Hello fellow Redditors,

I’m Paul Mundell, CEO of Canine Companions for Independence where we breed, train, and place service dogs with people with disabilities- at no cost to the recipient. Yahoo http://imgur.com/gallery/hvKDz9Y is one of our dogs.

I’ve been with Canine Companions for about 27 years now and for the majority of that time I’ve been in our Program department heading our services. I was an Instructor (dog trainer), then the National Director of Canine Training, and then moved into the National Director of Canine Programs where I remained for about 17 years until becoming CEO.

I’ve been told I’m a science nerd, especially when it comes to dogs: genetics, behavior, and research have consumed most of my professional life. But in addition to that, I just really love dogs and I love helping people.

I’m a fan of Reddit, running, hiking, philosophy, a good cup(s) of coffee and Italian food. AMA!

*Also, if you’d like to have a puppy named “Snoop” in honor of all us redditors, and follow him (or her!) on its journey to become a service dog: https://www.gofundme.com/PuppySnoop

**Proof Link: https://www.facebook.com/caninecompanions/photos/a.148418013964.113514.39157593964/10154591159803965/?type=3&theater

I am finished with the AMA and signing off, thank you all for the great questions!

Comments: 87 • Responses: 32  • Date: 

OnlyBigDogs12 karma

I keep seeing "service dogs" that have a vest and people are taking them everywhere but do not behave like they should. Barking, lunging, etc. What do you think should be done to promote authenticity in service animals and not infringe on the rights of people to have them??

pmundell24 karma

Unfortunately, the problem of fake service dogs in public places is increasing. I'm sure we've all seen dogs that are out of control or aggressive that are being misrepresented as service dogs. Because vests that say "service dog" or "working dog" are available everywhere, some people are tempted to pass off their pets as service dogs. This is not only inconvenient to the public, but does a real disservice to people who actually rely on their service or guide dogs for necessary assistance.

This is a hard problem to combat however. We don't want to make laws that place burdens on people with disabilities to have to "prove" they are disabled or reveal private information relating to their disability. In the long term, I think that education about the significant problems caused by fraudulent service dogs is the answer. But some form of ID that indicates that the dog is a bona fide service dog might also be an answer.

OnlyBigDogs3 karma

That is helpful. I've heard that some states have laws against fake service dogs, what do you think that a normal person can do to help make a difference on this? Also what do we do when we see a service dog we think is fake, any suggestions?

pmundell11 karma

You're right, individual states are starting to recognize the problem and create laws that punish people who misrepresent dogs as service dogs. As an individual, you need to be somewhat cautious about questioning someone about whether they have a "real" service dog. While dogs accompanying someone in a wheelchair or someone who is blind are obviously working, some disabilities are not as apparent. Therefore a person might have a bona fide service while not having a visible disability. If you see someone with a dog that you suspect is not a real service dog, you can simply ask them, "is that a service dog" and hope that they reply honestly. It would be inappropriate to ask what their disability is.

OnlyBigDogs3 karma

Thanks. I usually don't say anything because I'm not the disability police. But if I had a nickel for every chiwowa or purse dog ive seen in public, i'd be rich.

pmundell2 karma

I think we all would!

Stavorius7 karma

What is the hardest thing to teach a dog?

pmundell10 karma

The most difficult behavior to teach a Canine Companion is probably to discriminate between turning a light switch on and turning it off.

garion9113 karma

Would a 3-way switch just confuse the Companion? I guess I mean, does it realize that the light is actually on, and thats the what owner wanted, or is it "the owner wanted the light switch 'up'" ?

pmundell6 karma

This is an interesting question. It appears that some dogs do learn that the command, "light," describes a change of state to a light being on and, conversely, "switch" describes the light being off. However, I think that most dogs just associate "light" with moving a switch upward and "switch" with moving the switch downward (or targeting the top and bottom of a rocker switch.) As I replied earlier, this isn't an easy discrimination problem for our dogs, and some just seem to move the switch to a different position regardless of whether the command "light" or "switch" is given. It would also be cool to see if this behavior is at the perceptual limits of dogs and that explains why some dogs learn this pretty easily and others only with great difficulty.

jkimp6 karma

Hi! I'm a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence! What are your thoughts on the recent Supreme Court case where the school refused to let a student into class with her service dog? How do you believe the decision could impact people with service dogs?

