Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center

The Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center for puppies is an integral part of NEADS.

A solid foundation in socialization is essential to each puppy’s success as a Service Dog. Most puppies arrive at the NEADS Early Learning Center at the age of approximately eight weeks. We acquire most of our puppies from guide dog organizations, other service dog organizations, and private breeders. We sometimes work with local shelters to acquire puppies for our hearing dog program.

At the Early Learning Center, staff work to housebreak the puppies and lay the groundwork for some beginning commands. Each puppy’s day is full of indoor and outdoor playtime with other puppies, one-on-one time with staff and volunteers, and socialization sessions.

During socialization sessions, puppies are exposed to different sounds, novel objects, surfaces, and environments. For example, in a socialization session, a puppy may listen to a tambourine, interact with a baby toy, and walk over a metal grate. As a puppy advances through its socialization sessions, it may watch traffic drive by, practice greeting new people nicely, and practice walking up and down an entire flight of stairs. Staff monitor how each puppy reacts to these situations to build a profile of each puppy. A puppy’s profile includes its strengths and weaknesses, which helps the trainers to make decisions about where to place the puppy for training.

Puppy health is another important aspect of the Early Learning Center. Puppies remain in the Early Learning Center for a minimum of seven days to make sure they are healthy and up-to-date on vaccines before they move into a training slot.

Every weekend, each puppy goes out with a volunteer called a Weekend Puppy Sitter. The Weekend Puppy Sitter exposes the puppy to a calm and relaxing home environment.

At the Early Learning Center, our puppies learn that:

  • Humans are friendly and fun
  • Loud noises are not scary
  • Unusual items are not frightening
  • It’s exciting to explore new places


Jean (l) Banks (r) 1

The Route to a Lasting Partnership

  • Bonnie (3)

    The Dogs

    Most NEADS dogs are purpose-bred for temperament, health and personality traits best suited for service dog work. Some NEADS Hearing Dogs are acquired from animal shelters and rescue groups.

  • Jean (l) Banks (r) 1

    Early Learning Center

    Here staff work to housebreak the puppies and lay the groundwork for some beginning commands. Puppies have indoor and outdoor playtime, one-on-one time with staff and volunteers, and socialization sessions.

  • prison pup

    Prison PUP Program

    90-95% of NEADS puppies are trained in 7 correctional facilities throughout New England.

  • dogs in training

    Dog Training

    NEADS Dogs are trained to perform tasks and behave obediently through the use of positive reinforcement and clear leadership. We select dogs that are natural followers, so it is easy to guide them into choosing appropriate behaviors.

  • matching process

    Matching Process

    The more we understand about your lifestyle and expectations, the better we can pair you with a dog that fits with you. The matching process includes an online application and a comprehensive, in-person interview.

  • the trainers

    Client Training

    Clients spend one to two weeks at the NEADS campus learning how to work and live with their new Service Dog. Our trainers work closely with the new partners to ensure the match is a strong one.

  • (042918 Fitchburg, MA) Derek Blake, 9 1/2 kisses his social dog Jean during NEADS service dog graduation ceremony in Fitchburg on Sunday,April 29, 2018. Staff Photo by Nancy Lane


    Twice each year, we honor our most recent Service Dog teams, celebrating the partnership between a client and his or her Service Dog.