What We Look for in a Service Dog Candidate


March 2020

People frequently ask us what our shelter staff looks for in a service dog candidate. In a Facebook Livestream, Regina and Bernice discuss how the team picks and chooses potential dogs for the program.

Check out the video for the full discussion. Don’t have time? Read the recap below the video.

Apologies for the echo on Regina’s voice. We had technical difficulties we couldn’t correct.

Before we recap the video, here are some terms you should know:

Service dog candidate: A dog we select from a shelter that we bring back to the Farm where we spend more time with the dog and get to know who they are.

Service dog in training: We’ve decided to train this dog for specific service dog tasks. We have a general idea of what type of service dog (hearing, psychiatric, mobility) the dog will be. After weeks of training, we match the dog with a person with disabilities.

Service dog: Once the dog is fully trained, they go to live with their person as a service dog!

Dogs who don’t make it all of the way through the program are adopted by loving humans or go to our grantee Sector K9 to be trained as police detection dogs.

Interestingly enough, one of the most important things is to remain objective and think about the job you hope the dog will do. This means that we don’t pick dogs because we think they are cute or because we’ve fallen in love with them – we all know how easy those things are to do with a dog!

Obviously, we look at the structure of the dog to make sure their body is sound. (We do further health screenings once the dog is back at the Farm.) Confidence is important when picking a potential service dog. We do not select dogs who show any sort of fear. Tolerance is important, as well. Service dogs need to be tolerant of all situations and people.

The team also looks for dogs who are friendly, but not too friendly. A service dog needs to be comfortable in situations with people, but they always need to stay focused on their person. A dog who is too distracted by people will likely not work out. Likewise with a dog who is overly-friendly to other dogs.

But the best person to explain all of this is Bernice, so scroll back up and watch the video!

Watch One of Our Handlers Talk about His Service Dog

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