I work with http://4pawsforability.org/ and we train service dogs for children and veterans. I personally help with the little rugrats, 4 – 12 week old puppies.
Service Dog v. Therapy Dog
I’d like to point out the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs. Service dogs, like the ones we raise, are trained to complete specific tasks for a specific individual. They go through YEARS of training and have a “ruff” job. Therapy dogs are usually calm dogs who are not trained to do specific tasks. These are the dogs you can see at hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.They also go through strict training but are not helpers to people defined as disabled by the ADA.
It is NOT OKAY to buy a vest online and pass your dog off as a service or therapy dog.
What do they help with?
- Hearing Ear
- Autism Assistance
- Mobility Assistance
- Seizure Assistance
- Diabetic Alert
- FASD Assistance
- Veteran Support
Should I get a Service Dog? Hey, they cost $15,000. Plus, we only work with children and veterans. You still in? Awesome! We’re glad to have you! Please visit this link to be directed to our website and to learn more about the process.
A Service Dog’s Life
- Birth: They hang out with their brothers, sisters, and mom in our Puppy House. At the Puppy House they will constantly be monitored by yours truly. I watch for signs of mental problems, aggression, and health issues.
- 4 Weeks Old: Training begins! They are introduced to daily play time with their brothers, sisters, and human volunteers. This will continue until they are 12 weeks old.
- 5 Weeks Old: They go outside! They begin to take daily adventures outside to get used to cars, nature, other animals, and general dog outside stuff. Don’t worry, they aren’t placed on the ground until they’re 100% vaccinated
- 6 Weeks Old: VEST! This is when the puppy gets their job tools. They are fitted for a service vest and begin to take daily trips (with human volunteers) to the community. They go to the mall, Target, Home Depot, the library, and local schools. This is so they can get used to being in public.
- 12 Weeks Old: The puppy goes to jail! No, seriously. We are partners with local prisons. An inmate gets a puppy and begins basic training and housebreaking.
- 4 Months Old: The puppy is released from prison and is placed in a foster home (I take part in this as well!). Here, they live with a family and continue basic training / housebreaking. We are one of the few organizations that do NOT require families to give up their existing pets. So during fostering, we encourage foster homes to have other animals in the house.
- 10 Months Old: The puppy leaves his foster family and heads back to headquarters. Here, he is assigned a child and begins advanced service training. This is when he starts working on the jobs his human will need him to do. He and the child usually communicate via Facebook. It’s adorable.
- 12 Months – 24 Months: GRADUATION! The foster family takes the puppy to the graduation ceremony. They pass him along to his child. Everyone cries. Everyone hugs. It’s awesome. For the next two weeks, the child, dog, parents, and trainer will work side-by-side to learn how to work together. At the end of two weeks, the dog goes home with the child and neither are the same.
My Proof: Here is an album I made that has pictures from my job. At the end is proof that links me to this Reddit account.
What happens when the dog dies, do the owner receive a new one, how does he handle it in most of the time?
Child Dies: The family will probably keep the dog as a family pet.
Dog Dies Prematurely: This will rarely happen PREMATURELY. The dogs go through very, very extensive training. This includes constant vet checks to make sure they are healthy. If they have any health problems, they are deemed “fantastic flunkies”. This minimizes the probability of a dog dying while on the job.
Dog Dies of Old Age: Once the dog is unable to service the child, he is retired. We are one of the few organizations that allows the dog to continue living with his family. At this point, the family will probably get a new dog for their child.
Child’s Response: Unfortunately death is a part of life. In my experience, parents use this tragic event to teach their child about the circle of life. Devastation over the death of a pet is universal.
How did you get involved in this work and how would someone else go about getting into it?
All About Me:
I freaking love dogs. I also love children! I love the special bond they have together.
I found this organization and began volunteering 2x a week. I immediately fell in love with the people and dogs!
I tried out grooming, walking, feeding, but my heart stayed with the puppies. Eventually I began working at the Puppy House and that’s where I’ve stayed for the past year!
My favorite part is watching a dog grow up and change a child’s life.
