We train four types of service dogs:
Mobility Assistance Dogs—provide mobility assistance to those using wheelchairs or other devices providing mobility assistance.
Emergency Medical Response Dogs—provide appropriate alerting behaviors in response to a seizure event (mainly diabetes and epilepsy). In the best-case scenarios provide alerting behaviors prior to a seizure onset.
PTSD Dogs—these dogs are trained to mitigate and distract from possible stressors related to an individual’s PTSD and contribute to their physical, emotional and social well-being.
Facility Dogs—provide emotional and social support to various individuals living in elder care, mental health and juvenile detention facilities.
Raising a Service Dog
Here at Service Dogs for America, we do our own puppy raising. Puppies begin life in the whelping pen with their mother, and usually do not begin training until they are six to eight weeks of age. At this time they are placed in a separate kennel from their mother, but they live with each other for another month or so.
They begin training in basic tasks, such as sit, stay, come, down, heel, and no bite early, and when they have mastered these, puppies move on to more complicated task training such as paws up, leave it, take it, and touch or bump. These tasks are worked along with practice on the basic tasks, and are later used as components of the skill set they will need when they are placed.
When puppies begin their task training, they also start going out for social days. There they learn environmental awareness, and become accustomed to the different sights, sounds, and smells of busy places. This environmental conditioning also provides the opportunity to train dogs on stairs, elevators, access buttons, and around shopping carts and people.
By the time the puppies are two years old, they are ready to be placed. Staff at SDA assess the dog’s strengths, and choose an applicant based on the individual’s needs. Once we know which needs a particular dog will be serving, we begin specific task training in those areas, and continue work on the previously covered tasks and social settings. Placement training is typically two to three weeks, and is conducted in Jud, North Dakota at the SDA facility. During this time, the applicant is introduced to their dog, and the two begin rehearsing as a team the tasks that the dog has been working on. The dog may also learn some new tasks during this phase, but is generally ready to begin a life of service.
Dogs typically work for eight to ten years, at which time they are retired to a good home with a loving family. Dogs may or may not stay in their original home after retirement. Applicants requiring a dog to replace their retiree are then assigned one of SDA’s upcoming graduates.
There is much to love for a dog that grows up with us. They have ample indoor and outdoor space to run and play. They love to learn, and they love to have fun. When they graduate our program, dogs are well suited for the working world, and make wonderful companions as well as providing assistance.