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.)
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.
Harrisburg Area Community College
1 HACC Drive
Harrisburg, PA 17110
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
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
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
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!
Susquehanna Service Dogs raises, trains, and places service dogs to assist individuals with disabilities. We train service, hearing, balance and companion dogs to support men, women, and children to be more independent.