THANK YOU! You guys asked some great questions! I have homework I need to work on but I'll try to come back to tie up the loose ends. I am done answering questions for now.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the intelligent discussions and support!

Donate, volunteer, or just smile at the next service dog you see! :)

I work with and we train service dogs for children and veterans. I personally help with the little rugrats, 4 - 12 week old puppies.

Service Dog v. Therapy Dog

I'd like to point out the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs. Service dogs, like the ones we raise, are trained to complete specific tasks for a specific individual. They go through YEARS of training and have a "ruff" job. Therapy dogs are usually calm dogs who are not trained to do specific tasks. These are the dogs you can see at hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.They also go through strict training but are not helpers to people defined as disabled by the ADA.

It is NOT OKAY to buy a vest online and pass your dog off as a service or therapy dog.

What do they help with?

  • Hearing Ear
  • Autism Assistance
  • Mobility Assistance
  • Seizure Assistance
  • Diabetic Alert
  • FASD Assistance
  • Veteran Support
  • Multipurpose

Should I get a Service Dog? Hey, they cost $15,000. Plus, we only work with children and veterans. You still in? Awesome! We're glad to have you! Please visit this link to be directed to our website and to learn more about the process.

A Service Dog's Life

  • Birth: They hang out with their brothers, sisters, and mom in our Puppy House. At the Puppy House they will constantly be monitored by yours truly. I watch for signs of mental problems, aggression, and health issues.

  • 4 Weeks Old: Training begins! They are introduced to daily play time with their brothers, sisters, and human volunteers. This will continue until they are 12 weeks old.

  • 5 Weeks Old: They go outside! They begin to take daily adventures outside to get used to cars, nature, other animals, and general dog outside stuff. Don't worry, they aren't placed on the ground until they're 100% vaccinated

  • 6 Weeks Old: VEST! This is when the puppy gets their job tools. They are fitted for a service vest and begin to take daily trips (with human volunteers) to the community. They go to the mall, Target, Home Depot, the library, and local schools. This is so they can get used to being in public.

  • 12 Weeks Old: The puppy goes to jail! No, seriously. We are partners with local prisons. An inmate gets a puppy and begins basic training and housebreaking.

  • 4 Months Old: The puppy is released from prison and is placed in a foster home (I take part in this as well!). Here, they live with a family and continue basic training / housebreaking. We are one of the few organizations that do NOT require families to give up their existing pets. So during fostering, we encourage foster homes to have other animals in the house.

  • 10 Months Old: The puppy leaves his foster family and heads back to headquarters. Here, he is assigned a child and begins advanced service training. This is when he starts working on the jobs his human will need him to do. He and the child usually communicate via Facebook. It's adorable.

  • 12 Months - 24 Months: GRADUATION! The foster family takes the puppy to the graduation ceremony. They pass him along to his child. Everyone cries. Everyone hugs. It's awesome. For the next two weeks, the child, dog, parents, and trainer will work side-by-side to learn how to work together. At the end of two weeks, the dog goes home with the child and neither are the same.

My Proof: Here is an album I made that has pictures from my job. At the end is proof that links me to this Reddit account.


Comments: 576 • Responses: 78  • Date: 

LelouchViMajesti152 karma

I grew up with a dog and was devasted when he died. My question is : What happens when the dog dies, do the owner receive a new one, how does he handle it in most of the time ?

Russell4life213 karma

Child Dies: The family will probably keep the dog as a family pet.

Dog Dies Prematurely: This will rarely happen PREMATURELY. The dogs go through very, very extensive training. This includes constant vet checks to make sure they are healthy. If they have any health problems, they are deemed "fantastic flunkies". This minimizes the probability of a dog dying while on the job.

Dog Dies of Old Age: Once the dog is unable to service the child, he is retired. We are one of the few organizations that allows the dog to continue living with his family. At this point, the family will probably get a new dog for their child.

Child's Response: Unfortunately death is a part of life. In my experience, parents use this tragic event to teach their child about the circle of life. Devastation over the death of a pet is universal.

Akafirmhandshake61 karma

Fantastic flunkies, what a great name.

My friend used to train guide dogs and keep them for a year(or two, i think), can't remember, so him and his family trained them from puppies to working guide dogs.

One of them failed. They now keep it as their pet called Summer, she's just an exceptionally well trained dog. I mean, not guide dog material apparently, but compared to 'standard' dogs, she is fantastic.

Russell4life111 karma

Yay for your friend! That's what I do, too! It's called fostering. Yes, we always have flunkies available for adoption and usually the employees come home with 1... or 2... or 3.

Don't judge me.

glitcher2127 karma

What is the going rate for flunkies? Would it be easier to teach a flunkie new tricks on my own than an untrained dog?

Russell4life33 karma

These flunkies are still GREAT dogs so it depends on your training skill!

idoenjoybakedgoods7 karma

My boyfriend and I were considering getting a dog and wondered at the adoption rates on the pups failing out. Do you always find a home for them, or do they sometimes go to shelters?

Russell4life26 karma

They always have a home. We have never sent a dog to the shelter because we have plenty of room at our headquarters for a dog to chill until they get adopted!

rbdash58 karma

I'm confused as to why any organization would demand taking an old and retired service dog back. So the family pays good money for it, has it most of its entire life and get attached, and once it's old the organization busts down the door and takes an old, no longer working dog away?

