Fallen Soldiers March

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Fallen Soldiers March® 501(c)3 non-profit

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Fallen Soldiers March

Site Name

Fallen Soldiers March®

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A 501(c)3 Non-Profit Dedicated to
Inspiring Patriotism,
Providing Service Dogs & Advocacy for Veterans

FOSD – Training Overview

FOSD – Training Overview

To many people a Service Dog appears like any well mannered pet – however the selection and subsequent training process is an extremely long and meticulous process involves hundreds of trainer-hours. The informtion below covers only a brief introduction to the process of obtaining a Service Dog.

The process of obtaining a Service Dog
by Ken Lyon

sfdlThe Service Dogs industry is truly about charity, as most programs are non-profits struggling to provide an expensive assistance option to the disabled. For veterans the VA only covers service dogs for the blind, and refers everyone else to agencies, such as ours, to provide a trained dog and pickup the tab. (i.e. mobility, PTSD, hearing)

We invest nearly two years of training for each dog and provide them all free of charge while some programs have a small fee. Most disabled have exhausted their means on medical treatments and usually near bankruptcy. It is only through donations that our industry can keep a promise to serve the disabled while subsidizing the huge costs involved.

Quick Points

  • Service Dogs are not just sitting on a shelf waiting to be bought. They have nearly 2,000 hours of dedicated training and at some point customized for a specific disabled person during their training.
  • Service dogs have an expiration date, they train for 2 years and work for about 10 years.
  • These dogs have high demands for quality food, routine vet visits and post graduate planning. The disabled must be able to afford at least $100 a month to cover the dogs expenses.
  • The disable must be responsible enough and medically able to properly care for the animal for several years.
  • Emergency medical plans should be in-place for both the handler and the dog should something happen. Should the handler become incapacitated a foster should be available to care for the dog. Emergency vet care is expensive but usually better than getting a replacement service dog, if the condition does not limit its work.
  • The leading causes for early retirement: age/health, auto/pedestrian accidents, stray pet dog attacks.
  • Service Dogs cost from $20k – $50k depending on the length of their training and function. Guide dogs usually train for 3 years, while most others train for 2 years. Some mobility, PTSD, and medical alert dogs can graduates as early as 18 months of age.
  • Most programs start training of puppies at 3 months of age so the dog graduates around age 2. Older dogs that enter training (up to 1yr), usually have a shorter training period so graduate around the same age.
  • Older dogs are occasionally trained but this reduces their 10yr working life and add some uncertainty about their past medical and behavior issues.

Client Time-line

  • A person becomes disabled (i.e. physically, mentally or combination) (Day 0)
  • They apply for a service animal from a number of agencies and placed on a waiting list (up to 7 years!)
  • They complete their rehab and attempt to function, and accept their condition, as best they can while waiting on the numerous waiting lists.
  • The schools usually have a number of dogs in training at different levels, at about the mid point they give the dog an aptitude test to determine which field the dog will go in to, hearing, guide, mobility, ptsd, seizure, allergy, etc. and begin matching applicants to specific dogs in their field.
  • While the disabled is on the waiting lists, the school will check up on their health to ensure they are not deteriorating beyond the use of the dog. The dogs are trained to last 10 years, it would be pointless to give a dog to someone who might expire or be unable to care for it within 3 years after graduation.
  • When the dog has completed it’s two years of training, the disabled client is invited to the training site for up to two weeks of training on how to use and care for the animal.
  • At graduation the handler is usually tested with the dog to ensure it is following all of the requested commands.
  • A follow-up test is usually given each year, to ensure obedience and review the health of the animal.
  • Should the client have an extended hospital visit or is otherwise unable to care for the animal, the agency is contacted to foster the animal during their absense.
  • After about 8 years of use, the dog is evaluated for retirement and a replacement dog starts it’s training.
  • When the replacement dog is ready, the handler has the option of keeping the old dog or having the agency re-home it for retirement. (There is a long waiting list for retired dogs as they are well trained.)
  • Should the handler pass, the agency will usually try to reassign the dog to another disabled individual, if there are several years of life left. Though some families have requested to keep the dog as a pet.

The Application for a service dog will cover many topics, everything from health/disability to your living environment. It’s important that the dog is sized properly for the individual and their living environment, a Great Dane mobility dog, might work great if your in a wheelchair, but might cause a problem in a small cramped apartment. Other questions on the application will cover family and emergency contacts who might be used if no foster can be located. Income and reserves will be asked to ensure you are financially able to properly care for the animal. You will be asked about your criminal record, if you have one, to ensure you are not a danger to the dog or others. In most states it’s a felony to harm a service dog, which includes the public, the handler/client and trainers. Animal abuse arrests may disqualify a client.

School Time-line

  • A number of dogs are adopted or breed as service dog candidates. At two months a Volhard test is administered and used to reject non-conforming dogs, usually 80%. (We test before adoption.)
  • (Adoption Costs: $500-$1000 per dog)
  • During Stage 1 the dogs are usually raised by several puppy-raiser families or middle stage trainers for 3-12 months. In our program the puppies switch families every 3-6 months, each family is a different environment, beach, farm, and city. (Costs: $100-$300/month for transport, equipment and food, $2000/yr)
    The dog is vetted every quarter for shots, xrays, routine checkups. Early medical rejection is key.
  • (Vet Costs: $350/quarter, $1400/yr)
  • Each quarter the dog undergoes temperament and behavior testing to reject bad behaviors or traits, up to 20% may be rejected and adopted out/sold as pets to recover their costs.
  • Stage 2 is started when the dog reaches about 9 months of age and progresses to a point that it’s very obedient and knows all the basic commands. The dog then visits public businesses, restaurants, retail stores for at least 600 hours of training.  (Costs: $100-$300/month for transport, equipment and food, $2000/yr)
  • Around age 1 the dog is paired with a professional Stage 3 trainer, usually paid staff, for up to 4 hours a day for intensive training, which covers basic obedience to complex ADA task training, like opening doors, retrieving objects and other assistance tasks directly for the disabled. In our program we try to use volunteers as much as possible, as this is the largest cost for service dogs. (Costs: $2,000/mo, $24,000/year)
  • When the dog is ready, a final vet checkup is given, along with xrays to ensure hip dysplasia is not a concern.
    The disabled is invited for training, either at a local hotel or an on-site dorm. Upon graduation a gift/starter package is given which contains a crate, food, toys and the dogs final graduation vest. (Costs: $200-$3000)
  • At graduation the client is tested with the dog to ensure obedience and function.
  • Every year there after, the client comes back for retesting, to ensure the dog is still working properly and to observe any medical warning signs that might trigger early retirement.
  • Should the disabled become compassionated the agency will put the dog in foster care and usually cover the food, transport and minor expenses. (Costs: $150/month) An SD should never be put in a kennel or shelter.
  • After 8 years, a replacement dog is started.

Stages

  • Stage 1: Basic Obedience, age 0-9 months
  • Stage 2: Public Access Training, age 9 months – 1 year
  • Stage 3: ADA Task Training, age 1 year – 2 years.
  • Post Graduate services: Cover emergency costs for fostering, vet and yearly follow-up training/testing

Donations

Many times different companies or individuals will donate to cover a specific stage for a dog, this way several beneficiaries, together, can underwrite the full costs of training a dog.


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