The job of a service dog is not an easy one; only about one in every three dogs we start in the program will ultimately end up in a successful partnership with a Veteran as a working service dog.
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.
Honorably Discharged Dogs
Available for Adoption
We do not currently have any available dogs for adoption. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive announcements when a released dog is available for adoption.