Monday, September 15, 2014

First Vacation with SSD Kindle

Guest post by Gwen Wenger

We had our first vacation with Kindle. We went to the beach for four days. She exceeded our expectations! She was on the floor of the backseat of the car for the two hour drive from my sister’s house to the beach. She slept. She did great!

Kindle was a little unsure of the room at first and was sniffing and investigating all over for the first half hour. After that, she reacted like she does when she gets home. She was content with the blankets, toys, and her family. She also did great on the three hour trip home, where she laid on the seat beside Emma. I realized that she works a LOT when we are on vacation because of how little time is spent in the room. She handled this beautifully! She followed cues and she was startled by NOTHING. She sat by the edge of the pool with one of us while Emma was in the pool with the other.

Kindle slept under tables beautifully at all the many restaurants and ice cream places we went. She greeted strangers appropriately. Our biggest concern was the actual beach. We took her out in the evening for the first time. The sand was cooler and there weren’t many people. She was so much to watch as the waves washed up. She did the sweetest thing. After experiencing the waves for five minutes, she turned around and ran up to Emma in the stroller, hopped into “lap” position, and licked Emma excitedly before running back to the waves. She was very clearly telling Emma ALL about it and wanted to share it with her. It was so sweet!

When we took Emma to the edge of the waves in her little beach chair, Kindle followed cues to stay with her girl. Needless to say, lots of people has smiles on their faces everywhere we went.

We also saw other dogs in some of our activities. Kindle was a bit distracted with one, but with more treating, she stayed on point. She had an opportunity to actually greet another dog and visit a little. She did great, and I was pleasantly surprised she kept going back and visiting Emma without being cued during the interaction.

Another favorite part for me was when Emma would come out of the pool and sit in a lounge chair. We would have Kindle jump up and block Emma by staying in a down position at the bottom of the lounger. Too cute and very helpful!

We went miniature golfing. Kindle stayed right with Emma’s stroller as we went from green to green. She was so cute! At one point, she nosed a ball toward the hole. It was Keith’s [Gwen’s husband]. She was bribed, I’m sure!

After returning to our room twice, we let Kindle show us where it was, and she went right to the door every time. We had lots of great elevator practice, too. She was taking some pretty serious naps under the table by the end of the trip. She was pooped!

Kindle also enjoyed her own cup of ice cream at Stewart’s Original Root Beer Eatery. Great trip and we should expect nothing less from Kindle. She is an amazing dog!

Gwen and Keith's daughter Emma is partnered with SSD Kindle. The Wengers have also volunteered with SSD as puppy sitters, and they recently whelped the "C" litter. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

26 Cues

When our puppy raisers are handed one of our puppies, they become responsible for training that dog for the first 12-18 months of his life. Puppy raisers teach the dogs the basic service dog cues and good house manners, as well as take the dogs out in public to gain as many experiences as possible. But what are these basic cues? For a service dog, the basics involve a little more than “sit” and “stay.”

Our puppy raisers are responsible for teaching their puppy 26 cues. We cover 10 of these cues in puppy class. The other 16 are detailed in the puppy manual that each puppy raiser receives, and raisers can always ask one of our trainers or veteran puppy raisers for help with a cue. We’re always happy to help!

Here are the 26 cues that form the foundation of every Susquehanna Service Dog:

All the way up
The dog puts all four paws on an object.

The dog walks 5-7 steps backward. Dogs that don’t know “back” will be limited in their placement. For example, a dog that doesn’t know “back” can’t open a door and therefore can’t be placed with someone in a wheelchair.

“Car” cues the dog to jump into the car. The dogs need to practice getting in and out of cars, vans, SUVs, trucks, etc., and they should be able to get in through any door, including the trunk in a van or SUV.

Recalls (come)
A good recall can save a dog’s life. Our dogs practice recalls inside and outside in many different situations and environments.

Comfort trainer
Depending on their placement, a dog may wear a comfort trainer. For example, all of our balance dogs wear comfort trainers to give their partners more control over the dog. We want to make it as easy as possible for our partners to dress their dog for work, so we train our dogs to put their snout through the comfort trainer and hold it there while their partner secures it.

The dog lies down and rolls their hip.

“Easy” cues the dog to take treats nicely. This is especially important if the dog is going to be placed with a child.

