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Hero Dogs, Inc.
P.O. Box 64
Brookeville, MD 20833-0064

hero@hero-dogs.org
1-888-570-8653
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Hero Dogs Frequently Asked Questions


Hero Dogs Alvin York


What's the best way to contact Hero Dogs, Inc.?

Because of the limited number of staff and volunteers our toll-free phone number connects to a voicemail system only. For the quickest response, the best way to contact Hero Dogs, Inc. is through email. Please review our website thoroughly to see if the answer to your question is already provided. All inquiries are very important to us and will be answered as soon as possible in order of priority. Thank you for your understanding.

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How did Hero Dogs get started?

Hero Dogs, Inc. was founded by Jennifer Lund, Ph.D. in August 2009. A former research scientist with experience at the University of Michigan, Medtronic Inc., and IBM, Jennifer specialized in neural prostheses - electrode arrays implanted in the brain to control prosthetic devices such as an artificial eye, ear, or limb. Her interest in "putting people back together" coupled with her love for dogs led Jennifer to start Hero Dogs, Inc. She is passionate about providing service dogs to people who deserve them most but often go unnoticed: our wounded warriors. Jennifer is a "dog expert" having raised and trained dogs all her life, including service dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Inc. and canines for the Connecticut State Police. She is certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and has owned and operated a highly successful dog agility and obedience business in Montgomery County, Maryland. She is an instructor for Kutztown University's Level II Canine Training and Management Program, a long-time member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

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Why is Hero Dogs different from other service dog providers?

Hero Dogs, Inc. has chosen to serve veterans exclusively. We will train dogs to meet multiple disabilities - mobility, hearing, and/or psychiatric disorders. Other assistance dog organizations traditionally train a dog for a single purpose only (e.g., leading the blind, aiding the hearing impaired). In addition, the Washington, D.C. area is home to thousands of returning veterans with special service needs. These heroes must compete with other disabled individuals applying for a service dog via a few national-level service programs.

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Is the federal government supporting service dogs for veterans?

Yes. The Department of Defense is sponsoring a 12-month study to find out exactly how service dogs help wounded warriors. The study entails comparing soldiers with PTSD who have dogs with a similar group of soldiers without dogs. Changes in the soldiers' symptoms and medication use will be measured. A recent survey showed that 82 percent of patients with PTSD who were assigned a dog experienced a decrease in symptoms and the medications they had to take (Health Day News September 3, 2009). In addition, recent legislation establishes a Department of Veterans Affairs' pilot project that should provide 200 service dogs to deserving veterans.

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How can I support Hero Dogs?

Hero Dogs is currently looking for volunteers who share our passion of serving those who served. We are seeking a board of directors possessing skills and experience in not-for-profit management, law (e.g., tax law, Americans with Disabilities Act), accounting/finance, fundraising, marketing/communications, veteran's affairs, psychology/psychiatry, rehabilitation and occupational therapy. We seek board members who are familiar with the unique needs of today's veteran, and dedicate part of our staff training to understanding those needs. We are also accepting in-kind donations to cover various start-up needs (e.g., computers, software, office equipment, etc.), dog supplies (food, crates, veterinary care), and marketing (website development, printing). For inquiries or to donate or volunteer, please contact us at: hero@hero-dogs.org. Thank you!

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What does a service dog do?

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:dog opening drawer
  • Provide balance support or assist his partner in sitting or standing
  • Alert his partner to important sounds such as the doorbell, phone, 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 or hallucination
  • In some cases, recognize changes in his partner's breathing, perspiration, or scent that can indicate an incipient panic attack
  • Seek help for his partner in emergencies.
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Who qualifies for a Hero Dog?

Hero Dogs, Inc. raises, trains, and places service dogs with injured or disabled military veterans who have served honorably in the United States Armed Forces.

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What kinds of service dogs does Hero Dogs train?

We train dogs to assist people with physical disabilities, hearing loss or deafness, mental health impairment, and combinations of these. We do not train guide dogs for the visually impaired.

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How much does it cost to train a service dog?

It costs approximately $30,000 to raise, train, and place a Hero Dog with one of America’s wounded warriors. Hero Dogs depends on donations, gifts, and fundraising events to support its efforts to provide these dogs, at no charge, to our deserving veterans.

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What are the characteristics of a good service dog?

It's not easy to be a service dog. We ask a service dog to do many things that are diametrically opposed to one another. For example, we ask him to be impeccably friendly with people, yet to ignore people when working and not solicit attention from them in public. We ask him to be sociable with other dogs and animals but not to try to greet them when he encounters them while working. We ask him to wait calmly and quietly with his partner about 90% of the time when working, yet be ready to be active in an instant to assist his partner when needed. We ask him to do a number of things which are decidedly "undoggy," like not sniffing things and ignoring food on the ground -- unless asked to retrieve it. And then he must deliver it to his partner without eating it!  A service dog needs to be:
  • friendly toward all people, regardless of how they look, act, speak, or move
  • friendly toward or at least tolerant of other dogs, but not overly interested in other dogs
  • not unduly inclined to chase things like squirrels or skateboards
  • not sensitive to loud or strange noises
  • not sensitive to and preferably welcoming of all types of touch and body handling
  • unafraid of new situations and novel objects
  • confident near traffic, when walking on different surfaces, and navigating many different types of doorways, stairs, elevators, etc.
  • able to travel calmly and quietly in a variety of different types of vehicles
  • willing to hold and carry just about anything in his mouth, but also to relinquish it readily
  • motivated by a variety of things including food, toys, play, and particularly by attention and affection from his partner since that is frequently the only reward available
  • big enough to reach light switches, door handles, and items on a table or counter but not so big that he cannot travel easily or be handled by a person with potentially little or no physical strength
  • in excellent physical health.
How many dogs do you know who have all of these qualities? This is why it takes a long time, a lot of training, and a very special dog to begin with to become a Hero Dog.

