How Putnam Service Dogs Trains Their Dogs to Become Service Dogs

People ask us frequently how to train their pet dog to become a service dog, or why it takes us so long, and is so expensive (over $25K/dog) for us to train our Putnam Service Dogs’ dogs.

Service Dogs perform tasks to assist their recipient and have public access rights under the ADA Law. Working with the The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners organization, which sets the standards for the industry, minimum standards for training were set by the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners. We train our service dogs more, but here are the minimum standards according to these highly respected organizations in the service dog field:

Callie & Jeff
Head Trainer, Jeff Fritz

Here are the minimum standards according to The International Association of Assistance Dog Partner and Assistance Dogs International, highly respected organizations in the service dog field:

  1. An assistance dog should be given a minimum of 120 hours of schooling over a 6 month or more period. At least 30 hours should be devoted to outings to prepare the dog to work obediently and unobtrusively in public places.
  2.  A dog must master the basic obedience skills: Sit, Stay, Come, Down, Heel, and a dropped leash recall in a store in response to verbal commands.
  3. A dog must have the following behavior: no aggressive behavior toward people or other animals -no biting, snapping, snarling, growling, lunging, or barking at them when working.  When working – no soliciting food or pets from other people, no sniffing merchandise or people, no intruding into another dog’s space, ignores food on the floor or dropped in the dog’s vicinity, works calmly on leash, no urinating or defecating in public unless given a specific cue in an appropriate place.
  4. The dog must be trained to perform disability related tasks, individually tailored to his recipient.

To evaluate whether a service dog team is ready to graduate, the Public Access Certification Test on the website of Assistance Dogs International is the best tool. The test was developed over a 15-year period as a consumer protection measure. It reveals whether a team is ready to go places out in public without trainer supervision. The safety of the dog, handler, and public are the focus of this test. The test does not test (assess) a team’s ability of the dog performing disability mitigating tasks. The Public Access Test evaluates the dog’s obedience and manners, and the handler’s skills in a variety of situations.

Handler skills assessed: Ability to safely load and unload the dog from a vehicle, enter a public place without losing control of the dog, ability to recover a dropped leash, and ability to cope calmly with an access problem if an employee or customer questions the individual’s right to bring a dog into the venue.

Dog’s skills assessed: to safely cross a parking lot, to halt for traffic, and ignore distractions, to heel through narrow aisles, to hold a sit-stay when a shopping cart passes by or when a person stops to chat or pet the dog, to hold a down-stay if a child approaches, to remain calm if someone else holds the leash while the handler moves 20 feet away, to remain calm while another dog passes within 6 ft of the team, to hold a sit-stay if someone drops food on the floor, to hold a down-stay if someone sets a plate of food on the floor.

The Amount of training given to a service dog should NEVER fall below the minimum level needed to pass this Public Access Test.

Certification of service dogs is not required in the USA. Many states lack programs willing to certify dogs. If an organization has trained the service dog, it may issue an identification card after the service dog team has passed the Public Access Test with their logo, contact information, and a photo of the dog and recipient. The organization also will present the team with a Service Dog vest for the dog to wear in public showing the organization’s logo and labeling the dog as a Service Dog.

Training our dogs to perform the service dog tasks required by their recipient usually takes 4-6 months, 1 hour/day. The dog has to be capable of performing the task consistently, when asked by the recipient. We train the recipient on how to communicate with their dog, understand their body language, and build a loving, trusting bond. All of this is essential for a service dog to perform well. Training a recipient usually takes 4-6 months, with intensive training the first 2 or 3 weeks (2-3 hours/day), tapering off to 1 or 2 hours a week until the team passes the Public Access test.

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Why Do Our Applicants Want Our Service Dogs?

Why does Putnam Service Dogs do what we do?

service dog applicant

The painstakingly thorough search we do for a dog capable of being a Service Dog; all the hours the Volunteer Puppy Raiser spends raising, loving, socializing, exercising, and training the pup; all the hours of our Head Trainer guiding and training the Raiser and pup. The patient education and training of a recipient once one of our dogs is placed with them to teach them how to work effectively as a team. The odds are so stacked against a dog making it as a Service Dog. Even with our barebones organization, we spend over $25,000 on average on a dog by the time they’re placed, and they’re Free for the recipient. The follow-up training is Free as well.

Why do we passionately persevere? We totally believe a Service Dog is life changing.  Our applicants agree.

