The Other End of The Leash – International Assistance Dog Week 2022

It’s International Assistance Dog Week, and in recognition of this year’s theme – the other end of the leash - we have created a “week in the life” series that follows Apprentice Trainer Leah Bell as she works with Service Dog in Training Buckley. Follow along for new, daily behind-the-scenes updates all week.

A Week in the Life: NEADS Trainers & Finish Training. A dog ready for its “finish training” - one of the final steps on the path to becoming a Service Dog - will be assigned either to an inmate handler through our Prison PUP Program or to work with a NEADS Trainer. Those on the NEADS Trainer track typically spend 6+ months living on our Princeton, MA campus, working Monday through Friday with a Trainer. Then, just as in the prison program, they go home on Saturday and Sunday with a volunteer Weekend Puppy Raiser, who reinforces the tasks and commands taught by the Trainer and continues the experience of living in a home.

A Week in the Life: Task Work

Service Dogs learn 50 to 60 tasks and commands, which can be used in many ways to help their human partner, depending on the person’s specific need.

Here are some of the tasks that Buckley knows:

  • Tug – used to open doors, drawers, and the refrigerator
  • Visit – on command, the Service Dog rests his head on the person’s lap to calm or interrupt an unwanted behavior. Often used for children with autism or veterans with PTSD
  • Nudge – used to turn on light switches, push elevator buttons and accessible door buttons
  • Find phone, hold, give – used to find a misplaced phone, with the dog using its sense of smell (the phone is scented with vanilla extract). Once he finds the phone, the Service Dog will hold it and give it on command. This is useful in case of emergency, the human partner can send the Service Dog to find their phone.

A Week in the Life: Handling

It’s important that a Service Dog is comfortable being handled for basic, everyday care like grooming, nail trimming, and any ear or eye medications. We also want to be sure that they are calm and comfortable when going to the vet for wellness exams or other medical care. We work on this during their training so we know they will be comfortable once they are matched with a client.

A Week in the Life: Exercise

Exercise is essential for keeping a Service Dog in top working condition. For Service Dog in Training Buckley, exercise keeps him in shape and provides an energy release so he can focus on learning.

Each day, Buckley has several different play sessions for energy release and exercise:

  1. Two play yards a day with Hawkins Canine Center staff, either solo or with another dog
  2. Playing Get It one on one with Leah. This is one of the main ways our clients exercise their Service Dog – it keeps the dog well behaved and also helps maintain an ideal weight. It serves as not only physical exercise but a good mental exercise and an emotional release, so important for keeping him focused.

A Week in the Life: Town Trip

As we saw on Monday, Buckley really knows his task work when he’s in the NEADS training room.

Our Full-Time and Weekend Puppy Raisers provide a solid foundation in socialization and exposure by taking the Service Dogs in Training out in public.

When the dog enters final training, the Trainers and Weekend Raisers continue to build on this foundation. In this video, Leah and Buckley visit the mall, where they continue to practice his task work and obedience in an environment filled with many different sights and sounds.

A Week in the Life: Weekend Raiser Pick UP

Task work, handling, exercise, and working in public are all part of a Service Dog’s finish training. One big piece of the many layered training process is socialization. For this, we count on our incredible volunteer Puppy Raisers.

On Fridays, Puppy Raisers Manny and Cindy pick up Buckley and bring him to their home for the weekend. Buckley is the fourth puppy Manny and Cindy have raised for NEADS.

According to Manny, “When he gets to our home, Buckley likes to roll around in the grass in the sun. He loves playing with his tennis ball and frisbee. He won’t catch the frisbee mid-air but will wait for it to land and then pounce on it. Inside, he switches between his bed, the floor, and the crate for sleeping.

“Our weekends can be busy. Starbucks is a must, and I think he knows where we are as soon as we pull into the parking lot. We go to various stores - Tru-Value, Home Depot, Whole Foods – where he loves meeting people. Even though there are those who try to interact with him, he won’t budge unless he is told to.

“He recently came with me to a doctor’s appointment. He was very good in this environment, remaining ‘under’ for the duration of my visit.

“Some other places we’ve visited: the town beach before it opened for the season; an indoor golf driving bay; a local brewery; and a 9-hole golf course.”

Wonder what’s in store for this weekend?