Our Dogs

At PAALS each puppy is nurtured with love, trained by professionals and partnered with passion on each step of the journey from puppy to PAALS Service Dog.

From puppy love to people love.
A short video about PAALS dogs.

PAALS service dogs help improve the life of their client. While in training, they also provide education and enjoyment to hundreds of individuals in the community and to our volunteers.

It takes two years, over $25,000 and hundreds of volunteer and staff hours to train a PAALS service dog.

PAALS receives no government or insurance funding. We are totally dependent on the generosity of our donors and volunteers.

The Journey from Puppy to PAALS

puppy environment
Most of PAALS dogs come from other service dog breeding programs, our own breeding program and individual breeders.

All new puppies go through a two week quarantine period to ensure they don’t have a disease that could infect other PAALS puppies or dogs.

New puppies are placed in an environment where they are surrounded by unusual noises, people and objects to begin their training journey.

Usually PAALS starts training a puppy at eight weeks of age after an initial temperament test is conducted and shows the puppy has assistance dog qualities such as interest in retrieving, self-control around other animals, smells, and people, and good tugging abilities.

During this period the volunteers and trainers at PAALS work hard at completing a several page long/comprehensive exposure list which includes exposures to household sounds, people of different ages, heights, and ethnicities, and various real world sounds and sights. Careful observations are recorded noting any fear or aggressive reactions to these exposures. If any extreme reactions are noted, PAALS’ trainers work on the exposure that triggered the response.

If progress is not detected the Executive Director may choose to put this puppy on the career change path or release him to another appropriate working role such as search and rescue.

For puppies who continue in the program training sessions to teach obedience and basic task related skills are conducted daily during this time.

Puppies also begin their time with a weekend foster to broaden their experience with different people and surroundings.

puppy tugging
dog learning door tug
At six months of age hip radiographs are sent to PENNhip and/or OFA for results. PAALS puppies whose PENNhip results show 40% or higher index are considered puppies that are strong enough to continue assistance dog training. Puppies with OFA scores of Good or better continue training with PAALS. Elbow radiographs are also taken and evaluated by our veterinary specialist. This veterinarian looks at radiographs and the PENNhip and/or OFA results and recommends whether the puppy is structurally strong enough to continue with Assistance Dog training. At about this age all the PAALS puppies also get eye certification tests by an eye specialist. This veterinarian makes recommendation to PAALS on whether a puppy’s eye health is good enough for assistance work. Any dogs that veterinarians recommend against assistance work due to health evaluations are placed on the career change path or released to another less strenuous working role.

From 6 to 9 months, the task training broadens and obedience training continues with a wider variety of commands and tasks.

Puppies also begin to participate in external activities such as School PAALS. They also start training with inmates at Prison PAALS.

PAALS continues with obedience and task related training from six months of age until approximately fourteen months of age. During this time the exposure list started as puppies is further focused on with a goal to complete the list by 14 months of age.

The puppy begins to take place in more demanding outings such as Summer PAALS and Reading PAALS as well public excursions to increase familiarity and confidence in a wide variety of situations and challenges — such as seeing other animals at the zoo.

dogs see gorilla at zoo
dog lin grocery store
When a PAALS dogs reaches about 14 to 15 months of age a public evaluation and training/temperament evaluation is conducted. Dogs who show aggression or extreme fear reactions during these evaluations are placed on the career change path. Those who handle themselves safely in public and show potential for further training are entered into PAALS advanced training program.

At this time, the journey has a fork in the road. Puppies passing the both assessments continue on a service dog journey. Those who do not pass the assessments start on a career change path.

PAALS dogs go into an intensive training program to complete their task based skills and further test their obedience in public. During this time dogs are specialized for a specific person who needs their help. This may be someone with a physical disability, autism, PTSD or a professional who wants to incorporate a working dog into their specialty.

The puppy also takes part in community presentations demonstrating what service dogs can do and educating about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The puppy may also travel to conferences to learn plane/train ride behaviors as well as “public proofing” at the ADI Trainers workshop.

chuck and dog on airplane
dog pressing street crossing button
The puppy continues in advanced training with PAALS trainers and participates in more and more demanding public exposure outings.

During this period, each puppy is introduced to several different clients in waiting and a match is made with a specific client. It is often the case that the puppy chooses the client more so that the client choosing a puppy!

Once a match is made, the puppy is trained on tasks necessary to support their specific client.

After approximately two years of training, PAALS dogs are ready to be permanently placed with their new partners. The final step before placement is a critical two and a half week Team Training where clients travel from around the state and nearby areas to work full-time with PAALS trainers and the assistance dog specifically trained to match their specific needs. At the end of the Team Training, each client/assistance dog team must pass written and practical tests to show that they are capable of safely caring for, living and working with their PAALS dog.

After graduation, we follow up with our dogs and clients for the life of the team. Clients sign a contract agreeing to maintain the dog’s health and wellness and PAALS staff provides follow-up training and support for all of our alumni. Each team is required to re-certify annually.

(Click on the picture for a short video of Mary and Dapper at team training.)

When our dogs retire, clients may choose to keep their dog as a pet for the rest of its life. If the client is unable to care for the retired dog, a family member or personal friend of the client may choose to adopt the retired dog, allowing continued access between the client and the dog. If the client is unable to find a comfortable and safe home, PAALS will place the dog back with its original foster family or with an adoptive family, one that is pre-screened and has expressed willingness to care for a retired career dog.
At PAALS we believe that every dog should love their job! This means that not all the dogs who start in our training program will go on to become service dogs. Some of our trainees are disqualified for service work due to a medical condition or a temperament incompatible with the strict standards for public work.

A puppy may change career paths for many different reasons.

  • Hip and elbows X-rays show that the dog may not be strong enough for a working role
  • Temperament problems demonstrate that a dog is too shy, too aggressive or too protective
  • Skin allergies develop which can be too big a problem to be handled by a person with a disability
  • The dog has difficulties with the stress of the kennel or public work

While these dogs may not qualify for service work, they can still provide a well-trained companion as a Career Change dog in our Veterans Important PAALS program, our Pets With a Purpose program or as a Public adoption dog.