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Expert tips and behind-the-scenes looks at the service dog industry.

As a nonprofit founded on the pioneering concept of increasing the availability of support dogs through the husbandry and nurturing of world-class puppies, we know there are many remarkable reasons why a Labrador Retriever can be an outstanding support dog.

Before discussing these many wonderful traits, let's look at the history of this remarkable breed.

 Labrador Retriever

1. History of the Breed.

It originates in the Newfoundland region of eastern Canada and the St. John’s Bay region and is descended from the Lesser Newfoundland or the St. John’s water dog. (Not to be confused with the Newfoundland dog, which has also become a family companion breed.)

It has been speculated that the St. John’s dog was a random mix of English, Irish and Portuguese working dogs. Given the geography of the region where these dogs lived, fishing was the predominant trade. The service dog was a medium-sized, stocky dog with water-resistant fur.

The St John’s water dog’s temperament and working drive led them to become favored by fishermen in the region. The dogs would jump into the icy cold waters and retrieve fishing nets, ropes, and even fish that got off of a fisherman’s hook.

Unfortunately, combining policies led to the breed’s ultimate extinction in the 1980s. Those policies included an attempt to encourage sheep farming in the region and the restrictions and taxes placed on dog ownership in the region.

2. Importing Labrador Retrievers to England.

 Labrador Retriever

Fortunately, specimens of it found their way to England in the early 1800’s. St John’s dogs were imported into England by the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury. He came to breed and refine the dog for upland game and duck hunting on his estate.

Later, he donated some specimens to the 5th and 6th Dukes of Buccleuch, and breed refinement into the dog we know today as the Labrador Retriever.

One story has it that a servant of the Earl saw a young boy playing with a couple of dogs on the docks where the trade ships would come to port. The boy was throwing a ball into the water, and the dogs would continually jump into the water and return the ball to him. When the servant reported the news about the dogs he saw to the Earl, it was suggested that he wrote to the Governor in Canada asking him to send a couple of his finest specimens to him in England.

3. Refining the Labrador Retriever Mix Breed.

 Labrador Retriever

There were a number of great early dog breeders that worked to develop it into what it is today. One of the more famous dogs from the earliest twentieth century was Banchory Bolo. He left his “mark” on the breed in a number of ways.

One of those ways was with offspring that carried what became known as “Bolo marks,” which are little patches of white on the bottom of the front feet, feet, chest, and chin.

Great breeders continued to refine Labrador Retrievers over the years. The breeder that had perhaps the greatest impact on the breed we know today was Mrs. Gwen Broadley, owner of Sandylands Kennel in England.

Mrs. Broadley passed away in 1999, but her dogs can be found generations back in the pedigrees of most champion dogs of the breed in the United States. Her work, along with the great breeders today, is the reason why it is the best for service work.

Biggest Reasons Why it is The Best Breed for Service Work

 Labrador Retriever

1. Working desire

Since the beginning, the breed was developed to be a working dog. Labradors are a breed that works in close proximity to their master. (In fact, at their very side.) In contrast, herding dogs or sighthounds work away from their master.

Service dog training requires a drive to work and the ability to accomplish tasks for an owner, like retrieving dropped items, opening doors by tugging on them, and turning lights on and off, among many other things.

People have come to distinguish between the American Field dog and the bench or conformation dog. The American Field dog is bred primarily for a high drive to work, while conformation is secondary. The bench or conformation dog is more of a gentleman's hunting dog.

These dogs are as happy out in the field with its owner as it is lying at the foot of its owner while they read a book.

2. Trainability

As the breed was refined over the years, breeders sought to produce Labrador retriever puppies that wanted nothing more than to please their owner by performing the tasks it was asked to do.

By continuing to breed sires and dams that exhibited this trait, today’s breed possesses a desire to please that makes them ideal for support dog training—always wanting to be with their person and please in any way possible.

3. Outstanding Temperament

They are confident yet forgiving dogs that can adapt to almost any environment if they receive the proper nurturing, socialization, and training during life's critical or sensitive phases.

4. Intelligence

The intelligence of this breed makes the dogs very well-equipped to master the variety of tasks involved in service dog training.

