By Yining Chen
Spoon feeding is just the first step of the service dog training process. Typically, it will take 18 to 24 months to fully trained a public access service dog.
Most service dog training organizations don’t breed their own puppies. Puppies will come to these training programs about 8 to 10 weeks old from professional breeding companies. NEADS, the National Education for Assistance Dog Service but also known as Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, which provides service dogs, for example, said most of its puppies come from other breeding organizations, and some of them come from animal shelters.
Once puppies arrive for training, they will be sent to an early learning center. There, puppies will experience their first trip in the mall, their first walk on the street, and they will encounter all kinds of people and places. This is an essential part of service dog training. After this training, puppies will learn to focus entirely on their handler without being distracted.
“Then about 12 weeks old, puppies will be sent to prisons, correctional facilities. They will be trained by inmate handlers till 15 to 18 months old, ” said Alyson Cox, the communication manager of NEADS. She added, “puppies spend most of their time with the primary handler going to classes, recreation areas, and dining halls. Each puppy sleeps in his or her primary handler’s dormitory-like room.”
To ensure that the puppies have a full range of experiences, during the weekends, volunteers will bring puppies out to help them socialize.
“Socialization is very important for service dogs, ” said volunteer Chip Washington. He noted he brings his partner dog to the shopping mall and supermarket all day, it will help the dog learn to not be afraid of loud noises, unusual sights, or unfamiliar surroundings.
When the dogs finish their training programs, they will be matched with their final handlers. Every service dog has a special bond with its handler. Some may say that service dogs will pick their final handlers.
If you want to have a good service dog, trainers said you should be a good handler first. In Carlene White’s Service Dog Project, each applicant is expected to spend at least one week with available service dog. Handlers will sleep together with service dogs in order to see if they match. NEADS also offers clients training, and the training involves intensive learning about how to live and work with a service dog.