Friday, December 21, 2012

6 Cold Weather Safety Tips for Dogs

Happy first day of winter! We’ve had mild weather in central Pennsylvania so far, but it’s time to start thinking about cold weather safety for our dogs. Here are 6 tips for having a safe winter with your dog.

Supervise your dog around fireplaces. If you love a toasty fire on a cold winter day, be sure to supervise your dog around the fireplace. Use a screen to protect your dog from flames and soot.

Don’t leave your dog alone in the car. In cold weather, cars can act as giant refrigerators, and it can quickly become dangerous for dogs. If you’re running errands or traveling, and you think you might not be able to take your dog inside with you, it might be better to leave them at home.

Watch for frostbite. Dogs can get frostbite, too. Watch for red, gray, blue, or whitish areas on the nose, ears, and feet. Dogs may have fur coats, but if it’s cold enough that you want to go back inside, it’s probably time for your dog to come in, too. And remember, puppies don’t tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs do.

Be prepared for winter storms. If a winter storm is predicted, make sure you have enough dog food, fresh water, warm bedding, and any meds your dog is taking in case you get snowed in.

Wear collars and ID tags outside. Dogs can easily lose their scent in the snow and ice and may not be able to find their way home if they get away. Every time you take your dog outside, whether it’s on a leash or just in your backyard, make sure your dog is wearing a collar and ID tags.

Wipe dog’s paws, legs, and stomach. After spending time outside in the sleet, snow, and ice, please remember to wipe your dog’s paws, legs, and stomach. This will remove harmful chemicals, like antifreeze and salt. Also be sure to check between your dog’s paw pads for ice balls and remove them.

If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments. Have a safe and happy winter!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Early Socialization Class

All of our puppies are now with their puppy raisers, which means it's time to start learning how to be service dogs! For the first 9 weeks with their puppy raisers, our puppies attend early socialization classes with the other dogs in their litter. During these classes, we introduce and practice new some basic skills that the dogs should know, such as "sit," "down," and loose leash walking. These classes lay a solid skill foundation for the puppies before they move into regular puppy classes with the rest of our dogs in training. And as the name suggests, they also give the dogs a chance to be socialized.

In Tuesday's early socialization class, the Water puppies practiced "sit," and then started working on "down." To teach "down," we start the dogs in a sit, then with a food lure, move our hand from the dog's nose to the floor. As soon as the dog is lying on the ground, we click and give the dog the treat. We'll use a lure up to three times, and then we'll just use our hand, still clicking and treating when the dog is lying down. At this stage, it's important not to use the word "down." The verbal cue will be added later, once the dog is reliably lying down. Soon, the Water pups were doing beautiful "downs!"

We also practiced loose leash walking, which is one of our most important service dog skills. It's one of the hardest skills for a dog to learn because it involves so much self control. It's also a skill that needs to be taught from day one so the dogs learn never to pull. The Water puppies are off to a great start!

Watch SSD Rain practice loose leash walking. Although the carpet has lots of distracting smells, Rain's puppy raiser gets her attention and then clicks and treats when the leash is nice and loose while Rain is walking next to her. When Rain pulls to the end of the leash, her puppy raiser backs up and gently pulls Rain back. See how Rain follows, and is soon trotting along again on a loose leash? (Also, check out how Rain's puppy raiser delivers treats right to Rain's mouth at the puppy's level. This keeps Rain from adding a little hop to get her treats.)

We also continued working on the cue "go to bed," where the dog goes to a mat or dog bed and lays down. This cue can be used as a great anchor for the dog, and it has many uses. It can be used to give the dog a place to be while their handler is preparing food in the kitchen, or it can be used as an anchor when guests visit, among other things.

To teach this cue, we put a towel or blanket on the floor and start by clicking and treating the dog just for looking at the blanket. Once the dog has that down, we wait to click until the dog takes a step toward the blanket, then two steps, then three, until the dog has all four paws on the blanket. We keep increasing the criteria until the dog goes to the blanket, lays down, and stays there. Once the dog has that behavior, then we'll add the verbal cue "go to bed."

Watch SSD Cove practice "go to bed." She walks right over to the towel and puts all four paws on it. Notice how her puppy raiser delivers treats so Cove has to step off of the towel. This sets it up nicely so that Cove has to keep moving and walk back to the towel for another click and treat.

We're looking forward to seeing what these puppies learn by next week!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Four on the Floor: Training Your Dog Not to Jump

What happens when someone knocks on your door or when someone walks up to greet your dog? Does your dog jump? Or do they keep all four paws on the floor?

We expect our service dogs to keep all four paws on the floor. They must never greet people by jumping on them. It’s very important to never reinforce jumping, especially when they’re puppies. It might be cute when a tiny puppy puts its paws on your legs, but it won’t be nearly as cute when that puppy becomes an 85 pound dog and jumps on you. It could even be dangerous.

