LEARNING & TRAINING

Expert tips and behind-the-scenes looks at the service dog industry.


Meet our volunteer Richie Patton, one of the newest members of our Project 2 Heal family! Like many of our volunteers, Richie enjoys spending time with our puppies and helping to exercise the older dogs. As he stated early in our discussion, Richie is a former veterinarian's kennel boy... 72 years ago! Additionally, as a former Medic in the U.S. Army, Richie has a certain empathy for veterans struggling with PTSD and physical disability.

"Especially toward those who have been wounded either physically or mentally and need a service dog... I really feel the situation for them."

 

Related Post:


How Service Dogs Can Heal Veterans with PTSD

 

Volunteering to Make New Memories and Remember Old Friends.


For Richie, volunteering not only gives him a chance to help nurture and exercise our future service dogs, but it reminder him of a dog named Chico he owned as a teenage, who helped Richie during a difficult time in his life.


More than 60 years after Chico's passing, Richie says he still thinks of his dog every day.


Project 2 Heal: "Could you tell us a bit about Chico? Why does he continue to cross your mind each day, more than 60 years later?"


Richie Patton: "I was blessed as a troubled, angst-filled teen to have as a friend, partner, protector, and emotional crutch a large, mixed-breed, shepherd, type dog I named Chico. (I started studying Spanish as a freshman in high school."


"Looking back some 71 years, although I didn't know it at the time, I needed a "caregiver" animal. Chico, who I raised and trained from a just-weaned pup, was the quintessential, "Best Friend Forever." Aside from just being there in my neediest times and palpably empathizing with me, he saved me from physical harm, if not death, twice. Over the years, I have thought of him most every day. Like a unique human friend, I miss him more than I can describe."


Sharing the Spirit of Chico through a New Story.


Richie has immortalized the spirit, personality, and manner of his amazing dog Chico as a character named, "Corker," in his six-part e-book series entitled, "Paddy O' & Curly Slim." His series includes the elements of coming-of-age, love, adventure, and on a final, semi-autobiographic note, the main character becomes a veterinarian!


Click here to enjoy his e-books through Barnes & Noble!

 

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Training and Nurturing Puppies at Project 2 Heal:


At Project 2 Heal, we breed Labrador Retriever puppies for the purpose of donating these animals at 8 to 12 weeks of age to one of our partner organizations. From there, our puppies are trained extensively in service dog work and matched with an individual in need.


Our process begins with Early Neurological Stimulation, which are exercises conducted during the first two weeks of life—beginning at only 48 hours after birth!—that slightly stress the puppy's nervous system and allow them to become less reactive to novel stimuli as adults. This process includes the following:

  • Tactile stimulation: Stimulating puppy paws through touch our tickling.

  • Holding the head of the puppy erect.

  • Holding the head of the puppy pointed downward.

  • Supine position: Resting the puppy on its back in the palm of hands.

  • Thermal Stimulation: Placing feet of puppy on top of a cool, damp towel and allowing the puppy to move about.

Service Dog Scent Training:


Also occurring during the first 14 days, service dog training includes a process called early scent introduction. This training exposes dogs to smells it will encounter during working life. During this process, trainers pay close attention to the way puppies react to various smells. This helps identify which puppies may not be suited to work as a service dog.


Service Dog Clicker Training:


Championed by Karen Prior Academy, clicker training service dogs is a method that teaches puppies about associations. Puppies learn commands through a combination of rewards and clicking sounds. During service dog training, high-level tasks are broken into smaller tasks, after which puppies are rewarded with food and stimulated with sound from a handheld clicker.


Eventually food and clicking sounds are phased out so that puppies are able to execute tasks upon command.

 

Our mission is to reduce the cost and time necessary to place a service dog with a veteran, child with special needs, or adult with disabilities.

 

How Can You Help Further Our Mission?

When you donate only $5 per month, your contribution covers important expenses, including:

  • First vet visit for entire litter

  • 50 pounds of high-quality dog

  • 1 puppy eye exam

  • 6 bags of high-value reward training treats

  • 1 puppy-in-training service dog vest

As you can see, there are a number of ways that $5 monthly donations can make a real impact at Project 2 Heal. With an average cost of $5,000 to raise and train a puppy litter of puppies through the first 8 weeks of life, we'd love for you to join us on our mission.


You can become a donor at any level that works for you. We need your help to raise puppies and change lives.

