Handler Eligibility

Veterans and civilians with a documented disability as defined under the ADA, "...a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities," are quailfied to apply for the assistance of a Service Dog in order to enhance their independence or their quality of life. Veterans with PTSD and other disabilities receive priority for training and financial assistance from Give Us Paws.

Give Us Paws can only accept a limited number of applications per year. Although many individuals with disabilities are eligible and in need of a Service Dog, Give Us Paws will determine and select individuals where the tasks provided by their Service Dogs will be of the greatest benefit. All potential handler candidates are carefully evaluated prior to selection for the best chance at team certification. Our selection process is extensive; inclusion into the program and training priority is ultimately determined by our Board of Directors.

Some considerations before applying:

  • The handler must have a disability as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • The animal must provide individually trained assistance to a person with a disability. According to the ADA, the animal helps the person with the disability with a task or function that the handler is not able to do because of the disability.
  • The handler must be financially able to take full responsibility for a dog, including, but not limited to, annual vaccinations, dog food, dog toys and veterinary care. Many veterinarians offer discounts for Service Dogs trained in certified programs.
  • The handler must be able to physically take full responsibility for a dog, or have someone designated and able to address this responsibility.
  • The Service Dog should be able to assist in daily living tasks and help the handler maintain or increase independence.
  • The handler must be physically and cognitively capable of participating in the training process, up to one hour a day.
  • The handler must be able to independently command and handle their Service Dog through verbal commands and/or hand signals.
  • The handler must be able to meet the emotional, physical and financial needs of the Service Dog.
  • The handler should have a strong desire to actively improve their quality of life and pursue independence with their Service Dog.
  • The handler should be willing to participate in follow-up training.


  • Follow-up interviews and supplemental training will be required with the Give Us Paws Graduate Follow-up staff.
  • Handlers and graduates are not required to participate in fundraising or public relations activities in support of Give Us Paws, but we would appreciate it.
  • Generally, geographic services of Give Us Paws is limited to the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Your physicians, therapists, and counselors may have additional thoughts about how a service animal could help you and if you can manage the care and upkeep of a canine assistant. Having the support of one or more members of your medical team can also help in providing you with documentation regarding the recommendation. You are not required to have documentation under the ADA or to apply for services from Give Us Paws. No disabled handler should have to feel that they need to carry around documentation that says they have emotional/psychiatric issues. It is an invasion of privacy, and is NEVER required unless: a new employer needs it or an airline requires it (they can only ask for documentation for psychiatric service dogs – not mobility or physical support dogs).

If you feel that you fit our qualifications, please apply now.

Animal Eligibility

The candidate dog must:

  • Be at least 6 months old and less than 6 years old
  • Be spayed or neutered
  • Be current on all vaccinations
  • Be current on flea and heartworm prevention
  • Microchipped, with current handler information
  • Have visited the veterinarian for a check-up in the last 12 months

Potential Service Dog candidates will be evaluated for temperment, prior training and aptitude for learning.

If you are serious about training a Service Dog, this is not the time to rescue or rehabilitate a problem dog.

Important temperament traits we look at:

  • Confident vs. Timid -- the dog should show a casual interest in new experiences, other dogs, and new people.
  • Secure vs. Insecure -- Service Dogs must be able to tolerate a lot of stressful situations.
  • Calm vs. Frenetic -- "over the top" energy is difficult to control and train through.
  • Gentle vs. Rough
  • People-Centered vs. Environment-Centered -- Service Dogs should be people-pleasers.
  • Attentive vs. Distracted -- The dog should mostly be paying attention to you, not what is going on everywhere else.
  • Dependent vs. Independent -- A Service Dog needs to look to its handler for direction.
  • Engaged vs. Aloof -- Is the dog always looking away from you? Not interested?

Breed Characteristics
Some dogs show very strong breed characteristics, and it can be difficult or impossible to change them. Consider what a dog was bred to do -- Herd sheep? Kill rats? Track game with their noses? How does that relate to what you want to train the dog to do?

The most consistent breeds for service work are Labrador Retreivers and Golden Retrievers. These breeds are people-centered, bred to follow directions (easily trainable), friendly, and tolerant. Many other breeds and varieties of mixed breed dogs are suitable for Service Dog training, as well.

A note about Pit Bull types (American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Pit mixes) -- We do not typically recommend these breeds for Service Dog training for a couple of reasons: 1). Terrier breeds can be difficult to train for service work; 2). Pit types must be carefully monitored around small animals, regardless of individual training or temperament; Of course, there are always exceptions for every rule. Every dog will be evaluated individually and not judged solely on it's breed.

The Right Size for the Job
Small dogs or toy breeds are not always appropriate for all types service work. The service dog should be of the correct size to be able to perform the appropriate tasks for their handler. Smaller dogs could be potential trip hazards, especially if you have any mobility issues.

A Service Dog should never ride in a shopping cart or have to be carried around in your arms. A Service Dog must be trained to do work or perform tasks that mitigate your disability. Being carried around in your arms and keeping you company is not a Service Dog task, and is not covered by the ADA.