Friday, November 6, 2009

Service Dogs: Specially Trained Partners

In early September, we held our Meet the Dogs sessions where several people who had been on our waiting list got to meet the dog that would become their partner. Since then, we have been specially training each of those dogs for each person, so that when the service dog teams graduate, the dogs are able to assist their partners with their unique needs.

We’re dedicated to making sure that we are meeting the needs of each person who receives a service dog from us. When we’re matching people with a dog, we learn as much as we can about that person’s unique needs so we can specially train the dog. For example, one person may need to use the dog for balance as he moves. Because everyone gets around differently, we will fit a dog with a harness and have the person try using the dog as balance at our Meet the Dogs sessions. This gives the person the opportunity to find out how the dog will be able to assist him with balance. Also, because there are several different types of harnesses a balance dog can wear, this short demo allows the person and dog to find the type of harness that works best for them. From a training standpoint, it gives us the opportunity to observe how the person is walking or moving with the dog. In advanced training, we will then try to duplicate some of those movements so the dog is specially trained to do balance work with their partner.

Similarly, we sometimes need to change the name of a dog in order to meet a person’s needs. Each litter that we breed and raise is assigned a theme, and each puppy is named according to that theme. For example, our most recent litter is called the Crayon litter, and each puppy is named after a crayon color. However, when a person is matched with a dog, we may need to change the dog’s name for that person. For instance, we have placed several hearing dogs with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Sometimes, because of their disability, the dog’s name may be difficult for the person to pronounce. We will then change the dog’s name for that person. Changing a dog’s name is not as difficult as it may seem. It is simply a matter of training the dog to respond to a different name. And something as simple as a name can mean all the difference to that dog’s human partner.

If you would like to read more about how we match people with dogs, please read our Meet the Dogs post.

Since 1994, 171 service dog teams have graduated from our program, and we currently have 26 puppies being raised by our wonderful, dedicated volunteers. As a fully accredited service dog organization, we are dedicated to high standards of quality and making sure that our service dogs are able to assist their partners with their unique needs. We love our work, and we’re looking forward to the day when the dogs that are currently in advanced training graduate with their new partners as working service dog teams.


  1. Will there be another "Meet The Dogs" session anytime soon?

  2. Our next Meet the Dogs session is on December 21-22, and we have several dogs that will be ready to be matched with their future partners. However, some types of dogs have longer waiting lists than others. Also, when people need successor dogs because their service dog has retired or passed away, their name goes to the top of the list.

    Right now, our longest waiting list is for balance dogs, partly because dogs need to be a certain size and temperment in order to make good balance dogs. We want to make sure that the dogs are physically able to perform the tasks they are asked to do.

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