Edit: wording

pmundell11 karma

The case could certainly set a precedent for children who use service dogs. The question of service dogs accompanying children in school is a complex one. On the one hand, with proper training, the child can get real benefit from the presence of a service dog-- not only with physical tasks, but also socially. On the other hand, the presence of the dog in class, especially if the child is too young to reliably take care of the dog and ensure it's not disruptive, can create a lot of extra work for the teacher and other school personnel. Like many things, I think the right answer is to evaluate each child's needs on a case by case basis.

Snowbank_Lake6 karma

Thank you for what you do! Can you share with us one of your most rewarding cases of someone obtaining one of your service dogs?

pmundell21 karma

When I first began working at Canine Companions, I placed a great black Lab with a woman who had MS. As a trainer, I was focused on all of the amazing tasks that the dog could now do for her, like pulling her wheelchair, retrieving things that she couldn't otherwise reach, etc. However, after she had him about a month, she wrote me a very moving letter describing how her life had completely changed and it was due to the wonderful feeling of finally having a partner to go through life with. For the first time, she didn't feel as though she were all alone.

autumnl3aves3 karma

Thanks for all that you do / your organization does!

My question: What about the present-day service dog industry would have surprised you most 27 years ago?

pmundell7 karma

That's a great question! A couple of things: First, how widespread the acceptance of dogs as service dogs has become. It seems like each year we're discovering new ways in which dog can help people with a variety of disabilities and medical conditions. Second, the expectations of how dogs need to behave in public has changed too. As public access has increased, the expectation that service dogs will be completely unobtrusive in public has also grown considerably. When I first started at Canine Companions, if a dog barked occasionally or tried to play with another dog, that was considered "normal dog behavior" and so acceptable. Today that is no longer the case.

draconum_ggg3 karma

I am a specialty cabinet maker and at a trade show recently I got excited about the latest in drawer slide technologies. Blum is a major manufacturer of drawer and door hardware and their latest Servo-Drive drawer slides would possibly eliminate the need for pull straps for opening drawers and doors. It would be interesting to see whether or not a service dog would figure out how to utilize the push while getting out of the way of the opening drawer. Just food for thought, I thought it might be nice for a service dog owner who needs help with drawers or doors to have a somewhat more standard looking living space. Does this sound like a viable training point? Or would it have to be taught to a dog after being placed with an individual? Thanks again for taking the time out of your day to answer our questions!

pmundell3 karma

One of the most exciting things happening lately is how our dogs' effectiveness can be even greater by using new technologies. Dogs could easily be trained to do the behavior you're describing, pushing a drawer in to release it and then moving their head away from the opening drawer. If this were a technology that becomes at all commonplace, we would incorporate those cabinets in to our training centers so that the dogs could be trained on them prior to placement. Currently, if a graduate had such drawers, one of our instructors would work with them to train the necessary behavior after placement.

You're welcome, this is a great opportunity to interact with the community and answer some interesting questions!

bexmouse3 karma

What advice would you offer to people interested in working with your organization or a similar program?

pmundell8 karma

Apply! In order to become an Instructor at Canine Companions, you do not need to have previous experience training dogs-- we have an extensive apprenticeship program where new staff learn not only how to train service dogs, but also all the other aspects of our program-- working with the amazing volunteers who raiser our puppies, teaching the classes where our clients learn how to use service dogs, how to provide support once they graduate, how to match the right dog to each client, and much more.

While many of our instructors have majored in psychology, animal science, animal behavior or something similar in college, that certainly isn't necessary. I studied philosophy at both the undergraduate and graduate level before working at Canine Companions....

Of course we have careers in many areas, from our veterinary department, to HR, Finance, Development and so on. However usually when I get this question it is because people are interested in working as instructors, training and placing dogs.

If you want exposure to what we do to see if this might be the right career for you, I'd also recommend applying to become a puppy raiser. Many of our staff started out as puppy raisers, providing training and socialization to a puppy between the age of 8 weeks and about 18 months to ensure that the puppy has the foundation necessary to become a successful service dog.

Ferhall3 karma

What are some of the challenges faced with younger owners and children with service dogs? Assuming they will need a service dog for a long term how does dealing with the death of the animal effect them, is there a transition to a new dog, etc.

pmundell9 karma

Because children and adolescents are developing, becoming gradually more independent of their parents, and going through many transitions-- such as between school grades, interests and of course puberty-- their interest and focus on a service dog can change over time. We sometimes find that a young person will get a service dog and then, when that dog retires, not get another dog right away, because they're focus is elsewhere. After a period of time however they decide that their life has come to a point where they again want a dog, especially as they become more independent, often when they enter college or a career.

