Today we have the second in our series of interviews with organizations who work with service or assistance dogs. The first interview introduced us to Canine Partners, who are based in the UK. Today we welcome Lindsay Havlin from National Service Dogs, a Canadian based organization.
1. Firstly, please introduce yourself and tell us the name of your organization and where you are based? My name is Lindsay Havlin and I am the Communications & Stakeholder Relations Manager for National Service Dogs in Cambridge Ontario.
2. What does your organization do? National Service Dogs specializes in enhancing the life of individuals with special needs by placing them with specially train dogs. We have three main programs which include our Certified Service Dog for Autism Program, our Skilled Companion Dog for Veterans Program and our Companion Dog Program.
3. How long have you been in the service dog field? National Service Dogs pioneered the program of placing Certified Service Dogs with children with autism in 1996. Since then, we’ve graduated over 250 working teams, have helped other service dog organizations across the world develop their own Service Dog for Autism Program, and have launched our two Companion Dog Programs.
4. How do you know which breeds of dogs will be a good fit for you, and how are individual dogs selected? National Service Dogs has its own breeding program. We currently breed Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Lab/Golden crosses. Having our own breeding program allows for more control over the process and as a result, helps increase the success of our puppies in training. All of our breeding dogs have thorough health checks and are bred for their temperament, size and success of previous litters.
5. In line with the question above can you tell us more about the personal training the dogs receive? Our dogs are raised in volunteer homes until they are about 1.5 years of age. These Puppy Raisers are responsible for socializing the puppy and providing basic obedience training. NSD hosts weekly obedience classes for the raisers too. Once the dogs have reached maturity, they are recalled to the NSD kennel where they work with professional trainers for four to five months, fine tuning their obedience and teaching the specific skills necessary for working. After this point, the dogs are ready to be matched with a client.
6. Once a dog is matched with a person, does that person also need to go through a training or induction period? Absolutely! We spend a lot of time training our clients during the initial placement process to ensure the success of the working team. We then provide continuous follow up and support via phone, e-mail and in home visits during the working life of the dog. The type of training provided to each client varies by program:
With our Certified Service Dogs for Autism, the child’s parents attend one week of intensive training at our facility without their child. Once the dog is brought home, our professional trainers provide in home support and training specific to the child’s needs and the family’s home environment.
When a Skilled Companion Dog is placed, our trainers spend an extensive amount of time working with the veteran on a one-on-one basis in their home and around their community.
Since our Companion Dogs receive no skills training, we spend a few hours with the client at our facility going over basic handling and animal care. We then invite them out to our weekly obedience classes that are hosted for our puppy raisers, and continue to provide phone and e-mail support until they are comfortable with the placement.
7. If someone wishes to support or otherwise become involved with your organization, how do they do it? Also, is there anything they can do on a practical level or maybe to help with fundraising? We are always looking for support with dog walking, puppy raising, administrative tasks and events. More information on our volunteer opportunities can be found on our website or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any financial support that can be provided is always appreciated too. General donations can be made here:
We also host various annual fundraising events such as our Easter Egg Hunt for Dogs, Our Ride for Autism & Veterans, and Mantracking. Participating in these exciting events helps NSD place more dogs each year.
8. As this is Pet Hooligans, where we celebrate everything about pets, including their occasional naughtiness, do the support dogs ever get into any mischief or is there something very endearing about their characters that you can tell us about? We like to think that all NSD dogs are perfect, but in reality, they have all had an occasional bout with naughtiness. Fortunately, this is often during their puppyhood, before they are ever placed with a client. This is one of the many reasons we love our NSD volunteers. Our Puppy Raisers welcome our adorable puppies into their home, have them pee on their floors and chew on their shoes, and then they hand them back to us right around the time they are growing out of these bad behaviours. Then many of them do it all again with another puppy!
9. Can you give us an example of a very special bond between a support dog and their human partner, and describe how the dog enriched that person’s life? I can’t say it any better than Rowan’s mom did when explaining the relationship between her son and his Certified Service Dog, Whitby:
“Whitby has become Rowan’s assistive device, much like a wheelchair for a paralyzed child. In the past two years we have watched Rowan and his dog bond. He spends all his time with her as she accompanies him to movies, grocery stores, malls, on airplanes and holidays.
I cannot emphasize enough all the benefits that we have witnessed Whitby bestowing upon our son. More than any speech therapist, she motivates him to use his voice; he speaks to her and reads to her for hours. More than any psychologist, she bolsters his self-esteem and confidence; he knows that he is completely responsible for someone other than himself and he feels safe and loved in her presence. More than any occupational therapist, she motivates him to use his fine motor and gross motor skills; he is required to get her in and out of her jacket, collar and leash and to independently handle and exercise her. More than any adult she facilitates his interactions with peers; children will approach Rowan and ask questions about his dog and talk with him about her. Rowan says he and Whitby are best friends.”
10. Finally, if people want to learn more about your organization may we have your web address, Facebook page or Twitter profile where they can find out more ?