Assistance Dog FAQs

Service dog holding soda can for woman in wheelchair

General Questions

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Canine Companions trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities:

  • Service Dogs - assist adults with physical disabilities or veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by performing daily tasks.
  • Hearing Dogs - alert the deaf and hard of hearing to important sounds.
  • Skilled Companions - enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.
  • Facility Dogs - work with a professional in a visitation, education or healthcare setting.
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A Canine Companions assistance dog can not only open doors, pick up dropped items and turn on the lights, it can also increase confidence and independence.

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Since 2018, Canine Companions is proud to place service dogs with United States Armed Forces veterans with service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dogs are trained in tasks including nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items, anxiety interruption and supporting their handler in crowded public situations. Currently, this program is only offered at certain regional training centers. Please click here for more information.

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No, Canine Companions assistance dogs and all follow-up services are provided free of charge to the recipient. Students are responsible for their transportation to and from the regional training center, their meals during Team Training and depending on the training center in your regional area, the cost of staying in a hotel. Once matched with a dog, graduates of the program are responsible for costs associated with care of the assistance dog including food, grooming and routine veterinary expenses.

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Canine Companions uses Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and crosses of the two breeds.

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Canine Companions assistance dogs are highly trained to perform a limited set of practical tasks geared towards assisting individuals with physical disabilities or veterans with PTSD lead more independent lives. Although our graduates find an incredible depth of emotion in the bond between them and their dog beyond just the working tasks, Canine Companions does not place dogs with individuals for the primary benefit of emotional comfort or social support.

Some of the tasks they are trained to do:

  • Retrieve and deliver dropped items.
  • Tug to open a door or drawer.
  • Pull a laundry basket, or help with a sock or jacket.
  • Push with their nose to shut a drawer.
  • Open a door with an automatic push plate.
  • Pull a lightweight manual wheelchair over a short distance.
  • Turn lights on and off.
  • Our hearing dogs have a different skill set, primarily involving alerting and orienting recipients to sounds.
  • Our service dogs for veterans with PTSD are trained in nightmare and anxiety interruption, among other skills.
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Canine Companions dogs are NOT trained to do the following:

  • Guide work for the blind.
  • Seizure or diabetic alert/response.
  • Mobility assistance, including balance work.
  • To recognize and/or manage undesirable human behavior or provide supervision, navigation, or safety from environmental hazards.
  • Respond aggressively or provide personal protection.

Application Process

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People with physical or developmental disabilities, adults who are Deaf or hard of hearing, United States Armed Forces veterans with PTSD, as well as professionals working in health care, visitation, educational or criminal justice settings who can demonstrate that an assistance dog will enhance their independence or their quality of life are qualified to apply.

Click here to learn more about whether an assistance dog is right for you.

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The application process, as well as all lectures, individual instruction and written class materials for the pairing process (Team Training), are given in English. We can accommodate specific communication needs including providing interpreters for our hearing dog students during Team Training and other events.

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Individuals applying for an assistance dog must be at least 18 years old with an established, stable home life. We find those 25 years of age and up typically are most suitable for an assistance dog. Children must be at least 5 years old to be considered for a skilled companion.

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Canine Companions has a comprehensive and interactive application process. Before we begin, we first exchange basic information to determine whether the program will be a a good fit. At each step of the application process, Canine Companions carefully select those applicants who are holistically the most likely to benefit from and the best fit for our program. Click on the graphic below for more information the application process.

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All inquiring individuals should receive a response from Canine Companions within 2-4 weeks.

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Our wait list time varies for each applicant and depends on factors like type of dog needed, dogs available and class composition. When an applicant is accepted onto the waiting list, we provide them with a custom range which is our best estimate of wait time prior to receiving an invitation to a Team Training class.

Training Canine Companions Assistance Dogs

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Each Canine Companions assistance dog spends the first year and a half with a volunteer puppy raiser learning basic commands and being socialized in public and private settings. Once the puppy raiser returns the puppy to Canine Companions, the dog enters professional training at a regional training center for five to nine months, where they learn the advanced commands that support the work of an assistance dog.

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It takes an exceptional dog to graduate as an assistance dog, and not every dog is suitable. All dogs must be highly proficient in the trained skills and tasks. In addition, Canine Companions dogs receive rigorous medical and temperamental screening to ensure that every dog that graduates will be healthy, happy and appropriate in their role.

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Approximately two years old.

Matching and Beyond

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Once a dog has completed professional training, and a candidate has reached the top of the wait list, they are brought together for a two-week group class known as “Team Training.” During Team Training, students learn to manage the assistance dog's behavior, to direct the dog to respond to commands it has learned, and to assume responsibility for maintaining the health and well-being of the dog.

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Canine Companions has a comprehensive and participatory program to ensure the ongoing success of its working teams. Throughout the working life of the dogs, graduates periodically return to campus with their dogs for public certification, workshops, seminars and reunions.

In addition, Canine Companions instructors and graduates communicate on an on-going basis through correspondence, reports and by providing advice via telephone and email. Instructors also travel into the field to conduct workshops and to resolve specific training or behavioral problems in the graduate's home and/or workplace environment.