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Summer Pupdate from SSD Belle!

Aug 11, 2023
3 min read
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We just got an exclusive update on SSD Belle, one of the service dogs from Susquehanna Service Dogs. Sponsored by Barcoding and Honeywell, our SSD Belle is nine months old! Right now, she’s working on loose leash walking, “heel,” the target stick, and ignoring distractions.

Loose leash walking is all about self-control. SSD Belle is learning to walk next to her raiser on the left side with the leash in a nice, loose “J” shape, which means she’s not pulling, no matter what’s in the environment. This can be quite challenging and it’s something SSD dogs continue to practice throughout their entire lives. Walking calmly next to someone is a critical assistance dog skill, since pulling could potentially injure the dog’s partner.

Ignoring distractions is also all about self-control. Susquehanna Service Dogs teaches its dogs an automatic leave-it, which means the mere presence of any kind of distraction in the environment (food, people, other animals, objects, etc.) becomes the cue for the dog to focus on their puppy raiser. This skill is closely connected to loose leash walking, since SSD Belle needs to maintain a loose leash regardless of the surrounding distractions.

Heel is also one of those behaviors that every single dog from Susquehanna Service Dogs learns. On cue, the dog will pivot on their front paws to swing into place on someone’s left side. This puts them into position to move forward right next to whoever is holding the leash. Heel can also put space between someone and the surrounding people, and the beauty of this particular use is that the general public doesn’t know that the person is using the dog as a psychiatric tool. SSD Belle is in the very beginning stages of learning “heel,” which means she’s using a wooden box to anchor her front paws. She steps onto the box and walks her back legs around next to her raiser. Soon her raiser will give her a lower box (the current one is about six inches high), and then she’ll transition completely off a box or board and swing into place on any surface.

Target training, with or without a target stick, is an important precursor to more advanced skills Belle will eventually learn in Advanced Training. Right now, she’s learning to touch her nose to a piece of blue painter’s tape attached to a short stick. Her raiser started teaching her this behavior by offering the stick and waiting for Belle to touch her nose to it. Her puppy raiser will then move the target stick around and place it at different heights. This skill will eventually help Belle learn how to close doors and drawers, push the button to open accessible doors, and maybe even bump her future partner with her nose to alert to a sound. 

SSD Belle spends her weekends in Gettysburg and her weekdays watching birds, boats, and jet skis along the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a great way to build up her self-control!

She recently spent time with a puppy sitter, where she enjoyed playing with her sitter’s dogs. SSD’s puppy sitters watch the dogs for a short time to give the dogs a chance to get used to a new routine, people, animals, and more. Experiences with puppy sitters help prepare the dogs to transfer smoothly to their partner when their formal training is finished around two and a half years.

Playtime is just as important as training for an assistance dog in training. Belle loves to play ball outside and chew toys. She also likes to drag blankets throughout her puppy raisers’ house!

About Susquehanna Service Dogs 

Susquehanna Service Dogs is a program of Keystone Human Services and has been breeding, raising, training, and placing assistance dogs in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states since 1993. SSD is an accredited member of Assistance Dogs International. 


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