Spike and I are on vacation in California and decided to make a trip to Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) Headquarters in Santa Rosa, California – which is also conveniently in wine country.

First, Spike had a paw-some family reunion. We went to the home of Chris Kittredge, a Canine Companions board member and also the volunteer ‘breeder caretaker’ of Spike’s mom Dory. Upon seeing his mom for the first time since he was eight weeks old, Spike nearly lost his mind. He and Dory were so excited, running and playing and giving each other lots of kisses. I felt like they were both saying to one another “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” Dory is still an active breeder for Canine Companions and will soon have another litter of puppies.

Then we went to Canine Companions headquarters and were fortunate enough to see a new litter of puppies being turned in: Hachi, Hocus, Huli, Hilo, Hazy, and Haver (every pup in a CCI litter has a name that starts with the same letter). The volunteer breeder caretakers take care of the litter for the first eight weeks of their lives, usually in their own homes. Then they turn the pups into headquarters to get evaluated and processed before being shipped to their puppy raisers, which could be anywhere in the country.

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When they are turned in, they spend 24 hours at Canine Companions headquarters at the “Puppy Unloading Zone.”  The pups get their first round of shots, their first baths, and get a tattoo that identifies them as a Canine Companions dog.  Veterinarians evaluate them for any medical or physical issues. For example, if a dog has a significant overbite or underbite they could be released from the program because a big part of their eventual job will be to pick up items for their partner.

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While at the puppy unloading zone, trained volunteers are invited to come and spend time playing with the puppies to help socialize them – and it’s not too difficult to find willing participants. We were lucky enough to get to take on this onerous duty! We washed our hands first and put on sterile booties to avoid giving the puppies any infection or sickness.

Socialization is very important with these service puppies.  We want these pups to be exposed to as many different sites and sounds as early as possible to normalize it for them and avoid developing fear patterns that can be difficult to correct when they get older.

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For example, some breeders will have a CD with various sounds like sirens, traffic, bells, and fireworks to play for the puppies – a useful investment for anyone with a new puppy.

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Another socialization techniques we practiced with the puppies is called “cradling.” In your lap, you carefully place the puppy on its back and hold it, until it relaxes.  This teaches the dog to be comfortable with being held and having their feet touched, also making it easier to trim their nails, too.

Though I expected nothing less than excellence from the CCI Headquarters, it was great to see how carefully these future heroes are treated each step of the way.

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Spike and I also met other puppy raisers in a training class, and even met one of his half-siblings from another of Dory’s litters. The whole trip was really a full Lion King ‘Circle of Life’ moment for Spike and I. And after all the puppy craziness, we did a little wine tasting too.

Everyone will surely be coming home happy to the east coast.

Click here to learn more about Canine Companions for Independence.

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