SwankyCletus88 karma

I have heard it is for the dog's best interest. The relationship between a service dog and it's owner is incredible- so much stronger than a normal relationship with your pet, because you actually rely on this dog to do daily tasks and/or keep you safe. These dogs aren't just pets, they're support. Once the dog is retired, and the new service dog enters the picture, the old service dog won't be allowed to preform the same functions- it will no longer go everywhere with its owner, instead, the new dog fills this role. It won't have a 'job' anymore, which can also lead to a lot of stress, because lots of dogs are very job oriented. While I don't agree with it, the reasoning behind removing the old dog (or at least, what I've been told by my mom, who has a service dog) is that the new environment spares the dog a lot of stress, and lets the retired dog avoid having to watch a new animal fill the role it's been filling for its whole life.

Source: My mom has MS, and has had a service dog for my entire life. We were allowed to keep ours after she was retired, but many people choose not to, or aren't allowed to.

Russell4life85 karma

That's a very good point. It kind of like dating a new girl but having your ex still live with you.

Russell4life34 karma

It confuses me too... That's why we don't require that!

wishlesssleep13 karma

We are one of the few organizations that allows the dog to continue living with his family.

Is this true? I thought most dogs are retired back to the families. Don't they become a member of the family while in service? Why would they ever be taken once retired?

Russell4life19 karma

No, they are usually taken back by the organization.

I have no idea why they would be taken back but that's what happens with national service dogs. Smaller Non Profits usually let the family keep the dog.

keegsbro80 karma

How did you get involved in this work and how would someone else go about getting into it?

Russell4life49 karma

All About Me:

I freaking love dogs. I also love children! I love the special bond they have together.

I found this organization and began volunteering 2x a week. I immediately fell in love with the people and dogs!

I tried out grooming, walking, feeding, but my heart stayed with the puppies. Eventually I began working at the Puppy House and that's where I've stayed for the past year!

My favorite part is watching a dog grow up and change a child's life.

All About You:

You're interested? AWESOME! We always need help and donations! If you're not local, you can try and find a service dog organization near you. Put that Google-fu to the test!

I recommend starting as a volunteer to make sure you enjoy the work. Yes, I play with puppies all day, but I also clean up a lot of poop. Like, you wouldn't believe how much poop.

Then, find a good fit for yourself! I'm an accountant so I hope to transition into the management side of the operation. Maybe you'd be best as a vet tech! Or a groomer!

GingaSnapzzz47 karma

Came here to ask this. My GF is looking at this as a possible career, but we don't know anyone in the business we can ask.

Also, what's the average salary one can expect to make in this field?

Russell4life76 karma

Getting In:

She should find a specific niche in the industry. For example, we hire accountants, media people, vets, trainers, and babysitters!

I recommend she get a degree, training, or certification in what she wants to do, then apply for a job with service dogs.

Another option is to begin volunteering and slowly work your way up!


I make minimum wage but I'm a college kid and to be honest, I'd probably pay THEM for the chance to work here. Higher-ups make quite a bit more because the company does really well. It is a non-profit but they still get salaries.

fadetoblack100443 karma

Also, what's the average salary one can expect to make in this field?

I'm more suited to answer this than OP, apparently. My wife is a professional dog trainer specializing in service dogs and obedience training. She is salaried, works 50-60 hours a week, 7 days a week, and given our area and COL, I'd define her income as being on the slightly lower end of middle class. On a per-hour basis, it probably works out to like $12 an hour or something. This isn't a job you get into for the money, this is a job you get into because you love dogs and helping people.

As for the higher ups in her company, nobody makes a ton of money, most are paid right around what she makes, give or take a bit. Most of that extra income they generate goes towards paying for training for dogs to people who can't really afford them, as opposed to lining the pockets of corrupt individuals that see running a non-profit as their gateway to an upper-class life. That's not to say that other service dog training organizations are like that, but I know of at least two that are. To me, it's unconscionable to sell trained service dogs for $15,000 to people who really need them and could be the difference between life and death, while calling yourself a non profit, and at the same time, pay yourself $300,000 a year to run a small organization.

Russell4life10 karma

Awesome, thanks!

FliesInVasoline56 karma

If you had to pick one breed, which one is the best to be selected as a service dog? Or is it more of a question of which type of service the dog will need to be trained for?

Russell4life98 karma

Labrador or Golden Retriever. Hands down.

They are our base. They are loyal, calm, dependable, strong, cuddly, and adorable. We mix them with Poodles, German Shepards, and Newfoundlands to get the perfect dog for a situation.

Look: A lot of children use their service dog as a social bridge. Because goldens are so dang friendly, other children are comfortable approaching them. Voila! New friends!

Energy: The most common breed of dog we place is a Golden Lab mix or "Glab". This is perfect because it reduces their energy levels. When placing a dog with a 7 year old child with severe anxiety, you don't want a dog that needs to run 20 miles a day. Glabs are wonderful (I have one myself) because they are perfectly happy with 2 walks a day.

Papillons are used for diabetic children because they are commonly able to detect low blood sugar.

Collies are a work in progress. We have had a few litters and only 1 dog (Olaf) has been successful. They are too docile and too high energy for service work.

cunts_r_us24 karma

How do Papillons detect low blood sugar?

yungcoop73 karma

When a diabetic has a low blood sugar or their blood sugar is dropping, they emit a certain scent mainly through their sweat. The dogs are trained to pick up on this scent and signal to the diabetic however they were trained too. Source: I'm a Type 1 diabetic who has looked into these dogs.

Russell4life25 karma

You nailed it :)

Russell4life32 karma

They are able to smell it! Each dog is different and trainers look for their "tell". For example, when a dog smells low blood sugar he might start barking, or another dog might paw at the person. Once the trainer discovers the sign, they tell the family what to watch for.

