September doesn’t just mean the last days of summer for Patriot Service Dogs, it means we’re entering a new season--no, not fall--puppy season! In the last few weeks we have welcomed two new pups, Sam and Richard. Both boys still have that super soft puppy fur and those super sharp puppy teeth, but they have already begun their training. So, we want to formally introduce the first members of the Class of 2023 and give you a behind the scenes look into the first few days and weeks of service dog training.
Introducing the Puppies!
Sam is a golden retriever puppy sponsored by the Dynamic Dog Club and the Schrobilgen Family. He is named after the family’s beloved dog, who played the lion in the Dynamic Dog Club’s circus show. He comes to us from Miss. Tracy at Country Goldens, our long-time friends in Tennessee!
Richard is a black lab sponsored by Navy veteran, Richard Blair. He is Mr. Blair’s sixth sponsorship! We are so proud to have sponsors like him, who continue to support our mission and continue to give their hearts to new puppies as their dogs graduate.
Inside Puppy Training:
Everyone loves to cuddle a puppy, especially ones as cute as Sam and Richard, and we know it can be disappointing to learn that even at this age, we have rules all trainers, raisers, and well-wishers have to follow with them. But these foundational days are vital in their training and there are reasons for all of the rules. So before you meet Sam and Richard in-person, read on and learn all that goes into the puppy days of training on the long road to becoming service dogs for wounded veterans.
Do They Get to be Puppies?
When we tell people that our puppies can’t play with tennis balls or eat a sneaky piece of cheese, they often ask us, “Don’t they ever get to be puppies?” The answer is “Yes,” they get to be puppies, but “No,” they don’t get cheese or tennis balls. We promise, Sam and Richard have excellent puppy lives, even with the restrictions of training.
The best thing about being a Patriot Service Dog puppy is that you go directly to prison. It sounds funny, but when they are in prison, the puppies are never left alone and constantly have a skilled dog trainer dedicated to taking care of them. In comparison, when most people bring home a new puppy, they might have the chance to spend a weekend getting the puppy acclimated. Then, work starts, school starts, and the puppy has to figure out how to fit into its new family. At prison, they are the stars of the show.
Like most of our dogs, Sam and Richard have come into the program as a team, so they have a playmate their own age. This was true for Rosie and Murphy in the class of 2022, Norman, Auggie, and Captain before them (click here to read more about “The Triplets”), and Molly and Darcy in the class before them. Over years of training dogs, we’ve found that it’s better for dogs’ well-being and better for our trainers, if the puppies have someone to train alongside of and someone to play with when they're done working. These two boys love to wrestle in what our inmate-trainers call the “MMA Ring,” a large playpen in the dorm where they can romp off-leash and away from the bigger dogs. They also get walks, pool parties, and time for cuddles with their inmate moms. Eventually, Sam and Richard will have to split up to experience the world outside of our prison program independently, but they will always be bonded.
When Does Training Start?
We give all puppies a few days to get used to life away from their littermates before we start training. They have more people and more dogs to meet in their new home than most puppies, especially after all the prison administration comes to meet them! But even during this time, they have to follow certain rules; they never ever eat people-food and we never encourage them to jump on people. Those behaviors are too hard to turn the clock back on. Once they feel comfortable, we start with the most basic training--their names. From names, they learn the things most puppies learn; sit, stay, down. Then, things start to get more complicated.
A service dog can’t just know that “sit,” means to put its butt on the ground. We need our dogs to know where we want them to sit in relation to their person and how long we want them to hold that “sit.” It’s easier to make them aware of these expectations as puppies, when they’re absorbing and internalizing every interaction, than it is to go back in a year and re-teach them to sit in “side position” or “heel position.” It might seem like a lot to ask of a puppy, but our inmate-trainers know how to break up the training sessions into puppy sized bits and how to make it a fun and positive experience for them. With patience and practice, our 12-week-old puppies can ace most dog obedience classes!
It’s hard to think ahead to 2023 and that these goofballs will ever grow up to change the lives of a veteran, but this is how it begins--in the puppy days.