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

What Makes a World Class Service Dog Team

  • Bonnie (3)
    World Class Service Dogs

    Most NEADS dogs are purpose bred for temperament, health and personality traits best suited for Service Dog work. Some hearing dogs are acquired from animal shelters and rescue groups.

  • dogs in training
    Dog Training

    NEADS Dogs are trained to perform tasks and behave obediently through the use of positive reinforcement and clear leadership. Socialization starts as soon as the puppies arrive in the Nursery and Early Learning Center, and continues in correctional facilities in MA and RI as part of our Prison PUP Program.

  • 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.

  • Ahh...the fond days when Edison and I were first getting to know each other. My trainer was working with us so I could learn how to structure his playtime. He was having a blast and I absolutely loved learning about my new helper! #day139of365
    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.

  • (Photo: Mary Silva)
    Support for the Live of the Dog

    NEADS is invested in the success of each Service Dog team and offers ongoing support for the life of the dog.