Applying for a Dog
Owning and caring for a service or therapy dog is a big commitment. Please read all the information on this page and the About Us and FAQs pages carefully before contacting us about a dog. We want you to understand the services our dogs can and can’t provide, our application process, cost and program requirements. Our process is designed to ensure that we make the best possible match for you. On this page we include:
- Process Summary
- Categories of Summit Dogs
- Matching Dogs with Clients
- Who Qualifies
- Application Process
This is just an overview. Each step in the process is explained in detail below.
- Assessment Phase – begins when the application packet is received and requires attending a minimum of three dog assessments. This phase may last several years.
- Team Training Phase – two weeks after being matched with a dog.
- Follow-up Phase – lasts for the working lifetime of the dog.
Categories of Summit Dogs
Our dogs fall into four categories:
- Service Dogs (including Hearing Dogs)
- Skilled Home Companion Dogs (including Hearing Dogs)
- Professional Therapy Dogs
- Therapeutic Home Companion Dogs
We do not train:
- PTSD dogs or dogs for those whose primary needs are psychological or emotional
- Medical alert dogs
- Autism dogs
- Seizure alert dogs. (We do train seizure response dogs, who are trained to do a variety of tasks after a person has a seizure, including staying with the person or going to get help within the home.)
- People’s personal dogs (We only work with dogs we have evaluated and selected, due to the difficulty in choosing appropriate dogs with the right temperaments for this work.)
We do train:
Service Dogs (including Hearing Dogs)
Service dogs assist people with mobility challenges and/or decreased hearing. They perform tasks such as retrieving dropped items, turning lights on and off, opening doors, tugging off clothing and alerting to various sounds such as a child crying, an oven timer, a phone or doorbell ringing and, most importantly, the life-saving sound of a smoke alarm. Our dogs can also be custom trained to meet specific needs. Service dogs have legal access to most public places where pets generally are not allowed. Service dogs typically go to adults, although some teens with excellent dog handling skills may be accepted. Service dogs have the highest level of training, and the wait time to receive one is typically one to five years.
Skilled Home Companion Dogs (including Hearing Dogs)
Skilled home companion dogs are trained to perform the same tasks as our service dogs, but they are used only in the home. Skilled home companion dogs often go to younger clients and may be a first step to having a service dog in the future. The wait time to receive a skilled home companion dog is typically six months to two years.
Professional Therapy Dogs
These dogs provide therapeutic support in professional settings such as schools, mental health practices, nursing homes, and occupational, physical and speech therapy clinics. These dogs are often used in therapy sessions with individuals to help promote calmness under stress or to motivate clients to achieve therapeutic goals. Professional therapy dogs do not have legal access to public places where pet dogs would not be welcome and are to be used only in the settings for which they have been trained. The wait time to receive a professional therapy dog is typically six months to two years.
Therapeutic Home Companion Dogs
Therapeutic home companion dogs provide companionship to individuals or families with special needs. They usually do not perform specific tasks, but offer friendship and acceptance to their people. Therapeutic home companion dogs receive thorough temperament evaluations and obedience training. They do not have the legal public access that service dogs do. The wait time to receive a therapeutic home therapy dog is typically four months to a year.
Matching Dogs with Clients
We are very careful in matching dogs with clients. We want to make sure it’s the best possible fit, both in terms of tasks and temperament. When a dog is ready for placement, we look through our list of waiting clients to determine who we want to meet a particular dog. Usually several clients will come in at different points to meet the same dog. We watch not only the client’s reaction, but the dog’s reaction as well, to determine who we think would make the best team.
Our clients are then informed of the staff’s opinion about which dog is best for them. They are given the opportunity to accept the dog chosen for them or wait for another one in the future. We never want our clients to feel pressured to accept any dog. The fit must be perfect.
If we have two equally appropriate clients for the same dog, the client who has received a dog from us in the past will receive first choice. We encourage our clients to apply for a Successor Dog prior to their Service Dog needing to retire to allow time to locate and train their next dog.
Anyone who can demonstrate a real need for and intent to use the services of an assistance dog can qualify. We have no upper or lower age limits, but applicants must demonstrate sufficient maturity and decision-making ability to manage a dog independently and ensure its quality of life. Therapy or service dogs for young children must be under the stewardship of a responsible adult.
