Side by side, they calmly walked into the Weis Expo Hall.

Dozens of Pennsylvania Farm Show attendees hurried past them, but the 14 Labrador retrievers did not pull ahead of their trainers.

Each Tuesday and Thursday, workers at Susquehanna Service Dogs take their young Labs to public places to practice their focus.

Eventually the dogs will serve adults and children with physical and psychiatric disabilities, but on Thursday they were crowd pleasers at the Farm Show.

"This is a really good challenge for them. It teaches them to give a gentle hello while working on sitting and staying focused," said Kerry Wevodau, development specialist at Susquehanna Service Dogs, a Harrisburg nonprofit.

She and other staff previously trained Buster, the black Lab serving the York County courthouse.

Susquehanna Service Dogs has placed many helpful canines in York County and also has many volunteers from the county, Wevodau said.

On Thursday, she was guiding Mali, a 15-month-old black Lab, past Pennsylvania farmers, roofing specialists, grocers, technology firms and more.

Groups of visitors -- including many children -- stopped to pet her. She remained even tempered, sitting or lying on the ground while smiling kids gently moved their small hands along her shiny, black coat.

Someone asking to pet the dogs while they're walking adds another challenge, Wevodau said.

"We want them to stay focused on the person they're serving, and that means learning to adapt to places with numerous distractions," she said.

Perhaps the biggest distraction was taking them to a water exhibit set up by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Rebecca Lamb, puppy coordinator for Susquehanna Service Dogs, held the leash of Berlin, practicing commands with the 18-month-old yellow Lab.

She guided her on and off a stone wall surrounding a small pond, as onlookers nearby commented that their less-trained dogs would've certainly jumped into the water.

Most dogs are ready for service between 18 months and 2 years old, Lamb said.

There's a 50 percent success rate for the dogs trained by Susquehanna Service Dogs, she said.

"We're looking for a very specific temperament," Lamb said.

Those that aren't fit for service are adopted.

"We have a long waiting list," she said.

Both Berlin and Mali will become service dogs, as will Sydney, an 18-month-old yellow Lab being walked Tuesday by Amanda Nicholson.

The training coordinator at Susquehanna Service Dogs, Nicholson said they expose the Labs to the different smells and sights at the Farm Show, but they don't disrupt other two-legged and four-legged friends there.

"We don't want to scare any of the other animals here, so we try to keep some space and are very respectful of the other animals," she said.

As on their other Tuesday and Thursday outings, they stayed at the Farm Show for two hours.

"We also take them to grocery stores, malls, craft shows. Their experiences vary," Nicholson said. "When they start their service, they will have been exposed to just about every setting."

--Reach Candy Woodall at