Given that no two dogs are totally alike, each dog's path from puppy or Service Dog in Training (SDiT) to service dog is entirely unique to him or her. With that in mind, we do our utmost to keep our dogs on a general timeline to ensure their speedy transformation from cute, adorable and sometimes, clumsy puppies to focused, highly skilled and mature service animals.
A puppy is acquired from a vetted and knowledgeable breeder with a track record of excellence. The puppy is transferred to the care of his or her designated Puppy Raiser, who conducts the day-to-day training, feeding, socializing, exercising and playtime the puppy requires! The Puppy Raiser and VMF jointly acquire the necessary equipment and supplies (e.g., food, collar, leash, grooming tools, kennel, etc.) to make the puppy’s homecoming successful.
The Puppy Raiser provides daily sessions of affection, training and support for the SDiT. The Puppy Raiser is required to attend weekly VMF training sessions to learn how to socialize and to teach the SDiT basic dog obedience skills and manners until six months of age. The SDiT is expected to go on socialization outings three to five times a week during this period. At six months of age the SDiT is expected to have mastered basic foundation skills and to take and pass the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen® examination. The SDiT and his/her Puppy Raiser will continue attending bi-monthly classes for the remainder of the puppy- raising time.
Upon earning the AKC CGC® title, the SDiT gives up his/her red bandana to wear the official VMF-logo “in training” vest for all public appearances. The Puppy Raiser continues to expand upon the basic dog obedience skills and increases the SDiT’s exposure to the public with continued three to five times per week outings in addition to VMF-sponsored outings and public appearances. During the puppy-raising time the SDiT will go on quarterly visits or “sits” of at least one week in duration with another Puppy Raiser in a different environment to develop a well-rounded SDiT. Also, the SDiT will begin serving as a VMF Comfort Dog for veterans during VMF-coordinated animal-assisted activities.
At one year of age, the SDiT is expected to have the temperament and skills necessary to earn the title of “therapy dog” from one of the nationally recognized organizations that evaluate and register therapy teams, e.g., Delta Society Pet Partners©, Therapy Dogs, Inc. ® (TDInc.) or Therapy Dogs International (TDI®) and begin helping veterans with physical or mental health challenges. During this time veterinarians and third party, professional dog-training organizations assess and evaluate the SDiT. The SDiT may move to a second Puppy Raiser’s home, and training is adjusted to help the SDiT find his/her ideal role as a “comfort”, “therapy”, “facility” or “service” dog for veterans.
A fully vetted, qualified and approved VMF Comfort/Therapy Dog is ready for advanced training and participation in regularly scheduled therapy sessions at a facility treating veterans. When the SDiT is ready to work as a service dog to mitigate a veteran’s disability, the SDiT meets different veteran candidates. Once a likely veteran match occurs, the SDiT leaves his Puppy Raiser’s home and lives with the veteran during a probationary placement arrangement with advanced training tailored to the needs of the veteran. Private and group training classes are provided in multiple settings – to include the veteran’s home and neighborhood – helping the veteran-service dog team face the specific challenges and scenarios of day-to-day life.
The mission of the VMF organization is achieved—a veteran moves forward in his or her life, thanks to the unconditional love and fidelity of a fully trained and certified assistance/service dog. Several months after the successful probationary period and subsequent final placement, the VMF service dog and veteran partner will be introduced to the VMF family of supporters and Puppy Raisers of the former SDiT.