Learning to work with distractions: North Central puppy class takes a festive twist

A black lab wears a taco costume.Puppy class took on a new twist the week of Oct. 17 at the North Central Training Center in New Albany, Ohio. 

Like usual, items were strewn throughout New Leash Hall’s training room as part of a makeshift obstacle course. Only this time, those items included colorful decorations. 

In one corner of the room, a large inflatable ghoul waited patiently to serve as a potential distraction to a future service dog in training. Feet away, a stuffed cheetah was dressed as a mummy; another potential distraction.

It wasn’t just the decorations that made this class unique. As volunteer puppy raisers arrived on campus, the future service dogs in training that accompanied them wore more than their usual vests. 

“She’s a blue crayon,” said puppy raiser and long-time volunteer Marty Marlatt, adjusting future service dog Tess’ cap. 

One-by-one, dogs filed onto campus dressed as everything, from Tinker Bell to a taco, Waldo and a lion. NBC4’s Puppy with a Purpose Brutus showed up as… well, Ohio State’s Brutus Buckeye, of course. 

It’s an idea that paid off, according to Puppy Program Administrative Assistant Nina Hoeppner, who said the turnout for Wednesday’s class was more than they had anticipated. 

“Canine Companions volunteers are vital to the success of our program to place service dogs with people with disabilities,” says Puppy Program Manager Suzanne Sliclen. “Activities like our costume puppy class aren’t just about being cute and spooky. It is about teaching the dog to be confident in their environment and cooperative in their handling. Volunteer puppy raisers teach the basics that will lead to independence.” 

The classes, which take place every other Wednesday evening, provide puppy raisers with an environment to test their dogs, ask questions about the training process and connect with fellow volunteers. Canine Companions puppies participate in these bi-weekly classes until they return for professional training, where they will learn their working commands. At this point, the dogs are typically around 16 months old. 

You can learn more about the Puppy Program and how to become a volunteer with Canine Companions by clicking here