Because Service Dogs must have exceptional health, abilities, and temperaments, ECAD's founder, Dale Picard has developed an outstanding breeding program. There are currently fifteen studs and bitches in the program, and they whelp 3 to 5 litters per year. The adult dogs live with breeder caretakers throughout the year, and often double as Facility Dogs in Animal Assisted Therapy programs at our school campuses, hospitals, or nursing homes.
With the exception of some breeder donations, our dogs are Labrador and Golden Retrievers bred by ECAD for outstanding physical and mental health. We have owned all of the female breeders and most of the stud dogs from birth, to guarantee that the best possible puppies enter our training program. The puppies are whelped at our breeding center in Torrington, Connecticut by the Picard family, and get lots of early education and socialization while still in the whelping box. Before they are even weaned, ECAD instructors bring the moms and puppies into our training centers for even more exposure to new people and places.
Our program is unique because the pups get the best of both worlds – home and school – right from the start. We are big believers in early education! As early as eight weeks of age, the pups are ready to start school full time (see the ECADemy video for more details). Student trainers in the ECADemy program start teaching pups the basics of obedience and self-control, and Home for the Weekend volunteer handlers teach housebreaking and house manners. At 2-3 months old, our puppies already know Sit, Down, Come, Watch Me, and walk on a loose leash. They play retrieve and tug, which prepares them for skills they will refine throughout the next year or two. By the end of the first year, they have learned up to 60 commands that can be combined to perform even more tasks of daily living designed to help a person with a disability.
When the dogs are about a year and a half old, our instructors compare the dogs' temperaments and skills with the needs of people who have requested dogs. When we find a potential match, we do extensive interviews with the client to identify their specific requirements. We then do highly individualized training for the dog(s) we believe will work best for that client. By the time the client comes for team training, the dog has had up to two years of education and socialization.