About Us

The Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs (WAGS) began in 1987. WAGS mission is to promote functional independence and improved quality of life for people with physical disabilities through partnerships with highly-skilled service dogs.

WAGS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that depends on donations from foundations, local businesses and groups, and individuals. WAGS is also a donor designation agency with the United Way of Dane County.

WAGS has facilitated the partnership of more than 125 service dogs for people with physical disabilities such as:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Neuromuscular disease
  • Injuries associated with combat veterans (non-ptsd)

For our clients, a WAGS dog provides practical physical assistance by doing such tasks as retrieving dropped and out of reach items, opening and closing doors, operating light switches and buttons, tugging on/off clothing and providing unconditional love and companionship.

WAGS puppies are carefully chosen from selected breeders based on health, temperament and work drive. WAGS finds Golden and Labrador Retrievers uniquely qualified for service dog work due to their size, strength and temperament. WAGS dogs are raised, socialized and trained by volunteer trainers under the supervision of WAGS Training Director. It takes approximately two years and $12,000 to train one WAGS service dog.

WAGS considers many factors before accepting applicants as clients. At a minimum potential clients must:

  • Live within an 80 radius of Madison, WI
  • Care for the dog physically, emotionally and financially
  • Work, practice skills, and play with dog
  • Fully utilize dog’s training

WAGS has crafted and maintained a high level of program standards and ethics for more than 30 years.

Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions section for more details and general industry information.

Our mission is to promote functional independence and quality of life for individuals with physical disabilities. This is central to every aspect of WAGS, from the selection of our puppies to our client training and follow-up.

WAGS provides an unobtrusive helpmate to our clients. We select a quiet dog that isn’t too excitable so that its human partner is not constantly managing the dog’s behavior.

Our staff and volunteers know that early puppyhood education is vital to the success of these incredible helpmates.

WAGS pups are given every opportunity to become well rounded and thinking dogs. We provide our puppies with toys, games, experiences, and positive reinforcement training that helps them to develop their service dog minds.

Despite our careful selection and training, from time to time we do have a dog that, due to health or temperament, cannot be placed in any of the four WAGS dog roles.

A non-graduate dog is usually released between 1-2 years of age. They are spayed or neutered and are currently on vaccinations.

If you are interested in adopting a non-graduate dog, fill out a non-graduate application.

WAGS dogs that pass their final evaluation will go on to become teammates with individuals who have requested a WAGS dog and completed our entire application process. We match one of our fully trained dogs with a qualified individual who has similar personality characteristics.

Our client services include a training class at the WAGS facility followed by specialized training in the home and environment. We will teach the entire range of dog handling skills necessary for each team to be successful.

Our services do not end there. WAGS has a comprehensive follow up program to ensure the continued success of every team.


Aaron Backer, Executive Director Aaron Backer joined WAGS as Executive Director in June 2008. For more than 20 years Aaron has worked in leadership positions at non-profit organizations that work directly with children, youth and families. Aaron has accumulated valuable experience in fundraising, program development and non-profit administration at each of these organizations, utilizing these… Continue reading Staff