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Asked Questions

1. What is Starfleet Service Dogs, Inc. (SSDI)?

​SSDI is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that aims to professionally task train, match, and sustain service dogs to mitigate an individual’s mental or physical disability. We rescue dogs from local shelters, rehabilitate them, and train them for an average of 18 months as they learn the skills they need to be task-trained service dogs. We have two programs for service dog training: Academy Trained and Owner Trained


2. What types of service dogs does SSDI train?

SSDI specializes in multi-discipline service animals, because we understand that each individual’s needs are different.

  • It is important to note: SSDI does not limit their services to specific disabilities or diagnoses because each individual experiences their diagnosis differently, we train our dogs to mitigate the symptoms of disabilities which can generally be broken down into the following categories. 

  • We currently can combine the tasks within:

    • Wheelchair assistance

    • Mobility work

    • Counter-balance work

    • Cognitive Support

    • Medical alert(A) and response(R) (seizure R, cardiac A/R, respiratory R, and diabetic A/R, allergen A/R)

    • Autism support

    • Hearing/signal

    • Combat and non-combat PTSD

  • SSDI does NOT  train Guide Dogs for the Blind or Visually impaired as a sole task (we will absoluately work with guide dog programs to dual train guide/service dogs with program support/permission.

  • SSDI DOES  train dogs for children with disabilities if they can communicate they want a service dog. These service dogs work as a part of a facilitated team with a responsible adult.​

  • For more information on the types of tasks service dogs can be trained to preform, please reference IAADP's Assistance Dog Task List written by Joan Froling.

3. How is SSDI different from other organizations?

  • The Starfleet Difference

  • Our Dogs

  • We WILL evaluate an applicant’s current dog for service work with our Owner Training Program.

  • We will help you find a suitable prospect dog with our Dog Finder Program.

  • We donate our Academy Trained dogs free of charge.

  • We do not limit our services to specific disabilities or diagnoses.

  • As stewards to our dogs we require all dogs in our program to have veterinary medical insurance and bi-annual veterinary exams.

  • We will help anyone looking for general training for their dog, because the more well-mannered dogs in the world, the easier our service dog teams can navigate their world. (See our services)


4. What costs are associated with an SSDI Academy Trained dog?

  • Application: Waitlist Opened April 2024 ($150)

  • Academy dog recipients must provide for the basic care, equipment, health insurance, and any other associated costs of the dog as explained in our application. (around $350.00/month)

  • As of 2024, Academy dog recipients must pay for the handler training program and ongoing transition team training with their dog at a rate of $150/hour or $500*/month (this allows us to reopen the academy dog program, but our goal is to one day go back to having enough donations  to offer clients free training)
  • In person annual SSDI public access test (and annual recertification) ($150)

*Includes a maximum of 4 hours of training, additional hours pro-rated at $125/hour


5. What does it cost to train an Owner Trained service dog?

  • Application: ($150)

  • Evaluation of Owner's Dog: ($150/hour)

  • Owner trainers must provide for the basic care, equipment, health insurance, and any other associated costs of the dog (around $350.00/month)

  • Dog Finder Program, if you need help finding a suitable prospect: $500.00

  • Owner Training Program

    • Training Sessions: $150/hour or $500*/ Month
    • Handler Training Program & Service Dog Training Program
    • Owner trainers must be in continuous training for 6 months to be eligible to take SSDI's public access test and apply for graduation
  • In person annual SSDI public access test (and annual recertification) 

*Includes a maximum of 4 hours of training, additional hours pro-rated at $125/hour


6. How is SSDI funded?


SSDI is funded by donations from individuals, fundraising events, and corporate matching funds.

We are able to do what we do mainly because of our amazing volunteers!

7. What breeds of dogs does SSDI use?

SSDI will train any and all breed or breed mixes if they have the appropriate physical soundness, temperament, and working aptitude. We do not overlook dogs solely due to their apparent breed makeup.


Want to know what breed or breeds one of our current academy dogs are? Help us find out by sending us an Embark DNA test from our Amazon Wishlist!


8. How does SSDI obtain the dogs they train?

We work alongside local animal services centers to rescue dogs unsuitable for general adoption due to their work drive, we evaluate surrender cases, and we directly rescue others in need.​​​​
Clients who have chosen Owner Training can source their from anywhere, but SSDI standards include ensuring dogs are mentally and physically sound for their work and lifestyle.
Owner Training clients have the option to seek our assistance through our Dog Finder Program to find and evaluate a dog from a shelter or evaluate a dog from a reputable and ethical breeder when when it is most logical (ex: A client needs a dog that will perform many mobility related tasks and also is allergic to dog dander. In this case the client may seek out a breeder of Giant Schnoodles for their particular characteristics. SSDI would then evaluate the breeder’s dogs for the suitability of the work and tasks needed by the client).

