communicate to handlers. (For instance, once a dog correctly follows the “sit” command five times out of five with a hand signal, we then teach him five out of five with a verbal cue alone, or add distance, distraction, or duration.) We provide a training record where we have charted the dog’s progress that we give to you. If you are interested, we will teach youto train the dog incrementally in this way because it makes it very clear and obvious how you should not move on to the next step until the dog demonstrates mastery by successfully completing the previous step five times out of five.

In addition to getting the handler comfortable taking the dog out in public, here are some of the other things we go over with you:

1 –How to Answer Questions from the Public.

During any public access training, the handler may have to respond to questions from strangers. The handler will be instructed about standard questions that will be asked, such as “May I pet your dog?” Your answer should be something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, the dog is working. I promised his trainer that nobody else would pet the dog so he can stay focused on working.” Once the handler has memorized their response, we practice this question by pretending that you are a stranger asking questions. Depending on the family, we may also pretend to be a child and get on our knees or run up to the dog. We instruct the handler to stand in front of the dog and kindly but gently block the child. The handler should say, “No touching! The dog is working, and you are not supposed to pet a dog when he is working.” An exception is when we are working with a child who has autism, and the family wants to use the dog as a social bridge, in which case we would create an “ask to pet” scenario. Another question people sometimes ask, when they notice the nose/ head collar: “Is the dog wearing a muzzle?” or “Why is he wearing a muzzle?” We will help you practice answering, “Nope. It’s just a nose collar, and it is used to give feedback to the dog.” Note that this problem has been lessened in recent years because we have started using a pink nose collar (which doesn’t look much like a muzzle).

2 –Signs that the Dog Is Stressed

We recommend only having the dog work outside the house for a couple hours at a time to keep them from getting too stressed (with some exceptions). There are several ways to tell when a dog is getting stressed and, thus, needs a good long break (perhaps four hours). Despite the importance of dogs’ stress signals, they are easy to miss because they are different than the stress signals that humans use.

We teach the handler that the most common stress signals are any one of the following subtle behaviors (aka “displacement behaviors”): A –Yawning (even though the dog is not tired). B –Panting (even though the dog is not hot). C –Licking their lips or drooling (even though the dog is not hungry). D –Scratching himself (even though the dog doesn’t have bug bites). Of more concern are the following subtle body postures, which are signs of super-high stress (hopefully you’ll never see these): A –Showing the whites of their eyes (when you usually can’t see the whites of their eyes), also known as “whale eye.” B –Making their body rigid and stiff (when usually their bodies are loose and relaxed). C –Closing their jaws too tightly (when usually their jaws are pretty relaxed).

Arousal signals are also important, and they indicate that the dog needs some time with less stimuli: A –Mouth open so you can see the dog’s teeth a bit. B –Tail straight up (instead of down). C –Head up and ears up.

By the time we are doing this work with the handler, we will know the dog well enough to know which stress signs that this particular dog is most likely to exhibit. We can point these out to the handler during the training.

3 –The Importance of Continual Training

Getting a service dog means that the handler’s life will be disrupted for a while, and the handler should be aware that the transition (like all transitions) will be difficult. One study found that despite the “independence, confidence, companionship, increased and changed social interaction, as well as increased mobility” associated with service dog ownership, up to a third of handlers also found “the responsibility involved in caring for the dog something of a drawback”.[ 1] It’s important to properly prepare the handler for this transition by reminders to be patient, take care of oneself, and encouraging them to call or email us with any questions. Depending on the situation, we may also recommend that you take a class to help with bonding and training. Although the dog will be well trained in a number of skills, it will build up the handler’s confidence to take a dog-training class, and it will also help the dog learn how this particular person uses their voice and body when they give commands. It would also be helpful for the handler to find a personal trainer to assist them with any problems that come up (if they live in a different city than us). Of course we will be available to help you with questions via e-mail and phone calls.

We emphasize that there will be a graduation test for the dog and the handler (and sometimes an annual re-certification process). We want to be clear—even strict—about this requirement so that the handler will not think of the dog as a “finished product” that should behave perfectly, like a car or a toaster. Instead, we want the handler to think of themselves and the dog as a team that will work together to build on the foundational training we’ve completed so far. We will also remind you that every dog has something that they need to work on. Even after meeting the training standards, there will be specific challenges (perhaps getting excited around other dogs) that the handler will always need to focus on.

