About Our Dogs
We train mobility assistance, hearing assistance and professional therapy 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 companiondogs 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.
Sometimes, in spite of being carefully selected and evaluated, some dogs have to be released from our training program for certain behavioral or medical conditions that emerge later. Career-change dogs may be trained by other agencies for new careers in drug/bomb detection or search and rescue, or they are adopted out as pets. You can find a list of our dogs currently available for adoption at Petfinder.
Selecting and Training Our Dogs
We get many of our dogs from shelters, giving these deserving animals a “new leash on life.” We also have dogs from our own breeding program, from other breeders and from people needing to re-home their pets. Prospective dogs undergo extensive evaluation before being accepted into our program to ensure that only healthy dogs with suitable temperaments are placed with clients.
Summit Assistance Dogs has a number of dogs in our training program at any given time. They are living in different types of environments, depending on their levels of development and training. Puppies will spend most of their time up to the age of about six months in a Puppy Raising Foster Home, while most of our older dogs will move through our Monroe Service Dog Partnership.
Our dogs are re-assessed along the way by our trainers to make sure they still have suitable temperament and behaviors for further training. If dogs are not progressing well or are exhibiting behaviors we avoid, such as a prey drive or over-excitement with other dogs, we adopt them out to approved homes to live as pets. We take the decision to “career change” our dogs very seriously, but we also want to make sure we provide the best dogs to make our clients’ lives easier, not more challenging.
Once our dogs reach a certain level in age and development, they are moved into advanced training with our professional staff trainers. The trainers assess which types of assistance the dogs are best suited for and happy with. Some dogs naturally “alert” to sounds or visitors, while others love to retrieve things. Then when a dog is ready, it is matched with a waiting client and further trained to meet that person’s specific needs.
There is no doubt that service dogs change lives for their partners, but they also change lives behind bars. Since 2010, Summit has had a very successful partnership with the Monroe Correctional Complex, where carefully screened and selected inmates are training some of our dogs.
Dogs are placed with inmate pairs for nine weeks, during which time Summit trainers work with the inmates twice a week, honing their dog-training skills. Having inmates do initial training frees up countless hours of time for Summit’s professional trainers, and the inmates, who are not paid, learn job skills, social skills, communication and responsibility.
At the end of the nine-week session, a formal graduation ceremony is held at the prison, and the dogs return to Summit for their advanced training with Summit’s professional trainers. To date, 13 of Summit’s graduates since 2010 have gone through the prison program.