Friday, February 9, 2018

From Puppy Hugging to Puppy Sitting

Guest blog post by Vanessa Sobotta, volunteer puppy sitter

My history of volunteering with Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD) began about 5 years ago. I had watched a friend of mine, Jane Jackson, raise SSD Topaz from a puppy, and was very intrigued by the process. Our family Golden Retriever had passed a few years prior, and my kids were begging for another dog. While our schedule wasn’t necessarily conducive to adding another pet to the family, I knew SSD had several programs that my family could partake in. Among these was puppy hugging.

The first litter we puppy hugged was the Czech litter. From the moment we sat in the pen with puppies practically rolling over us, the entire family became hooked. Any puppy is a bundle of joy—multiple puppies, however, is pure heaven.

I was subsequently introduced to their puppy sitting program. As I began to learn more about it, I felt sure that it was something my family wanted to do. I registered to be a puppy sitter, and anxiously awaited our home visit to be cleared. In the meantime, I attended the necessary classes. These classes taught the basics of puppy handling (it’s not as easy as it looks) and clicker training, a necessary part of the puppy’s training process. Once the home visit was completed and we were cleared for the program, my family and I were ready to go.

Over the past 5 years, we have been lucky enough to have a dog stay with us over the Christmas holiday. Our first, SSD Meade, was so much fun. He really got us hooked on the program. Every time we welcome a pup into our home I am in awe of the amount of love and work the puppy raisers give to their dogs. When the dogs are staying with our family, we try to take them on typical outings to help increase their comfort level with a new daily routine. Examples of these outings include kids sporting events, grocery shopping, or to work with me. Depending on the dog, they sleep in either my son or daughter’s room.  

The most surprising part of working with so many dogs is how different each of their personalities are. Some love to cuddle, while some prefer to keep to themselves. Some are goofy and playful, while others are very eager to work. If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that no two dogs are ever the same.  

We have been lucky enough to watch over 30 SSD dogs in training, some of them more than once. It’s always wonderful to hear when they move up from their raisers into advanced training, or where they have been placed, whether it be with the CIA or with their partners.  

While our family has not decided to become full time puppy raisers, we love meeting the numerous dogs and volunteers that make SSD the outstanding program that it is.

If you’d like to join Susquehanna Service Dogs as a puppy sitter or puppy raiser, you can apply online.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Raising SSD Hermione

Guest blog post by Gail Frassetta, puppy raiser

And just like that, she’s off! SSD Hermione entered advanced training, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. The journey with her has been one of the most rewarding and happy experiences for not only me, but my entire family.

We made the decision as a family to raise a service dog last June and in a matter of a few weeks, we had Hermione in our home! I must say, I was very impressed with what she already knew and was accustomed to. The whelpers (the family that took care of the litter of puppies until they were eight weeks old) did an amazing job of introducing sights, sounds, textures, and experiences to these tiny pups. The puppy manual provided by Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD) also helped us prepare to have her in our home and to start working with her until our training classes began.

SSD’s trainers guided us through each semester of training, building on and perfecting what we learned in the previous semester. But we didn’t just spend time in the classroom. As a matter of fact, as the puppies get older, some of the classes are public outings. You can’t imagine what it looks like to see 30-60 service dogs in training at Chocolate World, or walking through the streets of Gettysburg, or even at the airport! These experiences set up real life situations for the dogs to practice everything they learned in the classroom and to gain skills and experiences necessary for a good service dog.

But we didn’t stop with the experiences provided by SSD. We had to get creative to think up situations and experiences for Hermione. She learned how to be gentle with older humans and tiny humans. She learned to quietly lay under a table at a restaurant on Thanksgiving. She visited schools with hundreds of students who wanted to pet her.

Every one of these experiences helped Hermione become the dog she is today. Each experience did not go perfectly but each was a chance for her and me to learn.

As I met people throughout the year and talked with them about the great work SSD does, so many people said, “I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t give the puppy up after raising them for over a year.” I felt from the very beginning that I would be so proud to raise a puppy that could positively impact someone’s life.

My resolve was solidified when I had the opportunity to visit team training. Team training is a two and a half week period where the service dogs begin to work with the person they were matched with. I sat with a young girl who was so excited to have a dog that was trained to crawl under her legs and stand up to raise her legs above her head if she fainted.

To see these dogs and people bonding and working together confirmed for me that raising a service dog would be a rewarding experience. And it has been!

P.S. I’m ready to raise another puppy!

If you would like to become a puppy raiser like Gail, you can apply online.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

An Inside Look at Puppy Sitting

Guest blog post by Meredith Heilner, volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs

You’ve heard of babysitting. But have you ever heard of puppy sitting? I never did, either, until a co-worker introduced me to Susquehanna Service Dogs. He told me that his family had just visited a place where they were able to hug puppies for an organization which trains and raises service dogs. My co-worker thought that this would be a good way for me to get my “puppy fix,” since I wasn’t ready to get another dog at that time. When he told me about puppy hugging, I said “Wow!” I didn’t know that an opportunity like this was available and I immediately checked Susquehanna Service Dogs’ website to find out where and when I could sign up to do puppy hugging.

