Transitions – The Placing of a Service Dog Puppy with End Users


rachel boy and dogMy role as an independent service dog trainer requires comfort switching hats to cover the many aspects to the process. Part dog trainer, therapist, parenting expert, coach, cheerleader, dictator, advocate, friend and on occasion for some, a life line. The role I play might include puppy raising (more common), it might be the owner doing the puppy raising under intensive guidance. It’s been a busy year of service dog training — breeds including multi gen labradoodles, English Springer Spaniels, a Great Dane, a German Shepherd Dog (GSD) and a Golden Retriever. Functions for clients ranging from 4 years old to over 60 and in service for symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Psychiatric Conditions (anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, bipolar, OCD) and Tourette’s. — each dog carefully selected for breed, size, energy level, function as it relates to size, gender and coat type to best match their assignee(s).

Mae is a delightfully confident, sassy, bright, cooperative and sweet English Springer Spaniel who most serendipitously fell into my lap for this wonderful family of mom Jessica, dad Dan and their two boys, Beck and Mylo, who are both diagnosed on the autism spectrum but manifest in very different ways. Mae has a big job ahead of her. Among other things Mylo has extreme sensitivities to sound and change and has, according to his mom, on average, 4 meltdowns a day. Some big, some easily redirected but outings often avoided to prevent meltdowns.

Puppy raising is a time filled with fun, socialization, learning basic manners, outings with practice with basic manners, dog play, socialization, rest, good food and happy times. And more socialization. In this case, having a full house with another springer project, Farley, I turned to Jennifer Murray and her daughters to do the important early work. Mae moved in on September 5, 2014 and moved out October 10th. In  that span of time she had many great adventures, had regular visits from her family during Drop in Play (DIPS), learned her basic manners, practiced them, and grew.

early socialization

Transition time is the change of the dog from puppy raising to placement. I like to begin with a 3 day sleepover with regular contact to give the dog a chance to get to know the family and vice versa. Then a required return for a minimum of 2 days to assess the fall out with the kids (or adults if relevant) and evaluation myself of the puppy to see how I think she’s doing. It’s one of my favorite times in the process because it’s when the real work begins.

As I write this, Mae is settled at my feet, sleeping. She returned to Jen last night and then arrived under my care early this afternoon and will leave tomorrow early afternoon. In the interim I have observed her ability to adjust to big changes, her confidence bordering on a bit unruly with some management thrown in to help guide her to success, and a clearer idea of the types of challenges await the family as they transition her from part time to full time underfoot.

While Mae was on her sleepover, Jessica and I shared a few texts:

Jessica: “We have having a great time with Mae. She is wonderful. We have been playing the touch game inside and she’s doing great!….[later] We are at the Cleveland Flea Market and we are being bold and brave….[later still ] Mae asleep on her blanket under the table at Jammy Burgers.”

Rachel: Any Mylo meltdowns today?

Jessica: NONE!!!!


Oh boy, I cannot wait to get this really underway. Stay tuned!



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