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Cambridge puppies train to become certified service dogs

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A litter of eight-week-old puppies have begun the first leg of training in Cambridge to become service dogs.

Five labrador-retriever mixes started the early stages of their behaviour assessment training Wednesday.

The goal is to make them full-fledged service dogs in less than two years.

“[We] start their training at just three-days old, introducing them to very mild stressors,” explained Emma Bluhm with National Service Dogs.

Each puppy is introduced to an early taste of real-life scenarios such as vacuum cleaners, fans and other objects – before being assessed.

“Do they get frightened and if they do, do they recover? How quickly? We want to see how confident they were,” said Danielle Forbes, executive director of National Service Dogs.

How the puppies do during training sets the foundation for how they’ll be raised over the next couple of years.

This process continues only after the examiners decide if the puppies have what it takes to be a service dog.

“Where the rubber really hits the road is when they hit 18 months, they come in for advanced training. We [might] make a determination that the dog hasn’t got the confidence to fly on an airplane or travel on public transit,” said Forbes. “We’ll look at that dog’s personality for a skilled companion dog.”

The current litter training in Cambridge seems to be passing initial tests with flying colours.

Examiners say all five pups showed high levels of confidence, which is rare for an entire litter.

With demand currently so high for service dogs, officials say it’s important to filter in as many prospects as possible.

“The need for the dogs far outweighs any program’s capacity to meet that need. We all have wait lists. Newbies coming into our program now are looking at 18 months,” said Forbes.

National Service Dogs admits it’s difficult to address demand due to the time needed to properly train each dog, but the best way to help the organization is to donate money or time.

“The more donations we get as a registered charity, the more we can do and the more people we can service every year,” Forbes added.

In the meantime, the promising pooches in Cambridge are headed to their new foster home for the next 12 months, before transitioning to advanced training.

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