From Rescue to Service Dogs - How do we get our dogs and what's the process?
At Medical Mutts we use the same selection criteria for our dogs as do organizations with a breeding program. We look for dogs with the right temperament, the right age, the right physical traits and the right health. We do not take in project dogs. The dogs that we take into our program come in with all the right qualities to be a service dog. Only a small fraction qualify.
The advantages of training shelter dogs
Getting dogs from shelters and rescues is not only an ethical choice, it's also a smart choice.
We sometimes consider rescue dogs as somebody's reject - a dog with defects or problems. Although in some cases that may be true, there are plenty of dogs that are surrendered just because their owner moved and couldn't take the dog, was too busy to care for the dog or didn't have the financial resources to keep their pet. Sometimes, the dogs simply got lost and no one claimed them.
1- There are plenty of great dogs in the shelters. Some are purebred, others are mixes. Some dogs have the social traits required to be service dogs and the training qualities that we need.
2- After dogs have been through the trauma of abandonnment, they very often develop an even stronger bond to the new people in their lives. The dogs tend to be more clingy and attentive to their caregivers. Those 'velcro dogs' are just what we need when training service dogs, especially for conditions such as diabetes or seizures where the dogs have to pay close attention to changes in the person's physical condition.
3- There are dogs of all ages in the shelters and rescues. We prefer dogs that are between 1-2 years old. Why so old and not puppies? No matter how good you might be with temperament tests, they have very little predictive value as the dog grows up. Adolescence can bring out inherited behavior traits that can be problematic for service work. By selecting older dogs, we have a much better idea of the dog's potential.
4- There are dogs of all sizes and breeds at the shelters. Service dogs don't have to be of any particular breed. We can train small, medium or large dogs, depending on our clients' preferences or needs.
How do we select our dogs?
The temperament to be a service dog
What we look for
Friendly and confident dogs
To be considered, the dogs must be between 1-2 years old. They must look friendly and be friendly, must be in good health and have the physical qualities to perform the job (such as the size, the nose, the frame, etc.). Some dogs are mixes, others are purebred dogs. Most rescue dogs cannot be trained as service dogs, but with careful selection, we identify those that have received enough socialization to effectively do the job.
A Sound Temperament
Social and Resilient
The next thing we look for is the dogs' natural desire to be with people as opposed to exploring the environment, and so the dogs are tested around food, people, cats, and other dogs. We evaluate their capacity to handle physical manipulations and restraint and how they might react to loud noises in the environment. We also assess their food drive - in other words, their desire to take treats from us, even if their stress levels are high.
If they pass the temperament test, the dogs go back to the veterinary's office for X-rays (for any signs of dysplasia) and heartworm tests. All the dogs are fully vaccinated and spayed/neutered.
Testing takes time
Only 1 out of 4 dogs becomes a Service Dog
Once we take the dogs to our training facility, the dogs remain under observation for another 4-6 weeks before being accepted into our program. We put them through our advanced training protocol and evaluate their ability to handle a variety of situations, from malls to restaurants, from loud and crowded places to doctor's offices. If there is any concern about their abilty to be safe to have in public and perform in all sorts of situations, the dogs go back to the shelter or rescue. We like to think that those who don't make it, still have a better chance of adoption due to their weeks of training with us.
Dogs that can perform at the level required for service dogs are hard to find and we don't cut corners. They've had a rough start in life, but with a little help, they can still go on and change a person's life for the better.
What happens when dogs don't work out?
We find them a good home
If dogs don't have the qualities that we're looking for in a service dog, we find them a forever home. Those dogs become available to the public as pets.