Neversun3 karma

Does this mean that the dog chooses his tell? Or the trainer picks it and the dog learns? (ie, dog is trained to smell for a certain scent, puppy begins to encounter it and paws at it, and another barks. or are they taught to do a specific thing once they detect the scent?) I think it's standard for national guard/service/drug dogs, where they just sit at the smell of something instead of pawing or barking, but I don't know how that works for blood sugar or other non-standardized service dogs.

Russell4life10 karma

The tell is usually a natural behavior from the dog. So the dog does it consistently, and the trainer picks up on it.

Remember that the difference between drug dogs and diabetic sensing dogs is that the diabetes service dog needs to tell his owner RIGHT NOW that there is something wrong. This is why they are encouraged to interrupt the owner by barking or pawing at them.

collieflowerr12 karma

To clarify OP's point, any dog can detect low/high blood sugar so long as they've been trained to do so. Sometimes the dogs will even be inadvertently trained to alert before a low or high. Not sure why they specifically chose Papillons.

Russell4life21 karma

You are correct. Papillons are naturally predisposed to the trait that allows them to smell the blood sugar. We have other dogs that can do it, Papillons are just the most popular.

suelinaa14 karma

I imagine you would use a poodle if the child has allergies?

Thank you for your work!

Russell4life19 karma

Yes :) We have many Goldendoodles who are 75% poodle, 25% golden

IfWishezWereFishez8 karma

Years ago, I had a co-worker who volunteered with some type of service animal organization. I asked him why German Shepherds aren't more popular with such groups and he said that they tend to be "one person dogs," so they end up bonding with their trainer and have a difficult time adjusting when they go to their eventual owner.

Is that something you've found to be true? Are German Shepherd mixes more prone to this problem than other mixes?

Russell4life8 karma

Yes, I have seen that numerous times. The problem we've encountered with GSPs is that they latch onto their handler too much. This can lead to aggression or separation anxiety.

Once we mix in about 75% lab, they seem to mellow out.

KelzBells4 karma

I noticed you mentioned mixed breeds and their percentages a few times, how does the breeding program work? Do service dogs beget service dogs once they retire? Is there a professional service dog mommy? Do you find puppies from normal breeders?

Russell4life11 karma

Good question!

Moms and Dads

Every few litters or so, the best pups get chosen to be breeders. These puppies have the best temperament, energy level, and all around attitude. They are given basic training, then go to live with a foster family.

The Birds and the Bees

Once they are a few years old, the foster parent brings the dog into our facility when they are ready to make babies. This is usually a 1 - 2 week span of time. The pregnant dog goes back to the foster home until she's ready to give birth!

New Recruits

When the mom dog is going into labor, the foster family brings them to our facility. We have whelping rooms where the puppies are born. It's very exciting! Each litter has a theme, and then the puppies are named according to that theme. There have been puppies named after geography, presidents, candy, soda, and LOTS of Disney dogs. The puppies live with their mom at the Puppy House. Once they're 12 weeks old, they are separated so the dog can continue his training away from home. The parents continue to produce more litters. Usually a female will have around 3 litters before she is retired. Like all of our retired dogs, she then becomes a family pet.

_Driftwood_7 karma

I was always told not to touch a service dog. I've tried a couple time (asked the owner) and was denied and it was embarrassing. are some specifically for "making new friends", like an anxiety disorder or something? or can any service dog be pet just depending on owner's preference? I worked with a college student who just got a black lab puppy for her diabetes. it was the worst summer ever seeing that puppy and never being allowed to pet it.

Russell4life28 karma

Service dogs can be petted, you just NEED TO ASK THE OWNER, YOU SHOULD ALWAYS ASK THE DOG'S OWNER! Thank you for asking, you get a gold star :)

It all depends on if the dog is actively working, what their job is, and the owner's comfort level.

azizen7 karma

Got any experience with Shetland Sheepdogs? I had a sheltie for 13 years and thinking of taking on another one, so I'm curious if you got any input about them? :) (I got no special needs, I just love the breed)

Russell4life11 karma

I do not! I mean I've met them at dog parks but their energy is too high for me! Good luck with your futures pups, if you love them, I'm sure they'll be pleasantly spoiled.

allonzy3 karma

Have you ever heard of syncope alert dogs?

Russell4life3 karma

I have not. My googling tells me they are dogs who alert people when they are going to pass out?

AT-ST3 karma

Who names the dogs? Are a lot of dogs given child friendly names (like Olaf which I assume was named after the snowman from Frozen)?

Russell4life2 karma

The founder makes a list of names and the volunteers help pair the dog with the name.

They're very child friendly :) pretty much every Disney name imaginable has been used

comawoo2 karma

Have you worked with pitbulls, and are there any service pits.

Russell4life5 karma

I have not and no, I do not know of any.

Unfortunately the social stigma of pits really holds them back. A lot of places won't let you rent there if you have a pitbull. There is a long way for that breed to go before they are able to be as well-received as other breeds. This is heartbreaking because there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.

Spot-the-liar51 karma

What is the graduation rate for dogs? If a dog doesn't fit into a given service role, how often are you able to use them in another role? What is the male:female ratio for service dogs?

Russell4life52 karma

Graduation Rate:

I'd estimate it to be around 90% Except for those damn collies. We've only had one graduate out of 4-5 litters.


It's up to the parents! Some litters only have 1 female, some have 1 male, some are mixed. There is no noticeable difference once they start working.

Dog's and Their Role:

We have incredible trainers. They find out what that child needs and then match them with a dog. By the time the dog is ready for advanced training (~1 year old) the trainer will know who's good at what.

If it becomes obvious that a dog won't do well in service. They become a "fantastic flunkie" and get adopted out.

flickwrist14 karma

Thanks for answering all the questions in a well organized concise way! And thanks for the work you do!