Here’s what they say on their Applications…..

Here’s How a Service Dog Will Change Their Life

I basically have to have someone with me 24/7. I don’t have much independence because of this.

I’ve never been out by myself, so it would be nice to have a Service Dog beside me.

My life has changed from someone who worked full time to someone who stays at home. Simply being able to go out to lunch with a friend (my Service Dog) who can open the door for me, or go shopping by myself and have a little help getting the things I need would open the world back up to me.

My husband worries about me getting hurt when I am home, or out by myself.

It’s hard for me to get out, and I avoid crowds.

When I’m in a crowded situation I’m fearful I will be pushed down by the crowd.

I live alone, and my disabilities make life sustaining tasks – shopping, events, and socializing, challenging activities. I need a Service Dog to provide a “safe space” for me in public crowded situations – to help me live a full, productive life.

What Tasks Do They Want a Service Dog to Do For Them?

Having a dog being able to pick things up from the ground would greatly improve my life with just this alone.

It hurts to pick things up.

I am unable to bend at the waist so I can’t pick things up when I drop them. I use a grabber for some things. I constantly drop my grabber.

I am a 60 year old paraplegic with arthritic hands.

I need a dog to retrieve my walker. I sometimes will wander away from my walker when feeling alright, and then will begin to get too sick to stand on my own.

If I drop my car keys, I have to use the car, or a wall to try and pick them up.

I often get in too much pain or am too dizzy to get up and get things. In addition, leaning down to pick up things I drop triggers my symptoms,

Having a service dog walk beside me, be there for me when I lose my balance, would help me walk without fear of falling and breaking a bone.

Since I am confined to my wheelchair or bed, it would be nice if the dog could fetch items for me.

I can’t hear anything when I’m walking in a public area. Having a service dog nudge me if the dog hears a car or horn would reassure me.

I have serious difficulty hearing in large crowds, stores, malls, cars, buses, outside. I have a baby on the way and fear I won’t hear her.

If I have to sit down in a random spot, I always wonder what people think of me. With a Service Dog beside me, they’ll understand.

I’ve passed out in a dark, public bathroom. I need a Service Dog to turn on the lights for me, bark to alert people I need help.

Applicants are Eager to Receive a Service Dog From Us

I can’t even contain myself just thinking of it!

I started a GoFundMe page to help me raise the money I’ll need to care for my dog. I have just under $4K raised right now.

I look forward to having the mental support; knowing help is there is important. Also, I want to care for a dog to keep active and motivated.

Please let me know what we need to do to better prepare ourselves for a Service Dog. We’ll do whatever it takes.

Please keep me in mind. I really want to make this happen.

Putnam Service Dogs’ Mission Statement: Our service dogs change the lives of our recipients and their families, adding love, joy, independence, and ease. We honor and promote the nurturing bond between humans and dogs.

We provide free Service Dogs and follow-up support services to people with physical disabilities other than blindness. We adopt mixed breed pups from Rescue Organizations to raise and train as Service Dogs.

I could NEVER give the dog up

The most common reason we hear why people won’t be a puppy raiser for us is they could never give the dog up.

If the dog graduates, the raiser will have the incredibly heartwarming experience – truly unmatched, of seeing the Service Dog they helped create matched with a person in need.

This is a win/win opportunity for you. If the puppy doesn’t graduate (at least a 33% chance), at our discretion, you can adopt the pup. If the dog graduates, you’ll see the recipient’s and their family’s joy at having this precious dog who will now assist the recipient, and change their life.

Does Your Dog Love You?

golden-retriever-treatsDog lovers have no hesitation is saying dogs love their people. Dogs’ obvious attachment to their owners is shown in their following them around, their approaching them for attention and
affection, and the ecstatic greeting they give their person when they return home. Without an emotional bond, there would be few dogs joining a household.

Until recently, we had to deduce their emotions only from their behavior. Gregory Berns of Emory University, a physician who had conducted MRI studies for 25 years of humans, conducted groundbreaking MRI studies of two dogs’ brains. He, and his staff are huge dog people, and they were curious how dog brains worked. Dr. Berns trained his dog, a shelter dog, and an acquaintance trained her border collie, to lie perfectly still in the MRI machine. This was the first time MRI studies had been done on conscious and unrestrained dogs. He wanted to humanely capture their brain functions, and capture their brains functioning as closely to their natural state as possible. Continue reading “Does Your Dog Love You?”