Dealing with the death of a service dog is the most difficult thing our graduates go through. Not only do they face the same sense of loss that we all do when a dog dies, but their dog has been such an integral part of their life that the loss is more acute. On top of that, because the dog has allowed them to live more independently by assisting them with many physical tasks, they now feel the loss of independence. Getting a new dog is a highly individual decision, but most of our graduates want to get a dog right away, to reclaim the greater independence the dog allows. Some graduates, however, want more time to get over the loss of their last dog.

OnlyBigDogs3 karma

In your opinion what is the biggest challenge that your organization faces today?

pmundell7 karma

Meeting the ever growing demand for these amazing dogs. While we currently are able to place over 300 dogs per year, we could easily place several times this many given the demand. Of course, this requires not only more dogs, but more trainers, training space, volunteer puppy raisers etc. and all of that requires money. Since we do not charge recipients for the dogs, followup services or anything else, we rely on donations from the public to fund Canine Companions. This is also why there's a link to our GoFundMe above. We'd love to have Snoop, Reddit's puppy!

OnlyBigDogs2 karma

Have you seen an increase in need for a specific type of dog? Would you guys consider different kinds of placements to increase those numbers?

pmundell5 karma

The demand is growing across all types of placements, and, tragically, the need for service dogs to assist veterans who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is skyrocketing. We are also engaged in evaluating in the effectiveness of service dogs for veterans and others suffering PTS. This is currently the most rapidly increasing type of need.

There certainly may be other types of placements that emerge and, if there is a need, we will always consider making them.

cosmicbiij3 karma

Hi Paul! Puppy raiser checking in. My current puppy is sitting here with me in my office. I'm wondering if you've ever had a particular dog that you got really attached to while you were training? If so, what made him/her so special?

pmundell3 karma

First of all, thank you so much for being a puppy raiser! You are part of an incredible group of volunteers who make our program possible.

Like most trainers, I got very attached to the first dogs that I trained, because working with these great dogs and seeing them respond so willingly to training is simply incredible when you first witness it. Beyond that, there have been a few dogs that I've especially liked. One for example, was Barnum. While by no means the sharpest dog I've ever trained, he was such a clown that training him always involved a lot of amusement. He was fairly creative in interpreting what behavior I wanted during training but finally made someone a fantastic service dog.

Nogochoslow3 karma

What is your favorite breed of dog to spend time with?

pmundell9 karma

I think the dogs we use at Canine Companions (Labs and Goldens) are fantastic, but personally, German Shepherds are my favorite breed and the reason I fell in love with dog training.

Seanevankelly3 karma

Why don't you use German Shepherds?

pmundell6 karma

Labs and Goldens are not only the perfect size for service dog work, but they are extremely adaptable to new environments, new handlers, and new situations. German Shepherds take much longer to adapt to new handlers and situations.

The intense focus on one handler is the reason I love the breed, but it isn't ideal for service dog work.

Th4tFuckinGuy1 karma

I imagine the public stigma is another reason. German Shepherds tend to look more aggressive both in stance and facial structure than Labs and Goldens, and people associate them with being guard/police dogs capable of killing someone. Labs and Goldens are pretty much universally loved and trusted.

pmundell4 karma

Good point-- you're exactly right, Labs and Goldens invite interaction in a way that German Shepherds do not. Although this is definitely a mixed blessing for our graduates, who sometimes get considerably delayed by the number of people greeting their dogs.

chickenman03213 karma

Can you train a dog to use the toilet?

pmundell11 karma

At Canine Companions for Independence, we do not train dogs to use toilets, we train them to toilet on command. But yes, I can do that. However, it's easier to train a cat to use a toilet....

myaccountforclass12 karma

How do you teach a cat to use the toilet?

pmundell5 karma

The easiest way is to buy a litter tray that fits inside the toilet seat (these are sold in pet stores and online). As the cat is getting used to using that litter box on the floor, you should also acclimate him or her to jumping up on the toilet (with the seat cover down first). Most cats do this pretty easily to either play or get a reward.