All About You:
You’re interested? AWESOME! We always need help and donations! If you’re not local, you can try and find a service dog organization near you. Put that Google-fu to the test!
I recommend starting as a volunteer to make sure you enjoy the work. Yes, I play with puppies all day, but I also clean up a lot of poop. Like, you wouldn’t believe how much poop.
Then, find a good fit for yourself! I’m an accountant so I hope to transition into the management side of the operation. Maybe you’d be best as a vet tech! Or a groomer!
My girlfriend is looking at this as a possible career, but we don’t know anyone in the business we can ask. Also, what’s the average salary one can expect to make in this field?
She should find a specific niche in the industry. For example, we hire accountants, media people, vets, trainers, and babysitters!
I recommend she get a degree, training, or certification in what she wants to do, then apply for a job with service dogs.
Another option is to begin volunteering and slowly work your way up!
I make minimum wage but I’m a college kid and to be honest, I’d probably pay THEM for the chance to work here. Higher-ups make quite a bit more because the company does really well. It is a non-profit but they still get salaries.
If you had to pick one breed, which one is the best to be selected as a service dog? Or is it more of a question of which type of service the dog will need to be trained for?
Labrador or Golden Retriever. Hands down.
They are our base. They are loyal, calm, dependable, strong, cuddly, and adorable. We mix them with Poodles, German Shepards, and Newfoundlands to get the perfect dog for a situation.
Look: A lot of children use their service dog as a social bridge. Because goldens are so dang friendly, other children are comfortable approaching them. Voila! New friends!
Energy: The most common breed of dog we place is a Golden Lab mix or “Glab”. This is perfect because it reduces their energy levels. When placing a dog with a 7 year old child with severe anxiety, you don’t want a dog that needs to run 20 miles a day. Glabs are wonderful (I have one myself) because they are perfectly happy with 2 walks a day.
Papillons are used for diabetic children because they are commonly able to detect low blood sugar.
Collies are a work in progress. We have had a few litters and only 1 dog (Olaf) has been successful. They are too docile and too high energy for service work.
How do Papillons detect low blood sugar?
“When a diabetic has a low blood sugar or their blood sugar is dropping, they emit a certain scent mainly through their sweat. The dogs are trained to pick up on this scent and signal to the diabetic however they were trained too. Source: I’m a Type 1 diabetic who has looked into these dogs.” – yungcoop
You nailed it 🙂
They are able to smell it! Each dog is different and trainers look for their “tell”. For example, when a dog smells low blood sugar he might start barking, or another dog might paw at the person. Once the trainer discovers the sign, they tell the family what to watch for.
Does this mean that the dog chooses his tell? Or the trainer picks it and the dog learns? (ie, dog is trained to smell for a certain scent, puppy begins to encounter it and paws at it, and another barks. or are they taught to do a specific thing once they detect the scent?) I think it’s standard for national guard/service/drug dogs, where they just sit at the smell of something instead of pawing or barking, but I don’t know how that works for blood sugar or other non-standardized service dogs.
The tell is usually a natural behavior from the dog. So the dog does it consistently, and the trainer picks up on it.
Remember that the difference between drug dogs and diabetic sensing dogs is that the diabetes service dog needs to tell his owner RIGHT NOW that there is something wrong. This is why they are encouraged to interrupt the owner by barking or pawing at them.
Years ago, I had a co-worker who volunteered with some type of service animal organization. I asked him why German Shepherds aren’t more popular with such groups and he said that they tend to be “one person dogs,” so they end up bonding with their trainer and have a difficult time adjusting when they go to their eventual owner. Is that something you’ve found to be true? Are German Shepherd mixes more prone to this problem than other mixes?
Yes, I have seen that numerous times. The problem we’ve encountered with GSPs is that they latch onto their handler too much. This can lead to aggression or separation anxiety.
Once we mix in about 75% lab, they seem to mellow out.
I noticed you mentioned mixed breeds and their percentages a few times, how does the breeding program work? Do service dogs beget service dogs once they retire? Is there a professional service dog mommy? Do you find puppies from normal breeders?
