Fostering service dogs gives you the opportunity to take part in the training and care of dogs who will go on to help their humans in incomparable ways. Fostering a service or therapy dog comes with plenty of doggy kisses and snuggles, but it also requires some work. Foster volunteers do a lot of the heavy lifting during the first few months of a service dog's life. Here are some things to consider before making the commitment!
What Do Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs Do?
Before you start fostering, it's necessary to know if the pup in question is going to be a therapy dog or a service dog. Therapy dogs typically work with humans in hospitals, schools and nursing homes. They undergo extensive training, but they aren't certified and don't meet all the requirements to work as service dogs.
Service dogs undergo specialized training to help people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines service dogs as those who work with people with the following conditions:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Mental illness
- Seizure disorders
You will be instrumental in your foster pup's training. In addition to feeding him the best dog foods, you are also in charge of teaching him basic commands and how to wait quietly and patiently in addition to discouraging barking outside of play. Some organizations might require you to attend puppy classes and submit regular reports on the dog's progress and any issues you encounter.
Socializing Your Foster Dog
Once they're working in their therapy or service positions, these dogs are expected to always be under control. A big part of your job as a foster parent is to expose your dog to as many different situations and environments as possible. Whether the pup is destined to be a therapy dog or a service dog, he must behave well in a variety of environments. Even though the requirements can vary depending on the organization you work with, most require the dogs to be comfortable with the following:
- Car and bus rides
- Walking in densely populated places
- Walking in parks
- Hiking trails/walking through forests
- Exploring new places
- Group meetings and social settings
Do's and Don'ts of Fostering Service Dogs
- Do: Regular grooming, including bathing, trimming nails and brushing teeth
- Don't: Feed the dog from the table
- Do: Return the dog once you're foster period is over (usually one month to one year)
- Don't: Leave the puppy alone for too long
- Do: Feed your foster pup the best dog food possible. Great nutrition can help with cognitive and behavioral training, and of course overall health
- Do: Regular training at home and in other environments
If you think you're up to the challenge, find an organization near you and discuss the opportunity with them. Fill out an application, and get ready for a new adventure.