The dog untangles himself from the leash.

Get busy
The dog potties on cue, on any surface on and off leash. Again, this is an important cue. We never know where a dog is going to be placed. A dog living in the city won’t necessarily have the luxury of a nice patch of grass, so they’ll need to be comfortable going on concrete or asphalt.

Get dressed
This is another cue that’s helpful for partners who have limited mobility. On cue, the dog puts his head through the harness and stands still while it’s buckled.

Go on through
The dog goes through an opening, turns around, and looks that the handler, without pulling to the end of the leash. “Go on through” can be used to go through doorways, maneuver through aisles or other tight spaces, or even simply have the dog turn around in an open space.

Go to bed
We have found that many of our partners use the “go to bed” cue. “Go to bed” means the dog goes to a designated bed or towel, lies down, and stays there until released. Our facility dogs perform this cue a lot when they’re not needed with the students. It also lets the dog know that it’s time to relax.

On the cue “heel,” the dog moves to stand on the handler’s left side. “Heel” takes a long time to train because there are so many steps to it. We train it using a box. The dog puts her front paws on the box and we click and treat her for moving her back feet around the box.

The dog walks into her crate and stays there, regardless of whether the door is open. The dog should be able to do this whether or not the handler is in the room. All of our dogs are crate trained, and while the dog is in the crate, she should be quiet and relaxed, even if there are other activities going on around her.

Every single dog that we place learns this behavior, and it’s a favorite among our partners. On cue, the dog rests her front legs in the handler’s lap. The dog should be able to do this from either side. Lap can be used to give pressure to relieve anxiety, or as a way to a dog to deliver an item to someone in a wheelchair. It’s also a great way for handlers to pay attention to their dog.

Leave it
“Leave it” is a behavior that never ends. We are always working on it with our dogs. A good “leave it,” like a good recall, can save a dog’s life. We start training this cue by holding a piece of kibble in a closed fist and clicking the dog for looking away from the fist. Eventually, the dog should be able to walk by anything interesting on the floor, tables, chairs, etc. and ignore it. We encourage our puppy raisers to continue practicing all of the steps, even if their dog has a solid “leave it.” In Team Training, we show our partners how to work on “leave it” from the very beginning steps, and it’s always easier to have a dog that remembers it.

Let’s go
The dog begins to walk next to her handler.

At Susquehanna Service Dogs, the dog’s name is a rewardable cue. Whenever our puppy raisers say their dog’s name, the dog should look at them and they should be rewarded for it. This is why we don’t train a “look at me” type cue. The dog’s name is the cue to look at their handler.

“Off” should only be used if a dog has put their paws on something they’re allowed to be on. For example, if you invite them up on the couch and now you want them back on the floor, you would say “off.” You could also use it to ask your dog to leave your lap. “Off” should not be used if the dog is doing something they shouldn’t be doing. For example, if they put their paws up on the counter. In that case, you would simply take their collar and guide them off the counter without a cue.

“Okay” is the word that releases a dog from a behavior. For example, we use it to tell a dog they can come out of their crate, and we use it to release a dog to eat.

The dog puts their paw in your hand. This can be a useful cue for nail clipping and grooming.

“Side” is the opposite of “heel.” The dog moves to stand next to their handler on the right side. We teach it the same way we teach “heel.”

“Sit” is probably one of the most basic cues. It’s also one of the easiest cues to forget to practice once a dog learns it. However, it’s important to continue practicing solid sits so that the dog actually does a “sit” rather than sliding right into a “down.”

“Stay” tells the dog to remain exactly where they are. The dog should be able to perform this behavior in a sit, down, and stand. There are two types of stays. One is a cued “stay” where the dog stays alert to his handler. The other is a relaxed stay that may or may not have been cued. The handler is busy doing something else, and the dog just relaxes in a down and maybe even falls asleep.

The dog stands with no movement. The dog shouldn’t stand and then sit, or stand and move around. To get a solid stand, delay the click after giving the cue. The dog will most likely stay still until they hear the click. Then simply delay the click longer each time so you’re actually clicking for the standing and waiting in that position.

The dog goes under an object, such as a bench, table, or chair. Even big dogs can fit until low benches and chairs. “Under” gets the dog out of the way of other people that may be passing by. It keeps people from tripping over the dog, and it protects the dog from being stepped on.