Moms and Dads
Every few litters or so, the best pups get chosen to be breeders. These puppies have the best temperament, energy level, and all around attitude. They are given basic training, then go to live with a foster family.
The Birds and the Bees
Once they are a few years old, the foster parent brings the dog into our facility when they are ready to make babies. This is usually a 1 – 2 week span of time. The pregnant dog goes back to the foster home until she’s ready to give birth!
When the mom dog is going into labor, the foster family brings them to our facility. We have whelping rooms where the puppies are born. It’s very exciting! Each litter has a theme, and then the puppies are named according to that theme. There have been puppies named after geography, presidents, candy, soda, and LOTS of Disney dogs. The puppies live with their mom at the Puppy House. Once they’re 12 weeks old, they are separated so the dog can continue his training away from home. The parents continue to produce more litters. Usually a female will have around 3 litters before she is retired. Like all of our retired dogs, she then becomes a family pet.
Who names the dogs? Are a lot of dogs given child friendly names (like Olaf which I assume was named after the snowman from Frozen)?
The founder makes a list of names and the volunteers help pair the dog with the name.
They’re very child friendly 🙂 pretty much every Disney name imaginable has been used
Have you worked with pitbulls? And are there any service pits?
I have not and no, I do not know of any.
Unfortunately the social stigma of pits really holds them back. A lot of places won’t let you rent there if you have a pitbull. There is a long way for that breed to go before they are able to be as well-received as other breeds. This is heartbreaking because there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.
What is the graduation rate for dogs? If a dog doesn’t fit into a given service role, how often are you able to use them in another role? What is the male:female ratio for service dogs?
I’d estimate it to be around 90% Except for those damn collies. We’ve only had one graduate out of 4-5 litters.
It’s up to the parents! Some litters only have 1 female, some have 1 male, some are mixed. There is no noticeable difference once they start working.
Dog’s and Their Role:
We have incredible trainers. They find out what that child needs and then match them with a dog. By the time the dog is ready for advanced training (~1 year old) the trainer will know who’s good at what.
If it becomes obvious that a dog won’t do well in service. They become a “fantastic flunkie” and get adopted out.
Do you have specific training procedures for specific behaviors that children with specific disabilities are prone to displaying? Humans, especially those with developmental hurdles have always seemed to me like such complex and unpredictable subjects to work with. I guess my question is, how are you able to train dogs to react to such a range of behavior? And can you give some example of some behaviors in children that you might train dogs to react to, and how you go about doing that?
Good question! At 4 Paws, we have categories (I’ve listed them in my OP) but, like you said, humans rarely fall perfectly into a predefined mold. The categories serve as soft guidelines so the family can see what areas of their life can be touched.
Most dogs are multipurpose. In this case, we work with the family to determine EXACTLY what the child needs. Dogs are amazing. Our trainers are amazing. They can train a service dog to do many, many things such as…
- Open doors
- Turn on/off lights
- Carry backpack
- “Hard cuddle” where the dog lies on the child to give emotional support
- “Distract” the child to redirect negative energy during a meltdown
- During a seizure, the dog can bark to get help
I’m not 100% familiar with the training procedures because I work with 4 – 12 week old baby dogs. At this stage, we focus more on their disposition and basic manners rather than their specific tasks.
Keep in mind, our service dogs go through 1 – 2 YEARS of trainig before being placed with their family.
Do you have any pets (dogs or otherwise) yourself?
Yes! I have a golden lab named Giggsy. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear earlier, I don’t have fantastic flunkies but many of my coworkers do. I am lined up for a foster soon which will bring my total dog count to 2.
How does one train a 4-12 week old puppy, for disposition and manners?
The main thing we work on is rewarding a puppy for sitting calmly.
If I walk into the room and 9 are jumping all over the place while 1 is sitting nicely, I will pet the calm one first. Then the others learn “hey, if we sit and don’t move we get food/pets first”
I read a story about a dog that is trained to straighten a disabled boys airway when distressed, among other things. How the hell do you go about training for that sort of thing?
Dude I wish I knew. I only train 4 – 12 week olds so I am not experienced with the advanced training that takes place when a dog is ~ 1 year old.
