World Class Service Dogs

Not every dog can be a NEADS Service Dog. It takes a very specific disposition to graduate from our program. Our dogs must be people oriented, sociable, friendly, and well-mannered. NEADS pups must also be able to work in all environments and be able to recover from stressful situations seamlessly. The three pillars of our World Class Service Dogs are: Purpose Breeding, Healthcare, and Training.

Purpose Breeding

In our earliest days, when our dogs came from shelters and private breeders, our graduation rate was well below 50%. In 2000, we introduced purpose-bred puppies from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and other respected Service Dog organizations into the mix. It soon became evident that by focusing on dogs with specific temperaments and excellent health, we could increase our graduation rate to over 50%.

Purpose breeding is the next step in our evolution and allows us to create an environment in which we have more control of our destiny. Purpose-bred dogs – obtained through our own breeding program and from other Service/Guide Dog organizations - allow us to better control for temperament, health, and overall suitability for Service Dog work. This is key to ensuring that we can get more dogs through training and place more dogs with people in need.

Our breeding program allows us to increase our pool of purpose-bred Service Dogs. Early socialization exposes the puppies to different surfaces, people, sounds and objects. Progressive socialization continues throughout the pup’s training to make sure that when they are matched with a client, they are experienced and confident.

Shelter and Rescue Dogs: Some of the dogs that NEADS trains to be Hearing Dogs are acquired from animal shelters and rescue groups throughout New England. NEADS specifically seeks high-energy dogs who are alert, attentive and engaged. Many dogs with these qualities end up in shelters because people lose patience with them.


At NEADS, the health and well-being of our dogs is crucial. From the moment they arrive on campus, our dogs have consistent health monitoring that continues throughout their training. This includes routine exams and care, orthopedic screenings, and vaccinations. NEADS partners with over three dozen veterinary practices and has five veterinary clinics within prison facilities to provide care for the dogs in training. NEADS understands how important maintaining a proper weight is to a healthy dog, we encourage our clients to follow best practices of a controlled diet and regular exercise.


NEADS Dogs are trained to perform tasks and behave obediently through the use of positive reinforcement and clear leadership. We select dogs that are natural followers, so it is easy to guide them into choosing behaviors that we like in order to reward them. Learn more about Training here.



PLEASE NOTE: NEADS exclusively trains dogs that we get as puppies here on campus. Assistance Dogs International has a list of organizations across the US, some of which will train your own dog. For more information, please visit Assistance Dogs International.

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What Makes a World Class Service Dog Team

  • Bonnie (3)
    World Class Service Dogs

    Most NEADS dogs are purpose bred for temperament, health and personality traits best suited for Service Dog work. Some hearing dogs are acquired from animal shelters and rescue groups.

  • dogs in training
    Dog Training

    NEADS Dogs are trained to perform tasks and behave obediently through the use of positive reinforcement and clear leadership. Socialization starts as soon as the puppies arrive in the Nursery and Early Learning Center, and continues in correctional facilities in MA and RI as part of our Prison PUP Program.

  • matching process
    Matching Process

    The more we understand about your lifestyle and expectations, the better we can pair you with a dog that fits with you. The matching process includes an online application and a comprehensive, in-person interview.

  • Ahh...the fond days when Edison and I were first getting to know each other. My trainer was working with us so I could learn how to structure his playtime. He was having a blast and I absolutely loved learning about my new helper! #day139of365
    Client Training

    Clients spend one to two weeks at the NEADS campus learning how to work and live with their new Service Dog. Our trainers work closely with the new partners to ensure the match is a strong one.

  • (042918 Fitchburg, MA) Derek Blake, 9 1/2 kisses his social dog Jean during NEADS service dog graduation ceremony in Fitchburg on Sunday,April 29, 2018. Staff Photo by Nancy Lane

    Twice each year, we honor our most recent Service Dog teams, celebrating the partnership between a client and his or her Service Dog.

  • (Photo: Mary Silva)
    Support for the Live of the Dog

    NEADS is invested in the success of each Service Dog team and offers ongoing support for the life of the dog.