By Janet Wenholz - Sr. Assistant to the Executive Director
Army Veteran Adonis with his Service Dog Smokey
Rescues make up 90% of the dogs we certify, but sometimes an applicant already has a dog s/he wants to try to turn into a medical service animal. Veterans bond with a dog they already own. We prefer to choose the dog for each client, but we don’t automatically say “no” when we get those applications. We provide the list of required vaccinations so, when we schedule the interview, the applicant is prepared bring the dog onsite. While we’re chatting with the person, we are also evaluating the dog, using the same 30-step process dogs at shelters go through. Not every dog has the qualities needed to become a good service dog.
Army veteran Adonis already owned Smokey when he applied to OFP’s service dog program, and hoped he could be trained as his service dog. Although Smokey’s breed is typically more focused on other dogs than on people, it was obvious to the interview team that Smokey was helping Adonis manage his medical issues. Whenever we accept a new client with a dog, we take a “wait and see” approach. No matter how strong the bond is between handler and dog, the dog needs to calmly go out in public wherever the handler needs to go. Regardless of what is going on around them, the dog must remain focused on the handler. Teaching positive reinforcement and nose work are important parts of achieving this level of teamwork, because the dog can typically smell things sooner than the human can see them. If he smells something he thinks may be a threat, the dog’s training should tell him NOT to take protective action, but to alert the handler. The person is taught to look where the dog’s nose is pointing and decide whether the perceived threat is real or not. Just as with a medical alert, the handler is taught to acknowledge the dog’s signal and take the appropriate action.
Adonis and Smokey graduated from the OFP program last October, after many of the ups and downs every team experiences. Now an OFP mentor-trainer, Adonis is leading classes and learning to help other clients achieve their goals. He understands the journey required for both dog and handler to develop a smoothly functioning bond, especially in a “real world” full of distractions. But Adonis is up for the challenge, and we’re happy to have him on board!
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