Russell4life10 karma

D'aww :)

Obladesque30 karma

Do you have specific training procedures for specific behaviors that children with specific disabilities are prone to displaying? Humans, especially those with developmental hurdles have always seemed to me like such complex and unpredictable subjects to work with. I guess my question is, how are you able to train dogs to react to such a range of behavior? And can you give some example of some behaviors in children that you might train dogs to react to, and how you go about doing that? Thanks so much, I am a big fan of the work you are doing!

Russell4life48 karma

Good question! At 4 Paws, we have categories (I've listed them in my OP) but, like you said, humans rarely fall perfectly into a predefined mold. The categories serve as soft guidelines so the family can see what areas of their life can be touched.

Most dogs are multipurpose. In this case, we work with the family to determine EXACTLY what the child needs. Dogs are amazing. Our trainers are amazing. They can train a service dog to do many, many things such as...

  • Open doors
  • Turn on/off lights
  • Carry backpack
  • "Hard cuddle" where the dog lies on the child to give emotional support
  • "Distract" the child to redirect negative energy during a meltdown
  • During a seizure, the dog can bark to get help

I'm not 100% familiar with the training procedures because I work with 4 - 12 week old baby dogs. At this stage, we focus more on their disposition and basic manners rather than their specific tasks.

Keep in mind, our service dogs go through 1 - 2 YEARS of trainig before being placed with their family.

LTCOakley9 karma

Do you have any pets (dogs or otherwise) yourself?

Russell4life18 karma

Yes! I have a golden lab named Giggsy. I'm sorry I wasn't clear earlier, I don't have fantastic flunkies but many of my coworkers do. I am lined up for a foster soon which will bring my total dog count to 2.

sbrick892 karma

how does one train a 4-12 week old puppy, for disposition and manners?

Russell4life5 karma

The main thing we work on is rewarding a puppy for sitting calmly.

If I walk into the room and 9 are jumping all over the place while 1 is sitting nicely, I will pet the calm one first. Then the others learn "hey, if we sit and don't move we get food/pets first"

a-faposaurus24 karma

I read a story about a dog that is trained to straighten a disabled boys airway when distressed, among other things. How the hell do you go about training for that sort of thing?

Russell4life33 karma

Dude I wish I knew. I only train 4 - 12 week olds so I am not experienced with the advanced training that takes place when a dog is ~ 1 year old.

If I were to guess, I'd say it is a trained response of positioning the human whenever the human is showing signs of distress. This is achieved through treats and belly rubs.

ziptnf22 karma

What is the most emotional or happiest story that you have about a service dog helping someone?

kstarr1220 karma

How do you resist keeping every puppy?!

Russell4life73 karma

Once you've spent a whole day cleaning up poop and pee and god knows what, saying goodbye is pretty easy. On my first day, I was cleaning up poop when another puppy DIVE BOMBED into the pile of crap. He was absolutely thrilled. I was not.

xemplifyy19 karma

Hey, saw your post in the thread where people made you do this AMA, and I have to say that these dogs are incredible (as are all dogs, of course).

With that said, do you avoid forming an emotional connection to the dogs? If not, how hard is it to cope when they are eventually put into service and you no longer get to see them?

Russell4life36 karma

Oh hey, thanks for joining us!

Bonding... And Letting Go:

Hell no. It's a puppy. Who, in their right mind, would NOT get attached to a cute little silly puppy? I always develop a favorite in each litter. Keep in mind, I have around 12 litters at a time so I have lots of favorites at lots of different ages.

It's sad when they leave, but it's the most rewarding experience. And then BAM! 11 more little guess come shooting out of their mom and the process begins again!

It is hard to say goodbye, but we constantly get updates from their family via facebook. It's all worth it when you see how happy that child is.

asminapira15 karma

I manage a restaurant and no animals besides service animals are allowed in. Every time someone comes in with their dog I have to approach them and ask these two questions that, as far as I understand, are the ONLY questions I get to ask(please correct me if I'm wrong). 1- is your dog a service dog to help with a disability? And 2- what tasks have your dog being trained to perform? And it doesn't matter how much sugar I put on my tone of voice because 9 out of 10 times I get a lot heat from the owner and even the people around. Even had the cops called on me once. This is getting really old as business places are left without any choices or ways to or text themselves against people who fake having an animal who's been properly trained and strap their dogs in vests as if they were part of the freaking bomb squad. So I have a few questions.

1- what's the best way to not anger a costumer when asking about their service animal? 2- do owners are thought about their rights and the business places rights to ask questions? 3- do comfort or therapy animals have the same rights as service animals?

I love dogs and all kinds of animals but I gotta run a business. Thanks for you time.

mxtrav22 karma

I would imagine anyone that has an actual service dog understands why you're asking these questions and doesn't get defensive about it. Anyone that gets defensive/angry is likely lying about their service dog.

Russell4life19 karma

Correct. We understand that being asked questions is just part of the job description

Russell4life19 karma

You are correct, those are the only questions you may ask. I'm sorry the handlers get fussy. As handlers, we should know that questions are just a part of the service dog life.

It looks like your questions can all be answered on the ADA website:

Defsing14 karma

I would like to feel lots of warm fuzzy feelings so, what's the most adorable thing any of the dogs have done?

Picture proof please.

Russell4life6 karma

This is my album!

DirkNowitzkisWife9 karma

There's been a good amount of people at my school getting service dogs, or therapy dogs for things such as anxiety. And not to discount these people's struggle, but my original idea of a service dog was for PTSD, blindness, etc. how do you feel about people getting a service dog for these "less serious" mental struggles?

