Service Dogs for Veterans

We provide Service Dogs trained for post 9/11 veterans diagnosed with service connected PTS. Other training where we can offer assistance for injury or disability due to military service include hearing loss, TBI (traumatic brain injury), and moderate physical limitations.

What is Service Dogs for Veterans?

PTS Service Dogs versus Emotional Support Dogs

We define our Service Dogs as Post Traumatic Stress or PTS Service Dogs. These dogs are recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as Psychiatric Service Dogs. These dogs have been trained to provide several specific tasks that may help mitigate symptoms of PTS in public settings. A veteran who has been diagnosed with PTS and/or TBI by a CA licensed practitioner legally can be accompanied by one of these dogs in public places where dogs may normally not be welcomed.

Emotional Support Dogs provide comfort and support and are not trained for any specific tasks. They are usually recognized by Fair Housing laws but are not considered Service Dogs.

Our Requirements:

We invite you to fill out an application if you are able to meet the following qualifications. Should you have any extenuating circumstances that may keep you from meeting the qualifications at this time, please contact our office first so that we may talk to you in more detail.

You are a post 9/11 military veteran diagnosed with PTS as a result of your military service. (If you are currently active duty, you must be within 6 months of discharge with no possibility of deployment)
You are a resident of CA, and intend to remain a resident for at least the next 2 years.
You have a local support system that includes family and/or friends.
You are physically and financially able to take care of a dog in a safe and loving environment.
You are currently in treatment for PTS and have been for at least 8 consecutive months.
You can provide a referral (upon request) from a licensed CA Mental Health provider (VA or private).
You spend a substantial part of your day (at least 3 times a week) in public settings and currently maintain a regular weekly schedule such as going to a workplace, school or running errands.
You like and want a dog to be with you on a regular basis (including work place, if applicable).
You plan to utilize a Service Dog in public at least 3 days a week. Public is defined as going to places such as work or school, running errands, social events, etc.


We reserve the right to decline an application for a Service Dog if there are companion pet dog(s) living in the applicant’s home. We will consider every application and make reasonable and educated assumptions on compatibility between companion pet dog(s) living with the applicant and a Service Dog based on gender and temperament, as well as on the ability of the applicant living with other dog(s) to properly bond with a Service Dog.

All of our Service Dogs are certified for public places.

The Application Process:

Our application is available to be downloaded at the bottom of this page. If you are not able to print it out, please phone our office and we will be happy to mail one. Any information that you share with us will be kept confidential and not shared with anyone that you have not given us permission to do so.

Once we receive your application, you will be sent (2) personal reference forms, (1 or more) Medical Information Forms (if you are regularly treated for a physical condition), and (1) Mental Health Evaluation form which is to be given to your CA licensed Mental Health provider and will serve as your referral. Once we receive your referral and other forms by mail, we will contact you to discuss options for moving forward with an in-home interview.

The purpose of an in-home interview is to determine if one of our dogs is able to be helpful for you. If you are accepted for one of our Service Dogs, we will place you on our wait list. When we have an ideal dog match, we contact you to set up an orientation or ‘placement’. If we are not able to accept your application to our wait list, we will refer you to other agencies.

If you are matched with a Service Dog, you can expect to work with a trainer in your home and in public places over a period of 3-5 days. Following placement, there will be regular follow up scheduled that may be done in email, over the phone, text, by video and in person. Follow up is ongoing during the life of your dog and vital to your success as a team.

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Our Service Dogs spend many months in training learning to perform specific tasks, obedience commands and extensive socialization in public places. They are intended to accompany you in the home and in public settings. If a dog is placed with you, it is vital that you are committed to sending us regular updates for your success with a Service Dog. Our dog training places focus on providing tasks that may assist you with symptoms associated with PTS and certain physical ailments as a result of military service. Because we offer a more tailored approach to our training, we may be able to provide additional tasks but this is discussed on a case by case basis.

It is important to note that if you are matched with one of our Service Dogs, you must commit to regular weekly outings with your Service Dog and consistently reinforce behaviors (trained tasks and obedience commands) intended to assist you. We do not guarantee a particular outcome but a Service Dog should provide a benefit as well as considered in your treatment plan.

