How do you raise a service puppy/dog? Well, I didn’t know either until Rob and I embarked on this crazy venture. And it’s crazy at times!
We first found about America’s Vet Dog Program when I went to obtain my very first military ID. Whoo! When we were getting my ID, the gentleman helping us out had photos the service dog he was raising on his wall. He then informed us that there was a prison in Milton, Florida (not far from Pensacola) that trains service puppies during the week and places the pups with families during the weekends to get them socialized for a normal life. If you’re accepted into the program, you’ll have a pup placed with you, including all of their vet bills, food, crate, etc paid for!
Every dog in the program is being trained to one day assist a veteran with PTSD. Such a noble cause! Once the puppies reach a year old, they will be flown to New York for their final three weeks of intense training and then put through an exam to see if they qualify as a service dog. We still question whether our pup Shelby will make it. She is VERY high energy and was actually placed with a family before Rob and me, but they couldn’t handle her energy.
Service Dog Training 101
As a weekend puppy raiser, our job is basically to get the dog used to normal life. Being in a home, seeing other dogs, smelling delicious food being cooked, going into stores, etc. I am asked that I take Shelby on visits 4x per week. A visit is where I will take her to stores with her vest on and everything to simulate what she will be doing once placed with her future owner.
The visits are actually more stressful than fun, believe it or not. Of course, I love having her with me, but I am constantly alert. Any bad movement on my part or another individual’s part could permanently affect her training. I felt like such an a**hole telling a sweet young girl in Starbucks that she could not pet my dog. She’s a working dog. Shelby also loves people and kids, so this adds a bit to the stress of keeping my eye on her. She wags her tail and will excitedly approach strangers even on her daily walks with me.
In day-to-day work, we run a lot of commands with her. Here are some examples:
Walking: She has to walk beside me on the leash and not tug at all.
Getting Busy: I have a special word “busy” for her when she needs to go to the bathroom. Shelby also needs to be trained to go on command and on the concrete in order to assist her future handler. The concrete part is in case she lives with a person in New York City and there is hardly any grass in sight.
Entering Doors: I tell her “side” before we enter doors because she must be on my side when we enter a door. Still working on that.
Food: She cannot be eager to eat her food or chew on her toys. This was harder with Shelby because toys are like cocaine for that dog. SHE LOVES TOYS! More than treats!
All in all, this has been a great experience for me and Robert. We’ve learned a lot about dogs and training dogs in the process. Plus, it has been an easy way for us to enjoy the company of a pup without all the hefty bills.
We really want to get our own dogs one day, but this was a better financial decision for us. Rob and I highly recommend this program for couples and families looking for an alternative to owning your own dog. You can find more info here.
UPDATE: We are happy to announce that Shelby has found her forever veteran and will be placed with this person in NYC in September! We are thrilled about her progress and highly recommend this program to anyone in the Pensacola / Milton area.
Originally Published on August 24, 2016