Frequently Asked Questions

What is an assistance dog?
The three types of assistance dogs are GUIDE DOGS for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, HEARING DOGS for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and SERVICE DOGS for people with disabilities other than those related to vision or hearing.

What is a a service dog?
Service dogs help a person with physical disabilities, autism or PTSD. These dogs may assist by picking up dropped items, providing pressure relief or decreasing startle reflexes.

How do I recognize an assistance dog?
Most assistance dogs wear a tag, vest, harness or backpack identifying the dog as a guide, hearing or service dog. However, there is not a law requiring identification. So if you are unsure you may ask the person if their dog helps them. It’s important to note that Federal law (ADA) protects the privacy of individuals with disabilities. They are not required to explain their disability, nor are they required to explain or demonstrate why they are accompanied by a service dog.

Is it OK to talk to an assistance dog team?
Yes, please talk to the human partner as many enjoy talking to members of the public about their dogs. Please do not call or distract the dog because that could endanger the partner. Do not be insulted if they ask you not to pet or feed their dog. Most people partnered with a service dog prefer that people not interact with their dog while it is working. It is important that the dogs remain calm and focused.

What type of dogs does PAALS train?
PAALS primarily trains assistance dogs for individuals with physical disabilities, autism and PTSD. PAALS does not train hearing dogs, guide dogs or seizure or diabetes prediction dogs. More specifically, we currently train five types of dogs:

  • Mobility Service Dogs: This type of dog can assist an individual who may use a wheelchair, cane or walker or have an unsteady gait. The dog may perform tasks such as picking up dropped items, retrieving items off counters, turning light switches on and off, carrying items in a backpack, tugging open doors, alerting for help, pulling someone using a manual wheelchair up ramps or short distances, etc.
  • Service Dogs for Autism: This type of dog can be trained to assist those with autism to better cope with public situations. These dogs are taught to apply deep pressure relief and comfort by pressing on a leg or lying on a person’s lap. They may also be used to encourage a person with autism to stay with their family member in public by providing a handle or leash for the person to hold and aid with increasing social and life skills.
  • Service Dogs for PTSD: This type of dog is taught behaviors that help people with PTSD to better cope with fear and anxiety. These dogs can provide a physical barrier between their partner and the public, provide stress reducing pressure on trained body points and provide a social bridge as a point of conversation.
  • Facility Dogs: These dogs work with professionals in education, counseling, social work, physical therapy, occupational therapy, nursing, ministry, etc. These dogs may serve as innovative teaching tools, motivation, therapy catalysts, rewards for achieving goals, and unconditional love.
  • Home Skilled Companions: This type of dog is trained to help in home settings only. They may assist with in-home tasks similar to Type 1 or Type 2 (as listed above) such as assisting a person with autism or with intellectual disabilities in the home setting to foster bonding relationships and assist with therapies and life skills development. These dogs do NOT have public access rights.

Where do PAALS’ dogs come from?
Most of PAALS’ dogs come from other service dog breeding programs, our own breeding program and individual breeders. We also try to use some rescue dogs, but this is often a more costly and less successful route for finding a good service dog candidate.

What breeds of dogs make good service dogs?
Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have proven to be the most successful service dog breeds. Service dogs need to have moderate energy, good social skills and confidence in all environments and with all people and animals they encounter. Dogs that are protective, have high prey drives, bark a lot, are fearful or overly active do not make good service dogs. Small dogs can’t pick up large objects and can be hurt by wheelchairs. Large dogs are hard to put under a table in a restaurant or out of the way on a bus or plane. In other words, a good service dog is hard to find, but worth it once you do!

Can I donate my dog to your program?
Occasionally, an exceptional dog that would have ended up in a shelter or that an owner must place in another home due to extenuating circumstances turns out to be a great service dog candidate, but this is rare. A candidate that has unknown health (specifically hip and elbow health certifications from the parents of the dog) should be between 18 months to 2 years old. A younger dog will not show its adult temperament and will not have adult bone structure for hip/shoulder/elbow x-rays. Older than two reduces the amount of time the dog will be able to work with their partner. This will eliminate 60 to 80 percent of the dogs in a shelter or privately owned. Dog size and inappropriate breeds will eliminate another 10 to 20 percent. Temperament tests will eliminate many more. Due to the financial challenges as a nonprofit PAALS, therefore, needs to decline most dogs that people try to donate. If you feel your dog meets all the above mentioned criteria as well as the description of the breeds that make good service dog section please contact us. If you are a breeder who is interested in donating a dog to PAALS please contact us. We are grateful to all of those who consider supporting our cause.

How long does it take to train a service dog?
PAALS normally starts with young puppies that take two years to train and are mature enough to make a good service dog. Minimum service dog training standards established by assistance dogs International is 120 hours over 6 months. A well-trained Service Dog should be trained 1 to 2 hours per day over 6 months – in other words 180 to 360 hours.

Can PAALS train my own dog to be an assistance dog?
At this time PAALS does not have the resources to help owners train their own assistance dog. Below are links to some resources that may assist you in training your own dog.