Russell4life35 karma

In my OP I talked about the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs. I have absolutely no problem with people getting ACCREDITED helper dogs.

My blood boils when I see people who have obviously lied and just bought a vest online. The dog then misbehaves and discredits the hard work we are doing.

For example, you can tell a service dog isn't credited when he is BEGGING FOR FUCKING FOOD AT A RESTAURANT! Trained service dogs are always taught to lay underneath their owner's seat.

easybreezy7717 karma

This! I work at a restaurant and am so tired of people trying to bring in their lap dogs and call it a service dog. I've spent hours online doing research and have found that we are allowed to ask what task the dog is trained to perform (see Q7 in the link). This has allowed me to weed out a good amount of emotional support dogs. I remember last year before we started paying more attention to what actually qualifies as a service dog, we had two in the bar that started barking at each other -_- Clearly not actual service dogs, the owners just lied to us.

Russell4life7 karma

Yes, you are correct! It drives me nuts when people lie about their animal. It helps no one.

tootiredandsleepy8 karma

Currently having a problem with my current random roommate who lied to our apartments about her dog being a therapy dog. Her dog freaking BITES us if we just walk out of our rooms. Makes me so mad that she would do that, especially since I know the trouble and effort it takes to obtain a therapy dog.

Russell4life8 karma

Woaah, that's not cool of your roommate :(

sfitzer15 karma

"less serious" mental struggles

I understand what you're saying and know people are abusing the system. But as someone with debilitating anxiety, a therapy dog would help me (I think). I actually just spoke with my therapist about this last week. And while I wouldn't need the dog to open doors or carry my bags, I would need it for other things. I'd liken it to a diabetic service dogs needs, to alert me when I need to stop what I'm doing and calm down. Sometimes people with anxiety can't calm down or slow down our thoughts.

If they could teach them to drive me to the store, that would be so helpful.

Russell4life6 karma

Cool! What you're describing is a therapy dog. There are local chapters around the world that can work with your existing pet to get him trained and certified.

sfitzer3 karma

Could you point me in the right direction to find these chapters?

Russell4life4 karma

It depends on where you live. If you're comfortable sharing that with me, I can try to help!

sfitzer3 karma

I'm in Vancouver, Wa. just North of Portland, Or.

Russell4life5 karma

I don't have a ton of time but I did find this organization...

Maybe contact them?

AutoModerator9 karma

Users, please be wary of proof. You are welcome to ask for more proof if you find it insufficient.

OP, if you need any help, please message the mods here.

Thank you!

I am a bot, and this action was performed automatically. Please contact the moderators of this subreddit if you have any questions or concerns.

Rooonaldooo996 karma

OP forgot to link the album as proof..

Russell4life16 karma

God damn. Thanks for the notice!

Rooonaldooo993 karma

No worries! Glad to help.

cablebent198815 karma

There had better be puppies on this link OP, otherwise I'm leaving.

Edit: I will stay.

Russell4life4 karma

HAHA! You made me lol. Thanks for sticking around!

BaesideTigers9 karma

What kind of training did you go through to work with service dogs?

Also, I've heard people say that a stranger's service dog alerted because of their distress/health issue. Is that common or are the dogs trained to only help their charge?

Russell4life14 karma


I was a volunteer for many months. I work with 4 - 12 week old puppies so I only need to know basic obedience. I learned about service dogs while on the job. There are a few key differences between normal puppies and service dog puppies.

For example, I can't play tug of war with them, encourage them to chase me, or let them get loud and bark /growl. These are habits we don't want to start.


Yes! That is a common service. Basically, we train the dog to react to a certain indicator. So I'm not surprised to hear of dogs going above and beyond their job description.

Bubadoo8 karma

How do the dogs know about these problems with humans? I've always heard about dogs saving peoples' lives. I would like to know more about the mental problems.

Russell4life24 karma

The dogs are trained for a specific human. They then learn to watch for key distress signals and react accordingly.

For example, children with autism can experience autistic episodes where they shutdown and can hurt themselves or others. The dog is trained to notice this, then redirect the child's energy. So instead of harming himself, the child pets and holds the dog.

Here's a video:

jonmsanti8 karma

This broke my heart.

Russell4life9 karma

I know man. I get goosebumbs every time the kid collapses into the dog.

splshcl8 karma

In the New York Times article I read on this it's mentioned that prisoners are often given the dogs to do basic obedience training. How does this work? Are most of the prisoners ok with having to give up the dog? (it said some of them cried when they had to give them up).

Russell4life27 karma

OH MY GOSH YES THAT'S US! I'm glad you brought this up! The article actually features dogs from 4 Paws!

Which prisoners?

First off, it's voluntary. I believe any inmate with good behavior can foster a dog, unless the inmate is on death row.

How does it work?

The inmates are paired with a dog. They work together to learn basic obedience and house training. This entire operation is overseen by a professional trainer. Training a service dog teaches the inmate special skills he can use after he is released.

Yeah, crying happens a lot

I mean, jeez you just spent a few months with a tiny puppy, of course you're going to cry! The amazing thing about these dogs is that they don't care who you are, where you come from, or what has happened in your life. All they want is somebody to love.

Speaking as a foster parent, the bond is very, very real. I get through the pain knowing my little chump is changing a child's whole world.

874124125145285245610 karma

"The amazing thing about these dogs is that they don't care who you are, where you come from, or what has happened in your life. All they want is somebody to love."

Did you just paraphrase a Backstreet Boys song?

Russell4life6 karma

Haha no, did I? This is sad but I was actually in my prime after the Backstreet Boys were a thing... So I didn't mean to!

