Training Program

All of our training methods are rooted in the philosophy of Positive Reinforcement Training. This means force-free, dog-friendly methods.

We use verbal cues, hand signals, treats, clickers, toys, and even games to teach all of our dogs. We believe that dogs deserve to be taught what we expect of them in a manner that does not break their love, faith and trust in us.

Pet Professional GuildWe are proud to be a member of the Pet Professional Guild. “The Pet Professional Guild is a membership organization representing pet industry professionals who are committed to results-based, science-based force-free training and pet care. Pet Professional Guild Members Understand Force-Free to mean: No Shock, No Pain, No Choke, No Fear, No Physical Force, No Compulsion Based Methods are employed to train or care for a pet.” We strive to uphold this training method in all the phases of training our service dogs. Our trainers believe that these methods are the most effective and humane way to help dogs and people work together to create the best service dogs possible.

Our 5 Phase Training Program

Breeder Homes | 4-Week Program

We work closely with experienced breeder homes that are passionate about assisting in the development of high-quality service dogs. These homes provide a caring and supportive atmosphere for the mother and her puppies during their first four weeks after birth.

The breeder families are responsible for providing proper nutrition, monitoring healthy weight gain and starting their worming medication. During this time, socializing the puppies is a major focus.

The Farm at Natchez Trace | 4-Week Program

Retrieving Independence has a partnership with the Franklin, Tennessee-based organization The Farm at Natchez Trace to provide a nurturing environment for the continued development of the puppies. The mother and her litter transition from the breeder home to The Farm as the puppies start five weeks of age.

Over the course of four weeks, the puppies will continue to be socialized and be exposed to various textures, sights, sounds, outdoor spaces and organized playtime. The volunteers will also oversee their potty and crate training.

Puppy Raisers | 8-Week Program

Our dedicated team of puppy raisers takes over the care management of the puppies as they leave The Farm at Natchez Trace at eight weeks of age. These volunteers provide a safe and encouraging home for the puppies for the next eight weeks of development. The puppy raisers are responsible for providing love, attention, continued socialization and proper exercise. During this phase, our training efforts are centered on capturing and rewarding good behavior.

By 16 weeks old, each puppy has learned as many as 30 commands and has gone through extensive temperament testing and health checks. We are then able to determine which puppies have the best chance of completing the program.

Turney Center | 12 to 18-month Program

At 16 weeks old, the puppies are then paired with two trainers at Turney Center Industrial Complex. There, the puppies begin their intensive training to become service dogs. The inmates are responsible for teaching standard obedience skills as well as specialized advanced assistance skills. By the end of the program, the dogs know at least 110 cues and have more than 600 hours of dedicated training sessions.

Between 12 and 16 months, the dogs are matched with a client. We ask our clients to come to the Turney Center to meet candidate dogs. Up until this point, dogs have learned the same skills and shown their affinity for particular types of work. The matching process allows dogs and clients to express their personalities and mutual attraction.

Once a match has been made, we concentrate subsequent training activities on perfecting the specific skills needed by their human partner. With each unique individual comes unique needs, and we prepare our dogs to meet those needs. Depending on maturity and development, it can be another three to six months before the dog will be ready for placement with his or her new partner.

“If I could describe in one word what Retrieving Independence’s Serving With Canines has done for me, it would have to be, change. The ability to change and bring about positive change is within us all. The willingness to see beyond our personal needs and think of others is something a lot of us have never done.” – Michael, Turney Center Trainer

“Thank you Retrieving Independence for having a dream, a purpose, a belief and a goal. Your dream of serving your community with trained service dogs that specialize in assisting the needs of their companion friends was a big one. But your goal is amazing! Through the Serving With Canines program, we train a companion, a friend for someone in need, but that companion also gives us support and unconditional love too. The program provides a way for us to give back and contribute to society.” – Rick, Turney Center Trainer

Graduation & Training Camp

After 12 to 18 months of intense training at our Serving With Canines program, our service dogs are graduated and ready to assist their new owners. As a best practice, Retrieving Independence organizes and manages a 10-day team training camp for the new owner, family members and the service dogs.

This 10-day training camp is held in the Nashville Metropolitan area. The training camp centers around the process of building a relationship with your matched dog that will result in the formation of a bond that continues to grow over time. Participants also learn skills and cues that the dog already knows, so all participants are comfortable returning to their home with their new Service Dog. Additionally, the client and dog are certified for Public Access before leaving our program.

Retrieving Independence provides hotel accommodations, most meals and a variety of outings during Training Camp. All lectures, individual instruction, practice sessions and written class materials for training camp are provided in English.

What Happens After Team Training Camp Graduation?

Retrieving Independence is committed to helping each partnership remain strong. We ask teams to return for a six-month follow-up and a one-year follow-up in Nashville. Our staff remains available for unlimited phone, email check-ups and consultations throughout the first year. We also have created a Facebook Group Page for recipients and caregivers, as a way to continue to share experiences.

At the successful conclusion of the one-year follow-up, Retrieving Independence formally transfers full ownership of our service dog to the client.