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:
- Recognize and alert their partner to specific signs of anxiety
- Wake their partner from a debilitating nightmare
- Provide balance support or assist their partner in sitting, standing, or walking
- Retrieve items, open and close doors and cabinets, operate light switches and automatic door openers
- Alert their partner to important sounds such as the doorbell, alarm, or the partner’s name being called
- Seek help for their partner in emergencies.
Can a Hero Dog be trained to assist a veteran or first responder with PTSD or other mental health conditions?
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, dogs can be taught to recognize early signs of anxiety in their partners and to give an alert and thereby re-focus their partners, who can then use strategies they have been taught to cope with the situation. They can also be trained to wake you up from nightmares, provide grounding support, or interrupt compulsive or stereotypic behaviors. 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 you are requesting assistance from a service dog for PTSD or other mental health condition:
- 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.
- You must have been in therapy for at least 12 months prior to applying.
- 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.
- 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 (or other mental health condition) is an adjunctive therapy and does not replace the need for professional mental health treatment.
I have a history of drug or alcohol use disorder. Can I still apply?
Any applicant with prior substance use disorder or addiction history must have a minimum of 12 months of sobriety to engage in the application process, and must maintain sobriety throughout the training process and the duration of custody of a Hero Dog, or be subject to dismissal from the program and removal of the dog.
Do I need to meet a minimum level (%) disability rating from the VA?
No, Hero Dogs does not require you to meet any minimum % disability rating from the VA. As part of the application process, we do request medical history and evidence of disability from the applicant’s medical and mental health care providers; however these providers do not need to be part of the VA healthcare system. Since some veterans may have acquired their disability after leaving the military, or may choose to use private medical care rather than the VA system, we do not require any minimum VA disability rating.
If I don’t need a minimum disability rating from the VA, why do you request a copy of my VA rating decision?
If you do have a VA rating decision, the complete document (not just the cover letter stating the final result and % granted) has extremely valuable information about the history and origin of your condition(s), particularly for veterans whose disability or medical condition was not acquired recently. In cases involving traumatic brain injury and psychiatric disabilities, the VA rating decision has important information about potential impairments to concentration, memory, and learning that Hero Dogs needs in order to tailor the training program to the veteran’s abilities. Additionally, your VA rating decision may contain information about other medical conditions for which you are not receiving any compensation, but for which the assistance of a service dog could still be valuable. All of this information contained within the VA rating decision helps the Hero Dogs Application Committee see the larger picture of how a service dog could assist you.
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 bred by, donated to, or purchased by Hero Dogs.
I have a service dog that I trained myself / was trained elsewhere. Will you certify him for me?
No. We do not offer certification to dogs not provided and trained by Hero Dogs, Inc.
What are the requirements to receive a Hero Dog? How do I apply?
First, please read the information on our Eligibility page carefully to determine if you are eligible to apply. Then, follow the link on the bottom of that page to fill out an Eligibility Survey and request an application.
If I apply for a Hero Dog and am not accepted, can I re-apply?
Yes. However, applicants must wait a minimum of 12 months after receiving a denial letter from Hero Dogs to re-apply.
Are there any fees, costs, or obligations associated with obtaining 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, are certified by Hero Dogs, and graduate from the program, 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.
Clients are not required to participate in any fundraising activities for Hero Dogs. In fact, we require that potential applicants refrain from volunteering, donating, or otherwise participating in fundraising or public relations activities for at least six months prior to applying. Once a team has completed their training commitment and certification, they are welcome (but never required) to volunteer for Hero Dogs.
How long is the wait for a Hero Dog?
Dogs are matched with veterans or first-responders based on the dog’s skills, strengths, temperament, and energy level, and the applicant’s needs, experience, personality, and lifestyle. As a result of this process, we are not able to provide a precise timeline for when the right dog will become available for a particular applicant.
What training does the dog receive?
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 – This includes socialization and training by a volunteer puppy raiser, under the guidance of Hero Dogs staff, until the dog is ~14-18 months of age.
Phase II – Advanced Training – This includes training in specialized assistance dog skills and tasks by professional trainers at our training facility, for approximately eight months.
Phase III – Team Training – This includes intensive one-on-one training with a veteran or a first-responder and a Hero Dog over the course of 12 months.
What training does the client receive?
One of Hero Dogs’ most unique and important characteristics is the level of support and training we provide to clients matched with one of our service dogs. In turn, this means that clients accepted into our program and matched with a dog must commit to the requirements of the training program.
Please read more on our Team Training page.
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:
- 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 supervised 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 bathed and groomed and also consider the expense of such services.
Although there is no cost to you for the Hero Dog or associated training, once ownership of the dog has been transferred to you, you will become responsible for all of the usual costs of owning a dog:
- Regular veterinary care is 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.
- 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, leash, vest, 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.
Who owns the Hero Dog?
Hero Dogs, Inc. retains ownership of all dogs throughout their training period. At the conclusion of training and when the team passes the certification examination, ownership will be transferred to the new owner.
What if a Hero Dogs client needs help after certification?
Hero Dogs is committed to the success of our service dog partnerships. We provide support to each team for the life of the partnership, at no cost to the client, through:
- Follow-up training
- Advice or consultations with staff trainers or the Client Services program
- Bi-annual re-certification
- Other support services where necessary
What happens when my service dog is ready to retire?
When your Hero Dog needs to retire, you have the option to keep them 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 they retire, we will work with you to 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 absolutely consider them.