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K9 Care Montana - Can I Get a Service Dog?

It’s Not So Easy, Says David Riggs

by Jill-Ann Ouellette

David “Dogman” Riggs has spent his life dedicated to wildlife, the outdoors, and most importantly, the breeding and training of Labrador Retrievers. David has trained dogs since 1986, in over 20 states, using the training philosophy of “praise, positive reinforcement, and repetition.” He derives great pleasure in seeing an owner with a well-trained dog.

In Philipsburg, Montana, 14 years ago, David donated his first service dog to a recipient of the Helena Chapter Project Healing Waters. Additional pups from the same litter were trained and donated to other like-minded organizations. With the loss of a Philipsburg native, PFC Kyle Bohrnsen, who died on April 10, 2007, David observed an entire community in mourning and felt the need to help. Three years later, his life’s mission changed and K9 Care Montana, Inc. (K9CM) began. It’s a non–profit 501(c)(3). K9CM’s move to just outside of Livingston five

years ago now gives veterans better access to their operations. They provide service dogs at NO COST. They also offer customized, outdoor activities such as fly-fishing for wounded warriors and special-needs children with their families in a relaxing, therapeutic setting. K9CM customizes programs to meet each family’s needs and expectations in true Western fashion. They found that including service dogs makes it a unique experience, which can set the stage for confidence building and other improvements for wounded veterans and special-needs children. The personable staff will ensure an enjoyable and safe outing in one of the most beautiful, mountainous settings of Montana. Let’s answer some frequently-asked-questions that David gets about K9CM.

What does the training process look like for a dog?

K9CM takes a three-phase approach with their service dogs—Training, Experience & Maturity, which takes one and a half to three years, depending on the type of service dog.

1. When the puppy is eight-to-nine weeks old, the recipient fosters, with explicit

instructions, for bonding purposes for three months.

2. Next up is a three-to-four-month period of strict obedience training, followed by a

transition period from trainer back to owner. This is also when they take the

veterans and their dogs fly-fishing or other outdoor activities to get to know the

veteran and to better customize the dog to meet his or hers needs.

3. Finally, advanced, client-specific task training begins. Dogs learn advance tasks like

turning on lights, retrieving objects, etc. Also, through out the process they learn

about public access, which can be crossing the street, positioning themselves for

protection of the veteran, etc.

Do you only provide service dogs to wounded warriors, first responders, and children facing autism?

Yes, but due to the overwhelming response of applicants, K9CM does not have the resources to provide service dogs for demographics other than those mentioned above. They do train psychiatric service dogs, which is a specific task training to assist a handler with a psychiatric disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or autism.

What dog breeds are best?

Although they have a shelter program using some mix breeds, their primary focus is on the highest caliber of breeds: German Shepherds, English and American Golden Retrievers, Labradors and some doodles. These breeds have the best temperament for success. K9CM has established relationships with high-quality breeders through out the US. (FYI, they do not accept donated puppies.)

What disabilities can you train the service dogs to assist?

They provide dogs for autism, PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury), and mobility challenges. Although service dogs have traditionally helped people with physical disabilities such as blindness or deafness, there is a wide range of other disabilities that a service dog may be able to help with as well. Not all disabilities are visible. They specialize in psychiatric service dogs mitigating Autism and Post Traumatic Stress, along with mobility challenges.

How much does a service dog cost?

The average price for a service dog in the United States is approximately $22,000. It can range to more than $60,000 for more complex training, depending on what and how many tasks the dog is required to know in order to help mitigate the handler’s disability. K9CM covers nutrition and veterinarian bills and provides them to our recipient at no cost. In fact, all K9CM dogs, activities, and resources are provided at no cost to recipients.

On getting a service dog, it may not be so easy, but “nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.” Together we make a difference! The K9CM team and participants have experienced positive, life-changing success with our programs and events.

Since COVID, they have experienced a decrease in their volunteer base. If you love both dogs and people, consider volunteering. To contact K9CM directly, visit:


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