Please consider that there is a greater chance of success in producing a service dog when a dog has been raised and trained, and often comes from long lines of service dogs. These dogs are selected for working temperaments, strong hip and elbow health, and can be removed from the training program at any stage of the training due to health or behavior.

Why would a dog be removed from PAALS’ training program?
A dog can be discharged from the program at anytime during the two year period it’s being trained for any of the following reasons:

  • Hip and elbows X-rays show that the dog may not be strong enough for a working role
  • Temperament problems demonstrate that a dog is too shy, too aggressive, or too protective
  • Skin allergies develop which can be too big a problem to be handled by a person with a disability
  • The dog has difficulties with the stress of the kennel or public work.

What happens to a dog/puppy that is removed from PAALS’ training?
At PAALS we believe that every dog should love their job! This means that not all the dogs who start in our training program will go on to become service dogs. Some of our trainees are disqualified for service work due to a medical condition or a temperament incompatible with the strict standards for public work. When this happens the dog gets put on the Pets with a Purpose list. Families with a family member with a disability often can benefit from one of these highly trained dogs for the purpose of companionship. Although the dog is not permitted to wear a cape for service they still go on to serve as a loving family pet. If you would like to be on the waiting list, please go to  https://www.paals.org/career-change-paals/ to complete an adoption application. Once you have completed the application, you can mail it, scan and email to [email protected] or fax it to 803-336-7118.

What happens with a service dog who becomes too old to perform their duties?
Most dogs “retire” once they reach about 10 years of age. Sometimes the partner can care for their own dog and sometimes we need to find them a retirement foster home. Either way, PAALS remains committed to supporting the assistance team throughout their lifetime to ensure the person and dog’s well being.

How long is the wait for a PAALS trained dog?
The length of time varies for each individual as much effort is spent on finding the right match of assistance dog and partner. This means that dogs are not placed on a first come first serve basis. PAALS also makes priority for placements is with people in need in the state of South Carolina. At this time we hope that your wait will not be longer than a year and a half, but this is only an estimate.

What are some of the criteria that PAALS uses to evaluate if someone is eligible to have an assistant dog placed with him/her?
The decision for a person, family or facility to bring an assistant dog into their life requires a serious and sustained commitment. PAALS is committed to making sure that PAALS’ dogs are going to increase the independence of a recipient and are placed in safe, healthy environments. Some of the considerations we evaluate include the following:

  • The recipient must be able to house the assistance dog indoors.
  • The recipient must have a place to exercise the dog in an enclosed area nearby and commit to providing two walks a day in addition to some run time each day.
  • The dog must never be let off leash outside in an un-contained area.
  • There must be a plan for another individual to take over care of the dog during times their partner cannot. Some individuals who have disabilities find that their strength and/or symptoms vary considerably from day-to-day or week-to-week. It is important for a back-up plan be in place in the event that the primary recipient of the dog is not able to care for the dog.
  • Are there other members of the household? If so, how do they feel about an assistant dog? Are they supportive? Are they willing to help with the care and upkeep of the dog (e.g., trimming dog’s nails, grooming, taking dog to vet as needed, picking up dog waste)? Does anyone have allergies to dogs?
  • Are there other animals in the household or facility? If so, how might introducing an assistant dog impact them? Have other dogs been introduced before? Dogs and cats can be quite socially sensitive and not all will adapt readily to “newcomers”. While we do place assistant dogs in homes with multiple animals, it is an undertaking that deserves consideration.
  • Does the person or family have the financial means to care for assistant dog? While estimates vary on how much it takes to provide care and proper vet care for a dog, most people place the cost between $500-$1200/year.

How do I apply for a service dog?
The first step in the process is to complete an application for a service dog. You can find the applications for all the different types of service dogs PAALS trains here.

How much does a service dog cost?
The nationwide average shows that it costs an average of $25,000 to breed, raise, train, certify and place a service dog. Clients are asked to fundraise or pay the tuition for their class to learn how to work with their dog. The cleint/service dog training fee is $5,000. As a nonprofit organization PAALS constantly seeks support through in-kind services and general donations to cover the rest.

What is ADI?
PAALS is a member of assistance dog International (www.assistancedogsinternational.org). To learn more about this organization please visit their website.

Why can service dogs go into public?
The American Disability Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects the use of a service dog in all public places so that they can assist their partner. Each state has its own laws about puppies and dogs in training. In South Carolina trainers of assistance dogs are given the same rights as the ADA law states to train these dogs in all public areas.

Do service dogs ever get “time off?”
Yes, of course! Our dogs work hard, but they also get to play. Being well exercised is an important part of maintaining good behavior in public. Service dogs also enjoy hanging out at home with their person and being snuggled.

How can I help PAALS?
PAALS is a nonprofit organization that relies on volunteers of all kinds to help! If you would like to get more involved with PAALS as a volunteer, you can fill out an application here.

PAALS website will be down for maintenance Labor Day weekend
We will be performing a complete update to paals.org from 5PM on Friday, 9/2, until sometime on Monday, 9/5. The website will not be accessible during this time period.
Check in starting around noon on Monday to see the new paals.org
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