Monday, May 2, 2016

I #WalkforSSD Because SSD Has Been a Life-Changer



Guest post by Sue Knode, puppy raiser and SSD volunteer

Why do I participate in the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community? I walk because Justin relies on SSD Thunder to help him in challenging situations every single day. I walk because SSD Grace helps a classroom of students at Hilltop Academy every school day. And I walk because SSD needs the funds to train SSD Barracks and SSD Nikon to do great things and place them in just the right job!
SSD has many partners and many dogs, and the stories vary. What resonates with me is that we are able to partner dogs with people and change lives! The dogs allow them to function more independently, go out in public, and handle challenging situations.

I'm a Highmark employee and have volunteered with the Walk day events for years. I remember the first time I saw SSD at the Walk, and I couldn't resist the dogs. I approached Nancy Fierer, who was the director at the time, and told her I was interested in getting involved with SSD when I eventually retired. For those who know Nancy, you won't be surprised that her response was something along the lines of "why wait until you retire?" and I didn't have a good answer. So, I filled out an application, volunteered as a puppy sitter for a few months, and became a puppy raiser. Six dogs and many amazing experiences later, I'm hooked!

I enjoy working with the dogs and seeing them progress from precious fur balls to attentive, intelligent workers. But the people are just as much of a draw. I've met many wonderful partners and staff, and have formed great friendships with other volunteers. SSD has been a life-changer for me!

Why do I walk? Along with the opportunity to raise money for Susquehanna Service Dogs, I enjoy the walk around the HACC campus, time with friends, and the chance to meet others who are just as passionate about the charities they support. How could I say no?

Event Details

When
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.

Where
HACC
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Registration
Sign up for the Walk


Monday, March 28, 2016

We #WalkforSSD because it's all about filling needs


Guest blog post by Shari Brenizer and Ellen Gladfelter, volunteer puppy raisers for Susquehanna Service Dogs

Three years ago, we decided to sign up to be puppy raisers because we said goodbye to our two family dogs within a year of each other. We never wanted to have to do that again but knew our family was missing a dog.

Susquehanna Service Dogs fills the needs of many individuals with disabilities. We have watched individuals with visible disabilities become more independent by having a dog who has helped them navigate their daily routines and to live more independently. We have watched individuals with invisible disabilities have more confidence, companionship, and reassurance in their daily lives.

We have had the opportunity in the last three years to raise four dogs, all at different stages in their journey. SSD Ali, Orlando, Annabelle, and Thornwald all filled a need in our lives that make us better puppy raisers and supporters of SSD.

SSD Ali is a breeder for SSD and continues to add puppies that will grow to be the next generation of service dogs! Ali is the proud momma of two litters, the Carlisle Litter and the Cheese Litter, who are growing up and will one day fill the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Orlando and Thornwald have chosen different paths other than being service dogs--and they have both filled the needs of families who wanted loyal and loving family pets.

Annabelle has also chosen a different path, but she has filled our need to love and want our very own pet again. She joined our forever family in October.

Susquehanna Service Dogs is about filling needs for all people, and we are truly blessed to be a part of this great organization.

Join Shari, Ellen, and Susquehanna Service Dogs for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community! SSD is one of 47 organizations participating in the Highmark Walk, and 100% of the money you raise comes directly to SSD!

Event Details

When
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.

Where
HACC
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Registration
Sign up for the Walk

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I #WalkforSSD Because Dogs Make People Smile



Guest post by Maddie Levy. Maddie and her family have been volunteer puppy raisers and sitters for the past four years.

For four years, my family and I have opened our home to Susquehanna Service Dogs' puppies in training. During that time, we have raised, trained, and puppy sat future service dogs. Currently, we are raising SSD Truffle, whose mother, SSD Splash, we co-raised with another volunteer.

While raising Splash, our goal was obviously for her to become a working service dog. However, SSD had plans for her as a breeder, and she recently had her first litter, the Sweet Treats. Bringing Splash through the program and seeing her have her litter has brought us nothing but joy and love. The moment we took her in, we were impacted by her gentle and affectionate personality.

Splash's effect on the people around her is well illustrated by her actions at a doctor's appointment we had brought her to about a year ago. As we were checking out, Splash was sitting next to me. I felt a tug on the leash. When I looked behind me, I saw a baby, maybe a year old, hugging Splash, who was leaning into her, resting her head on the girl's shoulder.