The general public can make it difficult to teach dogs to keep all four paws on the floor. Some people like when dogs jump on them, and they may reinforce it by petting the dog or talking to it when it jumps on them. If you see your dog getting too excited, you can always walk away and not allow other people to greet the dog until it’s calm.

How to Train It
When your dog tries to jump on you, you can either turn your back or you can walk through them. When you walk through them, the dog will back up, which means all four paws will be on the floor. Puppies will sometimes tumble over backwards. Once the dog has all four paws on the floor and keeps them there, you can give it attention.

If you have a puppy, you can discourage jumping by squatting to pet it rather than bending over. Bending over can inadvertently encourage jumping.

When you have guests or when people ask to pet your dog, make sure to tell them that they can only pay attention to your dog if it keeps its paws on the ground. Getting your guests to help you train this behavior will make it much easier.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mind Your Manners

House manners are one of the most important things our puppy raisers teach our dogs. When a dog has good house manners, they have many more options for where they can be placed. Poor house manners, on the other hand, can get a dog completely discharged from our program.

Although our trainers see the dogs in puppy classes and outings and work with the dogs in advanced training, they don’t often get to the see the dogs at home. That’s why it’s so important for our puppy raisers to teach good house manners. 

What traits are we ultimately looking for in our service dogs?
  1. Adaptable. Our service dogs must be adaptable. We’re looking for dogs that can easily relax in almost any situation or environment.

  2. Confident. Service dogs need to have enough confidence that they don’t get scared by adaptive equipment, a person who walks with a different gait, or even someone wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up. Their future partners may use crutches or an adaptive communication device, and the dogs must have the confidence to perform their tasks and behaviors.

  3.  Friendly. We’re looking for dogs that are friendly and like people and other animals, but we don’t want dogs that are unusually friendly. A dog that gets so excited to greet people that it jumps up or pulls away from its partner may not be a successful service dog.

  4. Easy to live with. The purpose of a service dog is to make its partner’s life easier and give the person more independence. The partner shouldn’t have to adapt their life to the dogs’ needs. Rather, the dog should fit almost seamlessly into its partner’s life. “Easy to live with” means the dog is housebroken, potties on cue on and off leash, stays off furniture and the bed, is quiet, waits at doors, saves rough dog play for outside, can stay at home alone uncrated for at least two hours, and lives nicely with dogs and cats.

  5. Polite. Finally, our dogs must be polite, meaning they respect people’s belongings and their space. For example, the dog shouldn’t chew its partner’s shoes or couch.
Teaching good house manners starts from day one. Practiced behaviors become learned behaviors. If you start right away and you’re consistent, your dog will most likely learn lovely house manners. Try to use great management and clicker training to only teach good behaviors, but it a behavior does slip through the cracks, such as countersurfing, fix it right away. Don’t just ignore the behavior and hope it goes away.

If you need to address a behavior, use appropriate punishment for inappropriate behaviors. For example, if a dog jumps on the couch without permission, simply use its collar to guide the dog off. Once the dog has all four paws on the floor, you can invite the dog back on the couch if they ask politely. Asking politely can be sitting or resting its head on the couch or in your lap. You can then choose to invite the dog up on the couch.

Please note that SSD does not approve of painful punishment or anything more than a mild verbal correction or mild physical pressure, such as guiding the dog by the collar or moving into the dog’s space.

Over the next few weeks, we will post our expectations for different behaviors around the house, as well as some tips for training them. Although these expectations and tips apply to our service dogs and are often stricter than the expectations for pets, these tips may also come in handy for training your pets.

Visit us again next week for tips on training your dog not to jump on people. This could be especially handy if you’re planning to have guests over for the holidays!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adopt a Released Dog

Santana spent the first months of her life as a service dog in training, but she soon let us know that service dog work was too stressful for her and she would be much happier as a family pet. She was released from our program and adopted. Now she’s living the good life in her forever home. 

Similarly to the way people show preferences for certain careers, certain dogs are better suited to certain types of work. For example, a dog that tends to perk up its ears at sounds may be better suited to hearing work, while a dog that seems to pick up on people’s moods may be better suited to working with a child with autism. Dogs that really love smells may not be cut out for service dog work, but that same trait may make them perfect for detecting explosives. And other dogs would prefer not to work at all and instead become a family pet.

Every time we release a dog from our program, we begin the search for the dog’s new forever home. Sometimes the puppy raiser chooses to adopt the dog, but other times, we need to find a new home.

Would you like to adopt one of our released dogs? At any given time, we may have a few dogs that are looking for their forever homes. Since the dogs may be released at any time throughout their training, we may have dogs ranging 9-week-old puppies to 18-month-old dogs. Most of our dogs are labs.

If you would like to welcome one of these dogs into your home as a new member of your family, please apply online.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Safety Tips

Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie… Who’s ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family? While you’re enjoying the good food and even better company, however, make sure you take a few moments to keep your dog safe this Thanksgiving.

Here are a few tips so that your dog has a fun and safe holiday.

All Good Things in Moderation
Since you’re going to be indulging in foods that you don’t normally eat every day, it’s natural to want to share some of these special treats with your dog. However, while it may be okay to add a few small (boneless, fully cooked) pieces of turkey, sweet potatoes, or green beans to your dog’s dinner, be careful not to give your dog too much. Eating too much unfamiliar food can give your dog an upset stomach. And if you have an SSD dog, remember – no feeding from the table!

A good idea to keep your dog occupied and give them a special holiday treat is to fill a Kong or empty marrow bone with pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling), dog food, small pieces of turkey, sweet potatoes, and frozen green beans. Freeze this for a few hours before giving it to your dog. Not only is it a tasty treat, but it’ll take them a while to eat it.

Just Say No
The following foods can be harmful to your dog. Please don’t feed them to him, or let your dog have access to them.
  • Turkey bones
  • Onions
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Raw bread dough
  • Fatty foods, such as turkey skin
  • Chocolate
  • Anything in the garbage
A Tired Dog Is a Good Dog
We know you might be busy preparing the Thanksgiving meal, but please take some time to exercise or play with your dog before the festivities start. If your dog is already tired, she’ll be more likely to be calmer when your guests start arriving. Plus, she may even sleep through the meal!

Don’t Forget the ID
Although some dog owners remove their dog’s collar and ID tags when the dog is in the house, it’s a good idea to keep the collar on while guests are coming and going. In all the activity, your dog may slip out of the house, and you want to be sure that the dog can be easily identified and returned to you.

A Little Peace and Quiet
Finally, make sure your dog has a quiet place to go if the festivities get to be too much for him. Our SSD dogs are crate trained, and our dogs will often retreat to their crate or their bed when they need some quiet time.

We wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Puppies Busy Learning

SSD Queen Mab’s eyes drooped from her puppy massage at the start of puppy class, but once it was time to work, she snapped to attention.

We always start our puppy classes with puppy massage. Puppy class can be very exciting for a dog because they get to see other dogs that they haven’t seen in a while. Puppy massage is a way to calm them down, resulting in a relaxed pup that can focus on the cues its puppy raiser gives it.  

In yesterday’s puppy class, we started preparing for the types of things that might appear on the end of semester evaluations. Three of the cues were “fix,” “visit,” and “back.”

“Fix” is useful when a dog gets tangled in the leash. On the cue “fix,” the dog will lift its paws until its legs aren’t tangled in the leash anymore.

“Visit” is an excellent way to bring the dog closer to you, and it’s one of the cues that all of our dogs need to know. On cue, the dog puts its chin in a person’s hand or on their lap and holds it there for an indefinitely amount of time.

Watch SSD Nook start to learn “visit.” Her puppy raiser clicks as soon as Nook’s chin hits her hand. When Nook experiments and tries jumping, her puppy raiser quickly moves her hand away.

Watch SSD Queen Mab practice “visit.” Notice that when Mab wiggles her head around, her puppy raiser pulls her hand back, waits for Mab to settle, and then presents her hand again. Also notice that by the end of the video, her puppy raiser is asking for a visit by placing her open palm on her lap. This is the first step to getting Mab to do “visit” by putting her head on her puppy raiser’s lap without the hand signal.

Next we practiced “back,” another cue that all of our dogs need to know. Our goal is to have the dog walk backwards in a straight line. To train this cue, we start with the dog in a chute so that the dog can only move backward. When the dog takes a step back, we click and treat. Gradually, we hold the click until the dog is taking more steps back. Once the dog is consistently walking backward, we move out of the chute to practice.

We don’t add the cue “back” until the dog can consistently take seven steps backward in the middle of a room. Why seven steps? That’s the approximate number of steps a dog will need to take to open a door using a pull strap. (The dog grabs the pull strap that’s attached to the door, pulls, and backs up.)

Watch SSD Beaker take a few steps back while he’s in a chute.

SSD Falstaff moves backward while his puppy raiser stands still at the front of the chute.

SSD Honeydew loves the cue “back.” Watch her enthusiasm as she trots backward for her puppy raiser.


We closed out the class with a game that we call “Puppy 911.” Our puppy raisers and dogs form two teams, each behind a bucket of water. Puppy raisers need to fill a cup with water and dump it in a bucket several feet away, all while their puppy walks on a loose leash. To add an extra challenge, puppy raisers had to hold the cup of water and the leash in the same hand.

The Puppy 911 game is great experience for the dog because they get to practice loose leash walking in an exciting situation. And just think: If a puppy raiser can hold the leash and carry a cup of water with spilling, then that dog’s future partner will be able to hold the leash and carry a cup of coffee from the cashier to their table in a coffee shop.