GREAT FALLS — Four little dogs arrived at Great Falls International Airport earlier this week and "sit" and "stay" are just too easy for these pups - they are now off to start their training to become service dogs through Canine Companions for Independence.
Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) is a nationwide non-profit that has trained more than 5,000 service dogs and provided them to people with disabilities free of charge.
The dogs are trained in more than 40 commands and are matched with children, adults, and veterans with disabilities free of charge. These dogs assist with daily tasks such as retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors and drawers, turning on and off lights, and much more to enhance independence for people with disabilities.
To get there, the training takes nearly two years of hard work and love, starting at the very beginning as adorable puppies.
The organization says the puppies are already training for their future companion. Learning to interact with each other and humans, playing on and around different surfaces and being exposed to new sights, sounds, and smells helps build the foundation for a successful service dog.
Zucchini, Zesty, Yoshi, and Yoyo are the four pups that have relocated from California to Montana. Zucchini will be heading off with Ashley Wilt to join the Club Collar Scholars at Carroll College in Helena.
“Day to day, we’re going to start with potty training and sleep training and all that. Then we’re gonna start on those 30 commands and once he’s old enough he’ll start going to classes with me and learn what college life is all about as well,” said Ashley Wilt, a volunteer puppy-raiser at Carroll College.
Zesty, Yoshi, and Yoyo will live in the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby to start the first part of their training.
“We have raised 128 dogs. We have a 74% success rate and how the training goes, these puppies will be living in the prison in the cell with their dog handlers,” said Susan Kloos, the Crossroads Correctional Center Dog Coordinator.
Though the pups have split, they will all be trained in more than 30 commands before they are matched with children, adults, and veterans with disabilities.
“Puppy-raising is definitely addicting because it’s so amazing to see whose lives these dogs change and all that they accomplish,” said Wilt.