The dog puts two paws on an object. It can be hard for a dog to distinguish between “up” and “all the way up,” so it may be helpful to practice “up” against a wall and just have the dog put their feet against the wall.

Visit is another favorite of our partners. Every single one of our dogs learns this behavior. On cue, the dog puts her head in the handler’s lap or hand. 

When our dogs enter advanced training already knowing all of these cues, they can jump right into the more advanced cues they’ll need to assist their future partners. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Whelping a Litter of Puppies for the First Time

The Jackson family thought that whelping a litter of puppies in their home would be a fun thing to do.

Turns out, they were right.

The Jacksons are whelping their first litter of puppies, the D litter. Dexter, Dory, Dudley, Duke, Delilah, Diesel, Dewey, and Diego just turned six weeks old, and they’ve been living with the Jacksons since they were three days old. The mom, GEB Boise from Guiding Eyes for the Blind, gave birth to the eight puppies on June 25 at the SSD kennel.

“Who doesn’t want a litter of puppies in your house?” said Jane Jackson. Besides seeing these adorable puppies sleeping and hearing their little puppy noises when they dream, her favorite things about whelping a litter is having puppy huggers visit her home and sharing information about Susquehanna Service Dogs with them. She also loves watching the puppies make progress. For example, one puppy wasn’t comfortable being alone, but then one day did fine by himself. Another puppy walked along the teeter-totter and managed to stay on all four paws.

Caring for a litter of puppies isn’t all puppy snuggles and playtime, though. There’s a good bit of work involved. We keep track of a lot of information about the pups, including their weight, and that means lots of note-taking. And of course, they’re puppies, so there’s always something to clean, whether it’s the whelping box, a puppy, or the puppies’ toys. The toys and objects are rotated through the whelping box so the pups gain exposure to a variety of new objects, and every time a toy is removed, it needs to be cleaned.  

Each day, the puppies need to be exposed to something new, such as crate time, visiting other rooms, new toys and objects, and different smells, surfaces, and sounds. The Jacksons have a white board with a to-do list for the pups, as well as a chalkboard to keep track of which puppies have already been taken care of. It’s different than raising one puppy, says Jane. There are eight puppies to expose to clicker training.

“You don’t really have any idea what you’re getting into until you actually do it,” she said. “It’s like having kids. There are certain rules you have to follow for SSD, but you also have to figure out how to make it easy for yourself. You need to think outside the whelping box.”

The Jacksons and the Wengers, another first-time whelping family who’s caring for the “C” litter, have been paired with two of our experienced whelpers. Susan Tyson and Diane Bohenick, both of whom have whelped numerous litters for us, are just a phone call or text away, and they have lots of tips for the first-time whelpers. For example, Susan suggested using baby food as a treat for the puppies. That way, you can just dip your finger into the jar and let the pups lick it off. Jane has been using chicken and rice or beef vegetable baby food for the “D” puppies. Diane and Susan also suggested having an outdoor space for the puppies.

Taking care of eight puppies is time-consuming, and our other volunteers offered some tips that have been real time-savers. For example, at least half of the whelping area is covered in newspaper, and this section serves as a pottying area for the pups. We’re always collecting newspapers for the puppies. However, one of our volunteers, Betsy Smith, rolls the newspaper rather than folding it, which makes it very easy to grab one or two sheets. The Jacksons also bought a large piece of vinyl to protect their hardwood floor in the puppies’ area. A lot of people may be hesitant to whelp a litter because they’re worried the puppies will mess up their house. But the puppies don’t really mess up the house, said Jane.

“Susan and Diane made it look easy and fun,” said Jane. “And the Ds are very laid back. They sleep a lot.”

Thank you to the Jacksons and the Wengers for taking care of the “C” and “D” puppies for the first eight weeks of their lives!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

New Service Dog Teams

This week is International Assistance Dog Week, a week devoted to celebrating assistance dogs and the many ways they change people’s lives. We started celebrating a little early this year because last Friday, three people passed the public access test with their new service dogs. SSD Ottawa and SSD Slate are now working service dogs, and SSD Boomerang is a facility dog in a school. And in June, four more dogs were placed—SSD Beaker, SSD Brooklyn, SSD Falstaff, SSD Hamlet, and SSD Seifert.

