What’s the best way to contact Hero Dogs?
Because of the limited number of staff and volunteers, our toll-free phone number connects to a voice mail 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.
How is Hero Dogs different from other service dog providers?
Hero Dogs, Inc. has chosen to serve veterans and first-responders exclusively. We will train dogs to meet the needs of veterans and first-responders with multiple disabilities – mobility challenges, hearing loss, effects of chronic illness, and/or mental health conditions. 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 needs. These heroes must compete with other disabled individuals applying for a service dog via a few national-level service programs. Thus, a local organization which is dedicated to the unique needs of veterans and first-responders is important and necessary. Hero Dogs provides an extremely high level of individualized training and support to its teams over the lifetime of the partnership.
What do service dogs 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:
- 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.
Who qualifies for a Hero Dog?
Please read our Eligibility page to learn about eligibility for a service dog through Hero Dogs.
What kinds of service dogs does Hero Dogs train?
We train dogs to assist people with physical disabilities, mobility impairment, effects of chronic illness, hearing loss or deafness, mental health conditions, and combinations of these. We do not train guide dogs for the visually impaired.
What breeds of dogs does Hero Dogs use?
We use primarily Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. Like most service dog organizations, we have found that Labs and goldens are in general the right size, interested in putting things in their mouths, gregarious, and easy to motivate and train. Although many other breeds can become service dogs, Hero Dogs does 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).
What is the process to train a Hero Dog?
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 Program – Socialization and training by a volunteer puppy raiser under the guidance of Hero Dogs staff until ~16-18 months of age.
Phase II – Advanced Training – Training in specialized service dog skills and tasks by professional trainers at our training facility for approximately eight months.
Phase III – Team Training – Intensive one-on-one training with veteran or first-responder and Hero Dog for a minimum of 120 hours over the course of 6-12 months.
What are the characteristics of a good 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.
Why don’t some dogs complete 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.
What happens to dogs that don’t complete the program?
Our goal is to find the best possible placement for each and every one of our dogs. Just like people, dogs have differing temperaments, energy levels, skills, and abilities. Some dogs will just be better suited to one job than to another.
Dogs may have a relatively minor physical or behavioral issue that precludes them from becoming service dogs. For example, a dog might shy away from boarding a loud bus or be uncertain about grated metal staircases. These behaviors are safety hazards in a service dog, but most dogs need never encounter these situations. Many of these dogs will find important jobs as Facility Dogs, utilizing their extensive socialization and training to perform tasks for a wide variety of people alongside their handlers in a clinical setting.
If a dog lacks the confidence or demeanor to fulfill the public access role of a service dog, we may also try to place him with a veteran, first-responder, or family member of one of those heroes as a Skilled Home Companion. These dogs can perform many of the tasks they were taught to assist with physical or psychological challenges, as well as providing comfort and love to their new families within the home only.
Many of our released dogs who have returned to their puppy raisers or who have been adopted are now volunteering as therapy dogs and are working to bring comfort and companionship to thousands of people throughout the region every month.
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 a dog is released for a serious medical or behavioral issue, he is offered for adoption as a pet. Usually the puppy raiser has first right of refusal, but this is not guaranteed. Our priority is finding the best possible home for the dog.
What happens to the dogs when they retire?
In most cases, the veteran or first-responder 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.
Do you have any dogs available for adoption?
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 puppy raisers, we rarely have dogs available. When we do have a dog available for adoption, a notice is sent out through our newsletter and placed on our Honorably Discharged page. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive an announcement when a released dog is available for adoption.
Can I donate my dog to Hero Dogs?
We do not accept donations of pet dogs. We accept only 8-12 week old puppies from qualified breeders who meet our requirements for the temperament, health, working ability, and longevity of their dogs.
I have a dog already. Can you train him to be my service dog?
No. The job of a service dog is not an easy one. It takes a very special dog to succeed; most do not. We raise and train only pre-screened 8-12 week old puppies who have been bred or purchased by or donated to Hero Dogs.