Monday, January 4, 2010

Meet SSD Nubble!

In the middle of a snowstorm, a little yellow lab puppy arrived in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. That car ride from Maine to Pennsylvania marked the beginning of a very important journey for SSD Nubble. He began his journey to becoming a service dog.

We're going to be following Nubble as he learns new skills and behaviors. Over the next 18 months, you'll find out exactly how a cute little puppy becomes a highly skilled service dog. Last week, you met SSD Onyx, and we will soon be following SSD Aladdin as well. Look for weekly posts about these three dogs' journeys.

Meet Nubble

Most of SSD's dogs come from our own breeding program, and the names of each litter center on a theme chosen by the mother's breeder caretaker. Nubble, however, comes to us from a program in Maine. He gets his name from the Cape Neddick Light, a lighthouse in Maine known as the "Nubble Light" by the locals.

Nubble joined his puppy raiser family on December 5. He is the first puppy they are raising for a service dog organization. Donna and her 15-year-old daughter, Lindsey, are raising him together. They are part of our Northeast Division, which is spread across northeastern Pennsylvania. Although they have a dog of their own, a terrier mix named Gizzy, raising a puppy to become a service dog is completely different from raising a family pet. It has been a learning process for everyone. Having a strong network of other volunteer puppy raisers in the Northeast Division has helped. They can ask questions and get advice and feedback from other volunteers. What do Nubble's puppy raisers have to say about having him in their family? "Nubble is an absolute joy to have in the house!"

He and Gizzy get along extremely well. When he first arrived, Gizzy was very gentle with him. as he has grown, she has adjusted her behavior toward him, starting to treat him less like a puppy. And of course, she doesn't hesitate to let him know when he's pushing his boundaries with her!

Nubble does very well in the car. Other than that first long car trip, he has not gotten car sick. He spends most of his time in the car either sitting or sleeping. When he and Gizzy are in the car together, she sits on him and he lets her get away with it.

Already, Nubble has learned several cues. He knows sit, come, down, and up (on the couch), and responds to his name. He also targets his puppy raiser's hand. Right now, he's working on stay. He's having a little difficulty with this one, but with some practice, he'll get it. He's a very smart puppy, and he really wants to please his puppy raisers. These cues are part of basic obedience and are an essential part of a service dog's training. All of our service dogs must master these skills. In addition, a willingness to please their handlers is important.

And Nubble is constantly learning and exploring. You know how babies and toddlers explore their world by putting things in their mouth? Well, one of Nubble's favorite things to do is chew. And chew. And chew some more. He will chew on anything. "It's like having a toddler in the house. You can't take your eyes off him," says Donna. Since getting Nubble, Donna has changed the way she manages her household so that Nubble can get into as little mischief as possible. Although there isn't much she can do about chair legs, doorstops, door knobs, rugs, floor tiles, the dishwasher and the refrigerator, she has removed all other items that he could possibly chew on. In fact, the family decided to get a small Christmas tree this year and put it on a table, so Nubble wouldn't have the opportunity to try to gnaw on it. "He would have eaten the whole tree, decorations and all!" says Donna.
As his first outing, Nubble went to a pet store, and everyone who saw him, loved him! They loved him so much that it was difficult for people not to pet him. However, regardless of how cute the puppy is, service dogs and service dogs-in-training are working dogs, and they should not be petted, fed, or distracted in any way while they are working. (General rule of thumb: If a service dog is wearing his vest, he's working.) But, despite the distractions of people trying to pet him, Nubble's first outing was a success! He met a lot of people and came into contact with many new smells - an important part of socialization and becoming comfortable in any environment.

Since then, Nubble has been to convenience stores, a bookstore, a grocery store and the vet. He's usually very well behaved, thanks to the clicker and lots of treats!

Once Nubble has been fully housebroken, he will be spending time with Lindsey at school. So far, he has been to school for 10 minutes to meet the guidance counselor and principal and show them what he has learned.

When people find out that Donna and Lindsey are raising Nubble to be a service dog, they often ask, "How are you going to give him up?" "Honestly," says Donna, "when you decide to do this, you understand that the puppy has a greater life ahead of him than just being your dog. I feel very blessed that we can help do our part for someone else."

1 comment:

  1. what a cutie! Sounds like he's doing excellent so far.