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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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Service Dogs for Veterans

Applying for a Hero Dog

  1. PLEASE NOTE: we currently only serve the greater Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Click here to see our service area.
  2. Please read the Frequently Asked Questions to learn about the process and requirements for applying for a service dog through Hero Dogs, Inc.
    • The initial application process takes an average of six months time. The reason for this is usually Hero Dogs waiting to receive documentation from applicant's medical providers.
    • If you have further questions, feel free to contact us at applicant@hero-dogs.org or 1-888-570-8653.
  3. If after reading and digesting this information, you feel that you are ready to apply for a Hero Dog™, then you must fill out our pre-application by clicking here. Someone will get back to you (normally within 48 hours M-F).
Hero Dogs' Best Friend

Veterans FAQs

  1. How do I know if a Hero Dog™ is right for me?
  2. How can a Hero Dog™ help me?
  3. I have a psychiatric disability (e.g., PTSD, GAD, panic disorder, etc.) as a result of my military service. Can a Hero Dog™ be trained to help me?
  4. What are the requirements of a potential candidate for participating in the Hero Dogs training program?
  5. How do I apply for a Hero Dog™?
  6. How does Hero Dogs decide who is a candidate for the training program?
  7. Are there any fees or costs associated with applying for or training to receive a Hero Dog™?
  8. How long is the wait for a Hero Dog™?
  9. What does training a Hero Dog™ involve?
  10.  What does training a Hero Dogs client involve?
  11.  Besides training, what responsibilities are involved with being partnered with a Hero Dog™?
  12.  Who owns the Hero Dog™?
  13.  What happens when my service dog can no longer do his job?
  14.  I have a dog already. Can you train him to be my service dog?
  15.  I have been told that the service dog I have now must be registered or certified. What does this mean, and is registration / certification required by law?
  16.  What if a Hero Dogs client needs help after certification?
  17.  Is recertification of Hero Dogs required?

Hero Dogs Teddy How do I know if a Hero Dog™ is right for me?

A Hero Dog™ thrives and gives his all when a strong bond develops between the dog and his human partner. To earn the dog's loyalty and respect, and to foster a healthy relationship, you and the dog will need to work, play, and spend many hours training together.

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 might not be 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, you could be a candidate for our program.

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How can a Hero Dog™ help me?

The current population of returning veterans has a different and special set of needs that make a service dog organization dedicated to them important and necessary. Many of today's wounded warriors have multiple physical injuries plus traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A Hero Dog™ can be trained to assist you and respond to your individual needs in unique ways such as:
  • Provide balance support or assist you in sitting or standing
  • Alert you to important sounds such as the doorbell, phone, your name being called, or your child crying
  • Retrieve items, open and close doors and cabinets, operate light switches and automatic door openers
  • Seek help for you in emergencies
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I have a psychiatric disability (e.g., PTSD, GAD, panic disorder, etc.) as a result of my military service. Can a Hero Dog™ be trained to help me?

It is possible that a Hero Dog™ can help you if there are specific ways in which a dog could be trained to perform actions that mitigate your disability. For example, if you become disoriented in a crowded room, the dog could be trained to lead you to an exit. If you have nightmares, the dog could be trained to wake you, or to turn on the lights or music in the room. Dogs can be trained to interrupt compulsive or stereotypic behaviors. Some dogs eventually learn to recognize early signs of anxiety in their partners and can be trained to give an alert and thereby re-focus their partners, who can then use strategies they have been taught to cope with the situation. However, please be aware that a Hero Dog™ (or any service dog) is never trained to protect or defend its partner, and is expected to be friendly toward all people when in public. This is for your safety as well as that of the public. If you should need emergency medical assistance, rescue personnel must be able to approach and assist you without fear of your service dog interfering.

PLEASE NOTE: If your only or primary need for a service dog is due to PTSD or other psychiatric disability:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 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.

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What are the requirements of a potential candidate for participating in the Hero Dogs training program?

Applicants have the right to be evaluated, assessed, and considered for partnership with a Hero Dog regardless of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion and creed, and other categories protected by local law. Applicants, clients, and graduates have the right to be treated with respect and dignity in their interactions with staff, volunteers and any other constituents of the Hero Dogs program. Applicants, clients, and graduates are not required to participate in fund raising or public relations activities, but may do so on a strictly voluntary basis.