I quickly found many more volunteer opportunities available to help this wonderful service dog program. After my first adventure in puppy hugging, I was hooked and knew I wanted to become more involved with Susquehanna Service Dogs.  

I wasn’t ready to raise a puppy just yet, so I decided to volunteer as a puppy sitter. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as it is the best of all worlds for me. Having the ability to sit many different dogs fits my schedule very well right now. It is wonderful to see their distinctive personalities and watch their skills develop as they grow.

As a sitter, I am able to attend puppy sitting classes, as well as take the dogs to their training classes and learn how to train them, using the positive reinforcement clicker technique employed by Susquehanna Service Dogs. This gives me a chance to practice my training skills, as well. Sitters may also participate in all other volunteer opportunities available, such as demonstrations, the two by two program where volunteers puppy sit two 8-week-old puppies overnight, and others.  There is also plenty of time for play. 

My first puppy to sit was SSD Slider (now discharged) and he was the perfect introduction to puppy sitting for me. This sweet boy has a delightful personality and will always hold a special place in my heart, since he was my first official assignment. Slider ultimately chose another career as a beloved family pet, but luckily I still get to visit with him on a regular basis

I have been fortunate to work with many wonderful pups who have become great service dogs, providing independence and assistance to those in need. Part of the education process in the world of service dogs is understanding that each dog ultimately chooses his own career. While some may not become service dogs, they may be suitable for other jobs, such as working in law enforcement or the CIA. They also may be happiest as a family pet. And that’s perfectly okay, too. 

I can’t imagine not being a volunteer with Susquehanna Service Dogs. The capabilities of these dogs to give people independence they may not have had otherwise is nothing short of awe-inspiring. After witnessing this for myself, I knew I wanted to become a part of it. To be able to contribute in some small way to the development of these amazing puppies is very gratifying.

If you have a love of dogs and are willing to devote some time and effort into learning how training, love, and patience can benefit those in need, I would strongly recommend that you check into puppy sitting and the other volunteer opportunities with Susquehanna Service Dogs. 

If you would like to become a puppy sitter or puppy raiser for Susquehanna Service Dogs, apply online today!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

SSD Jitterbug's Adventures

Guest post by Sue Knode, puppy raiser

SSD Jitterbug is the seventh puppy I’ve raised for Susquehanna Service Dogs, and I think she’s the happiest puppy I’ve ever seen! Her name is SO appropriate. When her tail wags, her whole body wags! She turned 8 months in October and is a bundle of energy, cuteness, and love!

She did well at her recent evaluation. This semester in puppy class, we worked on solidifying and proofing the basics: sit, down, stay, recalls, loose leash walking, and retrieves. We also worked with the target stick and introduced the heel box. The target stick is a piece of blue tape stuck to the end of a stick. The dog is trained to touch their nose to (or target) the tape. The heel box is how SSD trains “heel.” The dog anchors their front paws on the box and move their hind legs around it.

Jitterbug’s biggest challenges have been “stay” and retrieves. She’s very good at sticking by my side, following me from room and walking close, even when we’re outside. Staying in one place while I walk away is a hard concept for this puppy. We’re working on building distance and performing with distractions. (In our house, that’s her furry buddies!)

Her favorite item to retrieve is a big old duck decoy. We’ve been working on retrieving other objects and making sure she consistently returns them to me.

Jitterbug accompanied us to Chincoteague, VA this summer on a trip in our motor home. This trip presented many new opportunities. We live in a rural area with very little traffic. The campground was busy and we had close neighbors, some with dogs. Jitterbug was shocked to learn that not every family has Labrador Retrievers!

The campground was a great place to practice loose leash walking and recalls. We found a wonderful dog-friendly beach where Jitterbug and our dog Barracks ran and swam until they were both played out. We visited restaurants, an outdoor cafĂ©, and something that Jitterbug won’t experience in Pennsylvania—a crab processing shack! She remained calm and did some nice long down-stays.

She was surprised to encounter a horse-drawn carriage in Berlin, MD, and I was surprised at how quickly she recovered and gave me her full attention. And of course, when you’re traveling with a cute puppy, there are tons of opportunities to practice greetings!

During this past semester of puppy class, Jitterbug attended two outings. The first was to the Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, PA. We gathered outside with many other SSD puppies and raisers and worked on good attention with power treats and frequent clicks. We spent about 45 minutes exploring the grounds and the various buildings. This outing presented lots of opportunities to walk on new surfaces and practice self-control around other dogs.

The second outing was the Ghosts of Gettysburg Tour. Again, we gathered outside with many other SSD puppies and raisers and working on good attention. Then we walked as a group on the tour. The biggest challenges were the other dogs, the smells, and the traffic.

The common thread for both outings was my music for the drive home—the rhythmic snoring of a very tired puppy!

