What is TLCAD?

Founded in 1998, Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform lives with service dogs. TLCAD has maintained accreditation with Assistance Dogs International since 2007.

What types of assistance dogs does TLCAD train?

TLCAD trains and places service dogs for individuals with autism and Wounded Warriors.

  • The At Ease Program is for Wounded Warriors
  • The Leash-On-Life Program is for individuals with autism
    TLCAD also trains and places facility dogs for professionals that provide medical, therapeutic and educational services to populations that benefit from animal assisted therapy.

Where do you get your dogs?

TLCAD obtains purpose bred puppies through our membership with a service dog breeding cooperative. TLCAD is not accepting dog donations at this time.

Does TLCAD use specific breeds?

TLCAD uses medium to large breed dogs. The most common breeds are Labrador Retrievers & Golden Retrievers but other breeds or mixed breeds may be accepted as well. Due to military base breed restrictions, TLCAD does not use Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, or wolf hybrids.

Who trains your dogs?

Prison inmates are taught by TLCAD training instructors to raise and train service dogs using TLCAD’s training curriculum and only positive reinforcement training techniques. There are two inmate trainers assigned per dog. Instructors work with inmates on a weekly basis as well as with the community volunteers who take dogs out of the prison weekly for community exposure. The program was developed based on best practice standards in the industry and adheres to Assistance Dogs International (ADI) standards.

Why a Puppy Prison Program?

Due to the limited number of volunteers available to train service dogs, TLCAD has not been able to meet the demand for service dogs. The Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles & Creating Hope (aka POOCH) program allows for TLCAD to increase the number of service dogs available to those in need, in a shorter time, while providing an opportunity for self and community improvement within the prison system through the experience of training a dog. Research concludes that inmates who train dogs are less likely to re-offend. In teaching positive reinforcement to incarcerated individuals, TLCAD is able to more successfully fulfill its mission to transform lives through service dogs.

How is TLCAD funded?

TLCAD is funded by private & government grants, foundations, individual businesses & corporations, and individual donations.

What is the application procedure?

Join our applicant pool by completing an application summary form. The long-term success of each placement is very important to TLCAD, which is why we utilize an applicant pool rather than a wait list. Each dog, based on his or her individual strengths and personality is carefully matched with the specific needs and personality of an applicant from this pool.

Spring and Fall applicant screening. TLCAD strives to increase the number of dogs available for placement to better meet the high demand for service dogs for those in need. At this time, groups of service dogs in training will become available for placement in the Spring and Fall. Once dogs become available for placement, each  qualified  applicant will be contacted with the option to a pursue a service dog at that time.

Phone screen.  Once TLCAD has received correspondence from all applicants interested in pursuing a dog, phone screens will be conducted to help narrow down the applicants to the most suitable matches.

In-home interview.  In-home interviews are done prior to selecting the most suitable match.

**As our demand for service dogs far outweighs our supply, we encourage applicants to pursue applying for service dogs from multiple organizations to increase their  likelihood  of obtaining a service dog.  For more information, please visit our resources page  HERE.

How long is your wait list?/ How do you match applicants to dogs?

We do not have a wait list but rather an applicant pool since the matching of the dog’s skills to the applicant’s needs, along with the matching of their personalities, is very important  for the long-term success of the placement. At this time, we only place service dogs with clients in San Diego County or within a 120-mile radius of Ione, CA, due to the intense need for follow up and custom training. Facility Dog placements outside of these areas will be considered on a case by case basis.

As the demand for service dogs far outweighs the supply and we cannot guarantee that every applicant will receive a dog, we encourage applicants to apply to other reputable organizations in their pursuit of a service dog to increase your likelihood of obtaining a dog.  For more information, please visit our resources page  HERE.

How long does each TLCAD service dog work?

The average working life of a service dog is ten years, however there are many variables that can affect this number such as the age of the dog at placement and the types of task behaviors the dog does on a daily basis.

Can you train my pet dog to be a service dog?

TLCAD does not train pet dogs to become service dogs.

How do you get your dogs?

TLCAD acquires dogs from the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) Breeding Cooperative as well as TLCAD’s puppy program. TLCAD selects dogs with the potential for service work and trains them to become service dogs for individuals with autism, wounded warriors, or as facility dogs.