These dogs and their partners spent two weeks in Team Training learning how to work together. They started by practicing the most basic skills, such as attention, sit, down, and stay, and moved on to the specialized skills and behaviors each dog learned specifically for their partner.

Congratulations to all of our new service dog teams! We’re looking forward to hearing stories about your new service dogs.

We mentioned that our new teams passed their public access test, which means we have certified that their service dog meets certain standards. The dog will be able to go anywhere in public with their partner—restaurants, movie theaters, amusement parks, post offices, grocery stores, etc. Even though the dogs are allowed by law to accompany their partners in public, not everyone knows and understands the law. Service dog teams are often denied access because people don’t understand that service dogs are not pets.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lays out the law for service dogs. These ADA requirements are available online.

Here’s a quick overview of the ADA as it pertains to service dogs:
  • Service dogs perform tasks or do work for people with disabilities. Service dogs are not pets.
  • Any business, nonprofit, or state and local government that serves the public must allow service dogs to accompany people with disabilities everywhere the public is normally allowed to go. This means, for example, that a person with a service dog cannot be seated in the back of a restaurant far away from the other patrons.
  • Service dogs must be under the control of their handler.
  • Other people can only ask two questions about a service dog: (1) is the dog a service dog required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.
If you see a service dog in public, please remember not to pet it. Don’t pet, feed, talk to, or otherwise interact with a service dog. The dog is working. Of course, you can certainly talk to the person, and if they give you permission to pet their dog, you can. However, if the person says no, please respect their choice.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Three Weeks Old and Growing!

The “C” Litter puppies are three weeks old and growing quickly! They’re eyes and ears are open, and they’re wobbling around on all four paws. If you’re lucky enough to catch them awake on the puppy cam, you’ll see them playing with each other and the baby toys in the whelping box.

Cosmo, Charcoal, Cameo, Clementine, Colt, Cookie Dough, and Colorado were born on June 23 to GEB Talent, from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Talent will be visiting SSD for three litters, and half her puppies will stay with us and the other half will return to Guiding Eyes for the Blind with their mother. Thank you to GEB for donating the litters to us!

And now, here are the long awaited portraits of the “C” puppies!


Monday, June 30, 2014

Lancaster County Courthouse's Newest Employee Has Four Paws

Lancaster County Courthouse has a new employee—and this one walks on four paws. SSD Hamlet has started working at the courthouse as a facility dog. He’ll be working with participants in the Veterans, Mental Health, and Drug Treatment Courts, and he’s only the second dog in the United States to work in the treatment courts. SSD Buster of York County was the first.

Hamlet’s job is to help reduce the stress and anxiety of participants going through the treatment courts. Unlike other working dogs, his harness does not include a “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” patch because part of his job includes being petted by individuals going through the court system. Research has shown that petting a dog and interacting with a dog can raise the levels of oxytocin in a person, which in turn helps decrease anxiety and stress.

“Traditionally, the court has been seen as ‘the hammer,’ a place of punishment and fear,” says Teri Miller-Landon, the Division Director of Special Supervision for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole and one of Hamlet’s primary handlers. “But the court is also about rehabilitation and assimilation.”

Having Hamlet there will help people see the court as a place of support, where they can find the resources they need so they can graduate from the program. When they see it as a positive place, they’re more likely to come to court for help.

Hamlet will be working in the courtroom once a week. The rest of the time, he will sit in on appointments with probation officers, offering his special form of canine support. He has been trained to do several tasks, including “visit” (resting his head in someone’s hand or lap), “lap” (putting his front legs on someone’s lap), and “place” (sitting between someone’s legs). And Hamlet sometimes adds a few doggy kisses when he’s performing a cue.  

Hamlet was officially introduced in court on June 26, and he’s already gaining a reputation as a source of support. After his court appearance, many people stopped by to pet him for a few moments. In fact, Hamlet’s presence at the courthouse is affecting more than just the participants in the treatment court. He is also helping to reduce the stress of court employees. A few moments with Hamlet after a stressful phone call or meeting can make all the difference.

When he’s not working at the courthouse, Hamlet lives with Karen Andreadis, the Treatment Court Coordinator for Lancaster County Adult Probation and Parole. He gets plenty of time to relax and just be a dog. We hear that he loves playing with Karen’s other dogs and taking his toys out to his favorite tree.