As a potential candidate, you should:
  • reside in the Baltimore/Washington DC/VA area for at least 1 year following matching with a dog in our program,
  • be able to provide your own transportation to and from training sessions,
  • be able to meet the physical, mental, and emotional needs of a dog, or have an adequate support system in place to do so in areas where you are unable to yourself,
  • be willing and able to commit to the training program,
  • agree to adhere to the Hero Dogs, Inc. training schedule,
  • agree to adhere to the Hero Dogs, Inc. rules and regulations concerning care and training of the dog,
  • have the full support of your family, including caregivers, in your quest to receive a service dog, and
  • be able to provide financial support for the dog after ownership has been signed over to you.
We currently only serve the greater Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Click here to see our service area. If you do not reside in our service area, please visit Assistance Dogs International, Inc. to locate a service dog agency near you.

If you feel you meet these requirements, please click here to request an application.

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How do I apply for a Hero Dog™?

We currently only serve the greater Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Click here to see our service area. If you do not reside in our service area, please visit Assistance Dogs International, Inc. to locate a service dog agency near you.

If you live in our service area then request an application by submitting our pre-application form. If we send you an application then please submit the following information to Hero Dogs:
  1. A completed application.
  2. Documentation of your disability.
  3. Both medical and personal references. You will need to forward our medical history and records release form to each of your medical and/or psychiatric practitioners to request and obtain copies of records relevant to your disability. You must also participate in assessments from medical practitioners as necessary.
  4. DD Form 214 (long version).
  5. Copy of current renter's or homeowner's insurance binder and relevant section of policy concerning liability for dog bites or injuries.
If you need to have a paper copy of this application mailed to you, or if you need assistance in filling out the application, please contact us at applicant@hero-dogs.org or call 1-888-570-8653.

Once received, the application and supporting materials are then reviewed by our Applicant Committee. Depending on the volume of applications and how promptly the supporting materials are submitted, this process can be expected to take an average of six months. Note that the review of the application will not be commenced until ALL of the supporting materials have been received. If we think you may be a candidate for the training program, we will contact you to schedule an in-home personal interview and needs assessment. All members of your household, including any regular caregivers, will need to be present for the interview.

Following review of the interview and needs assessment by the committee (the interview will be videotaped), the committee will deliberate to determine whether or not we think that we have and can train a suitable dog for you.

If at any point in the process the committee determines that you are not a candidate for our program, you will be informed in writing of their decision. If you would like to check on the status of your application at any time, please contact us at applicant@hero-dogs.org or call 1-888-570-8653.

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How does Hero Dogs decide who is a candidate for the training program?

Determining which applicants are candidates for the training program relies on three fundamental criteria:
  • whether you can meet the physical, mental, and emotional needs of the dog, or have an adequate support system in place to do so in areas where you are unable to yourself,
  • whether Hero Dogs feels that we have and 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.

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Are there any fees or costs associated with applying for or training to receive a Hero Dog™?

There is no application fee and no charge to you for a Hero Dog™ or for any of the associated training. However, because you will need to forward certain medical and other records to us as part of our application process, you will be responsible for any copying or postage charges for such documents. You will also need to provide your own transportation to and from training and, as a result will be responsible for any costs associated with doing so.

If you and a Hero Dog™ are eventually matched, successfully meet the training requirements, graduate from the program and are certified by Hero Dogs, 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.

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How long is the wait for a Hero Dog™?

Depending on the availability of dogs and number of applicants on our waiting list at any given time, the length of the wait for a Hero Dog™ will vary, but we will keep you informed of your status throughout the application process and the training process.

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What does training a Hero Dog™ involve?

Although Hero Dogs typically begin training with their puppy raisers from the age of eight weeks, learning basic commands and becoming socialized, and then work with their trainers to learn specific skills, the first twenty months of the dog's life is just the beginning. Once a Hero Dog™ is matched with a veteran, team training begins at our facility. The team trains for a minimum of 120 hours over the course of many months under the supervision of a Hero Dogs staff trainer in a variety of locations in both private and public settings.

Training a Hero Dog™ is a time and labor-intensive endeavor that requires a serious commitment throughout the partnership between you and the dog. It can take six months to a year for you to complete the training process from the time you are matched with a Hero Dog™.

