At RI our staff of trainers begin socializing and training our puppies at 3 and a half weeks of age. Socialization is the major concentration at this point, but beginning the basic training helps to develop the brain for their advanced learning.
By the age of 16 weeks each puppy has learned as many as 30 commands and has gone through extensive temperament testing and health checks. We are then able to determine which puppies have the best chance of completing the program. This allows us to place puppies with release homes that do not fit our criteria. And not every puppy meets our rigorous standards for service dogs.
In their first year with us our puppies are trained daily in obedience and advance as quickly as they are able in service dog commands. Each week they go on two outings. They go home periodically on weekends with volunteers and spend a lot of their day with volunteers, when not training with staff.
At a year they are matched with a client. We ask our clients to come to our facility to meet our dogs; it is at this time that we determine matches by personality and mutual attraction.
Once a match has been made, the dog begins specialized skill training. Because each person has a unique disability, they will have very different needs, and we want our dogs to be prepared to meet those needs. Depending on maturity and development, it can be 3 to 6 months before the dog will be ready to be placed with its new partner.
In cases of seizure disorders and children with certain types of autism, a puppy may be placed with a recipient as early as 6 months. These recipients would have to be able to travel to our facility to continue training with the dog. This early placement is to help develop the bond. The dog is not allowed in public until the dog and recipient can be certified for public access and the dog is fully trained to assist the client. This includes the Assistance Dog International Public Access Test which is administered to all our dogs before graduating from our program.