In case you missed it on June 26, here’s the news story about Hamlet’s official introduction in court.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Team Training and the People Behind the Scenes

Since Monday, five people have been learning how to work with their new service dogs. We’re in the midst of Team Training, a time when individuals receive their service dogs, learn all the cues and behaviors, and learn how to work in public as a team. This is a challenging, but amazing, two and a half weeks. You can see more photos from the week on our Facebook Page.

A lot of hard work and love goes into the training of each service dog, including over 20,000 volunteer hours. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make Team Training possible. Our new director Pam Foreman’s presentation from this year’s graduation gives a glimpse of the people who make Team Training and all of SSD possible. You’ll also learn a little more about Pam and the future of SSD.

May 2014 Graduation
presentation by Pam Foreman

It feels good to be here in this room with all of you tonight celebrating the work you have done and the good result of that work. 

I was told this would be a beautiful night, a wonderful celebration, and a moving tribute to many fabulous people and some pretty terrific dogs, and that certainly proved to be true.

When I was growing up and deciding what I wanted to do, I knew one thing.  I wanted to work with people.  I wanted to be part of something that allowed people, all of us, the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest, to live a good and rich life full of purpose and meaning and value.  In order to do that, I discovered, we need something called interdependence more than something called independence.  That’s what we have here.  That’s what we have in this room.  That’s what we have in this program.

I grew up in Keystone Human Services and consider myself fortunate that I did.  I started as an intern in my last year of college and stayed 33 years….and counting.  The mission and vision resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now.  I worked in the intellectual disabilities programs and had the great privilege to see many lives changed, including mine, over the course of those years.  I’ve witnessed the beauty and richness of life as people challenged themselves to be more and have more and do more and give more. It has been an honor.

Before I came to SSD, I was a bit infatuated with the program and excited about what it stood for.  I believed what it offered people to have the opportunities to be more fully engaged in their neighborhoods and communities, to live a life more like their family and friends, to engage in valued roles, and generally have a good life.  Since I started at SSD, that has been confirmed, and the infatuation and excitement only grew as I got to know Nancy, the staff, the dogs, and some of you sitting in the audience.

In a very short time I have come to deeply value my relationship with Nancy and what she has offered me, in sharing her knowledge and her faith in me to carry on.  It has humbled me and touched me and grown me.  My words truly fail in describing the gift of that. None of us would be celebrating what we are tonight if it were not for her….and her son wanting a dog all those years ago.   She established the foundation and reputation that will carry us forward.  And she promised me she’s only a phone call away.

The staff.  I have been energized by this impressive group of people and how they’ve welcomed me and what they’ve already taught me.  They are very good at what they do and it gives me great comfort knowing they are there.  Everyone has communicated to me their love for this program and their desire to take it as far as it can go.  They clearly understand, and acknowledge that it can go nowhere without all of you.
That brings me to the dedication of the volunteers.  Nowhere have I seen what I’ve seen here.  It is truly unprecedented and I sincerely stand in awe.  You are out there giving and giving and giving.  And you’re so good at what you do and an incredible representation of SSD.  I can’t wait to meet all of you and to learn from you.

The dogs.  They’re beautiful and fun and hardworking and it sure makes life a little better going to work knowing they’re around.

And clients, the person side of the team.  Resilient and strong and diligent—listening and learning and making it work.  You are why we do what we do and we’re honored to be a little part of your life story.  

The future definitely looks very good.  The number of litters, and dogs, is growing and the collaboration through Assistance Dogs International and the North America Breeding Cooperative is strong. We have impressive staff, proficient volunteers, amazing clients, wonderful hardworking dogs, and a new property that will allow us to grow and to showcase this remarkable program.

Interestingly, all those years ago when I was growing up, whenever I took those vocational aptitude tests in school, they always suggested I go into animal husbandry and agriculture.  Every time. True story.  So somehow it does seem full circle, and right, that I get to be exactly where I am right now.  I know it’s a good match for me. I hope it proves to be a good match for SSD.

Thank you all for being so gracious to me. Thank you for your dedication and perseverance, for being the heart and soul of what we’re all about.

I look forward to navigating this next phase of life, and SSD, with all of you.