4 –Using the Leash with Your Feet (Instead of Your Hands)

While a handler should be able to keep up the dog’s cues of “sit,” “down,” and “stay,” there’s a shortcut you can always fall back on: Stepping on the leash. If you are in a place where you can’t pay much attention to the dog (for instance, while picking up medication at a pharmacy), you should start by having the dog lie down. Rather than trusting the dog to maintain its down-stay, the handler can then step on the leash as a proactive way to keep the dog under control if the dog wants to get up unexpectedly. By placing a foot on the slightly loose leash, the handler doesn’t need to pay full attention in order to ensure that the dog maintains its down-stay. The handler can respond to any sudden movement by saying “No” and gently adding a little pressure. If the dog gets excited, the handler can simply take away a little length on the leash and hold it taut until the dog calms down.

5 –Zen Mat

Rather than keeping the dog in a sit-stay or down-stay for long periods of time, the handler can simply place the dog on a raised mat, and as long as the dog doesn’t get off it, the dog can feel free to sit, stand, or lie down. The mat is much more comfortable than the floor and is cooler than a traditional dog bed. By pairing the time on the mat with lots of treats, the dog associates the mat with good times. This can be especially helpful if the handler will be taking the dog to work or school with them. And it’s a great way to help an excited dog calm down.  

6 –“If You Say It, Pay It”

Knowing this phrase is a good way to remember how positive-reinforcement training works.

‘Yes” = Yes/ Treat. If you say “Yes” to the dog as a marker that they’ve just done what you asked them to do, that always has to be followed up by a treat. When training (either a new behavior or reminding the dog of an old behavior), we use “Yes/ Treat” 100% of the time.

“Good Dog” = No treat. You can’t always give the dog a treat when they do something right, You can use “Good Dog” as praise to let the dog know they’re behaving correctly (with no treat). We remind you to use “Yes/ Treat” as often as possible, though, to keep up the intermittent reinforcement. When a dog knows a behavior (defined as doing it correctly 5 out of 5 times), then intermittent reinforcement is like a person playing a slot machine—if only rewarded some of the time, the behavior is addicting! 

7 –“All Good Things Come From the Handler”

We find helpful to instill this idea into the handler for three reasons:

A –Bonding. To encourage bonding, the dog should get nothing from other family members and should not be allowed to play with other dogs. Whether it’s food, fun, or affection, all good things come from the handler. This trains the dog to rely on and look to its handler whenever it needs something, rather than going to whoever happens to be nearby.

B –Distractions. It’s easy for a dog to be distracted by all the fun things in life, but if the dog learns that best things in life all come from thehandler, the dog is better at focusing.

8 - “A Tired Dog Is a Good Dog”

If a dog isn’t getting enough physical and/ or mental exercise, they are more likely to get highly aroused and not follow commands. If the dog is tired, the dog be more likely to pay attention and respond, and thus both the dog and handler will be happier. Here are a couple ways a handler to make sure the dog is good and tired:

A –Two 30-Minute Daily Training Walks The dog will be fully trained by the time he goes to the handler, but (depending on the situation) the handler may choose continue the training by doing two daily thirty-minute walks. Few handlers are willing to, say, spend an hour retraining per day, but these training walks are different—they become part of the handler’s daily routine and, thus, are much easier to do than boring old training at home. And, in addition, to getting regular training, the dog is also getting physical exercise. At street corners, the handler can practice sit or down (with rewards, of course). At red lights and entrances, yo8 can practice walking in figure-eights. When passing squirrels or dogs, that’s a perfect opportunity for the handler to practice “Watch Me.” 

B –Mat Training If a dog becomes highly aroused, having them go to their mat helps to tire them out. Having to stay on that mat is a lot of work! Many dogs even pant because it’s so mentally challenging not to just get up and do whatever they want to do. Before too long, the dog will relax and may even lie down and go to sleep.

9 - Keep the Dog’s Arousal Level at 4 or Less (Out of 10) “Arousal” is an important concept—only when the dog is not overly aroused will they respond to cues properly. If a dog is too aroused (or excited), he won’t be able to focus. We teach the handler this ten-point scale to help you understand this idea in reference to their dog:

Arousal rate is 7 = Ready to play, but too high for working. If the dog’s mouth is open but he’s probably not hot, he might be showing that he’s ready to play. If you can’t see the whites of his eyes, but the dog’s excited enough that he’s starting to get hard to control, don’t try to work with him. Give him a nice long break on his mat until his arousal rate is at 4 or below.

Arousal rate is 6 = Happy dog. At an arousal level of 6 the dog is still easy to control, but having him do a down-stay will calm him down to a nice 4 or less. Put him on the mat, if possible.