Once the cat is both used to jumping on the toilet and using the litter box, move the litter box so that it rests inside the toilet seat. have cat jump up several times to see where the litterbox is now located and leave it there. The cat will typically begin using the litterbox. After plenty of time for the cat to get used to jumping on toilet to use the litter, you can remove the litterbox and the cat will continue to perch on the seat and use the toilet.

skrittqueen2 karma

I have multiple CCI dogs around the area I live. All but one is extremely dog aggressive, and that one while friendly barks at other dogs and people and drags it's handler to greet others. Multiple times CCI dogs have tried to attack my service dog, even going so far as pulling their handlers down. When I have called to try and report this I have gotten scoffed at and told the dogs must not be CCI dogs. These dogs are literally a menace for me and other handlers in my city. One dog even yanked it's handler to the pavement at a local ihop to try and attack my service dog.

And I am not alone in this. Multiple handlers in the disabled community have horror stories of CCI dogs and trainers. In fact many people who ask for service dog advice in support groups are told to steer clear of CCI because of ill behaved dogs and verbally abusive trainers. Many handlers have reported being verbally attacked by your trainers for daring to bring up that a CCI dog may be acting less than stellar. Among the service dog community it is pretty well known to walk away if you see a CCI dog because not only is there a huge chance it is aggressive, but it seems the company does not care when issues are reported. So why is there a lack of care when it comes to these issues?

pmundell2 karma

Having seen literally thousands of CCI dogs, my first reaction is to agree that you are probably incorrect, they are not Canine Companions dogs. Our dogs are the result of multiple generations of selection for a friendly and sociable temperament and then are carefully socialized by puppy raisers and instructors. Dogs that do display the behaviors you describe would not pass our professional training program. While I recognize this is a response you've reported hearing before, it's the truth. However, if you want to discuss in more depth with me directly, I invite you to contact me. I can be reached through the contact information provided on our website. Further, I invite you to visit one of our training centers to see for yourself the typical behavior of our dogs and, for that matter, our trainers.

morecoffee8972 karma

How do you teach a male dog to not pee on everything it encounters?

pmundell6 karma


EctoSage2 karma

Are you at all looking into genetic engineering,nor therapies to improve your breeds, and remove genetic defects?

pmundell7 karma

We do use genetic tools extensively to improve the health, longevity and behavior of our dogs. There are genetic tests available for certain health problems that are common to the breeds we use and that are caused by mutations at a single locus-- such as Exercise Induced Collapse or Progressive Retinal Atrophy. We test all of our dogs for these disorders and remove from our breeding program any dogs that can pass them along.

For polymorphic traits (where many genes are involved in the disorder) such as hip dysplasia, we use statistical genetic analysis to identify the best animals to breed to remove the disorder from our population and, happily, we've been very successful.

We are also about to start a GWAS (genome wide association study) to begin to more effectively identify markers for complex genetic disorders as well as for positive traits, like equanimity when exposed to complex environmental stimuli and longevity. We are hopeful that the tools available through genotyping and bioinformatics will help us to improve the health and working ability of our dogs even further. The biggest challenge we face at this point is not the molecular tools available, but getting well-defined phenotype descriptions of those traits we're interested in.

givemethatchomp2 karma


pmundell3 karma

You can see salaries for many CCI staff, including mine, on our website. I didn't start Canine Companions, we were founded in 1975. However, one place to meet people who have recently started their own assistance dog organizations is at an Assistance Dogs International meeting. Assistance Dogs International is an organization that companies like Canine Companions for Independence join, in order to share ideas and promote high standards for assistance dogs and assistance dog organizations. You can find more information on the ADI website, http://www.assistancedogsinternational.org/

MMRA2 karma

How do you feel about owner-trainers and owner-trained dogs?

pmundell2 karma

I think that, for those able to do it and who have the interest, training your own dog to be a service dog can be a great option. However, I think that receiving a dog from an organization like Canine Companions offers a number of real advantages. First, by the time a person seeking an assistance dog meets his or her potential partner at Canine Companions, the dog has been very carefully screened and we are sure that he or she will be comfortable in all of the environments our graduate may encounter, is fully trained, and enjoys the work. For someone who is training their own dog, this is not necessarily the case-- if the one dog they are working with turns out to develop a medical problem, environmental fear or other behavioral problem, the person faces a difficult choice: continue to live with a dog that's not really suitable for service dog work, or begin the process all over again with another dog.

In addition, when someone comes to Canine Companions, we already have identified a number of trained dogs that we think will work well with them. Our instructors then watch the student as they work with each of the dogs to determine which dog works out best.

