Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Importance of a Good "Leave It"

The snow from the massive snow storm is starting to melt, but it can still be slippery out there. Floors and stairs inside can also become slick from snow that gets tracked inside on your shoes. While you’re out with your puppy in training during this time of year, one cue can mean the difference between staying on your feet and falling to the ground.


That cue is “leave it.”


SSD Elwood’s puppy raiser, Kelly Slabonik, knows the value of a good “leave it.” As she and Elwood were walking down the stairs at work, clicking and treating, one of Elwood’s treats fell out of his mouth and rolled down the stairs. Kelly immediately said, “Leave it.”


Instead of lunging down the stairs and possibly taking Kelly down with him, Elwood continued to walk calmly by her side. When they reached the step with the treat, he waiting while Kelly picked it up.


No one fell down the stairs. No one got hurt.


And Elwood got a jackpot of treats to reinforce his excellent behavior!


All of our puppies in training start learning “leave it” soon after they join their puppy raisers. It’s one of the more difficult behaviors for a dog to learn and needs to be reinforced constantly.


We start training “leave it” by holding a piece of dog food in a closed hand in front of the puppy. We click and treat when the puppy ignores the closed hand and makes eye contact with their raiser. Once the puppy is consistently doing this behavior, we make it harder by holding the food in an open hand, again clicking and treating when the puppy ignores the food.


We continue to make the behavior harder by putting the food in different places, such as on the floor, on a coffee table, or on a chair. We use different types of food and objects. The dogs practice walking past food on the floor, table, etc., both on and off leash. And then we work on ignoring food that falls to the ground in front of them.


We also train our dogs not to lunge after treats that fall out of their mouth. Dropped treats are lost treats. This is especially important for when the dog is working with their partner. We don’t want the dog to injure their partner because they were chasing after a treat.


Do you have a “leave it” story about your service dog or dog in training? Feel free to share it in the comments!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sign Up for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community!

Susquehanna Service Dogs is participating in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community again! Last year, you helped us raise over $30,000!


This year, we’re raising the bar and setting a goal of $32,000. We know that with your help, we’ll reach it!

Thanks to Highmark Blue Shield, which underwrites the entire cost of the Walk, 100% of the money you raise comes to SSD!


Registration for the Walk starts today. There are three ways you can participate:


  1. Sign up for the Walk, raise money, and walk with us on May 21.
  2. Sign up as a virtual walker and raise money. This is a great way to participate if you can’t attend the actual Walk on May 21.
  3. Make a donation.


We hope you’ll join us this year and #WalkforSSD!


Event Details



Saturday, May 21

On-site registration begins at 7:45 a.m.

5K Walk begins at 9 a.m.

One-Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m.



Harrisburg Area Community College

1 HACC Drive

Harrisburg, PA 17110



Thursday, January 21, 2016

Service Puppies on the Moon

3…2…1…Blast off! 

The seven puppies in Susquehanna Service Dogs’ Astronaut Litter have launched their journey to becoming service dogs! SSD Heide Piper (Heide), SSD Wendy Lawrence (Wendy), SSD Suni Williams (Suni), SSD John Glenn (Glenn), SSD Alan Shepard (Shepard), SSD James Lovell (Lovell), and SSD Neil Armstrong (Armstrong) are with their puppy raisers.

Each small step they take brings them closer to becoming service dogs, and they couldn’t reach their destination without their puppy raisers. For 15-18 months, raisers teach their puppy good house manners, proper behavior in public, and 25 different cues. Our raisers give the dogs the solid foundation they need to become working dogs.

Become a puppy raiser today and help a puppy’s small steps become a giant leap for someone’s independence! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thank You and Happy Holidays!

Blog post by Pam Foreman, Director of Susquehanna Service Dogs

Hello and Happy Holidays!

I want to take a moment to say a big thank you to everyone.  It is with a cheerful heart that I reflect on Susquehanna Service Dogs as 2015 comes to an end.  The reason for that involves each and every one of you.

As I contemplate, it is very clear that we, collectively, are SSD.  Each person that volunteers their time in any capacity, each person partnered with an SSD dog, each employee, and each person that provides a monetary or in-kind donation of any amount make this program what it is. There is not one component more important than the other. I hope that no matter what part you play, you understand the significance of your role in the success of the program.

I look forward to the upcoming year and find great comfort knowing I will be surrounded by such remarkable people.

I wish each and every one of you a very happy holiday season and a wonderful 2016!


Monday, December 7, 2015

Emma and SSD Kindle Make Their Big Debut on Stage

Guest blog post by Gwen Wenger. Gwen, her husband Keith, and her daughter Emma have been volunteering with SSD in many ways for several years. Emma is partnered with SSD Kindle.

SSD Kindle is not only an amazing service dog and partner, but she has now entered the world of theater! Emma is in 7th grade at Cedar Crest Middle School in Lebanon. She’s in the IU13 Multiple Disabilities Classroom with five other students. Emma and SSD Kindle have been a team for two years now, and Kindle goes to school every day with Emma to assist her in many ways and help connect her to her peers.

