TRIVIA QUESTION: Do you know the name and location of the oldest and largest service dog organization in the United States?
If you guessed that it was Canine Companions and that they have a regional office and training ground right here in New Albany, Ohio—you are correct!
I have been around dogs my entire life. Aside from a few months here and there between pets, it’s hard to think of times in my life when I haven’t had a dog as a pet. Every time I get a new dog, I have grand plans to train it and make it the smartest dog to ever live. I envision all the ways that my dog will assist me after I train it to read my mind and follow my every command. Then reality sets in and six months later I’m still trying to get my dog to know its name and follow basic commands—like stop eating out of the trash can. This is why I have always been amazed at what organizations like Canine Companions can do. If you are not familiar with Canine Companions, I strongly encourage you to check out their website here.
Canine Companions trains service dogs for people with disabilities. I have multiple clients who have worked with them—and all I ever hear are great things. Then I learned that a long-time friend, Nancy Whetstone, is working with them and so I had to know more. She recently joined me for a zoom call to tell me more about Canine Companions.
Here are some of the highlights of what I learned:
They are very particular about what breeds of dogs they work with. The puppies are born in California and at eight weeks old, they are placed with a family who raises them (with certain guidelines) until they are 18 months old. At 18 months old, they come to the regional training center in New Albany—and that is when the real training begins. These dogs go through rigorous training, and learn, on average, 45 different commands. (My dog knows about three.)
Before graduation, the dogs are placed with people with disabilities (these are not seeing eye dogs, that is a different type of training). The dogs spend roughly half a year in professional training, during which Canine Companions trainers assess them, get to know their individual personalities, and determine which dogs would be best suited for specific people depending on the individual's needs. How do you qualify? You go to the Canine Companions website and fill out an application. They define disability as most developmental disabilities as well as post-traumatic stress disorders and spinal cord injuries. They accept people with visible and invisible disabilities.
Is a Service Dog is right for you? Find out here: https://canine.org/service-dogs/is-a-dog-right-for-you/
Once accepted into the program, the person with the disability comes to the training center in New Albany. The person then spends two weeks living in a dorm and working with dogs and attending classes every day. They work with multiple dogs throughout the two weeks of training.
During the two weeks of training and assessing the people with disabilities, the trainers match the dog they feel is best for the individual during the first week of Team Training, on a day they call “Match Day”. Then for the second week, the students work with only that dog. Between talking to Nancy and talking to clients who have used their services, the stories are amazing. These dogs are not taught to be independent (that is what a seeing eye dog does), but rather to be receptive and to help with day-to-day tasks on command.
One client indicated that because of his disability, getting into his car to drive to work every day used to take approximately 20 minutes. It now takes him 5 minutes as a result of services his dog provides for him on command. The stories are endless and while any one task may seem trivial to an able-bodied person, the cumulative effect these dogs have on the lives of the people they serve is astounding.
Ready for the most amazing part? These dogs are 100% free to the individuals who are receiving them!
Canine Companions fundraises just like any organization but does not charge any fee to the clients using them. They even have a retirement program for dogs and a system in place to match new dogs to individuals as their current dogs reach retirement age.
As a dog lover and person who tries to always advocate for people with developmental disabilities; this is a truly phenomenal program. And, if you are not already convinced, I challenge you to watch this video and not smile! https://youtu.be/gxM_fBAOCWI
Learn more about Canine Companions here: https://canine.org/
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