[PHOTO: Foster Puppy Raiser Paul Loozen with his wife Virginia Maddigan and 10-month old Birch]
Many of those with disabilities find their everyday lives enhanced with the aid of Assistance Dogs. At Dogs For Better Lives, our mission is to help dogs and people live better lives, and we believe that by training our special pups for life as an Assistance Dog, we’re changing two lives.
Here are some of our most commonly asked questions about Assistance Dog training and the role that these special dogs play in our communities.
1. What Is An Assistance Dog?
Assistance Dogs are working dogs that go through an intensive Assistance Dog training program to learn how to perform specialized tasks that assist those with disabilities.
These tasks can include providing sound assistance to persons with hearing impairments, providing an emotional and physical anchor for children on the autism spectrum, or assisting professionals in their work with clients and students with disabilities.
2. What Kind Of Dogs Can Become Assistance Dogs?
We believe that any dog with the right personality and temperament can make a wonderful Assistance Dog. There is no specific breed that makes a better Assistance Dog than any other breed.
In fact, most of our dogs come from shelters and humane societies in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. Our trainers and volunteers visit shelters on a regular basis looking for dogs that show the characteristics we look for in our Assistance Dogs: well-balanced, confident, friendly and adaptable.
3. How Long Does Assistance Dog Training Take?
Our Assistance Dog training programs generally take around 4-6 months to complete. We train our dogs until they are equipped with obedience skills, as well as the tasks needed by the client they are to be placed with.
Our Assistance Dogs graduate from their training program when they are able to perform their skills reliably, regardless of distractions around them, and when they exhibit positive behavior both in the home and in a public setting.
4. How Much Does Assistance Dog Training Cost?
The cost for training an Assistance Dog can be extensive. Once you include the costs of veterinary bills, food, training, and service gear, training can easily reach $30,000 or more.
At Dogs For Better Lives, our mission is to change the lives of people with disabilities at no cost to them. And since we do not receive government assistance, we are fully funded by private donations from individuals, foundations, community groups, and corporate partners.
5. How Are Assistance Dogs Placed After They Are Trained?
Our application is completely free, though fairly extensive. We use our screening and application process to make sure each person’s needs are best matched with a specially trained Assistance Dog in our program. Those on our applicant list are paired with the best-fit dog based on lifestyle, living situation and personality.
6. How Do I Apply For An Assistance Dog?
Applicants are screened carefully to ensure they will benefit from receiving one of our dogs, and are willing and able to maintain the dog’s training and care after the dog is placed with them.
There is no application fee or deposit required, but applicants do need to go through a process that involves a pre-screening questionnaire, an application, in-home interview, and waiting period.
Our mission is to better the lives of the dogs we rescue and the people with whom they are placed, and in order to do this we take our time and closely evaluate every case.
*Update: due to a significant increase in the number of applicants, we have temporarily suspended the acceptance of new applications for assistance dogs. Please check back periodically, as applications will be accepted in the near future. Adoptable Dog Applications remain open. Click here to view our Career Change Dogs.
7. Can I Become An Assistance Dog Training Instructor?
Yes! We are always looking for people interested in becoming an Apprentice Trainer. The Apprentice Trainer position is 3-year program working with the Certified Canine Instructors on staff. After acquiring the necessary skills and passing the Certification Test, the Apprentice Trainer becomes a Certified Assistance Dog Instructor.
In order to make a great Certified Assistance Dog Instructor, you need to have excellent communication and teamwork skills. Training Assistance Dogs can be a wonderful and fulfilling way to give back to your community. Visit our Careers page to see our current job openings, or to download and print a job application.
8. Can My Dog Become An Assistance Dog?
Unfortunately, not every dog is suited to becoming a working Assistance Dog. In order to control the outcome of our training program, we hand-select all of the dogs that we train for our Assistance Dog program.
These special pups are chosen based on their temperament and ability to perform the needed skills as an Assistance Dog. Our selected dogs go through the 4-6 month training process, and then go home with one of our pre-qualified clients.
9. What Is A “Career Change Dog?”
Our Career Change Dogs are are wonderful, adoptable dogs who are happy and healthy but just not suited to working for a living. This can be due to various factors, such as having a medical condition that prevents them from comfortably working, or if we find they are nervous, uncomfortable, or unhappy when working.
We offer Career Change adoptions at no cost, because we know these special dogs can make incredible pets, even if they are not quite suited to life as an Assistance Dog. No dogs are ever returned to shelters — Dogs for Better Lives has a lifetime commitment to all of our dogs.
10. How Can I Help Dogs For Better Lives?
There are a lot of great ways to help Dogs For Better Lives!
We are completely funded by private donations, so financial support is crucial for what we do. Donations of any size can make a huge impact. For as little as $10 a month, you can provide the funding necessary to take an Assistance Dog through training from beginning to end, and into the arms of someone in need.
We are also looking for Dogs For Better Lives Ambassadors to serve as representatives in their local communities. Ambassadors give presentations, and help raise awareness for our mission and programs. You can also become a Canine Recruiter, foster a puppy, or even become a Certified Assistance Dog Instructor.
Check out our Volunteer page to find out how you can get involved, and help us to better more lives, one Assistance Dog at a time.