Arousal rate is 4 = Alert. If the dog’s ears are up, the dog is alert and ready to work. At the arousal level of 4, the dog has got a little breathing room. He should be ready to work, but even if he starts to get excited, you’ve got some leeway before reaching a hard-to-control level 7.

10 - Training During Public Access

Public acces can  be used to continue the dog’s training. Again, most handler will not want to have formal training sessions each day, but by incorporating training into your public access time, the handler can easily keep up their dog’s training without spending lots of extra time on it.

A –Regroup Before Entering

Before going into a house or public building, the handler should regroup and get all set. They should make sure their treat-bag and waist-leash are set up correctly, and ensure that the dog is calm. Do “figure eights” if necessary (a “figure eight” is a strict heel, walking in double-loops that make a figure eight–this exercise is great at getting the dog to focus on the handler).

B –Find the “Safe Zones”

When the handler enters a public building, the first thing you should do is find any areas that are quiet and free from people. These “safe zones” will be spots where the handler can pause and regroup if needed, which will help to keep stress levels down for both the handler and the dog.

C –Practice Cues Whenever the Handler Stops Moving

We will teach you to cue the dog to sit, lie down, or stay whenever you stop (whether to look at a shopping item, wait in line, or chat with someone). This way, the handler will be continually adding new distractions to each cue.

11 - “Nothing for Free”

This phrase is a wonderful way to remind yourself to continually train your dog, who will learn that all good things—getting a meal, being petted, going through doors, playing with a toy, etc.—have to be earned by good behavior. These are called “life rewards” because they are regular parts of life, but they can be used as rewards.

A –Meals Before meals, the dog should sit or lie down. After you set down the food in front of them, the dog must wait for a release word (such as “okay!”) from you before being allowed to start eating.

B –Going Outside

Any time you take their dog outside, the dog must sit at the door and not pass through until you say the release word. This also helps prevent the dog from bolting through an open door. Going through a door to the outside is a reward that must be earned.

C –Affection

Many dogs love to be petted, so affection can be a great “life reward.” Before petting your Service Dog at home, your should have your dog sit. This also keeps the dog from getting too excited. If the dog stands up, the petting stops. As with all these guidelines, the ideas are modified if working with a child who is low-functioning.

A Note About Dog Parks

You might think that the easiest way to tire out your dog would be to take it to a dog park. We strongly insist that you never take your Service Dog to a dog park because Service Dogs should focus on their handler, not other dogs, and trips to a dog park can ruin their focus.

Do you train Diabetes Service Dogs?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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

What will the bonding/training meetings be like?

A:

This is a question that we've hesitated to put on our FAQ because the meetings are so individualized. 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?

A:

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?

A:

Yes. Some charities "co-own" their Service Dogs, but not Pawsitivity, and we will never forcibly "take back" the dog. Even if the handler passes away, the dog 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?

A:

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?

A:

Yes.

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?

A:

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.

Example:

"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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:
Short answer:
Yes. 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).
Long Answer:
Cost and Effectiveness of Service Dogs: 
From a study commissioned by the Health Insurance Board, Netherlands. Marjon Diepenhorst, Tom Weijnen, Felicie van Vree, Project number: B3679, Zoetermeer, 9 March 2011. Abstract, published in Dutch.
The central research question: To what extent and what cost do assistance dogs contribute to:

Increasing the independence of the person

Reducing the use of care support 

compared to other aids/professional help/informal care?
Highlights
The core of this cost-utility analysis is the comparison between a care recipient with and a care recipient without an assistance dog in terms of cost of care and support. The group and the control group consisted of 200 care recipients. Case studies with interviews were also conducted.
Part of the many cost savings from service dog ownership is realized in health care. Based on this factor, (which includes deducting the annual cost of care of the dog such as food and veterarian bills) the annual savings for the service dog owner are €8,400 (in 2011, the exchange to dollars is an annual savings of $11,583) compared the costs incurred by a person without an service dog. This health care savings alone makes the service dog, with an effective life span of 8 years, a cost-effective strategy, because the costs are lower (saving an average of $92,664)--plus, the quality of life is higher than in the control group.
In the case studies of some service dogs types (such as those for autism), the benefits are even higher: In these cases, the dog has a (very) positive effect on the independence of the care recipients. 
  • In some investigated cases, the dog may be with them 24-hour 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.
Note that in some of these cases, the situation of the client is very specific (for example, having brittle diabetes mellitus). For these rare but serious problems (which are not always recorded in indication criteria), a service dog offers even more value to support people in daily life. 

