Roar For More began nearly nine years ago with her first-ever litter arriving in August 2014. Nancy Dreschel, an associate professor of animal science at Penn State, had established the relationship with Susquehanna Service Dogs (SSD), a part of Keystone Human Services that raises, breeds, trains and places service dogs to provide companionship to people with disabilities.
Since 1993, Susquehanna Service Dogs has partnered with community members and universities in Pennsylvania to breed service dogs, and it was Dreschel who brought the organization to Penn State. She started Roar For More, a branch of Susquehanna Service Dogs, to give students the opportunity to raise puppies and learn more about service dogs.
Now at Penn State, litter after litter has gone through Roar For More training, and they’re just as adorable as you’d expect. Each litter is themed, so the “D” litter – the organization’s first – had puppies whose names all started with the letter D. Other themed litters include the “Cheese”, “Sushi” litters and “Under the Sea”.
One of Program Assistant Susan Lechtanski’s students was a breeder for the first Roar For More litter at Penn State. A group of girls who were raising the litter on the topic of “cheese” the following semester often hung out in the HUB near Lechtanski’s office at the time.
“I was this annoying, ‘Oh, can I pet your pup?’ Yeah, I was that person,” Lechtanski said. “And finally one of the students said, ‘you know, you can do that too,’ and she handed me a card and I filled it in. application form and followed the training.”
She started out as a sitter, someone who would only have the pup for a few days at a time so her breeder could go on vacation or get away from those rearing responsibilities for a bit. During spring break, Lechtanski really understood how much work goes into raising puppies and realized just how much there was to learn. Dreschel suggested Lechtanski go to class to find out more.
“So I started going to class. Six years later, here I am,” Lechtanski said.
Before Lechtanski became heavily involved with Roar For More, Dreschel managed the entire program. Now the two are working together to find breeders and get students interested. Dreschel teaches weekly classes that aim to develop the skills of puppies and their handlers.
However, Roar For More is not just for students. Community members also help raise service dogs for Susquehanna Service Dogs and attend these classes. Each class consists of approximately six puppies and their breeders, so the Roar For More family is united and provides more hands-on learning experiences.
These classes attended by puppies and their breeders vary by curriculum depending on the developmental age of the puppies. The youngest of the puppies goes to an early socialization class to work on house training, showing manners and learning how to learn. Toddlers get their first taste of clicker training, loose leash walking and basic cues like Sit, down, and to stay. After the nine-week class, each puppy must go through an exam session with a Susquehanna Service Dogs representative to assess if they are ready to move on to the purple class. — a more advanced course for puppies from 6 to 12 months that takes into account behavioral training.
“Instead of saying, ‘This is what you have to do,’ we help them learn a new task,” Dreschel said. “It’s really important when they get older. They might need to do all kinds of things that we don’t even foresee, but now that they have this base of knowing how to figure things out, they can be trained to do all kinds of things.
The green class is intended for puppies from 12 to 18 months old. In this class, they learn new clues and reinforce everything they have already worked on. A great cue they learn is targeting, in which they learn to follow a hand or other object as a “target” so the dog can hit it at a specific spot. For example, Susquehanna Service Dogs uses targeting to be able to open the door to disability at the HUB.
After completing their classes with Roar for More, the pups move on to advanced training in Grantville, Pennsylvania, which is SSD’s home base. Roar for More puppies will grow up to be guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, K9 unit dogs or even breeding dogs.
Susquehanna Service Dogs is accredited with Assistance Dogs International, as well as over 100 other organizations worldwide, including the Guide Dog Foundation (GDF), which also has a Penn State Breeder. Susquehanna Service Dogs and the GDF are part of the Assistance Dogs International breeding cooperative, where organizations “breed for the best qualities while maintaining genetic diversity,” Lechtanski said.
Professional trainers who work with Susquehanna Service Dogs assess dogs to see which behaviors are enjoyable for them and which behaviors are not. In a way, dogs choose their own careers.
“They do an amazing job of listening to the dog and what the dog is telling them, the dog wants to do,” Lechtanski said. “Some dogs don’t want to be a service dog, and that’s okay. Trainers listen to that and find other opportunities that the dogs will enjoy.
“I think Penn State is an amazing environment to train these puppies because we have such a diverse environment everywhere,” Lechtanski continued.
Different life situations like a downtown apartment or dorms, meeting the squirrels on campus, walking on sidewalk grates, riding bikes and scooters, experiencing construction, and even meeting animals bigger farmhouses are all experiences Penn State has to offer. These are all things that puppies need to learn and work on to feel comfortable while being raised.
“The university has been very understanding about having [the dogs] here,” Dreschel said.
Roar For More has been working with students, faculty and the university to make sure things run smoothly for student breeders. To do this, he meets teachers and discusses what it will be like to have an assistance dog in training in a classroom.
“The students we’ve had have been amazing,” Dreschel said. “I don’t really know how they do it, to tell you the truth. It’s a huge amount of work. Students tell us that their time management skills have improved and “now I know what it’s like to be a parent”, things like that. »
Balancing a full course load with raising an energetic pup and teaching him new skills is no easy task, but the students at Roar For More have done an amazing job with these dogs. The students raising the pups also come from a wide range of majors. Some are in animal science or kinesiology and some are even in accounting or criminology. Students who feel that education and training is part of their career path may even increase for credits.
Raising these dogs can be a lot of work, but the payoff is huge. Knowing that these dogs are going to completely change someone’s life is extremely rewarding.
“Sometimes these dogs that were a handful when they were puppies and made their breeder cry more than once. There they are, walking gracefully across the stage at graduation. It’s like a proud moment of mom,” Lechtanski said.
Graduation is also a great way for breeders and dogs to connect with new owners who have been matched with Susquehanna Service Dogs dogs.
Lechtanski recalled a dog from the “Cheese” litter that became a balance dog. She was there to see the woman who was paired with the cross-country dog for the first time.
“It made me cry,” Lechtanski said. “I knew how important these outdoor activities were to her and how much she was no longer able to do these activities. Now that she had her dog, she was relearning how to do these things again.
“It’s really cool to be able to meet people who work with dogs and see how dogs have changed their lives,” Dreschel added.
Those interested in learning more about Roar For More and service dog training can visit the group’s site. Facebook page or the Susquehanna Service Dogs’ website.