Cedar Crest Middle School chose Alice in Wonderland for their fall play. Emma and another classmate were given the opportunity to participate. They would be “heart children.” They were heart cards and part of a group of about 15 students who were playing the Queen of Hearts’ children. It was only at the final rehearsal that the decision was made to include Kindle onstage! The director made this last minute decision when she saw how amazingly well-behaved Kindle is. She was initially concerned that Kindle might be a distraction for the other students onstage. But it only took one time on stage to see that Kindle was a natural and complemented the cast perfectly! A first in stage history, I’m sure!

Kindle was given her own heart card costume and a red sparkly collar so she fit right in. two students also playing heart children were in charge of pushing the girls onto the stage for 3 scenes, including the finale. Every time Emma was pushed onstage, Kindle followed without hesitation and promptly “visited” on Emma’s lap or feet as the scene unfolded before her. There is no question that the audience thoroughly enjoyed Kindle’s presence onstage.

As proud as Emma’s dad and I were of our girls and their first stage debut, the best part for us was what was happening behind the scenes. The cast and stage crew was made up of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, many of whom didn’t know Emma and Kindle before the play. As I spent time backstage with them, I had the opportunity to watch Emma’s peers interact with her in an amazing way. Emma was thoroughly enjoying the entire experience from make-up to the cast party!

I had lots of chances to demonstrate what Kindle can do and how she assists Emma. There was one point when I started showing a small group of 6 or 7 students all of Kindle’s cues. When we turned around, there was a huge group of 25 or so kids watching. They particularly enjoyed when Kindle got to have a break, have her harness removed, and run around and play with them. By the end of practice, almost every student said goodbye to Emma and Kindle and told her how happy they were that she was part of the play. Not only was it a way for the students to get to know Emma, but it was a great opportunity to educate them about service dogs and their capabilities.

Now when Emma goes down the hall with Kindle, there isn’t one student that doesn’t know who they are and remember them from the play. We are so proud of both of them and are already looking forward to the spring musical!

Thanks again, SSD, for yet another opportunity to impact our daughter’s life in such a profound way!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Happy National Cat Day!

Garfunkel enjoys a beautiful day at the kennel.
Happy National Cat Day! Yes, you read that right. Today, we’re celebrating cats! Specifically, we would like to celebrate two cats—Garfunkel and Vader. These two black cats live at the kennel and help us train our service dogs.

We make sure that all of our service dogs are okay around cats. While the dogs are in training, we never know who they’re going to be partnered with. We don’t know if that person will have cats or if they have friends or family who have cats. Plus, it’s always possible to come into contact with cats outside, and the dogs need to be able to ignore them and stay focused on their partner.

Every dog in our program meets Garfunkel and Vader at some point. In fact, it’s common for one or both of them to greet you when you arrive at the kennel. (They’ve also been known to stow away in people’s cars if they leave the windows open!) Many of our puppies in training see the cats when they arrive for puppy classes or when they have playdates in our fields.

We have also recruited Garfunkel and Vader to help the dogs practice recalls. In puppy class, we play our version of golf. The puppy raiser puts their dog in a down-stay or sit in one marked square, then walks 10 meters away to a second box. The raiser then calls their dog to come. Sounds pretty simple, but then we add some distractions, like kibble, tennis balls, or one of the cats. Garfunkel or Vader will be in a crate between the dog and their puppy raiser, and the dog must trot right over to their raiser without stopping to investigate the cat.

We also deliberately introduce the dogs to the cats during their one year evaluation to see how they do.  

So our cats play a big role in our dogs’ training to help them become successful service dogs. And that’s why we’re celebrating cats today!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Team Training: When Everything Comes Together

On October 21, 2015, four people and their service dogs completed team training and became new service dog teams. We’re so excited for them and we’re looking forward to hearing about how their service dogs have changed their lives. Congratulations to our new teams!

Team training is the culmination of several years of training and countless hours by our volunteers and staff. Those tiny puppies that you watched snuggle and play on the puppy cam have grown into dedicated working dogs.

“It all comes together,” says director Pam Foreman. “When you have good dogs, good training, and good matches, it all culminates in this—an amazing team training with attentive dogs who are ready to work.”

The four dogs who are now working with their partners—Bohemia, Harlem, Tadpole, and Tazo—spent their first year and a half with volunteer puppy raisers, who taught them a series of behaviors, including sit, stay, down, heel, loose leash walking, and self control. These dogs went everywhere with their raisers, gaining valuable experiences to prepare them to go everywhere with their partners.

When the dogs were about 18 months old, they entered advanced training, where our trainers began teaching them the behaviors they would need to know to assist their partners. Each dog was individually trained based on their partner’s unique needs.

For trainers Katie Grube and Lauren Holtz, this was the first team training with dogs they had trained.

“It’s humbling to sit back and see the dog you trained in team training,” said Lauren. “So many people touched his life. My job is just to bring out his full potential so he can do what he was meant to do.”

“I have loved spending the past few weeks watching the bonds form and helping partners learn to work together with their dog,” said Katie. “This is the reason I come to work every day.”

We’re confident that Bohemia, Harlem, Tadpole, Tazo, and their partners will do well together!

Today, new dogs are starting advanced training and the next step on their journey to becoming working service dogs.

“I’m excited to train the new group of dogs coming in and improve my training based on what I learned from this team training,” said Katie.