9. Where are SSDI dogs trained?

SSDI academy dogs are each raised with our trainers. This one to one ratio allows the dogs to live in homes, not kennels, and allows for consistency and close monitoring on each of our dogs. The current locations for these trainers include Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Owner Trained dogs live with their owners and are within driving distance to go to in person training sessions with one of our canine training specialists. There are options for al a carte training digtially as well as programs for  owner trainers that are technologically savvy and able to travel for certain aspects of training, upon further review of circumstances with our trainers.


10. How long does each SSDI service dog work?

​Since SSDI dogs are rescued at all ages, the working time of a dog varies greatly. We make sure to be conscious of the indicators that one of our service dogs is wanting to scale back on their time working or want to retire their vest. The most effective service dog team is one where both the handler and dog are excited to do their job. When our service dogs no longer get excited when they see their working gear, it is a good indicator that they wish to retire. We teach each client how to identify signs their dog wants to retire or work less and how to transition their dog into retirement.

11. How many assistance dogs does SSDI place?

We generally have 1-3 academy dogs in training at any given time that are preparing for placement with clients on our waitlist.

Clients in our Owner Training Program bring a dog to us that we then evaluate. This service is provided to meet demand.


12. Why does SSDI not breed their own dogs and why do we use shelter dogs?

Many dogs do not possess the physical soundness, temperament, and working aptitude necessary to be a successful and happy service dog. Many dogs who do pass basic health screenings, often do not have the level of confidence to work in the environments that service dogs do. The temperamental traits that cause a service dog to be suitable (high confidence, low distraction, adaptable, intelligent, driven to have a job) are not found in all dogs. We take extra time and resources to be able to find dogs in shelters who would excel in our service dog training program and take the time to rehabilitate them first. For more information about our dogs and the rehabilitation process check out Our Dogs.

13. What is the application process?

You can find our application process laid out step by step for our Owner Training Program ​and Academy Trained Program.


14. What is the training process for SSDI service dogs?

Our Academy Dogs begin their journey with us by making rehabilitation plans with our veterinary team. Training begins with manners and basic obedience and progresses through public access, foundational task training, and individualized task training. Our dogs are placed with our clients for a 6 month trial period to ensure that the placement is a good fit for everyone.

Our Owner Trained Dogs evaluate into our program ready to begin public access training with their handler and progress through public access, foundational tasks, and individualized task training. 

15. What are the requirements for an SSDI dog teams to graduate?

A general list of our graduation requirements are as follows:

  • All dogs must pass all phases of our Service Dog Training Program

  • All dogs must have 90% or higher proficiency in 3 or more disability-mitigating tasks

  • All dogs must be current on all veterinary care SSDI requires

  • All dogs must have a minimum of 30 hours of public access training

  • All dogs must be 1 year of age or older

  • All clients go through our Service Dog Handler Training Program.

  • All teams undergo extensive team training which educates the client on training theory, dog body language, their individual dog's personality and cues, working their dog in public.

  • All teams must pass SSDI's Public Access Test.

  • Academy Dogs are placed for a 6 month trial period to ensure the dog can effectively mitigate the handler's disability and can adapt to the client's daily routine.

For more detailed information about our graduation requirements please see IAADP Minimum Training Standards and Assistance Dogs International. Please note we are NOT accredited by ADI, but would lvoe to work towards that goal in the future. 


16. How are the Academy Trained service dogs matched with clients?

SSDI feels that the dog-client matching process is vital to team success. We choose teams to facilitate bonding and allow for the team to help and learn from each other. The parameters taken into account when matching teams include:

1. Personalities

  • In any dyad a complement of personalities allows for the most effective team.

  • Our dogs and handlers work closely together; therefore, attention to idiosyncrasies allows for an individual match that maximizes the potential of both the handler and dog.

  • On top of our extensive application process, we also employ the use of NERIS-type explorerⓇ to further aid the matching process.

  • Personality testing also allows our program to project what challenges we will most likely encounter with each of our rescued dogs.

2. Physical Parameters

  • Clients must have the physical capacity to provide proper welfare for their service dog.

  • We take into account level of function, support system, and other treatment plans in use.

