Ready to Start the Comfort K-9 Program?
The Comfort K9 program requires a large commitment of time, training, patience, love, and dedication to be successful. Though Paws for Responders also offers assistance with all of the topics covered below, please review and plan through these points BEFORE bringing home the new puppy.
Decide what the dog’s job tasks will be.
The primary focus of the Comfort K9 Program is to provide comfort and emotional support to the responders and other office staff, using a therapy trained facility dog. Defining the specific tasks that the dog should perform to provide comfort is the first step in choosing the best canine candidate. For your facility, would it be best for the dog to lay at the feet of the responders / play fetch and tug with the responders/ travel off site with the responders/ greet the responders as they enter the facility / etc.? Additionally, will the dog be used to work with members of the community through community events? Will the dog be used to work with victims of trauma or crime? Will the dog be working primarily outside of the facility or inside the facility? Have a clear goal in mind so the puppy selection and training program can be catered to fit your facility's needs.
Pick the right dog for the program.
Once you have an idea of the dog’s future job description, then it is time to analyze what type of dog would be the best fit. What will the dog’s daily schedule look like? Is the dog going to be moving and active most of the day, or stationed with their handler most of the day? What size dog would be the most appropriate for your facility? Does the dog need to have a more “hypoallergenic” coat type? Is the dog going to be interacting with kids on a regular basis? Is the dog’s work environment really busy and/or noisy, or relatively calm and quiet?
Paws for Responders has a breeder referral list comprised of breeders that have already been interviewed and approved to provide dogs for the Comfort K9 Program. Discussing the job tasks, work environment, and daily schedule, will allow us to work together with one of the qualified breeders to choose the best canine candidate.
Pick the program that is best for the situation.
Paws for Responders offers multiple options for the Comfort K9 Program, but the most sought after option is the “joint custody” program. During this program, the handlers and the puppy raisers co-raise a puppy for the first 12 months, under the guidance of a certified dog trainer. Handlers and puppy raisers are required to attend in-person training, complete online learning courses, and work with the dog on a daily basis while the dog is in their care. This allows the puppy to grow up in the facility and bond with their handlers, without putting all the pressure on the responders to raise the perfect puppy for the job. However, this program may not be the best option for every facility. If your facility is unable to accommodate the time and attention demands of a young puppy in training, it may be best to evaluate other options. Paws for Responders has the ability to cater programs to match the needs of each individual facility, but there are also other agencies that offer pre-trained and certified, adult facility dogs. Check out Assistance Dogs of the West, Courthouse Dogs Foundation, and Canine Companions for Independence for more information on acquiring a fully trained adult dog.
Choose primary and secondary handlers.
Each Comfort K9 is assigned one Primary Handler who will be responsible for the dog’s training and care. Having a team of 2-4 Secondary Handlers, who are able to work with the dog and care for the dog on an as needed basis, is also encouraged. Keep in mind that all handlers should be able to dedicate time to working with the dog during and after normal work hours and be committed to participating in the program for many years.
Plan out the funds required for the lifetime of the dog.
There are many costs to consider when adding a Comfort K9 to your team. Most costs are included in the program pricing, but once the dog is transferred to the facility upon program completion, the facility will be responsible for all future expenses.
• Initial training program
• Maintenance and follow up training
• Leash/collar/harness/additional supplies
• Veterinary care (plus emergency vet care)
Be sure to factor in upfront costs, as well as costs incurred throughout the lifetime of the dog. Keep in mind, that there is no guarantee for health or behavior for any working animal. Veterinary and training expenses will vary significantly from dog to dog. Grants, donations, and fund-raising opportunities may also be available. Many Comfort K9s receive donated food, vet care and/or sponsorships from local businesses in the community. Plan these details ahead of time to get a more accurate estimate of costs.
Select the pet professional team to provide necessary care for the dog.
It is commonly said that “it takes a village to raise a child”, similarly, it takes a village to raise a puppy. Having qualified, educated professionals in that village greatly improves the chances of having a successful working dog. Find professionals using fear free, positive, rewards based,
methods, and support high quality nutrition and care for the animals they serve. Connect with and interview these professionals in advance, so they are prepared to take on your new Comfort K9 as a valued client.
• Emergency Veterinarian
• Pet Supply Store (with nutrition experts)
• Pet Sitter (in case Primary and Secondary Handlers are unavailable)
Be open to learning how to use positive, rewards-based methods.
When working with dogs that are taught to provide emotional support and comfort to the humans they interact with on a daily basis, it is imperative that we use ONLY positive reinforcement-based training methods. The emotional well-being of the dog is crucial to their success in their therapy role. In order for these dogs to remain sensitive enough to recognize stress, anxiety, fatigue, instability, trauma, depression, anger, fear, etc. in the humans the work with, they must be trained through trust, relationship building, and reinforcement procedures. Comfort K9s will be taught new skills through the use of food rewards, and handlers and puppy raisers will be taught how to use the food effectively to create solid behaviors. Trainer, Kelsey Weber, specializes in using these methods to create well balanced, responsive, obedient, engaged canine companions, and you will be provided with resources to learn more about how to use rewards-based training effectively and efficiently with working dogs.
Set up the Comfort K9 policies for your facility.
Adding a Comfort K9 to your facility is a big commitment. Handlers and facilities have to dedicate time, training, and money to ensure the success of the program, and ideally the dog is able to match that with years of service. This program is highly rewarding for everyone involved, from breeder to trainer to puppy raiser to handlers to community members; these dogs have the ability to change the hearts and minds of thousands. However, make sure you set aside time to plan out all of the possible (even if not probable) “what happens when…” moments that may occur when adding a Comfort K9 to the facility's “family”.
For example: What happens when…
• A dog does not pass their evaluation
• A dog develops a behavior issue
• A dog retires
• A dog develops a health issue
• A dog’s Primary Handler leaves the station