Learn more about Canine Companions for Independence
Canine Companions is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. We provide our dogs and support services free of charge to recipients.
Canine Companions trains four types of assistance dogs:
- Service Dogs – assist adults with physical disabilities by performing daily tasks.
- Hearing Dogs – alert the deaf and hard of hearing to important sounds.
- Skilled Companions – enhance independence for children and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.
- Facility Dogs – work with a professional in a visitation, education or healthcare setting.
There is no charge for a Canine Companions assistance dog. Individual participants in our program are not responsible for any of the substantial costs involved in the lengthy process of breeding, raising, and training each Canine Companions assistance dog.
Canine Companions is funded by private contributions from individuals; gifts from businesses, civic groups and service clubs; grants from corporations and foundations; and ongoing fundraising activities such as special events and mailings. Please visit our donate page for more ways to give.
Canine Companions is also able to do what we do thanks to the support of over 3,000 volunteers nationwide. Our largest group of volunteers are our puppy raisers. Every volunteer puppy raiser contributes to the basic costs of raising a puppy. Learn more about our puppy raising program.
Canine Companions uses Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses of these two breeds. Most of our dogs come from Canine Companions selective breeding program. Occasionally, donated puppies are accepted if they meet the strict qualification requirements.
We do not train dogs from outside of the Canine Companions program to be assistance dogs. Please check out Assistance Dogs International for other organizations that may be able to assist in evaluating and training a pet dog to become an assistance dog.
Canine Companions puppies are raised by volunteers who take them to puppy classes to teach them basic obedience and house manners. When the puppies are old enough to enter our professional training program, Canine Companions dogs come to one of our six regional training centers, located in Northern California, Southern California, Texas, Ohio, New York and Florida.
The first two years of a dog’s life are spent being trained and socialized before graduating as an assistance dog. The average assistance dog then works for eight years. After that time, the dog retires from service and will spend its golden years as a pet.
Canine Companions typically places between 325 and 375 assistance dogs per year. In 2017, we were pleased to have placed a record-breaking 403 assistance dogs. We have over 2,400 active teams throughout the country and have placed over 6,200 dogs since our founding in 1975.
Assistance Dog FAQ
A Canine Companions assistance dog can not only open doors, pick up dropped items and turn on the lights, it can also increase confidence and independence.
With the increase in military veterans returning with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Canine Companions is launching a pilot program to directly place service dogs with veterans with PTSD. The pilot program will take place at our Northwest Training Center in Santa Rosa, CA. For the purposes of this initial pilot program, local participants will be selected. Dogs will be trained in tasks including nightmare interruption, turning on lights, retrieving items, and supporting their handler in crowded public situations that might provoke anxiety for individuals with PTSD. In the future, we hope to expand this new placement type to include first responders with PTSD.
The criteria for participation in this small pilot program include living within 90-miles of Santa Rosa and veteran status. At this time, Canine Companions does not train dogs to work with individuals who desire support for PTSD outside of the context of the pilot program.
Canine Companions assistance dogs are highly trained to perform a limited set of practical tasks geared towards assisting individuals with physical disabilities lead more independent lives.
Some of the tasks they are trained to do:
- Retrieve and deliver dropped items
- Tug to open a door or drawer
- Pull a laundry basket, or help with a sock or jacket
- Push with their nose to shut a drawer
- Open a door with an automatic push plate
- Pull a lightweight manual wheelchair over a short distance
- Turn lights on and off
- Our hearing dogs have a different skill set, primarily involving alerting and orienting recipients to sounds
Although our graduates find an incredible depth of emotion in the bond between them and their dog beyond just the working tasks, Canine Companions does not place dogs with individuals for the primary benefit of emotional comfort or social support.
In addition, Canine Companions dogs are not trained to do the following:
- Guide work for the blind
- Seizure or diabetic alert/response
- Mobility assistance, including balance work
- To recognize and/or manage undesirable human behavior or provide supervision, navigation, or safety from environmental hazards
- Respond aggressively or provide personal protection
- Assist with the management of mental illness as a primary condition
People with physical or developmental disabilities, adults who are Deaf or hard of hearing, as well as professionals working in health care, visitation, educational or criminal justice settings who can demonstrate that an assistance dog will enhance their independence or their quality of life are qualified to apply.
The application process, as well as all lectures, individual instruction and written class materials for the pairing process (Team Training), are given in English. We can accommodate specific communication needs including providing interpreters for our hearing dog students during Team Training and other events.
Individuals applying for an assistance dog must be at least 18 years old with an established, stable home life. We find those 25 years of age and up typically are most suitable for an assistance dog. Children must be at least 5 years old to be considered for a skilled companion.
Canine Companions has a comprehensive and interactive application process. Before we begin, we first exchange basic information to determine whether the program will be a good fit. At each step of the application process, experienced Canine Companions staff review an applicant’s need and qualifications to determine whether or not the applicant will move on. Click on the graphic below for more information about the application process.
All inquiring individuals should receive a response from Canine Companions within 2-4 weeks.
Once on the list, the wait time varies greatly between categories and based on each individual’s needs. Typically, service dog candidates have the longest wait, as dogs with very specific temperaments are needed for these placements.
Training Canine Companions Assistance Dogs
Each Canine Companions assistance dog spends the first year and a half with a volunteer puppy raiser learning basic commands and being socialized in public and private settings. Once the puppy raiser returns the puppy to Canine Companions, it enters professional training at a regional training center for six to nine months, where it will be trained and learn the advance commands that will support the work of an assistance dog.
It takes an exceptional dog to graduate as an assistance dog, and not every dog is suitable. All dogs must be highly proficient in the trained skills and tasks. In addition, Canine Companions dogs receive rigorous medical and temperamental screening to ensure that every dog that graduates will be healthy, happy and appropriate in their role.
Approximately two years old.
Matching and Beyond
Once a dog has completed professional training, it is ready to be matched with a person with a disability. The team is matched at one of our regional training centers during Team Training, a two-week group class. During Team Training, students learn to manage the assistance dog’s behavior, to direct the dog to respond to commands it has learned, and to assume responsibility for maintaining the health and well-being of the dog.
Canine Companions has a comprehensive and participatory program to ensure the ongoing success of its working teams. Throughout the working life of the dogs, graduates periodically return to campus with their dogs for public certification, workshops, seminars and reunions.
In addition, Canine Companions instructors and graduates communicate on an on-going basis through correspondence, reports and by providing advice via telephone and email. Instructors also travel into the field to conduct workshops and to resolve specific training or behavioral problems in the graduate’s home and/or workplace environment.
Canine Companions maintains ownership of the assistance dog even after placement is made. A graduate is personally and financially responsible for the assistance dog’s care and maintenance, including food and veterinary services.