Finally, working with an organization such as Canine Companions means that support is available throughout the life of the partnership, whether our graduate needs veterinary support, training assistance or anything else to help ensure the success of the partnership.

As a result, while I think that owner-trained dogs are a legitimate and attractive option for some, I think that for most people an organization like Canine Companions is a better option.

rn4animals2 karma

What can the average person do when they witness a dog sitting on the seat, being fed at a table in a restaurant, that is claimed to be a service dog?? Especially when the manager is afraid to approach said dog?

pmundell7 karma

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is certainly ok for the manager to ask whether a dog is a service dog, and, if the answer is 'yes' to further ask what the dog does for his human handler. I am sure the answer to this question should never be, "share my meal." In this case, the restaurant manager can cite the relevant health code that prohibits dogs and other animals from being fed in restaurants.

photograderp6262 karma

How do you get involved working with service dog groups and training the dogs and new owners?

pmundell3 karma

There are essentially two ways to become involved: First, you can become a puppy raiser for Canine Companions. By raising a puppy, you will learn age appropriate training and socialization methods, get to meet other great volunteers and, if your dog is successful, get to meet the graduate who receives him or her. Canine Companions provides all the guidance necessary to properly train the puppy, and you will be providing a priceless gift to someone with a disability.

The other way to get involved is to apply to work at Canine Companions. During an extensive apprenticeship, you would learn how to train a variety of types of assistance dogs, how to teach the placement class where our students learn how to use and care for the dogs, and how to provide ongoing followup support to our clients, so their dogs remain healthy and continue working effectively.

If you go to our homepage at cci.org, you can find information on applying to become either a puppy raising volunteer or a member of our staff.

Brikachu1 karma

How much does an instructor or trainer make per year to train service dogs?

pmundell4 karma

Depending on experience, our instructors earn between about $45,000 and $75,00 per year.

Brikachu2 karma

How would one go about applying to work for you guys? I trained service, facility, and therapy dogs for four years :).

pmundell3 karma

The easiest way is to go online at cci.org and look under "careers". There are a listing of open positions and you can apply online. For further information, you are also welcome to visit any one of our six training centers across the US. Their locations can also be found on our website. Good Luck!

boobroos1 karma

What is the process to fully training a guide dog and when do you know it's ready? Also, do you ever get cases where one of your trained dogs lose it and goes bat shit crazy?

pmundell5 karma

Let me start by saying that Canine Companions does not place guide dogs-- our service dogs work with people who have disabilities other than blindness, most frequently persons who use wheelchairs or are deaf.

The process of training a guided dog consists of several different parts, all of which are trained in incremental steps. The first fundamental behavior that future guide dogs learn is to pull slightly forward when wearing their harness, so that later than can actively guide their blind partner, not just walk by their side. After mastering that behavior, guide dog instructors teach the dog to avoid obstacles. While dogs naturally do this, the training consists in teaching the dog to take not only their own body size into account, but also the trainer who is walking at their side. In addition, the dog is introduced to traffic training, learning to not proceed when traffic is approaching an intersection.

At every step in the process, the dog is tested to ensure that he or she has mastered the necessary behaviors. Often the final test is to have someone beside the dog's trainer walk blindfolded through a route that contains traffic, obstacles etc. to ensure that the dog successfully avoids the obstacles and travels safely.

No, we've never had a trained dog lose it in the way you describe, thankfully!

Seanevankelly1 karma

I just saw a so-called "service dog" poop in the produce section of my local grocery store and the owner didnt do anything about it - arent their laws against that?

pmundell4 karma

There aren't really laws against that per se. When they're able, service dog users are expected to clean up after their dogs. However, if a service dog has an accident in public, it is sometimes impossible for the service dog user to clean up-- for example if they are blind or in a wheelchair. However, these accidents are rare.

CCIperson1 karma

What % of the the dogs being trained for the PTSD Service Dog study get matched? How does the process differ for those used in the ESA part of the study that come from CCI?

pmundell3 karma

This question refers to a study Canine Companions is doing with the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish and quantify the benefits service dogs can provide to veterans suffering Post Traumatic Stress. Unfortunately, because this study is still underway and the experimental design relies on a blinded comparison of different possible therapeutic interventions, I can't answer this question.

thebigpanda621 karma

Does any of your dogs wear a diaper?

pmundell5 karma

No, that's not necessary. We teach our dogs beginning when they're pups to toilet on command.