From Eight Weeks to Six Months of Age:
PAALS raises puppies in groups for assistance dog training. Usually PAALS starts training a puppy at eight weeks of age after an initial temperament test is conducted and shows the puppy has assistance dog qualities such as interest in retrieving, self control around other animals, smells, and people, and good tugging abilities. During the next four months the volunteers and trainers at PAALS work hard at completing a several page long/comprehensive exposure list which includes exposures to household sounds, people of different ages, heights, and ethnicities, and various real world sounds and sights. Careful observations are recorded noting any fear or aggressive reactions to these exposures. If any extreme reactions are noted, PAALS’ trainers work on the exposure that triggered the response. If progress is not detected the director of PAALS may choose to release this puppy to an appropriate companion home or to another appropriate working role such as search and rescue. For puppies who continue in the program training sessions to teach obedience and basic task related skills are conducted daily during this time.
At Six Months of Age:
At six months of age hip radiographs are sent to PENNhip and/or OFA for results. PAALS puppies whose PENNhip results show 40% or higher index are considered puppies that are strong enough to continue assistance dog training. Puppies with OFA scores of Good or better continue training with PAALS. Elbow radiographs are also taken and evaluated by our veterinary specialist. This veterinarian looks at radiographs and the PENNhip and/or OFA results and recommends whether the puppy is structurally strong enough to continue with Assistance Dog training. At about this age all the PAALS puppies also get eye certification tests by an eye specialist. This veterinarian makes recommendation to PAALS on whether a puppy’s eye health is good enough for assistance work. Any dogs that veterinarians recommend against assistance work due to health evaluations are released to an appropriate companion home or to another less strenuous working role.
From Six Months to Approximately 14 Months of Age:
PAALS continues with obedience and task related training from six months of age until approximately fourteen months of age. During this time the exposure list started as puppies is further focused on with a goal to complete the list by 14 months of age.
At Approximately 14 Months of Age:
When a PAALS dogs reaches about 14 months of age a public evaluation and training/temperament evaluation is conducted. Dogs who show aggression or extreme fear reactions during these evaluations are released from the program to an appropriate companion home. Those who handle themselves safely in public and show potential for further training are entered into PAALS advanced training program.
From 14 Months of Age until about 22 Months of Age:
PAALS dogs go into an intensive training program to complete their task based skills and further test their obedience in public. During this time dogs are specialized for a specific person who needs their help. This may be someone in a wheelchair, a child with autism, or a professional who wants to incorporate a working dog into their specialty.
After approximately two years of training, PAALS dogs are ready to be permanently placed with their new partners. The final step before placement is a critical two and a half week Team Training where clients travel from around the state to work full-time with PAALS trainers and the assistance dog specifically trained to match their specific needs. At the end of the Team Training, each client/assistance dog team must pass written and practical tests to show that they are capable of safely caring for, living and working with their PAALS dog. This year, PAALS will make five life-changing assistance dog placements, more than in any previous “graduating” class.