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What breeds of dogs does Hero Dogs use?

Primarily retrievers and retriever mixes. They are in general the right size, interested in putting things in their mouths, gregarious, and easy to motivate and train. Of course, many other breeds and breed mixes can be these things too, so we never really know what the next remarkable dog we find may be. However, we do not use dogs with coats which require extensive or professional grooming (for example, poodles or poodle mixes), dogs with extremely heavy or thick coats (like a Samoyed or Akita), or brachycephalic (i.e., short face) dogs (such as a boxer).

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Where does Hero Dogs get its dogs?

We seek donated puppies from breeders whose primary breeding goals are the temperament, physical health, working ability, and longevity of their dogs. We also look for exceptional puppies from rescue organizations and shelters, and we may occasionally accept donated dogs from the public.

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What is the process to train a Hero Dog?

Our training program has three phases.

Phase I is the puppy training phase. The puppy lives with a foster "puppy raiser" and learns basic house manners and obedience. He is socialized to all manner of people, animals, places, and things. Phase I lasts until the pup is approximately 15 months old. Throughout and at the end of Phase I, the pup is evaluated for suitability as a service dog on the basis of his temperament and health.

Puppies who successfully complete Phase I will be paired with a staff trainer for Phase II of the training program in which the dogs are trained for their specific tasks as service dogs. This phase usually lasts from four to six months.

When a dog has completed Phase II of the training program and an applicant has been selected to receive a dog, together they will enter Phase III of the training program. In this phase, the dog, veteran, and a staff trainer train together in a variety of group, private, and public settings to prepare the team for certification. Together the dog and veteran must train for a minimum of 120 hours before certification. Phase III also generally takes between four and six months.

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Why don't some dogs "make it" through the training program?

The most common reason that dogs are released from the program is physical health. If a dog has a medical condition that requires complex, expensive, or life-long treatment, he will be released from the program. Service dog work is physically demanding. It would be inhumane to ask a dog with a skeletal or structural problem to perform the tasks required of a service dog. Therefore dogs with conditions such as hip dysplasia are also released, even though the dog may have no symptoms.

The next most common reason dogs do not complete the training is confidence. Service dogs must work in very challenging environments involving close contact with strangers, large crowds, traffic, travel on public transportation, machinery, noises, and all manner of novel objects. Most dogs justifiably find these things frightening, and despite extensive socialization and training, some dogs will simply find it too stressful to deal with these types of environments on a daily basis.

The third most likely reason for a dog to be released is that he is too active, energetic, or reactive to new things. Despite the fact that a service dog is trained to do many tasks, a good portion of his job involves simply waiting quietly at his partner's side. Additionally, the dog may be paired with someone who has no ability to physically control the dog in any way, so the dog must be calm and attentive enough to be under verbal or hand signal control only.

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What happens to dogs that don't complete the program?

It depends on the dog and why. If a dog is released for a serious medical issue, he is offered for adoption first to his puppy raiser.

If a dog lacks the confidence or demeanor to fulfill the public access role of a service dog, we may try to match him with an applicant whose needs can be met within the home or who largely needs a social support dog. This dog will not be a "service dog" in the full sense, but can certainly be of tremendous value to a veteran.

We may also look for other placements that suit the dog's temperament and abilities, such as a detection dog or search and rescue dog.

If none of the above options is viable, then the dog would again be offered for adoption, first to his puppy raiser. If the puppy raiser does not wish to adopt the dog, then we will find the most suitable adoptive home in which to place the dog as a pet.

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What happens to the dogs when they retire?

In many cases, the veteran and his/her family will choose to keep the retired dog as a pet. If that is not possible due to family circumstances, our contract requires that the dog be returned to us. We will then find the dog an adoptive home. The puppy raiser family who first fostered the dog is usually happy to have him back when he retires or can no longer work.

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Do you have any dogs available for adoption?

Not at this time. Because we try hard to find a working placement for our dogs, and because dogs that don't find a "job" are usually adopted by their foster family anyway, we rarely have dogs available.

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Can I donate my dog to Hero Dogs?

Not usually. We may accept some donated dogs from the public into our program, but very few dogs will meet the rigorous criteria to be accepted into the program. First of all the dog must:
  • be young (normally 16 weeks or younger).
  • be a retriever breed (or possibly a mix) which meets our general requirements.
  • have a complete physical examination by a veterinarian at the time of donation (at the donor's expense) and
    • have a clean bill of health.
    • be current on vaccinations.
  • (with few exceptions) have parents who have received common health clearances (EIC, hips, elbows, eyes, heart, allergies, etc.).
Finally, the dog will be given a behavioral evaluation in which s/he will be exposed to a variety of different people (including children), other dogs and animals, handling, noises, traffic, novel objects, and retrieving and training aptitude. For starters, the dog needs to:
  • never have met a person or dog s/he didn't like.
  • not be afraid of virtually anything.
  • be able to be touched and handled everywhere.
  • be happy to put things in her mouth and equally happy to give them up.
  • be eager to work with a human.
If you think you have a dog that would qualify, then please do contact us at hero@hero-dogs.org.

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I have a dog already. Can you train him to be my service dog?

No. We raise and train only pre-screened 8-12 week old puppies who have been donated to Hero Dogs, Inc.

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