It takes more than obedience and good breeding to become a service dog. At Canine Companions for Independence, the training takes months.
These canine companions have the ability to do more than offer affection and bark when someone’s at the door. They assist with physical tasks and provide social support.
I recently spoke with puppy-in-training Mesa about what goes into creating these extraordinary human-dog partnerships:
Who benefits from having a canine companion?
Canine Companions can be the hands, feet and ears for people with disabilities, or be a constant companion for people with social limitations.
In what ways can an assistance dog be helpful to someone with physical limitations?
We can tug open or nudge closed doors and drawers, pick up dropped items, and push buttons for accessible doors, cross walks or elevators.
What types of assistance dogs are available?
Canine Companions trains four types. Service Dogs mainly work with adults with physical disabilities. Hearing Dogs alert their humans, who are deaf or hard of hearing, to important sounds. Skilled Companions primarily assist children. Facility Dogs work with groups of people in professional settings such as hospitals, physical therapy, special education classes and courtroom settings.
What breeds qualify?
Canine Companions has its own breeding program for Labradors, Golden Retrievers and crosses of the two. We’re chosen probably because we excel at retrieving items—an important skill for an assistance dog; but we’re very eager to please and willing to work, too.
What does training involve?
We start training almost immediately, becoming familiar with our environment and learning basic obedience skills and manners from our volunteer puppy trainer. The hard stuff comes at around 18 months, when we face the advance commands that will support our work as an assistance dog. It’s like college for dogs–we graduate with a purpose. We learn to perform a set of tasks geared toward assisting individuals with physical disabilities.
What happens to the dogs unable to complete training successfully?
Those who don’t make the cut are adopted out to loving homes. Just because they didn’t make the grade doesn’t mean they’re not fine pets.
What is a typical day like for a service dog?
Because we have public access rights, we go everywhere—work, school or court. We live active lives, traveling and doing things that create independence for our human. But all work and no play can make Fido a dull dog, so we do make time for fun, like playing fetch and hanging with our canine pals.
How much does it cost to get an assistance dog?
Thanks to donations from generous individuals and corporations, CCI assistance dogs, like me, are provided free of charge to qualified applicants.
September is National Service Dog Month, a time designated to raising awareness and showing appreciation for the extraordinary work service animals do every day for the people in their care.
Grab a leash and be part of DogFest Walk ’n’ Roll, a community dog walk that supports the mission of Canine Companions for Independence, on Oct. 22. Register today at cci.org/dogfestjacksonville.
Davi the dachshund may not be a trained service dog, but he cherishes his human just the same.