Assistance Dogs

What types of Assistance Dogs are trained

by Support Dogs, Inc.?

Support Dogs was founded on training assistance dogs for people who needed assistance with mobility-related tasks. Today, Support Dogs trains a variety of assistance dogs to meet several segments of the population. Click here to download an Assistance Dog Program brochure.

Service Dogs - These dogs are trained to complete mobility-related tasks for someone with a physical disability. The dogs are trained to open doors, retrieve dropped and distant objects, help with undressing, carry bags, rises to counters, as well as a variety of other mobility-related tasks. Support Dogs places service dogs with adults and children (over 6 years of age). The video below shows one example of what a service dog is trained to do.

To see more videos of what our service dogs are trained to do, click here.

Canine-Assisted Activity Dog - This dog is trained and placed with an individual who is an employee of the facility in which the dog will work. Typically, the dog is used as a therapeutic tool by the handler, helping to initiate a response from the residents, patients, or clients of the facility. These dogs have exceptional patience and temperament for working around all types of individuals.

Hearing Dogs - These dogs are trained and placed with someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing. The dog can alert to sounds in the environment, such as a door knock, smoke alarm, alarm clock, or a name call. All applicants for a Hearing Dog must be 18 years of age and older. The video below shows examples of what a hearing dog is trained to do for a client.

Psychiatric Service Dogs - These dogs are trained to help military veterans suffering from the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These dogs are trained not only to be very confident and obedient in any environment, they act as a grounding mechanism for their client.  All applicants for a Psychiatric Service Dog must be 18 years of age and older.

How is an Assistance Dog raised and trained?

Since 1981, Support Dogs, Inc., based in St. Louis, Missouri, has provided assistance dogs to individuals nationwide. Support Dogs uses Labrador retrievers and Golden retrievers because of their instinct to retrieve; it is very easy to train the dogs and they have fun learning the service skills. Labrador retrievers and Golden retrievers are medium to large sized dogs, which allows them to work nicely next to a wheelchair and their willingness to please makes them an ideal breed to use for service work.

All puppies coming into the Assistance Dog Program come from reputable breeders. Support Dogs requires a three to five generational pedigree to verify hip and elbow certifications, eye clearances, SAS (Sub-Aortic Stenosis) clearances (for Golden retrievers), and to ensure the pedigree lines are free from health issues. Each puppy coming into the program must pass a temperament evaluation to ensure it has the basic qualities needed to be an assistance dog. Once the temperament evaluation has been completed, they are placed in a volunteer puppy raising home or in the puppy raising program at a local federal correctional institute for their initial phase of training.

This initial phase of training, which lasts for approximately 14-18 months, is when the puppy receives its basic training and skills necessary to be an assistance dog (obedience, socialization, and manners). Puppies are also screened for any medical and temperament issues throughout their training. Support Dogs, Inc. requires all puppies have OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) hip and elbow clearances and their eyes to be checked for any anomalies. Their health is a primary concern, prior to and during their training to be an assistance dog. After the puppy completes its training with the volunteer puppy raiser or finishes the prison program, it is returned to Support Dogs, Inc. to begin advanced training with the Support Dogs training staff.

Advanced training consists of advanced obedience, advanced service skills, and final preparations to ready the dog as an assistance dog. All dogs are trained to the same level, with precision and excellence a primary focus of the trainers. Our trainers use positive reinforcement training so that the dog, even though it is performing work related tasks, enjoys its training and is always ready and willing to serve its human partner.

Once advanced training is complete and the dog is ready, the potential clients are invited to St. Louis and they train with their new canine partner during a two week Team Training. During this training, the client is taught how to handle and manage the dog, the sequencing of commands, and the bond between the dog and its new human partner begins to take shape. At the completion of the Team Training, the handler and dog must take and pass a public access test in order to be certified through Support Dogs, Inc. Each team receives a probationary certification. At the end of the probationary period, the team is retested and an annual renewable certification is given.

Assistance Dog Application

Interested in applying for an asisstance dog? Please contact the office at (314) 997-2325 or via email at info@supportdogs.org