The Puppy Enrichment Program (PEP) at 4 Paws For Ability is the foundational training program for our puppies. The goal of the program is to raise well-rounded and socialized puppies through purely positive interactions, and then move on to Volunteer Trainers at eight weeks old to continue their service dog training journey.
We are able to accomplish this goal by using tested methods of socialization and introducing foundational obedience. When puppies are born, we immediately start introductions to being handled. The first stage is simply petting them lightly while they are sleeping or eating.
At three days old, we will start a program with them called Biosensor. This biosensor program, originally called the Super Dog Program, was developed and tested by the U.S. military for its working dogs. It is proven to increase a dog’s ability to deal with stress later in life. This program takes place during days 3–19 of life and is done by introducing small/controlled stimulations (thermal, tactile, etc.) to our puppies.
Starting at one week old, while the biosensor program is happening, the rest of our socialization program begins. We try to introduce our dogs to a variety of new things; sounds, scents, objects, sights, etc. These introductions are often done during Puppy Playtime, one hour daily play sessions, by volunteers.
A wide range of experiences set our puppies up for the best chance of success as a service dog in training. When the puppies reach six weeks of age, they will start being taken off-site to various stores to begin socializing in public spaces. This is where a lot of service dogs will accompany their family and work in the future, so it is important for us to create positive experiences there as soon as possible.
To round out the rest of the program, the puppies are also learning foundational obedience skills. This includes sit, down, namecall, shake, and more. Introducing obedience at a young age helps puppies to love learning and helps our Volunteer Trainers transition their puppies to working with them.
Through all of these steps in our Puppy Enrichment Program, we are able to create confident eight week old puppies who are ready to continue training to hopefully one day become service dogs.
Written by Nels Horan
4 Paws for Ability Puppy Enrichment Program Coordinator