Jitterbug has just started her journey to become a service dog. She’ll spend the next year with Sue, and then she’ll come to advanced training where she’ll be matched with a person and then trained specifically to assist them. You can help us fund these perfect matches on November 28 for #GivingTuesday. Our goal is to raise $7,500 in one day to fund the perfect match.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fund the Perfect Match This #GivingTuesday

There’s a big day coming up in just over one month! On November 28, we’re participating in #GivingTuesday.

If you’ve never heard of #GivingTuesday, it’s one big day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community! This year, we’re hoping to raise $7,500 to fund the perfect match between a person and their service dog.

With your help, we know we can reach that goal!

A perfectly matched service dog team works together seamlessly. The person and their service dog form a strong bond.

We put a lot of work into creating that perfect match. We want to make sure the dog fits into the person’s life and meets their needs. For example, if someone leads an active lifestyle, we want to make sure their service dog will be active and comfortable with continually changing environments.

We also look at the type of work a person needs to the dog to do so we can match them with a dog that enjoys those tasks. When a dog enjoys their work and their partner knows they enjoy it, the team can really bond and be successful.

You can read more about our matching process here.

Why is it so important to donate to Susquehanna Service Dogs this #GivingTuesday?

The perfect match can change a person’s life!

We’ve seen over and over how a service dog opens the door to opportunity. Someone who may have had to depend on other people can now enjoy their independence because they can rely on their service dog.

Nate and SSD Colorado have been a team for over a year, and not only does Colorado help Nate to be more self-sufficient, but he gives Nate’s mother peace of mind.

“As a mother, I’m now more comfortable leaving Nate home alone,” she says. “When Nate is invited out with friends, I don’t hesitate to let him go because he now has Colorado to rely on.”

We hope you’ll join us this #GivingTuesday and help us fund the perfect match to change lives!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Pre-Orientation with the Newest Members of Dickinson College Dog House

Yesterday was an exciting day, and not just because of the solar eclipse! We welcomed 12 first year students from Dickinson College to Susquehanna Service Dogs as part of their pre-orientation!

At Dickinson, incoming first year students have the opportunity to sign up for some element of campus life that interests them. They then get to come to campus early (pre-orientation) to learn about it. Or in the case of the 12 students who signed up for Dickinson Dog House, our Dogs on Campus program at Dickinson, they got to come to SSD!

Over the past two days, these students have gotten a jump start on learning how to work with our dogs in training. They toured our facility, learned clicker training, and worked with some of our dogs in advanced training.

Once their semester begins, they’ll be able to start working with our dogs at the Dog House right away.

This process also benefits our dogs in advanced training. Working with a novice handler is a great experience, especially since their future partners may also be novice handlers. The more experience our dogs can get working with handlers of varying experience, the better.

Since it started, Dickinson Dog House has raised five dogs for us and they’ve whelped three litters of puppies. The Dog House is unique among our Dogs on Campus programs. Multiple dogs live in the house with the students, and the students take turns working with the dogs. Plus, there’s a host of other Dog House club members who are trained to work with our dogs and can assist throughout the day.

These are a great group of students, and we’re looking forward to working with them over the course of their college career!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Practicing Recalls with Golf

Our puppies in training play golf to practice their recalls. No, they don’t grab a golf club and hit the links, although some of our puppies in training might be at Keystone Human Services’ annual golf tournament on September 12. Our puppies and their raisers play our own version of golf during puppy class. (For our current raisers, we’re playing golf in our green puppy classes.)

We place two hula hoops several meters apart. The raiser asks the dog to “down” inside one of the hoops. The dog must then stay there while their raiser moves to the other hoop. When they’re ready, the raiser calls the dog to “come.”

If the dog runs right to their raiser, they score a hole in one! Raisers and dogs rack up additional for every time the raiser uses the word “come” beyond the initial cue. They also earn strokes if the dog stops to greet another dog along the way.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, just like the sand traps in golf, there are obstacles in this version of golf. In each puppy class, we introduce a new obstacle. The first time it was a water dish between the two hoops. Dogs had to run by the dish without stopping for a drink.

At our last puppy class, it was tennis balls. Watch SSD Chickadee sprint right through them!

In the video, Chickadee completely ignored the tennis balls. But what would you do if you know your dog gets really distracted by tennis balls (or whatever the obstacle is)?

Set your dog up for success. Instead of trying for a hole in one, only walk a few feet away from your dog before calling them to you. Make the recall as easy as possible. It’s okay if it takes you two, three, even four or more short recalls to make it to the other hoop, as long as you’re making sure your dog can be successful with each recall.

What if your dog stops to play with a tennis ball? Don’t worry! Just go get your dog and re-cue them into a “down” somewhere where you know your dog won’t get distracted by the tennis balls (or the other dogs in training near the course). Walk as far away as you think you can go and still have your dog be successful, then call your dog.

A good recall can potentially save your dog’s life, so it’s important to practice often in many different environments with different distractions. Start small and build up so your dog can be successful. And don’t forget to give your dog a jackpot of treats when they do come to you so they learn that good things happen when they come running to you!