WorkoutProblems1 karma

I also don't understand why they would have prisoners train them? I get the whole it's probably cheaper, but what's stopping the prisoner from training negative things?

Russell4life1 karma

They have guidance! They work daily with a professional trainer who oversees the operation

kingvxx7 karma

Hey thanks for doing this ama. My question would be: what kind of training do you normally put these dogs through?

Russell4life8 karma

I copied this from my post! Does this answer your question? Feel free to ask about specifics and I'll do what I can.

A Service Dog's Life

  • Birth: They hang out with their brothers, sisters, and mom in our Puppy House. At the Puppy House they will constantly be monitored by yours truly. I watch for signs of mental problems, aggression, and health issues.

  • 4 Weeks Old: Training begins! They are introduced to daily play time with their brothers, sisters, and human volunteers. This will continue until they are 12 weeks old.

  • 5 Weeks Old: They go outside! They begin to take daily adventures outside to get used to cars, nature, other animals, and general dog outside stuff. Don't worry, they aren't placed on the ground until they're 100% vaccinated

  • 6 Weeks Old: VEST! This is when the puppy gets their job tools. They are fitted for a service vest and begin to take daily trips (with human volunteers) to the community. They go to the mall, Target, Home Depot, the library, and local schools. This is so they can get used to being in public.

  • 12 Weeks Old: The puppy goes to jail! No, seriously. We are partners with local prisons. An inmate gets a puppy and begins basic training and housebreaking.

  • 4 Months Old: The puppy is released from prison and is placed in a foster home (I take part in this as well!). Here, they live with a family and continue basic training / housebreaking. We are one of the few organizations that do NOT require families to give up their existing pets. So during fostering, we encourage foster parents to have other animals in the house.

  • 10 Months Old: The puppy leaves his foster family and heads back to headquarters. Here, he is assigned a child and begins advanced service training. This is when he starts working on the jobs his human will need him to do. He and the child usually communicate via Facebook. It's adorable.

  • 12 Months - 24 Months: GRADUATION! The foster family takes the puppy to the graduation ceremony. They pass him along to his child. Everyone cries. Everyone hugs. It's awesome. For the next two weeks, the child, dog, parents, and trainer will work side-by-side to learn how to work together. At the end of two weeks, the dog goes home with the child and neither are the same.

fadetoblack10046 karma

The whole industry charges absurd amounts of money to train these dogs. My wife's company is trying to change the model of the industry and have been fairly successful. They help families select a puppy and then charge on a per lesson basis to teach the families how to move through their tiers of training until they certify it as a service dog. I think the average cost is around $5,000-$6,000 all in before they certify a dog, although that can rise as high as $10,000 if the dog is not well-suited or the owners are careless in their follow-up. On the other hand, I've watched a dog get certified after a family that was really committed to the training spent maybe $2,000 total.

I think most people don't realize service dogs usually retire around 8-9 years old, so once they take that dog home, they get 6-8 years out of it before it becomes a pet, then they need to drop another huge sum of money.

So my question is as follows; How can you defend your profession as one that helps people when you charge such absurd sums for these dogs? Given what my wife makes and her company's average cost per dog, I can only imagine the margins on these dogs are freakin' absurd, especially given the additional cost efficiencies inherent in your business model.

Russell4life8 karma

I'm actually in school for accounting so I hope I can shed some light from many angles on this topic.

Non Profit

Before we go anywhere, I want to make it absolutely clear that we are a non profit organization. This means that our employees get salaries BUT the surplus revenue goes into bettering the company, not into the pockets of our investors / owners.

There is a large board of directors that do a great job making financial decisions for 4 Paws. For example, we recently redid our entire facilities. This cost a lot but it gave the dogs much more room. That's a win in my book!

Cost of the dog

If you are a family in need of a service dog, we are going to ask for $15,000 to be FUNDRAISED. This means we pair you with our marketing group and you guys think of awesome ways to bring awareness to our cause while funding your dog.

This number isn't one we just pulled out of our tails. This is what raising a highly trained dog costs.

Wait List

Many other companies will sell a service dog for much lower, like $0 - $10,000. BUT there's usually a wait list of +5 years. If a child is 7 and needs a dog, that wait list is too long.

By paying $15,000, the family is able to get their dog within a year. All of a sudden, their lives are infinitely easier.


I urge you to watch videos and read testimonials about service dogs. For many children, these dogs let them take a shower alone, sleep through the night alone, and go to school for the FIRST TIME. When you think about a child's independence, the cost seems very doable. (

xchris_topher6 karma

Thank you! This is very interesting!

  1. What is the difference between a Service/Therapy Dog and a Police K9 who can sniff out specific illegal substances?

  2. With humans, we see 'terrible 2s' as an age where children get into a lot of mess... As Puppies, is there something similar where their curiosity overshadows their training - thus do you have a minimum age until a dog can work with a client?

  3. For a hyperactive female pit mix who is a couple months away from being a year old who growls at most unfamiliar males in passing, and becomes entirely aggressive toward all other dogs (except those raised with her) - what do you recommend to break the puppy of this habit (in example; I squirt my cats with a water bottle when they try to scratch something they are not supposed to.)?

freevortex20 karma

Not OP, but I've also trained service dogs (I don't any longer, I'm in grad school which takes up 100% of my time, but I'd like to again in the future).

  1. A lot. Basic training (sit, stay, etc) is obviously the same, but the entire purpose of the dog is different and so they're tooled in different ways. One thing I can think of that's probably similar is, for example, I taught my pup-in-training to fetch certain toys or people for me based on their name. I'm sure K9s go through a similar training! I've never worked with K9s though, so I'm sure someone else knows a lot more about this one.

