TLCAD began as a small non-profit, all volunteer organization in 1998 with a goal to train Service Dogs for those seeking a fuller, more independent life. At the time, the demand was for dogs who could assist with mobility, seizures, cerebral palsy, Tourette's and hearing issues. Responding to the needs of our changing world, TLCAD now endeavors to focus their high standards of Service Dog training in two specific arenas. The first of these is the Leash-On-Life Program, developed to assist children and families who have been impacted by autism. The second is the At Ease Program, created to serve the needs of our country's Wounded Warriors.

Both programs are distinct and yet share similarities. Both are worlds of their own. Both benefit from the gift of a dog whose instincts and abilities have been schooled for service. TLCAD starts with the centuries old belief that a dog is mankind's true companion...and the benefits begin almost immediately.

Why is TLCAD's Dog Training Program unique? Because we custom train our dogs for each individual client's needs. We do not have a one-size-fits-all assistance dog program. If a child with autism has problems with running out in the middle of the street, we work with the dog to assist with this. If an Iraq veteran has issues with people standing too close in line, we train the dogs to help specifically with that. The dogs begin training at eight weeks of age, living with the trainer in their home; TLCAD does not operate a kennel operation. The volunteer trainer works with a mentor and trains the dog in the foundation cues and behaviors for 12-18 months using positive reinforcement methods. The dog's strengths are then determined and it is decided what Service Dog "job" would be best for that individual dog. Applicants needing this help from a skilled dog are interviewed, and the personality of the dog and individual are then matched. Once a match is made, the volunteer trainer works with the client and dog to determine what customized cues that recipient needs. These cues are then taught to both the client and the dog until the client-Service Dog team demonstrates proficiency in public settings.

Once the client is determined to comfortably and safely handle the dog in public, a Public Access Test is administered. After the dog-client team passes this test, the dog may live in the client's home and the client may take the dog, vested, in public, without trainer supervision. The trainer will continue to work two times weekly with the dog and client for four to six months, teaching the customized cues for that client and to ensure that the client is able to accomplish these cues effectively in a high-distraction environment. Once accomplished, a Certification Test is given and when passed, the client takes ownership of the dog. This customized training is what differentiates TLCAD from most other service dog organizations.

After certification, TLCAD sees the client monthly for six months and then provides subsequent annual evaluations for the working life of the dog.

To satisfy an unfulfilled need for Assistance Dogs in San Diego County, California, the original founders, Steven Ross Fritsche, Heather Jo Fritsche & V. Lee Wells, established an organization that would not only help fill the demand for Assistance Dogs, but would also do so with a personal touch that is not easily met by large Assistance Dog organizations: customized training.

The original founders have since moved on to new things in life leaving behind a solid foundation that has enabled TLCAD to keep their mission strong, and very much alive.

The TLCAD of today provides specially trained Assistance Dogs for people with disabilities. The organization emphasizes the well being of their dogs as well as the needs of their clients. The training process for each dog that TLCAD places with a client follows the same guideline: each trainer takes in one dog at a time and trains that dog from start to finish (a time period of approximately 24 months), and beyond placement, for the life of the dog.

TLCAD helps people the best way they know how – one at a time.

Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs, Inc. stands apart from other organizations that share their mission of improving the lives of individuals through the use of custom-trained Assistance Dogs because of the following attributes:

  • The use of Puppy Raisers is not practiced. The trainer is matched with the dog from when it is a puppy until it is ready for placement.
  • The dogs are trained and placed in the homes of the trainers and clients, as opposed to being kenneled.
  • Each trainer only works with one dog at a time until they are placed with a client to provide the best possible outcome with the most focus and attention.
  • Each client is matched with the dog that best suits their needs and only after the establishment of a concrete bond between the two. The trainers handpick different dogs to meet with the potential client for multiple sessions in order to observe the interaction of the two until the right match is found.
  • Once a trainer has placed a dog with a client, the relationship between them does not stop. The trainer is involved with the client and dog for the lifetime of the dog after being placed. Trainers are continuously working with the team to maintain and improve upon the partnership between the two for the best possible results.