  • Dogs must be of suitable size for their work.

3. Motivation

  • The dogs that enter our training program have the drive to work and have a job. The dogs rescued from shelters thrive in our program because their drive to work surpasses that of which a nonworking home could provide.

  • By giving our dogs a job that matches their own drive, they are motivated to progress through our training program and be successful after graduation.

  • We use the unique motivators of each dog to match training rewards.

  • We do not train using any aversive methods as this diminishes motivation and cuts off effective communication with other humans and dogs.

  • Our dogs are trained to directly mitigate an individual’s disability. By providing our clients with these service dogs, we motivate our clients to live the lives they would like to.

  • Our clients have demonstrated the drive to learn the new skills necessary to further the human-canine partnership. 

4. Communication

  • We train our dogs to understand concepts which allow the dogs to communicate with their world and make independent decisions.

  • We give our clients the tools to communicate with their dog and effectively understand the wants and needs of their dog.

  • Dogs and clients must have compatible communication styles in order to create an effective team.

17. Can SSDI help me find a dog to train?


Yes, and we actually recommend that you allow SSDI to help find the proper service dog prospect for you. Our trainers have years of experience, an accumulation of knowledge, and proven dog evaluations in their corner when choosing a suitable dog for service work. We offer our Dog Finder Program for exactly this reason!


Many dogs are not suitable to be service dogs and even fewer are suitable to be the service dog YOU need in YOUR life. In our Dog Finder Program we take your through our 4-week Dog Ownership Course where we create your "Ideal Dog Framework" and provide you with valuable information to prepare you for your new dog. We utilize our temperament and physical soundness tests as well as evaluate the dog’s working aptitude and personality in relation to the client’s specific needs and wants.

After you adopt your prospect, we will continue on  Evaluation for the Owner Trained Service Dog Program.


18. How old are the dogs when they are matched with clients?

Owner trained teams graduate after an average of 14 months of training, Academy dogs 18 months (12 months with SSDI, 6 month transition) which means that most of our dogs are 2-3 years old upon graduation. When rescuing dogs we typically aim for dogs that are between 1 year and 2 years old. Adult dogs have stable temperaments that can be accurately evaluated and extrapolated. Adult dogs can also be evaluated for their fully grown physical soundness, stature, and size. We also acknowledge that puppies are typically more adoptable to the general public than adult dogs are. 

19. Once I become an SSDI client, how long does it take to get an SSDI dog?


Academy Trained Service Dogs:​​

Once an applicant becomes an SSDI client, we review all of our current academy dogs for a potential match. Our academy dogs are all at different points in their training program. If one of our current dogs is a good match, SSDI will continue the dog's training with the client's needs in mind. 
SSDI's waitlist for academy dogs is not conducted on a first come, first served basis. Each client and dog is an individual with different desires, motivators, personalities, and physical parameters. Once an applicant is accepted to our client waitlist, they can be matched to an SSDI dog at any time. Acceptance onto our waitlist means that we will review our current academy dogs and if there are no matches, then we will begin searching for a shelter dog that fits the client's needs and desires and start training from the beginning. Dogs take an average of 18 months to progress successfully through our training program. 

Owner Trained Service Dogs:

If an applicant’s dog passes the SSDI Dog Evaluation and the applicant is accepted as a client into our Service Dog Training Program, there is no current wait time to begin training.

*It is important to note that not all dogs are suited to be service dogs, if you do not currently have a dog, but still would like to do owner-assisted or owner training with us, DO NOT get a dog before filling out our application. We can help you choose a suitable service dog prospect once we have the proper details from your application.


20. What support does SSDI offer its graduated teams?

Progress reports on both the dog and handler are required and analyzed so that we can help to address any concerns before they escalate to problems.

Fluctuations of symptoms and functioning levels are inevitable aspects of life with a disability. Many of our graduates contact us for assistance with training additional tasks to mitigate their disabilities. Graduated teams may continue training with us for the entirety of the service dog’s life, with the options of supportive help or rejoining our Service Dog Training Program for new advanced training. Continued updates and questions from clients in additions to required progress reports are encouraged.


21. COVID-19 Updates

At SSDI we are taking precautions by staying informed by the latest science, using masks, staying socially distant, as well as disinfecting surfaces and equipment.


We have also updated our programs by opening our private training sessions, field trips, and board and train services to dogs outside of our service dog programs.


To continue offering top quality service dog training programs, our Owner Trained Service Dog Program is  now limiting new applicants based on their location in proximity to our trainers.

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