The hallmarks of the breed are its large, “blocky” head, thick dense coat, webbed feet, and otter tail. While most of these traits allow for increased physical ability, the blocky head allows for a larger brain—making the dogs an extremely smart breed.

In fact, Stanley Coren, a researcher noted for work investigating the intelligence of different dogs, ranked it as the 7th most intelligent breed out of more than 100 other breeds!

5. Size & Strength

It is a short, coupled, stocky breed of dog. Male Labradors should stand between 22.5 and 24.5 inches at the withers, while females should stand 21.5 to 23.5 inches at the withers. Males should weigh between 70 and 80 pounds, while females typically weigh 65 to 75 pounds.

Size and strength are two important factors in training a service dog because they need to accomplish tasks like getting up on a wall to turn lights on and off, tugging doors open and closed, and allowing their owner to brace on them if they have a mobility issue. (Some service dogs even pull their owner in a wheelchair, making size and strength imperative!)

Understanding the Importance of Outstanding Pedigrees

 Labrador Retriever

While the reasons listed above apply to the breed at large, it’s important to remember that not all puppies with this breed will possess the same traits. When searching for a Labrador Retriever puppy or young dog to bring into support dog training, be sure to work with a breeder whose dogs have a proven success record training over the years—in addition to the attributes listed above—as well as a structured puppy nurturing, socialization, and early training program.

These factors are the core of Project 2 Heal’s puppy husbandry program and why our puppies are so successful in training for veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities across the country.

Join Our Community & Learn More

In addition to our mission of increasing the availability of assistance dog to veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities, Project 2 Heal strives to educate people about the increasing need for quality, ready-to-learn puppies for support dog training.

Most training organizations have no breeding program, typically leaving no choice but to train dogs taken from shelters. Unfortunately, on average, only 1 out of 12 shelter dogs becomes a successful support dog.

This inefficiency leads to costs ranging from $25,000— $40,000 and waiting periods of up to 4 years. (For a veteran with PTSD at risk of suicide, this is far too long.)

Project 2 Heal aims to bridge this gap through the expert husbandry and nurturing of world-class Labrador Retriever puppies, purpose-bred and donated to support dog training organizations across the country. Since 2011, we’ve bred and nurtured more than 500 puppies, and between 65%—75% are successful in dog training.

Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about our work breeding, nurturing, and donating world-class breeds of dogs for support dog training!

Updated: May 12

Sponsoring the training of an assistance dog for a veteran is one of the best ways to help our nation’s disabled veterans receive the support they need to recover from PTSD.

They may need a mobility dog, psychiatric assistance dog, or a fully trained one that also provides emotional support. In addition, sponsoring the nurturing and obedience training of a puppy bred to become a service dog is vital.

At Project 2 Heal, there are many ways to become involved in supporting our work.

Service Dog for a Veteran

1. Naming and Sponsoring a Puppy.

One of the easiest and most exciting ways to help provide an assistance dog to veterans is to sponsor and name a Project 2 Heal puppy! Most service dog training organizations have no breeding program, generally leaving no choice but to train dogs taken from shelters.

Unfortunately, on average, only 1 out of 12 shelter dogs becomes a successful assistance dog.

Labrador Retriever puppies bred, nurtured, and donated by Project 2 Heal are exponentially more successful in training than dogs taken from shelters. (Approximately 65%-75% of our puppies trained nationwide become successful assistance dogs.)

When you sponsor a Project 2 Heal puppy, not only do you get to honor a loved one by naming the dog for someone in your life, but your donation allows us to nurture them with proven development processes, critical socialization, and obedience training—each central to a puppy’s success in service dog certification.

When you name and sponsor a Project 2 Heal puppy, you’ll receive video updates on their progress and professional portraits of it and its siblings.

2. Join Our Army of Healing Pawtners.

Service Dog for a Veteran

When you support our mission of marking assistance dogs more available to veterans in need, you’re truly becoming a soldier for a soldier. Given the impact we know a dog can make in the lives of disabled veterans, we aptly refer to our monthly donors as our Army of Healing Pawtners.