Our program is small and graduates only a few PTS Service Dogs each year. An Applicant accepted to our wait list is also encouraged to consider placing an application with additional programs to improve his or her chance for being matched with a Service Dog sooner.

Our basic tasks include the following:

Cover My Front: Dogs are trained to move from a "left side" or heel position to a "front position", providing a comfortable and friendly perimeter for the veteran.
Cover My Back: Dogs are taught to turn, sit and face the opposing direction from the veteran, promoting healthy awareness by reducing stress and/or anxiety.
Balance: Where balance might be affected by medication used in treatment for PTS and/or TBI, our dogs are taught to stop and stand still in position when they feel a moderate weight applied to their shoulders and hips. This is only for people who need a slight anchor to regain their balance on stairs and curbs. A veteran with balance challenges is taught how to use their dog properly to regain balance again without applying too much weight on the dog.
Stand and Brace: Veterans with back and/or knee issues as a result of their military service sometimes need a little counter balance to help stand up from a chair or when kneeling on the ground. We teach a dog to stand and remain in position when SLIGHT pressure is applied to a dog’s shoulders and hips simultaneously. Our dogs are not large enough to bear the full weight of a human. Our veterans are taught how to properly utilize this skill.

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About Service Dogs for Veterans

PTS or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop after exposure to any events that result in psychological trauma. Studies show that 1 in 5 veterans returning from combat are diagnosed with PTS. Over the last 7 years, an estimated 20% or over 300,000 veterans have PTS.

The Sam Simon Foundation launched its Service Dog program in response to the growing need of veterans coping with PTS as a result of their military service. A Service Dog is not a cure for PTS, but whose skills and companionship can be an aid for managing the symptoms and promoting well-being.

Our dogs are specially selected from local shelters based on their temperament and breed. Most of our Service Dogs will be retrievers or retriever types. They are generally between 1-2 years old at the time of their placement. Some may be more energetic than others and so the exercise requirement will vary from dog to dog. Their training time with us is approximately 5-6 months. About 1 out of every 4 dogs will make it through the training to graduation. Dogs that do not complete training are placed for adoption locally and are coined “Career Change Dogs”.

Our program provides a tailored training approach for a small number of graduating teams each year. We also train Hearing Dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Therefore, we are only able to assist those veteran applicants that demonstrate a priority toward improving their mental well-being and a commitment to a life-long bond with a partnered Service Dog.

There is no fee to receive a trained Service Dog. All funding for this program is provided for by The Sam Simon Foundation Giving Fund

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Is a Service Dog right for you?

While a Service Dog is rewarding for many, it isn’t going to be the answer for everyone. A lot of consideration needs to be given to the amount of time, ability and finances needed to take care of a dog. Having a Service Dog not only means daily training, but also daily exercise as well as a consistent routine. Exercise might include a daily walk of at least a mile, a game of retrieve or a good romp at the dog park. They need to be able to eat a high quality food and get out at least 3 or more times a day to relieve themselves.

A Service Dog is with his or her partner most of every day, going into the work place, school or stores. It is only natural that Service Dogs will attract the attention of the public. They will be curious when they see a working dog and want to know more about what they do. Veterans with a Service Dog should be prepared for these types of encounters and may even want to prepare a response in anticipation.

Veterans that live with family members or friends need their cooperation and support with a Service Dog. Are all members of the household willing to live with a dog in the home? Do they all like being around dogs? Are they willing to assist with the care and behavior of a Service Dog?

We are not able to place a dog where there are family members living with allergies to dogs. All of our Service Dogs will shed fur and none would be considered hypo-allergenic.

Most of our Service Dogs are still adolescents and may make mistakes with their house manners or training. They may need gentle reminders of household rules as well as practice in their obedience commands and tasks. This will require patience and a positive attitude.

Are you ready for a Psychiatric Service Dog?

Take the Readiness Test >

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© 2015 The Sam Simon Foundation