  2. Ohmygodyes. At 8 weeks (when our organization starts training), they're cute as heck and basically just sleep every 30 seconds. Then they hit like 4 months and turn into monsters D: As a trainer, you have them 24/7 for about a year, so you really get to know your pup-in-training and realise when he's just not having any more training for the day. They also go through teething, learning not to chew on everything ever, potty training, etc. And then they hit an age that I call the 'terrible teens' at around 7 months when they realise that they don't have to listen to mom when she gives a command. It's seriously so similar to a kid going "This isn't a stage, mom, this is me! I don't have to listen to you!" that it's ridiculous. They grow out of it though :) As to the second part of your question, I'm sure every program is a little different but for our particular program, the initial puppy trainers have the dogs from about 6-8 weeks to a year old (sometimes more if the pup needs extra training). Once they can pass the CGC (Canine Good Citizen test), they're generally handed off to secondary (puppy grad school) school, where full-time trainers give them training specific to the pup's forever partner (disabled person). This is also the point at which they bring in all prospective pups and prospective forever partners together to find which dogs gravitate to which people, and vice-versa. ETA: I think the pups go home with their partners at about 2 years of age. Not 100% sure though, I don't do secondary training.

  3. I'm gonna split this up because it's gonna be long.

  • Operant conditioning and clicker training is your friend. Find a treat that your dog LOVES (for my pup, it was freeze-dried liver bits! A lot of people swear by Bil-Jacs too.) and buy a clicker (they're like a buck if you get the cheapie ones). this might help for a quick clicker guide.
  • Definitely do not ever try to take on more than one problem at a time. Focus first on males, then once she's okay with that focus on dogs. Or vice-versa. Whichever you think is the more pressing problem.
  • For the males thing, see if you can stand on the side of a walkway at a college or something, somewhere where you can control to some extent how close your dog is to other people, and also somewhere you know that people will be passing by regularly. Don't do this if your dog is likely to become aggressive towards people, that's not good for the general public! PM me if this is the case.
  • ALSO make sure you have an easy "escape route" for your dog. During this training, your pup is gonna get real tired of it, real fast, and you want to be able to remove her from the stimulus as quickly and easily for the both of you as possible.
  • Now, down to the specifics. Basically, you want to sit her down next to you on a leash (it helps if she knows "sit" and "heel"). Every time a person (any person, male or female) walks past and she DOESN'T growl, click and treat. If she DOES growl, don't make it a big deal (i.e. don't try to jerk on her leash or anything) but make a "nuh-uh" noise (also, have a single "no" noise that you use every time you want to say no. I usually do a nasally "eh-eh" or "no sir" because I have to think about how the public perceives me and my organization, but do whatever feels best to you).
  • Repeat as necessary. Your pup should quickly learn that silence = treats, and growling = mommy makes a gross noise.
  • You can also see if you can get a string of males she doesn't know to walk past, one by one, so you can work on the whole "male" thing. It's harder when it's "she only does it to strangers", though, I totally understand that.
  • Please only do this for 15-ish minutes at a time to begin with. Don't overtire/overstimulate your pup! They can only take small amounts of training at a time before they wear out.
  • For the dog aggression, it's gonna be something similar. Find friends with dogs she doesn't know well if you can (so the owners know what they're getting into and because you want to minimize risk at all stages).
  • Leash her, hold her leash firmly, sit/heel her next to you. Have someone walk by with their dog also on a leash, at a distance. Click/treat for no aggression, "nu-uh" for aggression.
  • Work up to closer proximity between her and stranger-dog.
  • You can also try this at a dog park (have her outside the fence! The dogs in there are off-leash and you don't want to introduce a potentially dangerous situation!) but be careful with training out aggression around dogs/owners who don't know what you're doing.

Sorry this is super-duper long! I hope it helps :)

Russell4life7 karma

Thank you I love you!

ailyara6 karma

Have you ever heard a dog trained to detect and alert for allergens?

Reason I ask is that I know dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs and whatnot. My wife is really allergic to cinnamon and sometimes people put it in things as a "secret ingredient" like chilis, or just a bit in a chocolate chip cookie, without thinking about it, anyway. I thought it would be cool to train a dog to bark at any food she tried to eat if it could smell it had cinnamon.

Brikachu2 karma

Yes! Dogs can be trained to alert to deathly allergies, but your wife would have to go to a doctor to see if she qualifies as having an allergic disability under the ADA.

(Not OP, but a service dog trainer).

Russell4life3 karma

This comment is OP verified

thumbs up

anotherredditvirgin6 karma

I imagine the demand for service dogs can get quite high. What types of regulations are there that make sure people are receiving well trained animals and that the organizations don't become a new kind of puppy mill?

Brikachu8 karma

Reputable service dog organizations are non-for-profit, which means that there's a higher likelihood that your dog will be trained well because the organization is in it for you and your disability, not the $$$.

Secondly, you can only train as many dogs as you have handlers and trainers and puppy fosters. It is not uncommon for service dog organizations to have a 5-7 year waiting list.

This is why it's so important to study service dog organizations before getting a dog from one. Not all organizations are equal.

Russell4life6 karma

This too! We're non profit!

Many places have a lower fee, but a longer wait-list (Free / 5+ years). We have a high fee but a very, very short wait list ($15,000 / <1 year).

Russell4life6 karma

First off, they cost $22,000. Yes, service dogs are in high demand, but the people who do research and pay the money are the ones getting dogs. It's not just some random guy who wants a trained dog.

I remind you, all organizations are different. And this is the case for 4 Paws.

Our facilities are open to the public so everyone can see how spoiled the dogs are. I'm not sure what the regulations are, I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't any.

risketyclickit5 karma

Are there any circumstances where cats perform any of these functions?