If I were to guess, I’d say it is a trained response of positioning the human whenever the human is showing signs of distress. This is achieved through treats and belly rubs.
What is the most emotional or happiest story that you have about a service dog helping someone?
Oh sweet jesus get the tissues ready…
How do you resist keeping every puppy?
Once you’ve spent a whole day cleaning up poop and pee and god knows what, saying goodbye is pretty easy. On my first day, I was cleaning up poop when another puppy DIVE BOMBED into the pile of crap. He was absolutely thrilled. I was not.
Do you avoid forming an emotional connection to the dogs? If not, how hard is it to cope when they are eventually put into service and you no longer get to see them?
Bonding… And Letting Go:
Hell no. It’s a puppy. Who, in their right mind, would NOT get attached to a cute little silly puppy? I always develop a favorite in each litter. Keep in mind, I have around 12 litters at a time so I have lots of favorites at lots of different ages.
It’s sad when they leave, but it’s the most rewarding experience. And then BAM! 11 more little guess come shooting out of their mom and the process begins again!
It is hard to say goodbye, but we constantly get updates from their family via facebook. It’s all worth it when you see how happy that child is.
What kind of training did you go through to work with service dogs? Also, I’ve heard people say that a stranger’s service dog alerted because of their distress/health issue. Is that common or are the dogs trained to only help their charge?
I was a volunteer for many months. I work with 4 – 12 week old puppies so I only need to know basic obedience. I learned about service dogs while on the job. There are a few key differences between normal puppies and service dog puppies.
For example, I can’t play tug of war with them, encourage them to chase me, or let them get loud and bark /growl. These are habits we don’t want to start.
Yes! That is a common service. Basically, we train the dog to react to a certain indicator. So I’m not surprised to hear of dogs going above and beyond their job description.
In the New York Times article I read on this it’s mentioned that prisoners are often given the dogs to do basic obedience training. How does this work? Are most of the prisoners ok with having to give up the dog? (it said some of them cried when they had to give them up).
OH MY GOSH YES THAT’S US! I’m glad you brought this up! The article actually features dogs from 4 Paws!
First off, it’s voluntary. I believe any inmate with good behavior can foster a dog, unless the inmate is on death row.
How does it work?
The inmates are paired with a dog. They work together to learn basic obedience and house training. This entire operation is overseen by a professional trainer. Training a service dog teaches the inmate special skills he can use after he is released.
Yeah, crying happens a lot
I mean, jeez you just spent a few months with a tiny puppy, of course you’re going to cry! The amazing thing about these dogs is that they don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what has happened in your life. All they want is somebody to love.
Speaking as a foster parent, the bond is very, very real. I get through the pain knowing my little chump is changing a child’s whole world.
That’s really interesting that you use inmates in part of the training program. It sounds like a great thing for everyone. Can you provide more information on that?
There’s a movie on Netflix called Dogs on the Inside that offers an interesting perspective on this relationship.
Helping the Dogs
The dogs learn basic obedience and house training while in prison. Also, for the first time, they are linked to 1 human. This begins the emotional connection a dog will need to develop with their child.
Helping the Inmates
Training a dog gives the inmate life skills that are applicable outside of prison. It gives them structured daily training time. And, maybe most importantly, they get a purpose. They are now responsible for a small, helpless puppy. If they do well, this dog will become their best friend and, together, they can change a life.
How do the dogs know about these problems with humans? I’ve always heard about dogs saving peoples’ lives. I would like to know more about the mental problems.
The dogs are trained for a specific human. They then learn to watch for key distress signals and react accordingly.
For example, children with autism can experience autistic episodes where they shutdown and can hurt themselves or others. The dog is trained to notice this, then redirect the child’s energy. So instead of harming himself, the child pets and holds the dog.
Here’s a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M7PuuukzxY
What advice would you give someone who likes the idea of training dogs (eventual for a living) but has no idea what that entails? I live in Italy so I am not sure if things are the same here as in the States.
In the US there are specific requirements and certifications you need to achieve. I would recommend looking around your area and seeing if you can start taking classes, or begin training your own dog.
