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An Assistance Dog helps someone with a disability complete essential tasks so they can increase independence and improve their quality of life. By helping open doors, pick up objects, pull a wheelchair or alert them to sounds, barriers are broken down.

Paws With A Cause breeds and custom-trains Assistance Dogs for people with physical disabilities, hearing loss, seizures and autism. PAWS trains the following types of Assistance Dogs:

Service Dogs.

For a physical disability, debilitating chronic illness or neurological disorder LEARN MORE.

Hearing Dogs.

For people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Seizure Response Dogs.

For those with epilepsy or other seizure disorders.

Dogs for Children With Autism.

For children 12 and younger with Autism.

In an effort to better meet the needs of our future and current clients PAWS has an annual application acceptance policy. The PAWS online application request form is now open and will remain open through March 2021 for a $25 fee. Click here to apply!

If you are currently a PAWS Client and are interested in receiving a successor dog please contact our Client Services Department at 616-877-7297.

Assistance Dog FAQ.

Learn what to expect with an Assistance Dog LEARN MORE.

Customized Training.

The tasks of each PAWS Dog are customized for the client LEARN MORE.

Lifetime Team Support.

Learn how PAWS remains available for support LEARN MORE.

Donate Online.

Give now to support an Assistance Dog Team LEARN MORE.


What types of dogs does PAWS use?

PAWS Service Dogs, Seizure Response Dogs and Service Dogs for Children with Autism are primarily Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses of the two breeds. PAWS Hearing Dogs may be Retrievers or small breed dogs. Occasionally, PAWS has Poodles or Poodle mixes reserved for clients in need of a hypo-allergenic dog. All dogs must pass specialized health and temperament screenings to be accepted into training.

How does PAWS get the dogs they train to be Assistance Dogs?

Most of our dogs come from our own strategic breeding program.

Can PAWS train a client’s own dog to be their Assistance Dog?

Due to the highly specialized nature of Assistance Dog work, we do not consider a clients own dog for training.

Can a PAWS Dog alert me to oncoming seizures or provide support while I’m walking?

We do not train dogs to predict seizures, only to respond to a seizure that is happening. PAWS does not train dogs to provide weight-bearing support while walking, but may train a dog to counter-balance for a client needing mobility assistance.

What tasks are PAWS Dogs trained to do?

PAWS Dogs have over 40 tasks they could be trained in, including retrieving and delivering dropped items, tugging to remove items of clothing and opening doors. Service Dogs may pull a lightweight manual wheelchair or turn lights on and off. Hearing Dogs primarily alert and orient clients to common sounds. Seizure Response Dogs respond to a client’s seizure by summoning help or providing stimulation. Service Dogs for Children with Autism act as a constant companion to a child to help them improve social, communication and life skills.

*Some tasks have weight restrictions for the safety of the dog.

What tasks are PAWS Dogs NOT trained to do?

*For the 2021 open enrollment, we are not able to take application requests for any individual with impaired balance, unless they use adaptive devices such as a wheelchair or scooter when outside their home.

We do not train Assistance dogs for an individual whose disability is a result of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

We do not train Guide Dogs for people who are blind, for diabetic alert/response, to anticipate or detect medical symptoms, for the primary benefit of emotional comfort, to recognize and/or manage undesirable human behavior, to provide supervision, navigation, or safety from environmental hazards, to respond aggressively, to provide personal protection or to assist with the management of mental illness (such as PTSD, etc.) as a primary condition.

Who is eligible to apply for a PAWS Dog?

People with a physical disability, hearing impairment, seizure disorder or a child with autism who can demonstrate that an Assistance Dog will enhance their independence or their quality of life are qualified to apply. PAWS can only accept a limited number of applications per year from individuals who live in areas serviced by a PAWS Field Representative. Although many individuals with disabilities are eligible and in need of an Assistance Dog, PAWS will determine and select individuals where the tasks provided by PAWS’ highly trained dogs will be of the greatest benefit.

What are the age requirements to apply?

Individuals applying for a Service or Seizure Response Dog must be at least 14 years old with age-appropriate cognitive ability. Those applying for a Hearing Dog must be 18 years or older. with age-appropriate cognitive ability . Application requests may be completed 1 year prior to their 14 th /18 th birthday. Families applying for a Service Dog for Children with Autism must have a child with autism between 4-12 years old: the application request must be started by 7th birthday; Needs Assessment completed by 9th birthday; placement prior to 12th birthday.

How much does an Assistance Dog cost?

The sponsorship to breed, raise, train, place an Assistance Dog and provide ongoing team support exceeds $35,000. PAWS clients do not pay to receive their Assistance Dogs . There is no insurance or government funding available to sponsor Assistance Dogs. PAWS funding comes from individual donations nationwide.

PAWS promotes a “pay it forward” culture. Once a client achieves certification, we encourage them to consider hosting a Personal Campaign to benefit another client still waiting for a PAWS Dog. We are happy to work with certified clients willing to fundraise on PAWS’ behalf, and have the tools to make it easy.

Accepted clients in the waiting pool for a PAWS Dog who wish to host a Personal Campaign for PAWS may do so. However, it is not a requirement to receive a PAWS Dog, nor will it help a waiting client get a dog more quickly.

For more information on giving to PAWS, click here.

How do you apply for a PAWS dog?

The application request form can be located here. There is a $25 fee to request an application.

How long is the application process?

