They may be cute or even regal, but Service Dogs are so much more than pets. They’re trained to assist a person living with a disability with daily tasks and increase independence by reducing reliance on other people. Service Dogs receive extensive training to perform tasks such as pulling a wheelchair, opening doors, turning light switches on/off, or picking up objects. That training could mean the difference between life and death for someone.
Approximately 40 million Americans are living with disabilities or about 12 percent of the population. Service Dogs are helping many of these people with a variety of disabilities.
Training a service dog takes a lot of time, patience, and resources. It’s an eighteen-to twenty-four-month journey that probably entails more than you might imagine.
The process begins even before they’re cute puppies. Because Service Dogs require exceptional health, abilities, and temperaments, the Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) journey starts with careful breeding.
Each year, Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) whelps between two to four litters, all destined to become Service Dogs. There are several different breeding approaches, and some organizations choose to use rescue dogs. Our personal experience at ECAD has been that breeding allows us to achieve a 93 percent success rate in placing a dog with a person with a disability. In the past, when using rescue dogs, this rate was roughly 60 percent.
The ECAD breeding program relies on a specially developed breeding program of Labrador and Golden Retrievers (except for some breeder donations) for outstanding physical and mental health. The program exclusively uses female breeders the organization has raised from birth with even tempers and excellent health and proven, good learners. The females have no more than four litters in their lifetime.
Only confident studs with sweet personalities and excellent health are selected to participate in ECAD’s breeding program. Additionally, ECAD does partner with other Service Dog organizations to share studs. These partnerships allow the industry to continue to develop healthy lineage designed explicitly for service work.
From the moment they are born, these puppies are cared for by volunteer puppy nannies. These extraordinary volunteers spend hours exposing the puppies to human touch, sound, and smell. And as the puppies get older, they also introduce them to various exposures like the outside, floor textures, and car rides to ensure they have the best start to becoming a Service Dog.
At eight weeks of age, future Service Dog puppies head to the nursery team made up of loving people who open their homes and hearts for several months. During their time with a nursery team, the puppies learn how to travel in vehicles, learn house manners, and become accustomed to home environment activities. By the time they are around nine months old, the puppies already know several commands, including sit, down, come, watch me, and how to sleep all night in a crate. But more importantly, they have been exposed to things that are not replicable within the confines of the training center.
The pups take a big step between nine and ten months old when they leave their nursery homes to begin a more structured training. In just a year, they’ve learned as many as 60 commands that can be combined to perform daily living tasks designed to help a person with a disability.
Advanced learning begins between 12 and 14 months when specialized skills are taught and mastered. During this time, instructors match the dogs’ temperaments and skills with the needs of people who have requested dogs. When a potential match is made, extensive interviews are conducted with the client to identify their specific requirements.
The final training is highly individualized based on what will work best for a specific client. When a client arrives for team training, an ECAD Service Dog has already received up to 1,500 hours of education and socialization.
Breeding, nurturing, and training Service Dogs has many associated costs, but the results are priceless. Hundreds of people have been able to live independently and thrive after being matched with a dog from ECAD. For some, such as Adrian, who has Autism, and Tony, a veteran, having a Service Dog has been a lifesaver.
If you or a loved one might benefit from a Service Dog, we invite you to learn more about our programs.
If you are inspired to help make this work possible, your gift makes an enormous difference.