 

$5 Monthly Donors


Our bread and butter (or should we say, "kibble?"), these donors cover items listed above, including first vet visits!


I Want to Cover Vet Visits!


$10 Monthly Donors


Each of our $10 monthly donors feeds an entire litter from birth to donation. (That's a lot of puppy food!)


I Want to Cover Vet Visits!


$25 Monthly Donors


$25 a month prevents fleas and ticks for a pup. With 30+ puppies expected in 2021, these donors mean the world!


Fleas and Ticks? Eww!



Updated: Sep 13



When it comes to coat color of Labrador puppies, there are three colors recognized by the American Kennel Club. Black, yellow, and chocolate are the three varieties of Labrador Retriever coat colors, however these puppies often exhibit different shades of black, yellow, and brown fur.


What Causes Coat Color Variation?


Genetic information for Labrador puppies is autosomal, meaning all labs receive this information from parents in a way that’s unrelated to the sex of the puppy. Where it begins to get tricky is when we discuss the genetics of black and chocolate puppies when compared to yellow puppies.

Puppy Genes and Alleles:


Before we go any further, let’s rewind to high school biology with a few key definitions:

  • Gene: The basic unit of heredity that occupies a specific location on a chromosome.

  • Allele: One of two or more versions of a gene.

When it comes to the coats of Labrador puppies, fur color is determined by one of two different genes, as well as a variety of alleles.

How Do We Get Black and Chocolate Labs?


When it comes to black lab puppies and chocolate lab puppies, both varieties inherit their fur color from a single gene, known as "Tyrosinase-related protein 1.” (TYRP1, as it’s commonly known.) This gene can present with one of four alleles, one dominate allele coding for black fur we’ll refer to it as “B”) and three recessive alleles coding for chocolate fur (which we’ll refer to as “b”).


To better understand, let’s take a look at the following scenarios:

  • BB. Here we have two dominant genes for black fur, obviously resulting in a black lab puppy.

  • Bb. In a situation in which either parent passes on the dominant allele and the other passes on the recessive, the lab puppy will still have a black coat.

  • bb. When both parents pass on the recessive allele, only then do we see a chocolate lab puppy.

 

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How Do We Get Yellow Puppies?

Yellow Labrador puppies get their hair color from a gene entirely different from the gene that determines black or brown fur. But, that doesn’t mean yellow lab puppies don’t have the TYRP1 gene we talked about above—there’s a different gene that can override alleles at TYRP1 coding for black or chocolate puppies.

Melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) is the gene responsible for yellow lab puppies, but can still result in fur coats of black and brown. The three most common alleles at the MC1R gene are “E” (which still produces black and brown fur) and “e” (which produces yellow fur).


As mentioned in the video above, the allele for yellow lab puppies is recessive. We'll dive a bit deeper here with a couple of scenarios:

  • EE. Both parents pass on dominant alleles for black or chocolate fur, resulting in a black or chocolate puppy.

  • Ee. One parent passes on a dominant allele for black/chocolate, while the other passes on the recessive allele for yellow fur.

  • ee. Only in a situation in which both parents pass on alleles coding for yellow fur is the TYRP1 gene overridden and yellow lab puppies are produced.

What is also interesting about the creation of yellow lab puppies is the fact that while their fur coat is without black or brown pigment, their skin will still exhibit the same color pigment as that of black or chocolate lab puppies.

 

Meet Our Most Recent Litter of Puppies:


Our Girl Copper Just Had 10 Puppies! Learn More About Her COLORFUL Litter.

 

Where Does Project 2 Heal Come In?


At Project 2 Heal, we breed Labrador Retriever puppies for the purpose of donating these animals at 8 to 12 weeks of age to one of our partner organizations. From there, our puppies are trained extensively in service dog work and matched with an individual in need.


Our process begins with Early Neurological Stimulation, which are exercises conducted during the first two weeks of life—beginning at only 48 hours after birth!—that slightly stress the puppy's nervous system and allow them to become less reactive to novel stimuli as adults. This process includes the following:

  • Tactile stimulation: Stimulating puppy paws through touch our tickling.

  • Holding the head of the puppy erect.

  • Holding the head of the puppy pointed downward.

  • Supine position: Resting the puppy on its back in the palm of hands.

  • Thermal Stimulation: Placing feet of puppy on top of a cool, damp towel and allowing the puppy to move about.

