Early education is essential for well behaved, well socialized, skilled service dogs. Just as children learn a great deal when they are young, puppies also need to start on the path to success at a young age.
The Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center for puppies is an integral part of NEADS. A solid foundation in socialization and training is essential to each puppy’s success as an assistance dog. Most puppies arrive at the NEADS Early Learning Center at the age of approximately eight weeks.
NEADS does not have a breeding program of its own. We rely on the generosity of breeders and other service dog organizations’ breeding programs to fill our puppy program. The Early Learning Center is typically full of purebred Labrador puppies. We occasionally acquire alternative breeds, as well.
At the Early Learning Center, our puppies learn that:
- humans are friendly and fun
- loud noises are not scary
- unusual items are not frightening
The puppies go on field trips to the mall, they go for walks in town, and they encounter all kinds of people and places. They learn that everything they see is fun and harmless. These skills will become essential when, as adult assistance dogs, they are able to focus entirely on their handler without being distracted by loud noises, unusual sights, or unfamiliar surroundings.
Each new puppy is tracked starting from his or her entrance into the NEADS program. Our staff receives weekly progress reports from weekend volunteer puppy raisers and prison inmates, monthly progress reports from full-time puppy raisers, and additional documentation from volunteer veterinarians and trainers. This enables the puppy center to maintain thorough, detailed logs on the behavioral status, well-being, health, and training of each puppy. As a result of this methodical, detail-oriented documentation, NEADS staff is consistently up-to-date and well-informed about the nuances in behavior, training progress and medical history of every dog. This cumulative information helps our staff make the right match between a client and an assistance dog.