Then try to get a job as an assistant trainer so you can learn on the job. Once you get some experience, you can decide if dog training is the right career path for you.
How do you handle the stress of everyday life after playing all day with puppies?The outside world would seem so scary after rolling around all day with what seems like tens of puppies.
It’s interesting, I began treatment for PTSD at the same time I started working with the little shits. They gave me a purpose and they are always happy to see me. I’m not afraid of anything because I know, somewhere, there is a house full of puppies who can’t wait until I come to work.
Are there any circumstances where cats perform any of these functions?
Good god no. Have you ever met a cat? I’m being sarcastic but in honestly, our organization has never produced a service cat.
We have a cat that lives in the Puppy House and she wants nothing to do with people or the dogs.
I imagine the demand for service dogs can get quite high. What types of regulations are there that make sure people are receiving well trained animals and that the organizations don’t become a new kind of puppy mill?
First off, they cost $22,000. Yes, service dogs are in high demand, but the people who do research and pay the money are the ones getting dogs. It’s not just some random guy who wants a trained dog.
I remind you, all organizations are different. And this is the case for 4 Paws.
Our facilities are open to the public so everyone can see how spoiled the dogs are. I’m not sure what the regulations are, I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t any.
How do you train the dogs to handle the physical tantrums and not be afraid of getting hit by his/her owner?
First of all, we do not encourage the child to hit his dog. The dog doesn’t give a shit about his personal well-being and just wants to help the kid. If you watch this video you can see how the dog is trying to distract and redirect the owner.
How do you know if a dog is a suitable candidate for something like this? What specific characteristics are you looking for?
We only use our dogs that have been specifically bred for service. Every few litters, we take the top students and make them mommies and daddies! This ensures that we have a litter of pups who are mostly up to the task.
What are we looking for?
We are looking for a wide range of characteristics! Some children want hyper dogs, some want calm couch potatoes. It all depends on what the demand is. In general, we want dogs that are medically perfect, easy to train, and not aggressive whatsoever.
I thought service dogs were spayed or neutered, how do you know which not to neuter?
Dogs are neutered/spayed when they are 6 months old. We decide long before then who will be dog moms and dads.
There’s been a good amount of people at my school getting service dogs, or therapy dogs for things such as anxiety. And not to discount these people’s struggle, but my original idea of a service dog was for PTSD, blindness, etc. How do you feel about people getting a service dog for these “less serious” mental struggles?
In my OP I talked about the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs. I have absolutely no problem with people getting ACCREDITED helper dogs.
My blood boils when I see people who have obviously lied and just bought a vest online. The dog then misbehaves and discredits the hard work we are doing.
For example, you can tell a service dog isn’t credited when he is BEGGING FOR FUCKING FOOD AT A RESTAURANT! Trained service dogs are always taught to lay underneath their owner’s seat.
Is it common for you to get referrals from agencies and such? Does 4 Paws work with that?
It is common! For example, a child might be working with a therapist. That therapist could have worked with a child who benefited from a service dog. They then recommend that the child’s family look into us!
We work closely with all sorts of organizations so we can get dogs to the people who need them.
Are there government regulated tests to show a dog is qualified as a service/therapy dog?
This is what ADA says:
Q: What is a service animal?
A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government. Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities.
Some examples include:
_ Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
_ Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
_ Assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance.
A service animal is not a pet.
The whole industry charges absurd amounts of money to train these dogs. How can you defend your profession as one that helps people when you charge such absurd sums for these dogs?
I’m actually in school for accounting so I hope I can shed some light from many angles on this topic.
Before we go anywhere, I want to make it absolutely clear that we are a non profit organization. This means that our employees get salaries BUT the surplus revenue goes into bettering the company, not into the pockets of our investors / owners.
There is a large board of directors that do a great job making financial decisions for 4 Paws. For example, we recently redid our entire facilities. This cost a lot but it gave the dogs much more room. That’s a win in my book!