Service Dog Scent Training:


Also occurring during the first 14 days, service dog training includes a process called early scent introduction. This training exposes dogs to smells it will encounter during working life. During this process, trainers pay close attention to the way puppies react to various smells. This helps identify which puppies may not be suited to work as a service dog.


Service Dog Clicker Training:


Championed by Karen Prior Academy, clicker training service dogs is a method that teaches puppies about associations. Puppies learn commands through a combination of rewards and clicking sounds. During service dog training, high-level tasks are broken into smaller tasks, after which puppies are rewarded with food and stimulated with sound from a handheld clicker.


Eventually food and clicking sounds are phased out so that puppies are able to execute tasks upon command.


 

Our mission is to reduce the cost and time necessary to place a service dog with a veteran, child with special needs, or adult with disabilities.

 

How Can You Help Further Our Mission?

Our girl Copper recently gave birth to a HUGE litter of puppies... 10 to be exact! So, we're looking for 10 people to support the nurturing, socialization, training, and donation of this litter by joining Copper's Pup Club!


These puppies will literally change lives as service dogs! Your support will help us prepare them for training as service dogs for veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities.


To show our appreciation, when you join Copper's Pup Club you'll receive:

  • One "paw-tograph," signed by Copper herself.

  • Professional family photo of Copper's litter and of your sponsored puppy.

  • Access to visits with your sponsored puppy and other litters at Project 2 Heal facility.

  • Updates on sponsored puppy's progress as we receive them from service dog partner organization, following donation of puppy.

  • "Healing Pawtners" car magnet to display with pride.


Updated: Aug 26



Earlier this month, Project 2 Heal spoke with Diane Bernier, Executive Director of Fidos for Freedom—our longest standing partnership—to learn more about their service dog training program and how Project 2 Heal puppies make a difference. Fidos for Freedom is a service dog organization located in Laurel, Maryland and is statistically our most successful partnership. Project 2 Heal has been donating purpose-bred Labrador Retriever puppies to Fidos since 2012.


Out of the 33 puppies we've donated to Fidos over the last decade, 31 have become successful service dogs. (This results in a staggering 94% success rate!)


Meet Diane Bernier:


Diane has been with Fidos for Freedom since 1996 and is both a client and Executive Director of the organization. Diane's hearing dog Noah came to Fidos for Freedom from Project 2 Heal and serves Diane by alerting her of important sounds throughout the day. (Alarms, kitchen timers, doorbells, etc.)


Diane has stated that one of the most rewarding aspects of her work is able to help others regain independence through Fidos for Freedom. She particularly moved by the transformative impact service dogs often have with veterans.

 

Project 2 Heal's Interview:


Charlie Petrizzo: "When Fidos for Freedom takes dogs from shelters, how successful are these dogs?" Diane Bernier: "They're not successful... we've actually stopped using shelter dogs."

Charlie Petrizzo: "Oh! Well, when you were using them, how successful were they?" Diane Bernier: "We had about five that became successful service dogs out of about twenty." Charlie Petrizzo: "That's actually not bad for shelter dogs... that's twenty percent!" Diane Bernier: "We just felt it was too high a percentage for us. Our trainers are all volunteers and we don't want to waste the time of our trainers or people waiting for a service dog. Usually, it ended up being reactivity issues that didn't present until they were matched with a service dog recipient. The five that we placed were successful, but we noticed that the unsuccessful dogs were about a year old when they arrived at Fidos... we figured the hidden reactivity probably came from the way the older dogs were treated when they were little." Charlie Petrizzo: "Right, you know nothing about the critical phase of life of a shelter dog or anything about their genetics. It's all a real toss-up!" Diane Bernier: "It is, that's why we just couldn't do it anymore. My trainers would say, 'I just can't emotionally do it anymore.' Emotionally it's hard on the trainers [to see older dogs go on to fail at service work] because they get attached."

 

Learn More About the Important of a Puppy’s Genetics and Nurturing:

 

What Makes Fidos for Freedom So Successful?

Charlie Petrizzo: "Your organization seems to have a much higher success rate with our dogs than any other Project 2 Heal partner organization. I know our puppies play a role in that success, but something must be at play here... what do you think could be contributing to Fidos' success with our puppies?


Diane Bernier:"I think it's the fact that we keep them in our program longer if we need to... if they exhibit certain issues, we're able to hold them back and work on these things. Plus, a lot of program kennel their dogs rather than offer them volunteer homes, which is an aspect of our program that plays a huge role in our success."