What is your training philosophy?

TLCAD uses positive, reward-based training to optimize the dog’s potential. We prefer to teach, not force, a dog to perform behaviors – resulting in enthusiastic, eager to please, and highly skilled partners for our clients.

How do I apply?

Join our applicant pool by completing an online form. Prior to joining our applicant pool, please be sure to determine if a TLCAD dog is right for you.

  • Read our FAQ, below.
  • Watch our Informational Video.

Virtual Screening. As dogs become ready for placement, applicants whose needs match the strength and skill of the dog will be contacted with the option to participate in a Virtual Screening using video conferencing. Virtual Screenings allow TLCAD to learn more about the needs of the applicant, to include their home (or facility) environment, to best determine if they would be a suitable match for the service dogs available.

Meet & Greet. Once TLCAD has conducted virtual screenings, applicants who might be a suitable match are invited to a Meet and Greet with a service dog candidate. The location of the Meet and Greet will be determined by TLCAD staff. We may ask to meet in the applicant’s home or facility or ask the applicant to drive to a training site.

Formal Application. Meet and Greets help TLCAD to determine the most suitable match for the dog available. The chosen recipient will be invited to formally apply.

**As our demand for service dogs far outweighs our supply, we encourage applicants to pursue applying for service dogs from multiple organizations to increase their likelihood of obtaining a service dog. For more information, please visit our resources page HERE.

Is there a wait list?

TLCAD does not have a waiting list, rather an applicant pool. The applicant pool allows TLCAD to match the dog’s skills to the applicant’s needs, which is very important for the long-term success of the placement. All applications expire at the end of each year. Current applicants have the option to renew their application and remain in the applicant pool for the next year.

How do you train your dogs?

Our dogs are trained using positive reinforcement training. In training, we give treats (kibble) for desirable behavior or correct responses, and we manage opportunities to practice undesirable behavior. We teach our dogs what we do want them to do, emphasizing behaviors that are incompatible with things we don’t want them to do. It’s important for recipients to agree to this training philosophy as they will be asked to maintain their dog’s behaviors – especially as the dog transitions to its new role in a recipient’s home.

Where are your dogs trained?

The dogs are trained by incarcerated people in correctional facilities (including state prisons and the military prison at Camp Pendleton), for approximately 18 months. Our staff regularly bring the dogs outside of the institutions for public training outings to provide socialization and ensure the dogs’ behaviors are fluent in the outside world.

Is there a graduation ceremony?

When our dogs are matched with our recipients, we hold a graduation ceremony at the institution where each dog was trained. This graduation is very important as it allows our team of incarcerated trainers to experience the effect of their work coming full-circle, which deepens the impact of the restorative process our program facilitates.

The training program inside the prison provides an opportunity for the incarcerated trainers to give back to the community from which they’ve taken, in a way that cannot otherwise be achieved from behind the prison walls, so meeting the dogs’ recipients and hearing about the impact their work is having on people outside the prison is very powerful.

We require that our recipients attend their dog’s graduation. Children under 18 do not attend.

What are your standards for training?

We are an Assistance Dogs International accredited organization. All of our dogs are trained to ADI standards for public access and service dog cues, and we follow ADI guidelines for placement of our dogs.

What do I need to know about your Team Training process?

  • TLCAD uses a Team Training placement model. Team Training is currently held twice a year in the Los Angeles area.
  • Recipients spend a week in a hotel or campus. The primary handler comes for Team Training. For autism placements, children do not attend Team Training as our goal is to first facilitate a bond between the dog and the primary handler (parent/caregiver) and allow the handler to focus on learning the presented information during the week of training.
    • A support person may be able to also attend Team Training, if space and capacity allows.
  • During Team Training, we transfer all the dog’s skills and help facilitate a bond between dogs and their new handlers.

What follow-up support do you offer clients?

After Team Training, the client begins and Adjustment and Bonding phase with the dog. The dog goes home to live with the recipient, focusing on building a routine and acclimating to this new life. We check in and provide support during this period, to ensure the dog is adjusting well. We continue follow-up with our recipients in accordance with ADI standards. Monthly for the first six months Annual assessment for the working life of the dog. It is mandatory that recipients participate in this assessment each year. The goal of these follow-ups is to ensure the dog is always working effectively and safely for the recipient.

