The Puppy Pathway to service dog success
Milestone 1: Breeding and Birth
The precious puppies born at Freedom Service Dogs receive lots of tender loving care, but that’s just the start. Cultivating a happy, healthy, and successful service dog candidate requires an extraordinary amount of time, expertise, and resources, starting long before birth and leading up to a happy graduation day with one of our clients in need.
That long and strategic process is what we call the Puppy Pathway. It’s a journey of growth, discovery, learning, and rewards for puppies in FSD’s service dog training program. Far from being ordinary dogs, these are pups with a purpose, and every step along the Puppy Pathway is designed to set them up for success as a future Freedom Service Dog. Their goal? To graduate from FSD and transform the lives of our clients with disabilities.
In this ongoing series, we’ll take a closer look at each milestone along the Puppy Pathway, starting with Breeding and Birth.
FSD’s Reproduction and Genetics department was launched in 2020 after years of thoughtful planning and preparation. The ultimate goal of our purpose-bred puppy program is to graduate more successful service dogs, more quickly, for the 89 veterans, children, and other adults with disabilities on our waiting list. Early results have confirmed that we are better positioned to achieve that goal with puppies that are FSD born-and-bred and prepared from virtually their first breath for the specific purpose of becoming life-changing service dogs.
To that end, we select for specific genetic traits (strong hips and elbows, keen eyesight, a healthy heart, and no breed-specific genetic diseases), as well as temperament and overall good health in our breeding females and males. By strategically managing these characteristics, we can increase the likelihood of producing puppies with the qualities needed to become successful service dogs, such as a calm demeanor, good work ethic, and clean bill of health.
Over many years, we have found that the breeds best suited for service dog work are Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. We currently have 10 FSD females and one FSD male in our breeding program, and until that number increases, we will continue to augment those dogs with carefully chosen dogs from partner assistance dog organizations.
Our breeding females live in the homes of experienced guardians and are cared for as beloved pets until they go into heat, which typically happens every six to nine months. Did you know that the gestation period for dogs is approximately 63 days? Throughout the breeding, pregnancy, and birth processes, our females receive ongoing medical attention, special nutrition, and plenty of TLC. Happy, healthy mommy dogs = happy, healthy puppies!
When it’s time for the pups to be born, our mothers give birth under the watchful eyes of our reproduction and genetics, health care, and nursery teams, with veterinary assistance at the ready. After giving birth, the mother stays with her pups in our nursery for six to seven weeks until they are weaned. At that point, she returns to her guardian home until the next time she is bred. Females in our program can safely produce up to four litters before 6 years of age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will. The health and well-being of our mothers is our top priority, and we will retire them from our program early if we determine that they would benefit from it. Our FSD guardians are first in line to adopt the dog they have been caring for when she retires.
Up next: Learn about our puppies’ vital development between birth and 4 months old in the February Pupdate.