The reason I walk for SSD is because I love to watch my dogs make people smile. Seeing the puppies make a difference in my life, my family's life, and even brightening the days of everyone they meet confirms their impact on their future partners, who in a time of need receive the companionship and aid of truly amazing and talented dogs.

Join Maddie and Susquehanna Service Dogs for the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. SSD is one of 47 organizations participating in the Highmark Walk, and because Highmark generously underwrites the cost of the Walk, 100% of the funds you raise come directly to SSD.
Sign up as a walker or virtual walker and #WalkforSSD!

Event Details

When
Saturday, May 21, 2016

Where
Harrisburg Area Community College
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Registration
Sign up for the Walk

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why Crate Time Is Important for Service Dogs in Training


All of our service dogs in training are crate trained. Until they’re 16 weeks old, they ride in a crate in the car. At home or at the office, our puppies spend time in crates. They’ll spend time crated while they’re in advanced training, and they will most likely spend some time in a crate after they’re placed as working service dogs.

The goal is for the dog to go into their crate on cue (“kennel”) and then be able to spend at least 8 consecutive hours quietly relaxing inside with the door closed. The dog should be able to relax quietly in their crate overnight, during the day, when they’re alone, and when people are around.

There’s a misconception that crate time is a punishment, but that could not be farther from the truth. A dog’s crate is their safe spot. Think of the crate as the dog’s bedroom. It’s a place to relax, where they don’t need to think about working.

Why is crate training so important?

There are many reasons why crate training is important for service dogs.


Crates are a way for puppy raisers to manage their dog’s behavior.
If the raiser has errands to run and cannot take their puppy with them, crating the dog can prevent that dog from getting into mischief while they’re home alone. For example, crating the dog will prevent them from forming bad house manners, such as hopping on furniture or countersurfing. 

Our dogs never outgrow crate time. Crate training is actually part of a dog’s good house manners, and dogs that cannot spend time quietly in their crate may be discharged.

Dogs spend time in crates during advanced training.
When our dogs in training come to the kennel for advanced training, they will be spending time in a crate. We may have anywhere from 15-20 dogs in advanced training at one time. While the dogs spend time working with our trainers and going out in public with our volunteers, they don’t train for the entire day. They need time to relax, and one place where they do that is in the crate.

Crates give service dogs a place to relax.
We recommend that our partners get a crate for their dog. It gives the dog a place where they know they can relax stress-free. For facility dogs that are supporting many people or children, the crate becomes even more important. Working with an entire classroom of students is very challenging for a service dog. In fact, it takes a special temperament to be able to do this work because it can be very stressful. Having a crate—a safe spot—gives facility dogs a stress-free zone to relax, take a nap, or chew on a bone.

Crates are a place where service dogs can safely sleep.
It’s the partner’s choice whether their service dog is allowed on the bed. Not all of our partners want their service dog to sleep in bed with them. Depending on the person’s disability, it may not be possible for the service dog to sleep in bed. For example, a person may use certain medical equipment at night, or it could be that any movement by the dog on a bed causes the person pain. The crate becomes the perfect place for the dog to sleep, eliminating the possibility that the dog will help themselves to the bed during the night.


How to crate train your dog


To help your dog enjoy being in their crate, start by putting the crate in an area where your dog will still be able to see people. You don’t want your dog to be isolated from everyone when they’re in their crate. You can also include a soft blanket and a safe, favorite toy.

Introduce your dog to the crate simply by tossing a piece of dog food inside. Let your dog go inside to eat it, but leave the door open. If your dog chooses to stay inside the crate, great! Leave the door open and keep tossing kibble inside every few seconds. If your dog chooses to exit the crate during this exercise, that’s okay, too.

Once you’ve introduced the crate, feed your dog a meal inside it at least once a day. Soon, your dog will associate good things (food and mealtime!) with the crate.

When your dog is inside the crate, it’s really important NOT to let them out if they whine or bark. If you let them out every time they whine or bark, they’ll learn that making noise is the way to get out of the crate. Only let them out after they’ve been quiet for a little while. This part of crate training can be very challenging for puppy raisers because some dogs can be very determined barkers! But stay strong and wait them out. You, our trainers, and the dog’s future partner will all benefit.