Open enrollment runs from the first business day in January through the last business day in March. All applications are due back to PAWS by May 15. Applications will begin to be reviewed by our review committee starting in June. Applicants will receive notice of application review in late July. If your application is selected to have an in-home assessment, you will receive a background check with your notification letter in the mail. Background checks will be conducted on each individual , over the age of 18, that lives in the home. Completed background checks must be received by the first business day of September. In-home needs assessments will be completed by your Field Representative in your home during the last quarter of the year. Your in-home assessment will be reviewed, and if it is fully accepted, we will begin searching for the right dog for you to fit your needs. The whole process from application to placement of the dog in your home can take anywhere from 1-2 years.

I completed the application process, but haven’t been matched to a dog yet. Why?

Finding the right dog to match your specific needs, personality and environment is not an exact science. Many factors are taken into consideration, with the ultimate goal being to find the best dog to meet your unique needs. Also, not every dog successfully completes training; sometimes we must start the matching process over.

What if I have other pets in my home?

PAWS does place an Assistance Dog in homes that have cats, birds or other small caged pets. Effective September 1, 2012, no PAWS Assistance Dog will be placed in a home with any other dog, unless it is a retired PAWS Dog or working Assistance Dog from an Assistance Dogs International or International Guide Dog Federation-accredited agency for someone else in the household. It has been our experience that other dogs in the home can interfere with the bonding and training process of the Assistance Dog Team.

How old are the dogs when the clients receive them?

Typically, the dogs are 24-36 months old.

What are the responsibilities of the client who receives a PAWS Assistance Dog?

Clients must be able to follow through with the in-home and public (if applicable) training process with their local PAWS Field Representative. Clients must be committed to maintaining the dog’s training throughout the lifetime of the team and to providing for the well-being of the dog (veterinary care, proper grooming, exercise, etc.). It is advisable to research yearly veterinary, grooming and feeding costs in your specific area prior to applying for an Assistance Dog. Paws With A Cause provides ongoing training support for its teams.

Can Assistance Dogs live in apartments and go in public places?

Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees the right of a person with a qualifying disability to be accompanied by their individually trained Assistance Animal in public venues. The Fair Housing Act allows for trained Assistance Animals in apartments or other no-pet housing at no additional cost to the person with a disability. More information can be found at

What areas are PAWS Dogs placed?

PAWS is able to place dogs where we have Field Representatives. Currently, PAWS is able to placed dogs East of the Mississippi River, and in Arizona.

“The program is uniquely designed for the individual. PAWS did as much research on me as the dog. They asked about the needs I have and what I don’t need. Then they match a dog to you and work with you to make it work. No two teams are alike.” – Jeff, PAWS Hearing Dog Client.


Our first question to a client is always, “What can a PAWS Dog do to help you become more independent?” That’s because we understand every disability is different, which is why each Assistance Dog is matched and custom-trained for a person’s unique needs.

To ensure an Assistance Dog can meet the needs of a client, it has to pass a specialized temperament test and comprehensive health screening to enter PAWS’ training program. The dog is matched to a client based on the person’s lifestyle, temperament and the physical characteristics required to complete the needed tasks.

Once the dog is trained, PAWS brings the Assistance Dog to the client’s home. This allows the client to train with a PAWS Field Rep and learn how to work with their dog in the home, workplace, school, etc. until certified as an Assistance Dog Team.

See the PAWS Team Journey here.


After certification, PAWS remains available for support. Clients may contact PAWS Client Services at any time if extra training is needed, whether it’s a new task or retraining of an existing task. Assistance Dog Teams are also recertified every 24 months to ensure they are working at the required proficiency of PAWS and ADI.

When an Assistance Dog retires or passes away, PAWS clients are eligible to apply for a Successor Dog. If accepted, priority is given to successor clients.


About two months before your Assistance Dog ID card expires, PAWS will send a letter stating it is time to be recertified. This is not something to be nervous about; we want to help you succeed.

The process is very similar to certification. Your Field Rep will arrange a time to film you and your Assistance Dog completing all of your trained tasks at home and in public along with ADI requirements. Your veterinarian also has to complete a PAWS form to ensure your dog is up-to-date on health requirements.

Client Services reviews the video and vet form. When they approve a client for recertification, PAWS mails an updated ID card valid for two years.

“My job is to make Assistance Dog Teams successful. I am not here to judge you or grade you. I am your coach and I’m here to help.” – Ellen, PAWS Field Rep.

Recertification allows PAWS to evaluate an Assistance Dog Team to ensure they are working at the required proficiency of PAWS and ADI. This occurs every 24 months. On the alternate years, PAWS contacts the client to determine how things are going, see if additional training is needed, etc.

We realize that things change. Maybe your dog is not performing a task well and needs to be retrained for it. Perhaps your needs have changed and training your Assistance Dog for extra tasks would be beneficial.

Whatever you need, don’t hesitate to contact PAWS Client Services. We will discuss your needs and arrange the necessary training so you and your Assistance Dog continue to be successful.


After developing such a strong bond with your Assistance Dog, it can be difficult imagining life without them by your side. As your dog ages, it’s important to ask yourself, “Can I continue my current level of independence with my current dog?” If the answer is no, it may be time to consider your options.

It’s up to you to determine if and when you want to retire your Assistance Dog. Talk with your Field Rep at recertification and your vet to get their opinion on how your dog is performing or how much longer they can perform at this level.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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