Cost of the dog
If you are a family in need of a service dog, we are going to ask for $15,000 to be FUNDRAISED. This means we pair you with our marketing group and you guys think of awesome ways to bring awareness to our cause while funding your dog.
This number isn’t one we just pulled out of our tails. This is what raising a highly trained dog costs.
Many other companies will sell a service dog for much lower, like $0 – $10,000. BUT there’s usually a wait list of +5 years. If a child is 7 and needs a dog, that wait list is too long.
By paying $15,000, the family is able to get their dog within a year. All of a sudden, their lives are infinitely easier.
I urge you to watch videos and read testimonials about service dogs. For many children, these dogs let them take a shower alone, sleep through the night alone, and go to school for the FIRST TIME. When you think about a child’s independence, the cost seems very doable. (http://4pawsforability.org/)
Can you direct me to any reputable charities that can assist my niece in getting a service dog? She is 5.5 years old and has autisim and physical disabilities. A service dog would be amazing for her, but her parents can’t afford $15,000. My brother is active duty army and her mom stays at home with her.
Hello! It sounds like your niece would truly benefit from a service dog.
The parents rarely pay the full amount out-of-pocket. Once a child is approved for a dog, the parents partner with our marketing staff. They devise wonderful fundraisers to reach their goal.
Usually, the child has a dog within a year or so.
Here’s the application process: http://4pawsforability.org/the-process/
And here’s the application FAQs! http://4pawsforability.org/faq/
How can I adopt a flunkie?
You can contact Info@4PawsForAbility.org to see if we have any available! This is assuming you live near Dayton, OH.
If you don’t, you can look locally for retired, or flunkie pups!
What’s the screening process like for potential owners? Is there any kind of medical documentation required to prove they’re not faking it for an adorable puppy? At 15k it seems unlikely but I’m curious if you’ve ever had to turn someone away because others were “more” in need of a service animal.
Yes, they must be disabled according to the ADA. Also, this specific organization only works with children and veterans. Here’s more information about the application process! http://4pawsforability.org/the-process/
This price is pretty steep but it’s in place so that every child who needs a dog, gets one.
Last year, where I live, a mother was in the news because a school sent out letters to parents saying a service dog would be with her child while in class. What’s your thoughts on this? Should parents be notified about these dogs?
How do you train? Click training? Positive reinforcement?
We train using positive reinforcement. Lots of treats. Labs love treats!
Have you ever tried to train a Shiba?
The smallest dog we train are Papillons. The majority of our other breeds are some sort of mix between labs, goldens, GSPs, and poodles. We choose these breeds because they are easy to train, have an excellent demeanor, and have low energy.
Do you feel it’s fair to make these dogs work or do you believe that the dogs enjoy working a strict life?
Dude. They’re dogs. They LOVE working. To them it’s not working, it’s a giant walk! Awesome!
Also, their down time is pretty great. When they’re not in public, they are normal family pets.
If you spend any time with a service dog, I think you’ll see they are spoiled rotten!
I know you only work with kids and Vets but when do you suppose dogs will start being trained for civilian PTSD? As a victim of long time sexual/physical abuse, it’s difficult to find any information.
Hey, I have civilian PTSD from abuse too. My golden lab means the world to me when I’m experiencing a trigger.
If you are interested and willing to pay, I’m sure an organization out there will work with an adult.
If not, maybe a normal dog can help you.
When I’m triggered, my dog lays on me and lets me pet him until I calm down. He’s also a link to my “new life” so when I see him, I’m reminded that what I’m experiencing in my head is in the past.
Why do you call pet owners parents? Pets already have parents of the same species, they just lose them when they’re ripped away from them because someone wants a new puppy.
Woah nelly. I’m not trying to step on any toes.
This is simply the vernacular we use at 4 Paws. If you don’t like it, you are more than welcome to call handlers some thing else.
“Ripped Away” Puppies
Dude. It’s okay. Momma dogs become disinterested anyway when the puppies grow up. It’s natural for them to not coddle their babies. Remember we do not run a puppy mill. Our puppies live with their parents for 12 weeks. And they are “ripped away” to enrich many lives. I encourage you to meet a service dog and then judge their quality of life.