Once your dog is comfortable being quiet in their crate, move the crate to different locations and add challenges! Your dog should be able to relax quietly and calmly in their crate when:
  • Other dogs are crated nearby
  • Other dogs are off leash around the crate
  • You're working with another dog (Team up with a friend if you don't have two dogs available.)
  • The crate is outside
  • Adults or children are playing or working nearby
  • The doorbell rings or someone knocks on the door
  • There's a thunderstorm


Thursday, February 25, 2016

I #WalkforSSD because puppies-in-training change lives every day

Guest blog post by Deb Tack. She and her family are first-time puppy raisers for Susquehanna Service Dogs. They're currently raising SSD Motzi from the Cheese Litter.

For years, our kids asked for another dog--a puppy, of course. Consistently and more times than I can count, the answer was "no." But I wouldn't be writing this if there weren't an "Until..."

Until I read of a brave, young local veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and trained his own puppy to alleviate his pain from the horrors of war. His story, as told by his mother, inspired me to learn more about raising a service dog through Susquehanna Service Dogs. Yes, our family could have a puppy, as long as we could train and love her and then let her go.

Since August, we have been raising SSD Motzi. Each day, I have the privilege of watching her touch the lives of others while changing ours as well. The stories are countless: watching Motzi and her fellow puppies in training bring laughter to high school students grieving the loss of their friends; meeting a first grader who smiled, enthusiastically asked to pet Motzi, and told me all about the "super awesome" service dogs at his school and how he "loves loves loves" them; sitting by the wheelchair of an elderly woman who, with damp eyes, tenderly pet Motzi and told us over and over the names of her dogs and how much she missed them; and meeting the mall employee who shared a beautiful story of how a Susquehanna Service Dog helped her sister regain her long-lost independence.

At home, Motzi gets to be a regular puppy. You can't help but smile when she plops herself on your lap with a huge groan and a sigh after a long day. She makes us laugh when she sees something new and tilts her head to ask, "What's that?" And she knows just when to cuddle up and let you pet your worries away.

As any puppy raiser will surely tell you, the question asked most often is "How will you give her up?" My reply, "I think about that every day, and it will be sad; but I've always known she was leaving, and I can't wait to see what she becomes."

What Motzi's future holds is yet to unfold. But there is one thing I know for sure. No matter where her paws take her, she has already changed at least one life. (And don't tell my husband, but I'm pretty sure Motzi isn't the only SSD puppy who will be part of our family.)

Event Details

When
Saturday, May 21
On-site registration starts at 7:45 a.m.
5K Walk begins at 9 a.m.
One Mile Fun Walk begins at 9:15 a.m.

Where
Harrisburg Area Community College
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Registration
Sign up for the Walk

Monday, February 22, 2016

Not All Dogs Become Service Dogs


Not all the dogs in our program become service dogs. Although every dog starts on the same path, only 50-60% of them become working service dogs. Being a service dog is challenging. A dog must be able to “turn on” and perform tasks, but then “turn off” and relax when they’re not needed. They must be able to handle the stress of working in public. And most of all, they must enjoy service dog work.

What happens to our dogs who don’t become service dogs?

Sometimes our dogs show us that service dog work is not for them. This can happen at any point in a dog’s training. What happens to the dogs who don’t make it through our program?

Just because a dog doesn’t become a service dog doesn’t mean the dog failed. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the puppy raiser failed. Quite the opposite, actually. Many of the dogs that “don’t make it” simply change careers and continue changing lives. That was the case for Autumn, Delilah, Diesel, and Dory. These four dogs were recently accepted into the CIA’s training program. And just this past December, former SSD dogs Aunt Nancy and Thor graduated as CIA dogs! We’ve also placed dogs with the United Nations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and the state police.

Other dogs may become therapy dogs and work in schools. We have placed several dogs with Hill Top Academy, and the difference they have made in students’ lives is incredible. This video from Hill Top Academy says it better than we ever could:


(The part about Hill Top Academy starts around 0:35.)



 

The dogs at Hill Top Academy are changing students’ lives, and in at least one instance, saved a student’s life. These dogs are doing the work that best suits them and it’s making a difference.

Even if one of our dogs simply becomes a family pet, that doesn’t mean the dog or raiser failed. It just means that the dog found the right path for them, and their raiser helped them get there.

While each dog’s journey may start out the same, where they end up varies, and it’s thanks to our puppy raisers that these dogs grow up to change lives.

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!