(Project 2 Heal also works to provide homes for the mother dogs through our Chaperone Program. Through this program, you can open your home to a world-class dog and help support our mission.)

Charlie Petrizzo: "How long would you say most of your trainers have been with Fidos for Freedom?" Diane Bernier: "One of our most experienced trainers has been with us more than ten years." Charlie Petrizzo: "So part of your success comes from your trainers having had so much experience working with numerous dogs over the years?" Diane Bernier: "Oh, yes. They help train new trainers that join our organization. We have a mentoring program where we find people interested in joining our organization and work with them as puppy raisers first. Then we have them start taking classes, which we pay for, and another senior trainer will mentor them."

 

Learn About Project 2 Heal

Jr. Training Sessions:

We offer our own Jr. Training Sessions to kids in the Greater Charlotte area in order to provide an enriching experience for aspiring dog trainers in our community. While our sessions aren't preparation for service dog training, they're a great way to engage kids in an educational experience.

 

How Does Project 2 Heal Improve Your Program?


Charlie Petrizzo: "Do you have any idea what it costs your organization when a dog is re-careered out of service dog training? Is there an average costs?" Diane Bernier: "Normally our dogs aren't re-careered until they're older—" Charlie Petrizzo: "So it costs more?" Diane Bernier: "Yes, so if I had to take a guess I would say it costs us between $7,000—$10,000 per dog that fails in training."

Charlie Petrizzo: "Okay, that's what I was thinking." Diane Bernier: "We do keep dogs in our program longer to work on any issues they may have, which of course increases the cost if they don't make it."


(Sometimes medical issues like a sensitive stomach can occur in puppies, but later become something they simply outgrow.)


Charlie Petrizzo: "You guys are a completely volunteer-based organization, correct?" Diane Bernier: "We have three part-time employees, which include myself, our Office Manager, and our Bookkeeper. But yes, everyone else is a volunteer." Charlie Petrizzo: "So your paid staff keep the program running in administrative and managerial roles, but all of your training staff are volunteers?" Diane Bernier: "Yes, they're all volunteer."

 

Volunteering with Project 2 Heal


We're always looking for new people to join our dedicated team of volunteers! Whether you're interested in helping nurture puppies and maintain our facility, or looking to volunteer professional skills like marketing, bookkeeping, or public speaking, we'd love for you to join our volunteers!

 

Why Does It Take So Long for Someone to Receive a Service Dog?


Charlie Petrizzo: "When was Fidos for Freedom founded?" Diane Bernier: "We started in 1987 by training dogs for therapy and mobility, eventually adding hearing dogs, then service dogs for veterans." Charlie Petrizzo: "Right now, what is the demand for hearing dogs?"

Diane Bernier: "It seems to operate in cycles... right now we have two people on our list waiting for hearing dogs, one which is working with a dog from Project 2 Heal!" Charlie Petrizzo: "How long do recipients of your dogs typically have to wait?" Diane Bernier: "Once we interview them, and it can take up to a year until we're able to interview them... once they're interviewed it can take another year to receive a dog." Charlie Petrizzo: "So a total of two years?" Diane Bernier: "Between two and three years." Charlie Petrizzo: "Is the reason you don't interview them immediately because you don't want to take on more than you can handle?" Diane Bernier: "Exactly, we don't have enough dogs because we have to make sure we have enough puppy raisers and trainers." Charlie Petrizzo: "So, how do our dogs help you at all in getting service dogs to people in need more quickly?"


Diane Bernier: "I think you guys have such a good breeding program... whenever we get dogs in people always say, 'I want a Project 2 Heal dog!' And I say, 'I can't promise you that, but ninety percent of our dogs are Project 2 Heal dogs.'" Charlie Petrizzo: "We often hear from partner organizations that our dogs show up to training already knowing how to learn." Diane Bernier: "Our trainers all enjoy training Project 2 Heal dogs, because when it comes to learning skills, Project 2 Heal dogs just pick it up so fast!" Charlie Petrizzo: "That's great to hear. Well, we're very fertile over here Diane, so if you need dogs—let me know! We have five litters already born and two more on the way before the end of August." Diane Bernier: "Thank you! We will let you know." Charlie Petrizzo: "Thanks for your time, Diane."

 

Learn Diane's Story with Her Hearing Dog, Noah: