Thursday, October 29, 2015

Happy National Cat Day!

Garfunkel enjoys a beautiful day at the kennel.
Happy National Cat Day! Yes, you read that right. Today, we’re celebrating cats! Specifically, we would like to celebrate two cats—Garfunkel and Vader. These two black cats live at the kennel and help us train our service dogs.

We make sure that all of our service dogs are okay around cats. While the dogs are in training, we never know who they’re going to be partnered with. We don’t know if that person will have cats or if they have friends or family who have cats. Plus, it’s always possible to come into contact with cats outside, and the dogs need to be able to ignore them and stay focused on their partner.

Every dog in our program meets Garfunkel and Vader at some point. In fact, it’s common for one or both of them to greet you when you arrive at the kennel. (They’ve also been known to stow away in people’s cars if they leave the windows open!) Many of our puppies in training see the cats when they arrive for puppy classes or when they have playdates in our fields.

We have also recruited Garfunkel and Vader to help the dogs practice recalls. In puppy class, we play our version of golf. The puppy raiser puts their dog in a down-stay or sit in one marked square, then walks 10 meters away to a second box. The raiser then calls their dog to come. Sounds pretty simple, but then we add some distractions, like kibble, tennis balls, or one of the cats. Garfunkel or Vader will be in a crate between the dog and their puppy raiser, and the dog must trot right over to their raiser without stopping to investigate the cat.

We also deliberately introduce the dogs to the cats during their one year evaluation to see how they do.  

So our cats play a big role in our dogs’ training to help them become successful service dogs. And that’s why we’re celebrating cats today!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Team Training: When Everything Comes Together

On October 21, 2015, four people and their service dogs completed team training and became new service dog teams. We’re so excited for them and we’re looking forward to hearing about how their service dogs have changed their lives. Congratulations to our new teams!

Team training is the culmination of several years of training and countless hours by our volunteers and staff. Those tiny puppies that you watched snuggle and play on the puppy cam have grown into dedicated working dogs.

“It all comes together,” says director Pam Foreman. “When you have good dogs, good training, and good matches, it all culminates in this—an amazing team training with attentive dogs who are ready to work.”

The four dogs who are now working with their partners—Bohemia, Harlem, Tadpole, and Tazo—spent their first year and a half with volunteer puppy raisers, who taught them a series of behaviors, including sit, stay, down, heel, loose leash walking, and self control. These dogs went everywhere with their raisers, gaining valuable experiences to prepare them to go everywhere with their partners.

When the dogs were about 18 months old, they entered advanced training, where our trainers began teaching them the behaviors they would need to know to assist their partners. Each dog was individually trained based on their partner’s unique needs.

For trainers Katie Grube and Lauren Holtz, this was the first team training with dogs they had trained.

“It’s humbling to sit back and see the dog you trained in team training,” said Lauren. “So many people touched his life. My job is just to bring out his full potential so he can do what he was meant to do.”

“I have loved spending the past few weeks watching the bonds form and helping partners learn to work together with their dog,” said Katie. “This is the reason I come to work every day.”

We’re confident that Bohemia, Harlem, Tadpole, Tazo, and their partners will do well together!

Today, new dogs are starting advanced training and the next step on their journey to becoming working service dogs.

“I’m excited to train the new group of dogs coming in and improve my training based on what I learned from this team training,” said Katie.