And training doesn't stop when formal classes end. 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, access to our training center for training, and for playtime and socialization, as long as you continue to qualify on your bi-annual certification.

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What does training a Hero Dogs client involve?

During the first two to three weeks, you will complete 60 hours of intensive training at Hero Dogs, working approximately four hours each day. Over the course of the next six months, you and the dog you have been partnered with will be required to complete a minimum of 60 additional hours of training at a variety of locations, both private and public, under the supervision of a Hero Dogs staff trainer (two hours per day for a minimum of twice a week). Failure to meet the training commitment will result in removal from the program.

If at the completion of this period, the trainer feels that you and the dog are ready to participate in the certification examination, you will be given an additional 3-4 weeks to practice on your own. Then a three-part examination will be given. Part one is for you alone; it is a written or oral examination which covers your knowledge of how to care for a dog, training principles, and correct use of commands. Part two is a basic obedience and public access test, during which you and the Hero Dog™ will be evaluated on these skills in a public location. Part three is a specialized skills test, which tests you and the Hero Dog™ on performance of the specific skills the dog has been taught to perform for you.

If you and the dog pass all three portions of the certification examination, a joyful graduation ceremony will be held for you and your Hero Dog™ and all of the people that have been and will be part of the dog's journey. Ownership of your Hero Dog™ will be transferred to you ~6 months following graduation.

If you do not pass the examination, you will be given an additional three months of help and training to prepare to try again. Up to two 3-month extensions will be given. If you and your dog cannot pass the examination after at most two extensions, you will be released from the program.

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Besides training, what responsibilities are involved with being partnered with a Hero Dog™?

All dogs need physical exercise and mental stimulation for their health, but these requirements are especially important for a highly intelligent, working dog. If partnered with a Hero Dog™, you will need to provide, at the minimum, 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 groomed and also consider the expense of such services.

Regular veterinary care is also 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.

There are many other expenses associated with owning a dog as well. 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™.

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Who owns the Hero Dog™?

Hero Dogs, Inc. retains ownership of all dogs through their training period and up to one year (or longer) after graduation. Transfer of ownership to you will not be considered until you and the dog have successfully met our training requirements, been certified by Hero Dogs, and graduated from our Program. Once requirements are met and ownership is transferred to you, you are responsible for all of the usual costs associated with owning a dog.

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What happens when my service dog can no longer do his job?

We hope that you and your Hero Dog will have a long and beautiful partnership, about ten years in most cases. However, sometimes an injury or illness can result in a dogs inability to do his job, and all dogs will slow down with age. When your Hero Dog needs to retire, you have the option to keep him as a pet. You can still apply for a successor dog even if you keep your current service dog as a pet. Applicants approved for a successor Hero Dog have priority over first time candidates in being matched with a suitable partner.

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.

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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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I have been told that the service dog I have now must be registered or certified. What does this mean, and is registration / certification required by law?

Registration, like certification, may be offered by a service dog training organization as a way of determining if the service dog teams they have trained are maintaining their obedience and specially trained skills. However, proof of either registration or certification cannot be legally required by a medical practioner, place of business, or other public entity in order to permit a person with a disability access with his or her service dog. Registration / certification are currently not required by law.

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What if a Hero Dogs client needs help after certification?

Hero Dogs, Inc. is committed to the success of its service dog partnerships. We provide support to each veteran-dog team for the life of the partnership, at no cost to you, through:
  • Follow-up training
  • Access to group classes
  • Advice or consultations with staff trainers or the Client Services program
  • Bi-annual recertification
  • Access to our training center for training, playtime and socialization [as long as the team continues to qualify on their bi-annual certification]
  • Other support services where necessary
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Is recertification required?

Recertification is not required, either by Hero Dogs, Inc. or by law. However, if you wish to keep your Hero Dogs vest and identification tags or cards, and have access to the support services provided by Hero Dogs, you must retake and pass the certification examination bi-annually. Even though the vest and ID tags or cards are not required by law, they do give your dog a polished appearance when in public and ease the public access difficulties typically faced by people partnered with a service dog.

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We currently only serve the greater Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Click here to see our service area. If you feel that you are ready to apply for a Hero Dog, then you must first fill out our pre-application by clicking here. We look forward to hearing from you!

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