We make placements primarily in the Pacific Northwest, but nationwide placement may be considered when follow-up care for the dog can be assured.
We do not charge our clients for their service dogs, but we do ask that they contribute to our work in whatever way they can. The cost of acquiring, training and placing an assistance dog and providing follow-up support to our clients is about $25,000 per dog. That takes into account food, vet bills, staff time and the cost of dogs who must be career changed because they don’t work out for our program.
We recognize the fact that many people are unable to afford the full cost of a dog, so we do fundraising and grant writing to make it possible to meet the demand for these life-changing partnerships. However, time spent fundraising is time away from training, so we expect our graduates to contribute financially and be actively involved in their own fundraising efforts to the extent they can. We are happy to explore different fundraising ideas.
We also require our clients to provide consistent care for their dogs on their own, including regular and unexpected vet care, quality food and treats and toys.
Detailed Application & Training Process
- After reading all the information on this page and the About Us, Our Dogs and FAQs pages, send our Client Services Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org) the following information:
- The type of dog you are applying for (see above)
- The tasks you need a dog to help with
- The locations you need to dog to work in
- Any questions you may have
The Client Services Manager will contact you by phone or e-mail for a pre-screening interview to make sure you understand the requirements, responsibilities and realities of life with a service dog and to answer any questions you may have.
An applicant packet will be sent to you if it appears you are an appropriate candidate for our program. You will need to fill it out and return it to us. It must include:
- The completed application form
- Completed Professional Assessment Form(s) from primary health care and mental care providers
- An essay (written or video)
- Two letters of reference
- $25 non-refundable processing fee
The applicant’s eligibility will be determined by the Client Services Manager based on the following criteria:
- Does the type of dog requested fall into our scope of practice/limitations?
- Based on the client’s needs, is it likely that we can locate and train a dog within a reasonable amount of time?
- Does the client seem realistic and accept our application, training, placement and follow-up practices?
- Is the client close enough to our facility to allow for follow-up services, or can other arrangements be made?
- Does the client (or family) appear able to adequately care for an assistance dog?
- Does the client live in an environment that would be safe, comfortable and spacious enough for a dog?
- Does the client demonstrate a desire to communicate about and become a partner with Summit?
A home visit and interview will be scheduled if the applicant is deemed appropriate. We may require an applicant to video the home environment if a home visit is not possible. The interview would then take place immediately before Assessment #1. A background check may be conducted.
Assessment #1 is done at our facility in Anacortes. Our trainers introduce the applicant to a variety of dogs to give the applicant different experiences and to gather information. We take photos and videos, if the applicant agrees, to help us in our later deliberations when we work to match the applicant with the appropriate dog. Applicants are responsible for their own travel, lodging and meal expenses.
The Summit team then approves or denies an applicant’s request to be placed on our waiting list. While waiting, approved applicants learn about dog handling, care and training. They will be encouraged to read books from Summit’s recommended list and attend training classes if they can. Two or more additional assessments in Anacortes are usually required to further evaluate the applicant’s needs to ensure the best match.
An actual matching assessment session occurs when Summit we find an appropriate match for an applicant. Dogs may be assessed with several applicants to determine the best fit. If the applicant accepts the match, specialized training with the dog begins.
Team training is generally held twice a year. It is a two-week period of intensive training for applicants to learn to work with and care for their Summit dogs. Except for necessary caretakers or parents of minors, applicants attend team training alone to minimize distractions and maximize the opportunity for bonding with their dogs. Applicants are responsible for their own travel, lodging and meal expenses.
Applicants are required to attend Summit’s annual graduation ceremony with their dogs as the final step in the process.
Follow-up lasts for the working lifetime of the dog. To ensure that our dogs and clients are set up for success, we require participation in follow-up visits at our facility in Anacortes at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months and annually thereafter (more frequently if needed). Written progress reports must be submitted to Summit monthly for the first six months after placement. For Public Service Dogs, a public access test is required annually and is held in Anacortes. For dogs not going into public, follow-up with a trainer occurs annually. Graduates are responsible for contacting Summit to schedule these tests and follow-ups.
We expect graduates to be active partners with Summit throughout the life of the dog. We may request information or help from our graduates for fundraising events or publicity. Graduates are the best ambassadors for our program. Our accreditation with Assistance Dogs International requires that we keep certain records current, so we expect graduates to maintain good communications with us.