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Latest News

Latest News

Placement of PTSD Dogs with Veterans: Service Dog Trainers to Have Standards

When Gabe Nutter returned from Iraq with PTSD, he was sure that he could handle it himself. But after struggling with his own out of control behavior, sleep issues and his need to always be alert for danger, he admitted that he needed help.

Gabe and PTSD Dog Sammy

“The VA provided counseling and helped me to begin to put the pieces back together, but there was still something missing.” said Nutter, formerly a cavalry scout in the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division “One of the guys I worked with had a specially trained service dog to help him cope with his PTSD. The dog was amazing and I knew that was for me.”

Fortunately, Nutter knew of an agency that trained service dogs for veterans with PTSD, but many other veterans search long and hard for organizations that will provide them with well trained and temperament tested dogs.

With more than 50,000 wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005, the ADI Industry began placing service dogs to mitigate their physical disabilities; amputations, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and back and neck problems.

As the number of Veteran Service Dog teams increased, programs placing such dogs realized that most of the veterans had post-traumatic stress (PTSD) from their combat experiences and such symptoms were more problematic for them than their physical injuries. “They were actually utilizing the tasks trained to help with their physical disabilities to mitigate their PTSD” explains Sheila O’Brien the Vice President of Assistance Dogs International (ADI).

Meeting the needs of veterans with PTSD

O’Brien enlisted the expertise of psychiatric social worker Dr. Cynthia Crosson in 2008, to design a program, to meet the needs of veterans with PTSD. The Trauma Assistance Dog (TAD) Program, the first such program in the country, implemented by Crosson, became so successful that ever more veterans applied for service dogs to help them cope with their PTSD.

The demand for dogs to help with military-related PTSD led to the need for some standardization to protect both veterans and the public from poorly trained dogs.

“In recent years, a variety of organizations and private trainers have offered service dogs to veterans with PTSD but there have been no standards governing what dogs are appropriate and how they will be trained, “said O’Brien. As an accreditor for the industry, O’Brien knows well the importance of a well-thought-out structure.

Standards for service dogs assisting with PTSD

Assistance Dogs International (ADI), charged with accrediting service dog agencies across the world that meet minimum standards governing selection, placement, and use of assistance dogs, decided to develop appropriate standards for service dogs assisting with PTSD.

ADI member Nancy Fierier of Susquehanna Service Dogs was appointed in 2010 to chair a committee to develop “’best practices’ for the placement of service dogs with those with PTSD. This committee’s work was presented at two ADI International Conferences; in Barcelona in 2012 and in Denver in 2014 and later became the basis for the ADI Provisional Guidelines for the placement of PTSD Service Dogs webinar that is available for members on the ADI website.

In 2015, ADI commissioned a committee of four representatives from various ADI accredited service dog agencies and two experts in PTSD and veterans’ services to develop a framework of guidelines on which future standards could be based.

Over the next eighteen months, O’Brien of America’s VetDogs, Sarah Birman of Canine Companions for Independence, Ken Kirsch also of America’s VetDogs and Nancy Fierer former Executive Director of Susquehanna Service Dogs in consultation with Dr. Cynthia Crosson and Dr. Michael Jaffe combined knowledge of a variety of existing programs as well as treatment strategies for veterans with PTSD to create guidelines for programs seeking to train and place these specialized dogs. Once these guidelines were worked, reworked and agreed upon, Nancy Fierer, chairperson of the ADI standards and ethics committee was given the task of developing the guidelines into definitive standards.

“This was a great committee and together we worked carefully, word by word, to be sure that it represented what we all felt was important, to ensure successful placements of service dogs with veterans with PTSD,” said Fierer.

Once the standards are ratified by the ADI membership, any service dog organizations seeking accreditation for programs to place dogs with military- related PTSD will have to meet these standards.

“Our hope,” said Dr. Crosson,” is that such standards will not only guide organizations wanting to provide the best service dogs to veterans, but also help veterans find the dogs that will be the most help in coping with their PTSD.”

Register now for Trainer’s Conference 2016

The next Trainer’s Conference is being held in Pennsylvania, USA, in September 2016. Visit the Conferences web page for more information and to register.

View ADI Conference presentations now

ADI members are now able to view presentation materials from the recent ADI Conference held in May 2016. To view presentations about ADI and AAII working together, dog database developments, working with people with dementia, and more, go to the Members Area.


