The DogSquad touches and is touched by hundreds of people every year. Puppies begin their training at Bella’s Buddies in Buffalo, Texas, where they follow a strict protocol beginning the day they are born. Within the first six weeks of their lives, puppies are exposed to many different sounds and sights. Sensory enrichment is high on the list of priorities at an early age in order to help young dogs transition into public access and service. At 12 weeks old, puppies in the K9U program are assigned to a foster teacher who takes responsibility for teaching basic commands and encouraging service behaviors.
Teachers and their pups attend a weekly training class where they learn new tasks and share their classroom experiences. Throughout the year, puppies cycle through different teacher fosters so that they can learn to bond and obey different handlers. Students from first grade to graduating seniors take active roles in helping the dogs to meet their goals. At the end of the year, dogs who have successfully met their K9U goals graduate with the Centerville High School senior class to earn their diplomas. They then return to Bella’s Buddies where they work to hone their skills in specific areas. Throughout the year, Bella’s Buddies receives requests from organizations for trained canines that can work as therapy dogs to help children or adults who are struggling in their daily lives.
The board of directors reviews applications and selects recipients based on need and the ability to care for and train with a Bella’s Buddy. A Bella’s Buddies representative accompanies the dog for initial visits to the facility, extending time as the dog begins the months-long transition into his new role. The new handler works alongside Bella’s Buddies placement staff during this period, training and evaluating as a team with the dog. Often, students who worked with a specific dog are afforded the opportunity to see the dog in his new role. This gives them a sense of pride in knowing they completed a monumental task. It also provides them with opportunities to share empathy for those who are struggling. Elderly veterans find great joy when young people visit. Add a therapy dog and the conversation immediately motivates the young people and old to interact.