Citation

Diepenhorst, M., Weijnen, T., & Van Vree, F. (2010). Kosten en effectiviteit van hulphonden. Eindrapport. Een onderzoek in opdracht van het College voor Zorgverzekeringen. Zoetermeer: Research voor Beleid.

What are the benefits to the caregivers?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

In general, yes, but not in the same way people without autism do. Since children along the autism spectrum have difficulty showing emotion, sometimes we can't see the bonding directly and 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?

A:

Short answer: Usually no.

Long answer: Sometimes, if the teacher wants the dog there (and even then, for a maximum of two hours). With adults and Service Dogs, (like a guide dog for the blind) the adult is in control of the Service Dog and makes all the decisions. With a child, 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?

A:

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

- A Service Dog can only be owned by someone who has a disability (a rough guideline is if the person qualifies for SSI and can't work).

- The penalty for "impersonating" a person with a disability is severe because it is punishable by federal law.

- A Service Dog must be leashed, behave appropriately in all circumstances (thunder, noisy crowds, 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?

A:

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

What is your Vision Statement?

A:

Vision Statement:

To provide the highest-quality trained Service Dogs.

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

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

What is your Privacy Policy?

A:

Here is Pawsitivity's Privacy Policy.

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

What vest patches do you use?

A:

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?

A:

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?

A:

1. Flying

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). When you walk up to the security line, the employee in charge sometimes sends you to a separate line. This is oftentimes a shorter queue, such as the one for known travelers or employees of the airlines. There will still be security stations to contend with (usually old-school metal detectors rather than the scanning booths). We recommend that you take off the dog's vest, collar, and leash at this point, so you can put them through the conveyor belt and they can get x-rayed  (just like they do with people’s luggage). The procedure varies, but often the handler walks through the security booth, leaving the “naked” dog, then calls the dog through, and then the dog is directly inspected by security. Then you can put the dog’s collar, vets, and leash back on. 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!

Special notes:

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.

You may see people without a disability who fly with what is called an emotional support animal—if they have a recent note from their doctor and a recent health certificate from their veterinarian, they’re allowed to do that under the Airline Carrier Act. But if you have a severe disability and a trained service dog, you don’t need a doctors note nor a veterinarian’s health certificate.

We recommend not bringing a Service Dog to Hawaii. Hawaii has its own special exceptions due to its unique ecology and correspondingly strong anti-rabies laws. Under normal circumstances, any dog coming into Hawaii must go through quarantine, and exceptions are rarely made.

In general, dogs hate flying. It’s the equivalent of performing an extended Sit-Stay or Down-Stay in a very small area with uncomfortable air pressure, loud noises, strange smells, and lots of crowding. That kind of situation can put a lot of stress on an animal, and traveling on less-busy days will really help mitigate your companion’s stress levels.

2. Bus and Subway

As with airlines, please note that dogs hate traveling by bus or subway. The noise, the crowds, and the smells all create a high-stress environment. They’ll do it, but they don’t like it, and this should be taken into account when planning the day.

During subway rides, it is highly recommended that a handler stands with the dog rather than find a place to sit. That way, ome doesn’t need to worry about another passenger stepping on his animal’s tail. Busses can pose a different challenge. In the best case scenario, a handler will find a double seat to share with the Service Dog. If it’s really crowded, then standing is the way to go.

3. Traveling by Car

Option 1: We recommend a kennel in the back seat or far back of an SUV. Dogs are happier and more secure in a smaller area, and it’s harder for them to interfere with driving so long as they are confined to their kennel.

Option 2: Pawsitivity’s vest comes with a secure handle. You may put the Service Dog in the back seat, have the dog wear the vest, and strap a seatbelt through the vest handle. You can then latch the seatbelt securely.

Handlers are often tempted to keep their dog in the front seat for company, but in the unlikely event of an accident, having a dog interfere at that crucial moment can prove disastrous. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

Note that virtually any dog will get car-sick if you drive for far enough. Their bodies can’t understand the way the car is moving the same way that people do, so it’s always a good idea to hold off feeding until after the trip is over.

 

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

A:

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

What happens when the dog dies?

A:

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?

A:

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

Dog parks: You really don't want to bring your Service Dog to a dog park. 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?

A:

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

”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). 

Walks:

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?

A:

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?

A:

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

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

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

A:
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?

A:
If a child is to have the Service Dog, then you have a couple of options for siblings. If the siblings are old enough to have a lot of self-control, then best practice is to have the siblings not interact with the dog (which will encourage the dog to bond primarily to the handler). If the siblings are too young to have much self-control, then—it's not ideal—but we'll 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?

A:

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?

A:

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.