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PAWS primarily breeds Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Papillons and Poodles for the purpose of becoming Assistance Dogs. To ensure a dog can meet the needs of a client, each dog has to pass a specialized temperament test and comprehensive health screening to enter PAWS’ training program. Breeding Dogs live in homes with volunteer Breeding Hosts.


A volunteer raises a puppy for 13-16 months, helping to prepare it as a future Assistance Dog. The puppy lives in their home while the volunteer teaches obedience specialized for Assistance Dogs, attends classes to learn how to work with the puppy and exposes the dog to environments it may encounter with a client.


After a client’s application is approved, we complete an in-home needs assessment. We realize each person and disability is unique, so one of the things we learn from the needs assessment is how an Assistance Dog could help them become more independent. This helps us determine whether a PAWS Dog can meet their needs. A video is also taken for client services and trainers to review for dog training.


Each Assistance Dog is matched to a person based on their needs, temperament and lifestyle. Trainers review a client’s needs assessment and video to custom-train for the tasks that person needs. To help a dog learn its partner’s needs, PAWS trainers emulate the client’s movements and speech while training.


When an Assistance Dog completes its training at PAWS it goes to the client’s home for team training. A Field Rep instructs the client for 3 – 8 months, empowering the client to work with their dog in the home, workplace, school and community. The client and dog undergo a certification test when it is determined they are working together as a solid team. Once certified, ownership of the dog transfers to the client. PAWS’ Service Dogs for Children with Autism program has a different type of team training, where the child and their family come to PAWS to work with staff trainers and their dog for a week. After returning home with their dog, these families receive continued instruction with a Field Rep until fully prepared for certification.


After certification, clients can contact PAWS if additional training is needed, whether it’s for a new task or retraining of an existing one. Assistance Dog Teams are also recertified every 24 months to ensure they are working at the required proficiency of PAWS and ADI. As their dog ages, a client may apply for a Successor Dog by completing an updated application and participating in a needs assessment to evaluate if a new Assistance Dog can meet their current needs.