Retrieving Freedom, Inc. breeds and trains retrievers, with the specific traits needed for the duty of being an assistance dog. This is paramount in our business, since the time spent raising, training, and placing these dogs needs to be applied to a type of dog most likely to succeed. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are RFI’s preference to use for our assistance dogs. So many of the tasks required are a form of retrieving, and it only makes sense to use the dog’s natural breeding traits to make the perfect assistance dog.
Our management team has unique experience in the dog training industry, including over 30 years of training retrievers for competitive field work. Hundreds of breeders across the country qualify as dog trainers, but very few have the experience of RFI’s previous competition retriever trainers.
Training Process Overview
The amount of time it takes to train a dog to be placed into service is approximately 24 months. The timeline below briefly outlines some of the major milestones involved in the process. We can only be successful in this efforts through the generous support of our donors. (Also see more detailed information below…)
Breeding/Raising Puppies (Birth – 2 months old)
- Ensure overall health and solid bone structure
- Assess trainability
- Observe and assess puppy’s disposition and interaction with people and other animals
Donor Home (2 – 6 months old)
- Prepare the puppy for the next 18 months of training
- Start to socialize the puppy in more scenarios
- Start teaching the puppy basic commands from the handbook
- Donor remains in close communication with RFI
Basic Training at RFI Facility (6 – 18 months old)
- Dog is now taught a broad, and specialized, command base of 40 or more commands
- Prepare the dog for last 6 months of training, which are the most challenging for the dog and the recipient
Specialized Training (19 – 24 months old)
- Teach the dog highly specialized commands and tasks
- Teach specific skills and tasks that are matched to the recipients unique needs and scenario
Placement (24 months old)
- 10 days are spent matching dogs with recipients
- The recipient is trained on all dog commands
Ongoing Training (24 + months old)
- Conduct ongoing training classes throughout year to make sure skills are kept sharp and further developed
- Perform ongoing follow-up interviews to make sure that the match was perfect and that both the recipient and the dog are benefiting to the maximum extent possible from the relationship
Training Process Details
The specially bred puppies are placed into the homes of people that are willing to raise and socialize them to the age of six months. These donor homes receive a special handbook that includes all the commands that these dogs will learn over the next 18+ months. This is a special time in the process of producing the best possible assistance dog. These donor homes socialize and raise the puppies with the heart and soul that will allow these dogs to feel like their part of a family. RFI keeps in very close contact with these donor homes, and communicate the importance of their role in our organization.
Once the dog reaches six months of age, it is moved into into full-time training with Retrieving Freedom at one of the two RFI locations. For the first twelve months of training each dog will be trained with the same broad base of commands needed for the basic knowledge of assistance in both of RFI’s markets.
- Dogs name: Get their attention and know a command is coming
- Let’s go: we are moving
- Easy: tells them to calm down
- Paws: place paws on lap, table or wall
- Off: get down
- Down: lay flat on floor
- Watch me: makes eye contact
- Wait: Stop and stand still
- Up: jump on table, truck, etc.
- Heel: position on left side of handler
- Side: position on right side of handler
- Front: Sit facing handler
- Stand: up on all 4 ready to take a weight bearing load
- Turn Around: face opposite of the way they are looking
- Dress: place head in service vest
- Behind: get behind handler
- Switch: go from side or heel to opposite, travel behind handler to do so
- Get Busy: go to bathroom
- Closer: move closer
- Kennel: go in a tight space
- Leave it: Completely ignore any food, item, person, or dog
- Back: leave handler to retrieve an object
- Fix it: untangle leash from their legs
- Load: enter a vehicle
- Speak: Bark
- Quiet: No noise
- Look: indicates an object to pick up
- Get it: pick up designated item
- Hold: firmly hold object
- Give: place object in hand
- Drop: drop object to ground or basket
- Close: dogs pushes object with nose
- Pull: pulls a rope or handle attached to a drawer, door, wheel chair
- Light: flip light switch on with nose
- Switch: flip light switch off with teeth or chin
- Get leash
This entire list of commands will prepare these dogs for their last six months of specialized commands and task orientation that will be tailored to meet the specific needs of each disabled veteran or autistic child. These needs will be ascertained from the earlier interviews of the waiting applicants that are next in line to receive a RFI assistance dog. All pre-selected candidates will be interviewed to assess their commitments and needs.
Specific Task Training
During the last six months of training, assistance dogs are trained in detail for their specific recipient and their needs.
Veterans with disabilities and/or PTSD
- Orientation to any prosthetic limbs that will need to be retrieved
- The ability to “brace” and support the weight of their veteran
- Training on pulling and stopping wheelchairs
- Reduction of heeling speed to one step at a time, for veterans on crutches
- Specific complex task chains, such as:
- Open fridge, get water, close fridge
- Open dryer, get clothes, place in basket
- Un-tie shoes, take off, place at door, take off socks
- Get remote
- Get phone
- Push elevator buttons
- Get groceries off shelf, place in cart
- Open door, wait, shut door
- Push a panic button in case of an emergency
These dogs will be the hands, legs, and friends of these veterans, providing companionship while coping with an emotional overload.
Assistance dogs also require these veterans to leave the house and go take the dog outside for bathroom breaks and walks. THIS IS HUGE! The dog really helps them back into society.
- Tracking will be taught to these dogs so that they can find a child in any place where they have become separated from their parents.
- Tethering: A tether is attached to the dog’s service vest and the belt of a child. These dogs are trained to sit any time the child forcefully pulls on the tether.
- Snuggle: Dogs learn to comfort the child in times of panic and high anxiety.
- Retrieving on command is huge for these kids, since it is an activity that they can constructively do with their new companion.
These dogs become the social “bridge” for these children, often helping even non-verbal children begin forms of verbal conversation. THIS IS AWESOME! Children talking for the first time in their lives, willing to approach new situations, and being comfortable in all settings with their new companion.
Children and Adults with Diabetes