Russell4life23 karma

Good god no. Have you ever met a cat? I'm being sarcastic but in honestly, our organization has never produced a service cat.

We have a cat that lives in the Puppy House and she wants nothing to do with people or the dogs.

dolomiten5 karma

What advice would you give someone who likes the idea of training dogs (eventual for a living) but has no idea what that entails? I live in Italy so I am not sure if things are the same here as in the States.

Russell4life7 karma

In the US there are specific requirements and certifications you need to achieve. I would recommend looking around your area and seeing if you can start taking classes, or begin training your own dog.

Then try to get a job as an assistant trainer so you can learn on the job. Once you get some experience, you can decide if dog training is the right career path for you.

GrimWeepa4 karma

What other types of conditions are the dogs being trained for? Chancer was the first to be trained for FAS, but are there other specialty syndromes dogs are trained for?

Russell4life4 karma

My post lists general categories dogs can help with...

Hearing Ear, Autism Assistance, Mobility Assistance, Seizure Assistance, Diabetic Alert, FASD Assistance, Veteran Support, Multipurpose

biolar4 karma

How do you handle the stress of everyday life after playing all day with puppies?The outside world would seem so scary after rolling around all day with what seems like tens of puppies.

Russell4life19 karma

It's interesting, I began treatment for PTSD at the same time I started working with the little shits. They gave me a purpose and they are always happy to see me. I'm not afraid of anything because I know, somewhere, there is a house full of puppies who can't wait until I come to work.

TehKombatWombat3 karma

How do you know if a dog is a suitable candidate for something like this? What specific characteristics are you looking for?

Russell4life8 karma


We only use our dogs that have been specifically bred for service. Every few litters, we take the top students and make them mommies and daddies! This ensures that we have a litter of pups who are mostly up to the task.

What are we looking for?

We are looking for a wide range of characteristics! Some children want hyper dogs, some want calm couch potatoes. It all depends on what the demand is. In general, we want dogs that are medically perfect, easy to train, and not aggressive whatsoever.

dabisnit3 karma

I thought service dogs were spayed or neutered, how do you know which not to neuter?

Russell4life3 karma

Dogs are neutered/spayed when they are 6 months old. We decide long before then who will be dog moms and dads.

SuperCrystal3 karma

How do you train the dogs to handle the physical tantrums and not be afraid of getting hit by his/her owner?

Russell4life9 karma

First of all, we do not encourage the child to hit his dog. The dog doesn't give a shit about his personal well-being and just wants to help the kid. If you watch this video you can see how the dog is trying to distract and redirect the owner.

Dr-Jan_ItorMD3 karma

What kind of training/schooling do you go through to do this kinda of work?

Russell4life3 karma

I began as a volunteer and worked my way up to training 4 - 12 week old puppies. If I wanted to train the older dogs I would need to get certified. That is called advanced training. Right now, I'm teaching basic training, stuff like "sit" and "gentle"


Is there a way to volunteer with these animals, or are the people who work with and train them strictly professionals?

How do you feel about cats?

Russell4life2 karma

I <3 cats! They just don't make good service animals.

zablyzibly2 karma


Russell4life4 karma

Well their parents probably wouldn't want to shell out $15,000 for a dog their kid doesn't want...

OR! We welcome the kid to get to know current service dogs so he can overcome his fear. It's all about immersion in the fear and seeing that dogs are actually super awesome. Baby steps.

ruffntambl2 karma

Do the dogs help people with PTSD? How about with things like night terrors?

Russell4life5 karma

Hi! Yes, service dogs are superheroes and can be trained to do pretty much anything.

Watch this video to see how they can help with nightmares and PTSD

As far as night terrors, I'm not sure. Can you be woken up from them? If so, our dogs will do it.

sauertatoes2 karma

My question is from a social work stand point, since I am currently working to get my BSW! What you are doing is something I absolutely adore, so good on you!! But, I was wondering, is it common for you to get referrals from agencies and such? Does 4 Paws work with that? I am very interested in you response because this is amazing, as I said before, and very inspiring. Keep up the good work!

Russell4life5 karma

It is common! For example, a child might be working with a therapist. That therapist could have worked with a child who benefited from a service dog. They then recommend that the child's family look into us!

We work closely with all sorts of organizations so we can get dogs to the people who need them.

Ilodie1 karma

I know you mention that labs and goldens are the dream-team of breeds, but would you ever consider with a mutt? Or are there just too many variables that you can't depend on?

Russell4life2 karma

We have many mixed breeds that become service dogs!

jperl19921 karma

How can I adopt a flunkie??

Russell4life2 karma

You can contact [email protected] to see if we have any available! This is assuming you live near Dayton, OH.

If you don't, you can look locally for retired, or flunkie pups!

irishsaltytuna1 karma

At what age do the dogs begin their training?

Russell4life2 karma

4 weeks old! I have a timeline up in my original post :)

TheOneTrueE1 karma

How difficult is it to raise and train these great dogs and then to give them away?

Russell4life2 karma

It is difficult, but very rewarding. They are changing a life!

Matticusd1 karma

What's the screening process like for potential owners? Is there any kind of medical documentation required to prove they're not faking it for an adorable puppy? At 15k it seems unlikely but I'm curious if you've ever had to turn someone away because others were "more" in need of a service animal.

Russell4life2 karma

Medical Stuff

Yes, they must be disabled according to the ADA. Also, this specific organization only works with children and veterans. Here's more information about the application process!


This price is pretty steep but it's in place so that every child who needs a dog, gets one.

meowth7861 karma

What an amazing job. What made you want to get into it?