Many of these generous donors choose to honor a loved one through their monthly donation— often a veteran in their own life. We offer a variety of donation levels when you register as a “Healing Pawtner.” You can choose from three levels: Captain, Lieutenant, and Sergeant.

Each of these levels incorporate various monthly donation levels, but each member of our Army of Healing Pawtners will receive a branded Project 2 Heal hat, a “paw-tograph” from a Project 2 Heal puppy, updates on their progress as our puppies are donated to assistance dog training organizations, and a Healing Pawtners car magnet to display proudly.

3. Sponsor a Full Litter of Puppies.

Service Dog for a Veteran

Ever wanted to name an entire litter of future service dogs? Project 2 Heal offers the option of sponsoring a litter of our puppies, each of which are primed for dog training through our proven development process.

Each year, several generous donors passionate about helping disabled veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities sponsor an entire litter of puppies to help provide necessary nurturing, socialization, and obedience training.

Each of the wonderful benefits of sponsoring an individual puppy applies when you sponsor an entire litter — you’re just increasing your impact in making assistance dogs more available to people in need!

4. Sponsor a Fundraising Event.

Service Dog for a Veteran

For many nonprofit service dog organizations, an annual fundraising event is a primary source of funding. Each year, Project 2 Heal hosts an annual Putt for Pups golf tournament, all proceeds of which benefit our mission of increasing the availability of assistance dogs for veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities.

This event is a great opportunity for businesses across the country to generate corporate goodwill in support of our work for veterans and other people in need of assistance dogs.

5. Sponsor Training of a Service Dog at a Partner Organization.

Service Dog for a Veteran

While Project 2 Heal firmly believes in sponsoring the nurturing and socializing of our puppies' experience through our program, we also recognize the important role sponsorship plays for our partner assistance dog training organizations.

For those interested in sponsoring the training of a Project 2 Heal puppy once donated to one of our partner organizations that work heavily with veterans and many other people in need:

Fidos for Freedom

The organization with which we have our longest-running partnership, Fidos for Freedom has a 90% success rate with our puppies. Many wonderful veterans have received fully trained service dogs donated to Fidos for Freedom by Project 2 Heal, including Ryan Kules and Brian McCrady.

K9s for Warriors

K9s for Warriors is the largest provider of assistance dogs to veterans in the United States.

Freedom Service Dogs of America

Demonstrating the nationwide need for our work, Freedom Service Dogs of America is located in Englewood, Colorado.

Sponsor a Future Assistance Dog for a Veteran Today.

When you sponsor a Project 2 Heal puppy, you’re helping to provide nurturing, socialization, and obedience training critical to their success in assistance dog training.

Thanks to your contribution, disabled veterans with physical and emotional challenges will benefit from the increased availability of assistance dogs. Become a soldier for a soldier today and join our Army of Healing Pawtners.

If you’re a supporter of American veterans, you probably think a lot about how you can help heal a veteran with PTSD or physical disability — and for a good reason. Thousands of veteran soldiers return home from the battlefield each year, wounded either physically or mentally.

Along with any physical challenges resulting from injuries or loss of limb, many of them suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, including hypervigilance, night tremors, outbursts of anger, and heightened cortisol levels — often leading to veteran suicide.

While there are many great ways to connect our nation’s heroes with housing, employment opportunities, and necessary medical care, did you know that a trained service dog actually qualifies as a recognized medical device? Furthermore, a recent study by Purdue University— the leading authority in the human-canine bond—found that a service dog can reduce each of the symptoms listed above, potentially saving veteran lives.

Proven Relief for Veteran Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Many veterans return home unable to quickly resume the civilian life they once knew due to the complicated PTSD symptoms caused by combat trauma. In addition, anxiety and depression can often drive a veteran to isolate and seldom leave their home, which unfortunately further exacerbates the issue. Take the story of Brian McCrady, for example.

Brian is a retired Army medic whose life was dramatically altered in 2003 after falling 15 from a truck during a tour of Iraq. The accident left him with a terrible neurological movement disorder called dystonia, which causes abnormal posturing and curing in his spine.

Making matters worse, Brian also had severe PTSD, which caused him to withdraw from society even after returning home to live with his family. Like so many other veterans returning from combat with this condition, he began to isolate and would rarely leave the house.

