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! 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Love Bugs in their Service Dog in Training Harnesses


The Love Bug puppies are two weeks old today, and they’re wearing their tiny service dog in training harnesses!

Why are these puppies already wearing harnesses when they’re too young to go out in public? We start teaching all of our pups to wear the harness when they’re just a few weeks old to help prevent them from developing harness sensitivity. When they’re older, they’ll wear a harness every time they go out in public with their raisers and later their partners. We want our dogs to be completely comfortable wearing it while they work.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service dogs are not required to wear a harness that identifies them as a service dog. However, we require all of our dogs in training to wear our harness and we highly recommend that our partners have their service dog wear one. Why do we do that? Even though it’s not required by law, the harness makes it clear to the public that the dog is a service dog in training or a working service dog. It’s a clear signal to others that the dog is working and they shouldn’t interfere with them, although there is still much education to be done around service dog etiquette. (Please note that the ADA does not cover service dogs in training. However, in Pennsylvania, trainers and dogs in training are given the same access as working service dog teams.)

When working service dogs wear a service dog harness, it also reduces the likelihood that a business will challenge the person’s right to be there with their service dog, making it easier for our partners to go about their lives. The ADA gives people public access with their service dogs, which means they and their service dog can go any place that’s open to the public. This includes restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, and more. We want our service dogs to make people’s lives easier, not more challenging. 

So all of our dogs, like the Love Bugs, start wearing harnesses when they’re still tiny puppies. It’s one small step in their service dog training. And as you can see in the photo above, the puppies are already getting very comfortable in their harnesses!


If you’d like to learn more about the service dog law, you can read the service dog section of the ADA, as well as these FAQs aboutservice dogs and the ADA

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Difference a Service Dog Makes

Guest blog post by a friend of SSD Diego, a courthouse dog in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania


Dear Diego,

You proved yet again that you are a phenomenal asset to Cumberland County Children & Youth. 

As I sat in the playroom yesterday with my young friend, she became very nervous when her caseworker entered with a new caseworker and introduced her.  My young friend looked at me to help her feel better, and I did the best I could with my words.  But only a few minutes later, your handler helped you knock on the door, and before my friend even saw you, she heard the shake of your collar.  Her worries left her and with a huge smile on her face, she yelled, “Diego!” just as you stepped in the doorway. 

She remembered everything you had taught her five months ago, and she asked for your paw and a fist bump.  You obliged several times, and her smile grew.  After a couple of visits, you even let her lay her head on you while the two of you snuggled on the floor.  Then came some vigorous ball playing.  I had to leave to go to the hearing, but my friend was so focused on you, she never knew I’d left.  When I came back, your card was clutched in her hand.  As we met up with her little sister in the parking garage, she leaned over and told her all about you and that she already had a card and had asked for that one for her.  So, that was the second smile of the day you created.

You are such a sweet, loving boy, and I know this is just one moment of many each and every day.  I’m so glad you picked Cumberland County to be your home.

Keep up the great work and keep on wagging!

P.S. My friend drew this picture for you. 


If you would like to support future service dogs, please join Susquehanna Service Dogs for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community on May 20 at HACC in Harrisburg, PA. SSD is one of 48 nonprofit organizations participating in the walk. All of the money raised by our walkers comes directly to us.

Ways to participate:

1. Sign up for the Highmark Walk, raise money, and walk on May 20.
3. Make a donation.

Event Details

When
May 20, 2017
5K begins at 9 a.m.
One-Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m.
On-site registration starts at 7:45 a.m.

Where
HACC
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

#WalkforSSD