In order to qualify for a Saint Francis Service Dog, our partners undergo an intensive training regimen and are required to work very hard to learn the skills necessary to handle their service dog properly. Long before they meet their future service dog, partners participate in initial screenings, home visits, and candidate classes.
Once they are matched with a dog, they attend a 10-day long training course in Roanoke called team training, where they learn everything from dog grooming and health needs to how to handle and command their new teammate. At the end of team training they will take their Level III test with their dog, demonstrating that they are able to command and handle their dog safely. After a successful Level III test, the dog will begin living with their partner.
Over the next six months with the support of our Partner Program Manager and our Staff Trainers, partners will begin working with and training their dog in public places. Our trainers will provide less hands-on support as the partner learns to maintain control and problem solve on their own. When the partner and trainer feel they are ready, the Level IV test is administered in a public setting. The team will demonstrate control and problem solving skills throughout the test. After successfully completing Level IV, teams are certified, ownership of the dog is transferred to the partner, and the team is ready to graduate!
After passing certification, all teams must return to Roanoke one year later for a re-certification and every two years after that for the working life of the dog.
We have found that the partners who enjoy their service dogs the most are the partners that work with and continue to train their dogs. These teams develop a strong bond, work well together, and are able to mature in their working relationship if the partner’s physical condition deteriorates.
In order to nurture and encourage a continuing bond and strong working relationship, we offer optional quarterly classes in Roanoke, where partners are taught to maintain the dog’s foundation training, work on improving existing task work, and add new tasks to the dog’s repertoire. In addition, our trainers are available to work with partners on an individual basis when needed.
Saint Francis offers follow up support for Facility Dogs as well. These dogs are certified and re-certified in their working environment and our trainers are available to support the working teams.