Then, a monumental step for him happened. After learning about the impact a service dog had in the life of a friend, he decided to apply for one himself, resulting in a life-changing partnership with a Labrador Retriever named Chauncey.

“He’s given me back a voice that I had before in terms of advocacy, outreach, and doing things for other people.” Brian has stated. Most succinctly however, Brian says, “At first, I thought I was going to get better, and things would just go back to normal. It wasn’t until I received Chauncey that I realized I was just going to have a new me.”

Bred, nurtured, and donated by Project 2 Heal, Chauncey was trained by Fidos for Freedom, a service dog training organization based in Laurel, Maryland. Brian’s partnership with Chauncey has been entirely transformational, allowing him to lose more than 50 pounds and quit using four different medications he was previously prescribed.

Helping Veterans Regain Independence

In addition to helping veterans gain freedom from this crippling disorder, these incredible dogs are well known for their impact in assisting many veterans to achieve independence from physical disability.

“I lost my right arm, and sometimes zippers can be pretty difficult,” said Captain Ryan Kules, USA, Ret. Along with his right arm, the explosion he survived during deployment in Iraq also took his left leg. In addition to extensive therapy to re-learn how to walk and write, his service dog Griff has been vital to his recovery.

“Griff can hold the bottom of the jacket for me while I zip it up. Some of the daily things you wouldn’t even think about it’s really beneficial. It’s something that helps me keep my body as good as it’s gonna be for as long as it’s gonna be. It’s a real comfort to know that he’s there to help me with that stuff.”

Like Brian McCrady’s service dog Chauncey, Griff was also donated to Fidos for Freedom by Project 2 Heal.

Helping Veterans Regain a Sense of Purpose

After years in military service, our veterans are mission-oriented individuals. So, it’s no wonder many veterans experience hypervigilance, extreme anxiety, and depression after returning from service because they have often spent years training to accomplish a highly specific mission. It requires constant vigilance, acute attention to surroundings, and a willingness to lay down one’s life to advance the mission or protect a fellow soldier.

While the horrors of war are certainly never missed, veteran soldiers often leave military service with a sense of duty so deeply ingrained that they feel devastating meaninglessness once they return to civilian life. In the case of veterans who have a physical disability or loss of a limb, this depression can be compounded by a literal sense of no longer being able to accomplish the same routine tasks they were once able to carry out.

“Knowing that I’m able to take care of my service dog, Griff, and I’m responsible for all of his needs, be it food or bathroom-ing or that kind of thing, gives me some more confidence to know that I’m responsible for him and he’s taking care of me. That I can still do that and still be responsible for something that really relies on me to take care of him, which is a confidence builder for me, being someone that was a little bit banged up.”

Helping to Reduce their Cost

The cost of training a service dog typically ranges from $25,000—$40,000. It is because most dog training organizations have no breeding program, typically leaving no choice but to train dogs taken from shelters. Unfortunately, on average, only 1 out of 12 shelter dogs becomes a successful service dog.

Project 2 Heal works to bridge this gap through the expert husbandry and nurturing of world-class Labrador retriever puppies, purpose-bred and donated to training organizations nationwide. By sponsoring one of these great dogs through Project 2 Heal, you’re helping to increase the availability of quality puppies ready to be trained for service work, therefore reducing its cost to a veteran in need.

Helping to Reduce the Waiting Period

According to K9s for Warriors, the country's largest provider of service dogs to veterans, the wait to have one dog now ranges from two to four years. For a veteran struggling with such a condition, this is a very long time to wait for this treatment, proven to reduce depression, anxiety, and other symptoms. By sponsoring a Project 2 Heal puppy, you're helping to reduce this lengthy waiting period and allow veterans to improve their mental health much more quickly.

Join the Fight Against Veteran PTSD

When you support our mission of increasing the availability of service dogs to veterans and others in need, you're directly helping to improve veterans' mental health nationwide. The symptoms of this condition can have crippling effects on those who've bravely served our country. Your monthly donation of any amount is truly a contribution toward a cure—the proven PTSD treatment of a trained labrador retriever.

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