Training to become a National Service Dog

By NSD Fallon, the golden retriever

Hi everyone! My name is Fallon, and I’m delighted to meet you. I want to tell you about my life so far and my training journey to become a National Service Dog. Today, I help an amazing human live their life to the fullest. Many of my human friends are brave first responders and veterans and I help relieve the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My training took two years from the time I was a tiny, happy puppy to a proud Certified Service Dog. I love my job and I’m always ready to help – I’m like a fluffy superhero! 

I have lived with many awesome humans throughout my training and each one helped me learn something new:

The Whelping Home

It all started with a volunteer breeder caretaker who nurtured my pregnant dam (or, as I call her, momma) and me after being born. The volunteer provided us with a loving home to whelp for about seven and a half weeks. This was just the beginning of my journey.

Puppy Raiser

After the Whelping Home stage, I moved on to the next exciting chapter that my friends at NSD call ‘the Puppy Raiser’ phase. As the name says, this was when I went to live with another type of volunteer that provided me with a loving home and started to develop my training and skills until I was around 14 months old. The volunteer was fully supported by NSD’s Training Team and their Health Coordinator. It was so exciting, just like the first day of school. I loved it!

Adult Raiser

At 15 months old, I continued my quest and moved to the lovely homes of the Adult Raiser volunteer, who took me through the final stage of my training. By then, humans considered me an adult dog, and although I was already able to perform some tasks, I still needed to perfect my skills to qualify for NSD University. And I trained very hard, as I wanted to be the best! 

NSD University

The dogs who pass the skill assessments are admitted to a full-time training program, from Monday through Thursday with NSD trainers. I was so happy to find out I had passed the tests that I just started running around barking with joy! 

Placement – Certified Service Dogs for PTSD

My skills were further developed and after five months of thorough training at NSD University, it was time to pick a career path. As you can see on our website, there are many programs I could have gone into, but my trainers decided that I was best suited for the PTSD program. I agree wholeheartedly! I am one of many PTSD Service Dogs that have been deployed since this program was founded by NSD in 2011.

Along with my four-legged university classmates, I learned the specialized skills to be able to help veterans and first-responders who experience PTSD by:

  • Suppressing Hyper Vigilance: Sometimes, my human feels constant tension and paranoia, and I am trained to help give them the extra personal space they need. I can create a physical barrier that keeps them at a comfortable distance from others.
  • Providing Reality Affirmation and Redirection: I learned to notice when my human feels anxious. To help them, I redirect their focus to positive things, like petting me. Sometimes they can also experience nightmares or flashbacks, and I help by providing important reality affirmation and a calm presence. This helps show them that they are safe and that all is okay.
  • Promoting Integration and Activity: I am an active dog, and by having the responsibility of taking care of me, my human develops new routines and the habit of exercising every time we go for a nice walk.

You can learn more about NSD’s Certified Service Dogs for PTSD in the following video: Knowledge Nibble: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is the short story of my long journey and one shared by all of us four-legged friends here at NSD. None of us would be able to do our jobs without YOU, the people who volunteer, donate and make our mission possible, allowing me to be the best friend someone needs. 

Did you know that every Certified Service Dog is valued at $40,000 over the course of their working life, and NSD matches us to our PTSD person at no charge? This is the power of kind volunteers and donors in action. 

Did you also know you can join NSD, volunteer and support the next group of dogs in training? Join the group of fantastic dedicated humans who train us to help people who desperately need us. An average of 500 thousand hours went into my training and it took an entire village of volunteers!

Monday, June 27 is PTSD Awareness Day and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about PTSD and NSD. Check out more information about the program here and become a volunteer!

EmBARK on our journey!