Please watch this video for an overview of how service dogs can assist veterans and first responders with disabilities, then continue reading below.
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A service dog helps a person with a disability achieve independence. The dog reduces that person’s reliance on other people by doing tasks that the person either cannot do for him/herself or needs to ask for another person’s assistance to do. A service dog can give a person with a disability the support and confidence to travel outside the home independently, (re)join the workforce, or even just accomplish the everyday tasks of living. For example, a service dog can be trained to do tasks such as:
- Provide balance support or assist his partner in sitting, standing, or walking
- Alert his partner to important sounds such as the doorbell, alarm, or the partner’s name being called
- Retrieve items, open and close doors and cabinets, operate light switches and automatic door openers
- Wake his partner from a debilitating nightmare
- Recognize and alert his partner to specific signs of anxiety
- Seek help for his partner in emergencies.
You must be as committed to the dog as the dog is to you. In short, you must have the physical drive and emotional stamina, as well as the right environmental conditions and life circumstances, to make the dog a major priority in your life. If you haven’t yet stabilized after your injury, or if you are still in treatment that demands most of your time and energy, or if your work situation or home environment are in flux, this is not the right time to consider applying for a Hero Dog.
However, if you think you are ready to make the commitment, you have the full support of everyone in your household and that of your caregivers, you are motivated to do the training, and you are excited about the prospect of gaining a devoted companion who can help you achieve greater independence and dramatically improve the quality of your life, please continue reading to learn more.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are requesting assistance from a service dog for PTSD or other mental health condition:
- You must be currently in therapy (i.e. counseling, as opposed to just medication checks) with a mental health practitioner. Either individual or group counseling is acceptable.
- You must have had at least eight (8) hours of therapy with that provider within the three (3) months prior to applying before the provider can fill out the Mental Health History and Report.
- If you are prescribed medications as a part of your mental health treatment and a different provider monitors your medications, that other provider must also fill out a Mental Health History and Report.
- You must remain in counseling with a mental health practitioner for the duration of your training with Hero Dogs. Use of a service dog for PTSD (or other mental health condition) is an adjunctive therapy and does not replace the need for professional mental health treatment.
We will not accept your application if these criteria are not met.
- whether you can meet the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the dog,
- whether you have an adequate support system in place to do so when you are unable to yourself,
- whether Hero Dogs feels that we can train a dog to perform specific tasks which can mitigate your disability, and whether we have such a dog currently available in our training program, and
- whether you are willing and able to make the commitment to the training program.
In addition, you must be capable of providing financial support for the dog after ownership has been signed over to you.
Since each case is unique, there is no “recipe” for matching an applicant with a dog. Service dog partnership is exactly that – a partnership – a two-way relationship between person and dog. The success of the partnership is dependent on the needs, abilities, and personalities of both individuals.
If you and a Hero Dog are eventually matched, successfully meet the training requirements, are certified by Hero Dogs, and graduate from the program, ownership of the dog will be transferred to you. At that point, you will then be responsible for all of the usual costs associated with owning a dog.
Clients are not required to participate in any fundraising activities for Hero Dogs. In fact, we require that potential applicants refrain from volunteering, donating, or otherwise participating in fundraising or public relations activities for at least six months prior to applying. Once a team has completed their training commitment and certification, they are welcome (but never required) to volunteer for Hero Dogs.
Hero Dogs are trained in three phases over the course of 2.5 – 3 years. You can read more about each phase by following the links below.
Phase I – Puppy Training Program – Socialization and training by a volunteer puppy raiser under the guidance of Hero Dogs staff until ~16-18 months of age. Read more on the Puppy Program page.
Phase II – Advanced Training Program – Training in specialized service dog skills and tasks by professional trainers at our training facility for approximately eight months. Read more on the Advanced Training Program page.
Phase III – Veteran/Hero Dog Team Training – Intensive one-on-one training with Veteran and Hero Dog for a minimum of 120 hours over the course of 6-12 months. Read more on the Team Training Program page.
Training never stops, however. The ADA guarantees people with disabilities the right to be accompanied by a service dog in all places open to the public, but the dog must remain unobtrusive and behave impeccably. For instance, if the dog disrupts the course of business by barking or growling, a business owner has the right to ask the person to remove the service dog from the premises. Therefore, continuing to train with your dog on a regular basis to keep its obedience and public deportment skills polished is a necessity for a successful Hero Dog partnership. Opportunities for you to maintain your dog’s obedience and public deportment skills are available to you through follow-up training, access to group classes, and consultations with our staff, as long as you continue to qualify by participating in and passing your bi-annual certification.
The team trains together under the supervision of a Hero Dogs staff trainer for a minimum of 120 hours (over the course of at least 6 months) in a variety of public and private settings, including the client’s home, school or workplace, community, stores, public transportation, etc. The training program is customized to the individual client’s needs and abilities. At the completion of this period, the team must successfully pass a three-part certification examination.
Please read more on our Team Training Program page.
- a one-hour brisk walk
- 20-30 minutes of vigorous play, and
- 20-30 minutes of training
for the dog each day. If you are physically incapable of exercising the dog, you will need to make arrangements for someone else to do so. Letting the dog out in a yard does not constitute adequate exercise. Hero Dogs requires their clients to keep the dog leashed or supervised within a safely enclosed area at all times when outside. We do not permit electronic fencing and do not condone the use of dog parks for socialization or exercise.
Keeping the dog well groomed is another requirement of partnership with a Hero Dog. If you cannot bathe and groom the dog yourself, you will need to determine where you will take it to be bathed and groomed and also consider the expense of such services.
Although there is no cost to you for the Hero Dog or associated training, once ownership of the dog has been transferred to you, you will become responsible for all of the usual costs of owning a dog:
- Regular veterinary care is essential. You will be expected to adhere to our recommended checkup and vaccination schedule to maintain your dog’s health. You will also be required to keep your dog current on monthly parasite prevention medications.
- A good quality food will be essential in maintaining a healthy weight for the dog (we will provide recommendations).
- Although your Hero Dog will be sent home with essential equipment such as a crate, collar and leash, vest and training equipment, toys, and so on, these supplies wear out with time and will need to be replaced.
In all, you can expect to spend an average of $1,000 – $1,500 per year over a typical 10 to 12-year lifespan. This is a serious financial commitment which you should consider carefully before applying for a Hero Dog.
It is also important to consider the commitment other family members will have to make to your Hero Dogs partnership. They may need to assist you in caring for your dog at times. They will always need to be supportive of your relationship with the dog, agree not to interfere with the dog’s training or the work it performs for you, adhere to rules and expectations regarding the dog’s behavior, and respect the bond between you and your Hero Dog.
- Follow-up training
- Access to group classes
- Advice or consultations with staff trainers or the Client Services program
- Bi-annual re-certification
- Other support services where necessary
Re-certification of a team is not required, either by Hero Dogs or by law. However, if the Veteran wishes to keep the Hero Dogs vest and identification tags or cards, and have access to the support services provided by Hero Dogs, the team must re-take and pass the certification examination every two years. Even though the vest and ID tags or cards are not required by law, they do ease potential public access difficulties and give the Veteran/Hero Dog team a professional appearance.
If you are unable to keep or care for your Hero Dog after he retires, you must return the dog to us. We will find the dog a happy retirement home. If you have a friend or family member who would like to adopt the dog upon retirement, we will consider them first but do not guarantee that they will be permitted to adopt the dog. Our first priority is making sure that the dog has a safe and loving home which can meet his needs in his golden years, including the likelihood of increased veterinary costs of an aging pet.