Becoming a service dog is not easy; only about one in every three dogs entering a service dog training program will ultimately end up in a successful partnership as a working service dog. Although Hero Dogs works hard to find suitable careers for all of our dogs, for some dogs the best job is as a loving and beloved family pet!
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 them to be impeccably friendly with people, yet to ignore people when working and not solicit attention from them in public. We ask them to be sociable with other dogs and animals but not to try to greet them when they encounter them while working. We ask them to wait calmly and quietly with their partner about 90% of the time when working, yet be ready to be active in an instant to assist their partner when needed. We ask them 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, they must deliver it to their 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 their mouth, but also to relinquish it readily
- motivated by a variety of things including food, toys, play, and particularly by attention and affection from their 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 they 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 our service dog program is physical health. If a dog has a medical condition that requires complex, expensive, or life-long treatment, they 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 they are 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 their job involves simply waiting quietly at their 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.
Hero Dogs works hard to place dogs in the positions that are best suited for their skills and temperament. If a dog is ineligible to become a service dog, they can almost always find a placement through one of our other assistance dog problems.
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.
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, they are 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.