Assistance dogs, regardless of breed or job, have distinct characteristics in common. Purpose-bred and selected by schools to be friendly, loyal and loving, they all have a desire to serve and please.

Many traits contribute to success: they can follow instructions but also make independent choices when necessary; focus on specific tasks but be able to generalize to new, complicated and sometimes abstract situations; recover quickly from stressful situations; overcome natural instincts to ignore other dogs, cats, wildlife and food hand-outs from strangers; and lie quietly for hours under a table or bench when not working.

Falling short on any of these complex issues can derail an assistance dog’s career. It’s no wonder that less than 50 percent of dogs bred to assist people make it to graduation. And of those, another 10 percent are returned to the school within two years, usually…

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