As service dogs become more common, people naturally have a lot of questions about the many differences between organizations. Some groups use rescue dogs, some help people self-train, others work with one dog at a time—no service dog program is identical and there is no “right way” to train a service dog, but we do have “our way.” At PSD, there are four questions regarding our organizational policies that we are asked on a nearly weekly basis. Since we get them so often, we figured that maybe our supporters, like you, had some of these same questions. So, here are our answers!
Why does PSD take two years to train a service dog? Can’t it go quicker?
Answer: We wish! It would be great to train more dogs and help more veterans, but there are some things we can’t rush.
Dogs don’t mature until they are at least two (longer for some dogs and breeds). Physically, this means that we can’t do final medical checks to ensure that the dogs have strong joints until they turn two. Service dogs live much more active lives than most pet dogs, so they need to be strong enough to safely keep working for years. Sometimes, we do have an exceptional dog that is ready to be matched with a veteran at one or eighteen months, but we wait until we are certain that the dog’s body is ready. It also takes time for a dog to mature mentally.
If we wanted to crank-up our graduation rates and show off on social media, we could. We could teach our dogs all the 80+ commands in our manual in a shorter period of time and they could pass the Assistance Dog International Public Access Test we require, but we don’t. Just because a dog can perform a command and pass a test on a given day, doesn’t mean they’re ready to work in the human world. Service dogs take on a heavy responsibility when they’re matched with a veteran, we don’t want to put that on a dog not mature enough to handle the job or give a veteran a dog that isn’t ready.
There is pressure these days to get fast results and quick delivery, but we believe in our process.
Why don’t we help veterans train their own dog to be a service dog?
Answer: The benefits of owner-trained dogs are obvious—the dog and the person become very closely bonded and their training can be tailored specifically to the needs of the person and the strengths of the dog. We approach training from a different perspective.
If we train one dog for one person and then that dog doesn’t fit the needs of that person, it would be difficult to retrain the dog for someone else who they might be able to work with and equally difficult to retrain that person to work with another dog. Owner training is putting all your eggs in one basket, or maybe treat pouch. Owner training also requires an enormous effort on the part of the owner. It takes skill and time to train a service dog; we have a team of inmate-trainers, a lead trainer, and volunteer raisers to help us train our dogs and we still don’t graduate every dog that begins the program. Not many people have the knowledge or time to successfully train their own service dog, even with help from an organization.
For the right person and the right dog, owner training is a great option, but it’s not a part of our training.
I have/my friend found/my uncle trained/my cousin cloned a dog and I/they/my uncle/my cousin wants to donate it to your program. Will you take it?
Answer: Probably not.
We are lucky to have had many of our dogs donated to the program from amazing breeders. In our last graduating class, all four dogs were donated to PSD. If you are a breeder who takes good care of your dogs (and can back that up with veterinary records) and you want to donate a puppy, let’s talk!
More often though, we get this type of call from someone who has a dog they can no longer keep. The reason they can’t keep the dog can be because person’s housing situation changed, someone fell ill, a financial burden, or the little puppy they bought is now 10 months old and not so little, but still full of puppy energy. We feel for people who want to find a safe place to rehome their dog and our hearts break for the dogs whose lives have been uprooted, but Patriot Service Dogs is not the solution.
Why do we use pure-breed dogs? Couldn’t we use rescue dogs?
Answer: Most of our dogs come from breeders we trust, but we have successfully placed rescue dogs before. Johann (now retired) and Maverick (still working) were both rescues who excelled in their training. There are two primary reasons why we don’t use rescues more often.
- We start training at eight weeks old, at that age, it is very hard to tell what a rescue dog is going to look like as an adult. In the case of both Johann and Maverick, they came from rescues we have a relationship with, and the rescues were able to tell us what the mom looked like and an idea of what the dad looked like. We felt comfortable that they would grow up to be big enough for service dog work.
- We ask breeders for three generations of records on eyes, elbows, and hips so we have the best chance of training a dog that will be able to work for years. It’s impossible to get this kind of family history from a rescue. One of the rescues we’ve had to release from the program, Shelly, was released because her hips were not strong enough to become a working service dog. It’s unethical for PSD to place a dog with a veteran that will likely have to retire early or suffer from early arthritis.
If you’re looking for a pet, PSD hopes you do consider a rescue dog! There are so many wonderful dogs hoping to find a home.
Do you have more questions?
If you have any other burning questions about PSD, start writing them down! Next month, we will be putting out a request for questions to answer in our second Q&A session! More details to come!