Dogs with Jobs

Assistance dogs hold one of the most valued positions animals can offer their humans, with all their hard work comes plenty of love and training but assistance dogs aren’t they only dogs with jobs. Petplan, who are providers of pet insurance policies, recently wrote a post on the subject to give these amazing animals credit for the wonderful work they do within our society. So what sort of jobs can dogs do and what are the key things that make these dogs so special? Read the full article here.

The Power of a Hug

A great new campaign is celebrating the benefits of hugging your dog while raising money for Assistance Dogs International.

The Power of a Hug is asking for photos of people hugging their dogs, and for every one shared MSD Animal Health will donate $1* to Assistance Dogs International.

Visit the Power of a Hug website to find out more and upload a photo, or tweet your photo using the hashtag #PowerOfAHug.

* up to a total of $10,000.

Details released for ADI Conference 2016

Details have been released for the Assistance Dogs International Conference in Prague next year. Find out more by visiting the conferences web page.


Highlights of the recent ADI Trainers’ Conference

In mid-September, ADI held its annual Trainers’ Conference in Hagerstown, Maryland, USA.

Eighty individuals from twenty five states and Canada, met to exchange ideas and gather information regarding the raising and training of puppies in correctional facilities.

Speakers from Guide Dog, Service Dog and Hearing Dog Programs, as well as Correctional Facility Staff, made power point presentations, facilitated panel discussions and shared their first-hand experience with prison puppy programs.

Some of the topics that were discussed included:

  • The types of Prison Puppy Programs
  • Steps to open a prison Puppy Program
  • How inmates are chosen to participate
  • Prison Puppy protocols that assure success
  • How to Increase the number of canine placements
  • Puppy training curriculums used
  • The role of a Prison Puppy Liaison
  • Getting positive PR for your program
  • Pups on Furlough Program and
  • ADI Prison Puppy Standards

The highlights of the conference were the tours of the two men’s medium security prisons; Maryland Correctional Training Facility and MCI-Hagerstown.

ADI members got to see where the puppies were housed, observe puppy demos and ask a DOC panel consisting of prison officials and inmate handlers, questions. They also got to witness a graduation ceremony for three puppies that had graduated from the prison program and were about to return to America’s VetDogs for their final training and matching with a veteran.

Prison Puppy Programs are “Win Win” for everyone:

  • The ADI Program wins as prison puppies train up more quickly and that translates into placing more dogs with disabled people
  • The inmate wins as he learns to nurture and can give back to society in a positive and safe way
  • The correctional staff wins as they find that puppies bring a “calm” to prison that changes the whole atmosphere
  • And the puppy wins as he grows up to be a well-trained Assistance Dog.

Celebrating Assistance Dog Week 2015

It’s International Assistance Dog Week and we’re celebrating life-changing assistance dog partnerships.

Assistance Dogs transform the lives of their human partners with debilitating physical and mental disabilities by serving as their companion, helper, aide, best friend and close member of their family.

“Golden Retriever Udo has been my assistance dog since Valentine’s Day 2011. We were partnered after my first assistance dog Caesar, also from Dogs for the Disabled, passed away suddenly.

Learning to live with a successor dog is a bit like being given a new pair of your favourite sneakers, they look the same, are the same size and colour, but it takes a little while for them to become shaped to you, and for you to become accustomed to a new spring in your step!

Udo coming into my life made it feel whole again, not just because of the very practical everyday tasks he does to assist me but because he gives me confidence and a sense of routine which I often lack when alone.

I’m a survivor of traumatic brain injury. Sometimes life can be challenging, not only physically but cognitively and emotionally too. Udo is a robust character who just seems to know when I’m having a tough day. If I cry he snuggles up to me, and provides a tremendous sense of acceptance. He has also been brilliant in adjusting to deterioration in my health and although he has needed to learn new tasks, he loves the opportunity to earn more treats and and to take on new challenges.

Udo is my ray of sunshine and I’m grateful to him for sharing my life and enabling in the way he does.”

Wendy and Udo – Dogs for the Disabled partnership.

Trainer’s Conference 2015 – save the date

The dates for the next Trainer’s Conference have now been confirmed.

America’s VetDogs and The Guide Dog Foundation will host the Prison Puppy Conference on September 15, 16 & 17 2015 in Hagerstown, MD, USA.

Meet with other ADI Trainers for workshops, presentations and discussion on how to open, expand and grow Prison Puppy Programs to place more Assistance Dogs.

Visit the conferences web page to find out more.


Would you like to work for one of our organisations?

ADI accredited members can advertise their employment opportunities on the ADI website, so it’s a great place to look if you are interested in working for an assistance dog organisation. Visit the employment opportunities page to browse the current vacancies.