What is the cost of a TLCAD service dog?

As a non-profit, we do not charge our recipients for our service dogs. There are some up-front costs involved in attending Team Training and purchasing equipment needed to maintain the training and care of the dog. In total, a recipient can expect to spend about $2,000-$2,500 (less than the price of some purebred golden retriever puppies). That cost includes – Application fee: If selected, the applicant will pay a non-refundable application fee of $500. Up-front costs: These generally include items like a harness, leash, crate, and possibly special equipment such as a special vest for handle-led walking with autism dogs, or a mobility handle, etc. *Attending Team Training – The recipient pays for travel to and from the Los Angeles area and for a week-long hotel stay. (Click HERE for more information)

The ongoing costs of dog ownership are covered by the recipient. This includes feeding a high-quality dog food, providing vet care, etc. Because the cost to TLCAD to train one dog is anywhere from $10,000-$28,000 per dog (depending on the length of time the dog spent in training), we do encourage clients to make donations, sign media waivers, apply for funding from sponsors and occasionally speak at events.

If you are selected to become a service or facility dog recipient, there is an initial application processing fee of $500.  Service and facility dog recipients are responsible for the cost of:

Supplies and equipment required for their dog.

Travel, hotel lodging and meals for Phase 1 of Team Training (5 days of intensive training) that takes place at either one  of TLCAD’s two sites,  in either San Diego or the Greater Sacramento Area.

Travel and hotel lodging (if needed) to attend a graduation ceremony for their dog at the correctional facility from which it was trained.

Note: In most cases, service and facility dog recipients will receive dogs trained in their local correctional institutions, but in some cases, recipients will be required to travel to attend their graduation ceremony at a correctional facility in another city.

We do not charge for our dogs, although it costs our organization anywhere from $10,000-$28,000 per dog (depending on the length of time the dog spent in training).   We do encourage clients to make donations, sign media waivers, apply for funding from sponsors, and occasionally speak at events.

Do you require a letter from a medical provider?

Per ADI standards, we will require a letter from a medical provider stating that the recipient would benefit from a service dog.

Do I qualify?

TLCAD only places service dogs with wounded service members and individuals with autism or facilities who service individuals with disabilities. Children with autism must be at least 5 years old to be eligible to apply. *Because our placements are so personalized, we only accept applicants who reside near our training locations. At this time, applicants must live in either San Diego County or within 120 miles of Ione, CA.

Are there other considerations?

TLCAD does not specifically train and place hypoallergenic dogs and thus can not accommodate those with sensitivities or allergies to dogs. Especially for our autism recipients, some people have told us that, in the beginning, it feels like having another child and doing ABA therapy. We ask recipients to reinforce desirable behaviors and responses to cues, and track any problems using a functional analysis model – just like in ABA. Our dogs are trained very well, but during the transfer process, there is additional work involved on the front end to ensure success. Please note that most autism service dogs do not attend school with the recipient. The parent, not the child, is the dog’s primary handler. We like our recipients to know that service dogs attract people while working on public. This means, while a person with PTSD might be applying for a service dog because their symptoms are triggered in public environments, the service dog may attract more people to talk to them about the dog. During Team Training, we teach our recipients how to handle the public, but this additional attention is something we want applicants to think about.

If I am selected to receive a service dog, what is my commitment requirement?

All service and facility dog recipients are required to attend TLCAD’s Team Training. TLCAD’s 3–phase Team Training model prepares clients to effectively utilize a service dog to mitigate the symptoms of their disability and increase independence in all environments. Team Training sessions take place twice per year in the Spring and Fall, when dogs in training become ready for placement. It is important to note that phase 1 of Team Training requires that the client travel to and reside in a hotel (at their own expense) located near the Los Angeles area, for 5 days of intensive training. For more information about Team Training and requirements, click:

Service Dog Team Training

At any time during the placement process, TLCAD has the right to end the placement and retain ownership of a dog if specific guidelines, policies or criteria set forth by TLCAD are not being met.