posted on November 10, 2016 00:05
Since November of last year (2015), Soldier ON Canine Program has made great strides. We have been offered hundreds of dogs and puppies. We did not accept most of these “sweet dogs” into the program because of their breed or their age.
We can’t accept any of the so-called bully breeds. No Rottweiler’s. No pit bulls. No Dobermans or Chows. The military establishment simply doesn’t allow them. And, we really don’t want a service dog that might instill fear in the public at large just because of their looks. We want to encourage positive social interaction between the public and our veterans.
We also don’t take dogs who are too young or too old. We won’t accept a puppy that is 6 weeks. We’d like them to be at least 8 weeks. On the other hand, we don’t take dogs over 2 years of age.
Over the last 12 months we’ve evaluated over 50 dogs. We have a 3-page form we fill out on every dog. During the evaluation we drop things. We entice them to take a treat from us. We look for both behavioral and temperament issues. We want to make sure they have some drive, but not too much. We are looking for willingness to work without being too exuberant. They have to want to be with people.
Can you imagine the amount of work that’s involved in physically meeting and evaluating more than 50 dogs. We like to have 2 people doing the evaluation. You have to have several phone conversations and at least 2-3 email exchanges. The evaluation itself generally takes at least 2 hours including prep time and decision discussion. Add a couple of more hours if we have to go to a shelter or do a home visit. It’s work.
Of the dogs we evaluated over the year, we accepted 17 into the Soldier ON program. Of those 17:
8 are with Puppy Raisers
5 are in advanced training
1 is with a veteran
3 were released from the program*
(*Note – one dog was released for too high of a prey drive. One was released because of dog aggression. One puppy was released for health concerns.)
Soldier ON is very proud of these numbers. We have worked hard to get to this point. We have been building out institutional knowledge or processes brick by brick … the hard way … the old fashioned way … with sweat equity and sure tenacity.
November to November is convenient as it represents the most recent 12-month period. It also matches with a shift in our training policies and practices. We renewed our commitment of utilizing Volunteer Puppy Raisers. We shifted our training tactics and philosophy toward positive reinforcement. We stopped taking entire litters of puppies. We’ve stopped taking dogs sight unseen. And we document … document … document.
The biggest change has been in the level of training that a dog receives from a professional trainer before being placed with a veteran. Each dog works with our trainers between 130 and 260 hours prior to being placed with a veteran. The trainers train the dogs in specific behaviors and expose them to as many public experiences as possible.
There are veterans who can train their own dogs, however, we’ve found that concept has one major flaw: Until a dog has gone through the entire training process, including advanced training, we don’t know whether or not it is going to pass the rigorous standards we set and adhere to. You know what happens when you give a dog to a veteran? They fall in love with it. What do you do if you have to tell the veteran that his dog that he has spent months training isn’t going to make it as a service dog? We’ve done it. Nobody is happy. Expectations aren’t met. It is heartbreaking for the veteran. For us … this is an ethical … moral issue.
We certainly aren’t going to lower our standards. This is in the best interest of the veteran and the best interest of the dog. Our veterans have disabilities. We are providing trained service dogs to help make their lives easier, not more stressful or difficult.
Going forward we will continue to keep our veteran’s best interest in the forefront as well as our dogs. We will continue to improve our processes and increase the number of trained service dogs provided to veterans each year. We are proud to continue Serving Those Who Have Already Served.