Training of a Service Dog
By Shawn Hogendorf, Staff Writer
Editor: The training of a service dog is a long and involved process.
It typically begins with folks who raise and socialize a puppy that may be
selected to be a service dog. Here's an article from the "Pryor Lake
American" with the story of the raising of one service dog. This article
is reprinted with their kind permission.
At just 4 months old, Jamila has big plans. As if the task of being
man's best friend isn't hard enough, the focus of Jamila's life will be
that of service. Although the golden retriever-yellow Labrador mix will
never know or understand the things she may be destined to bring to a
person's life, one thing is certain; she is headed down a path to help
Jamila is a 4-month-old Golden Retriever-Yellow Labrador mix that will
be trained as a breeder, service dog or skilled-companion dog.
Jamila is being raised by Sue and Pete LeRoy of Prior Lake to become a
potential breeder, service dog or skilled-companion dog for a person with
These are some lofty goals for a young canine.
Only 30 percent of dogs that begin training at Canine Companion for
Independence (CCI) make it through the six-month advanced-training course
and graduate as a service dog, skilled-companion dog, hearing dog or
facility dog to help people with disabilities.
Service dogs help adults with disabilities by performing physical tasks
such as opening doors and turning lights on and off.
Skilled-companion dogs assist children with disabilities under the
supervision of a facilitator to boost confidence and alleviate feelings of
Hearing dogs assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing and alert them
to key sounds such as doorbells, alarm clocks and a person who is
addressing them by name.
A facility dog works alongside able-bodied professionals in
rehabilitation centers, hospitals, funeral homes and special-education
When it's all said and done, Jamila's education will be worth about
$15,000. She will know more than 40 different commands and be able to give
a person with disabilities an increased independence along with the
After the training process is complete, the dogs are given to participants
in CCI programs free of charge.
Pete and Sue began their experience with service dogs in 1988, when
their son Scott, who had muscular dystrophy, received a service dog from
The special relationship between Scott and his dog Rex was documented
in a book called "My Buddy." The duo's story was told by Burnsville writer
Audrey Osofsky, who wrote about the companionship she saw when Scott and
Rex went to school or on walks through their Burnsville neighborhood
during the 1980s. The book was illustrated
"My Buddy" is still used in schools across the United States to teach
children about sensitivity to different cultures. The book was also
translated into Japanese for use in schools in Japan, Sue said.
"Canine Companions changed Scott's life. They gave him a book,
confidence, independence and a companion," Sue said.
As a service dog, Rex would pick up change off the floor, turn lights
on and off, open doors, retrieve backpacks, push elevator buttons and get
items off the shelves of stores and put them in Scott's lap, Pete said.
As a friend, Rex would sleep, eat and go to school with Scott.
"Sometimes when a person in a wheelchair or with a disability is in
public, people give them an I-feel-sorry-for-you look," Sue said. "The
dogs are tangible evidence that something great happened to a boy in a
The dog also becomes an ice breaker, Pete added. People come up and ask
questions about the dog and make the owner feel comfortable, he said.
After helping Scott with various chores for 11 years, Rex died in 1999.
After Scott died from complications of muscular dystrophy in 2003, the
LeRoys decided to raise service dogs in their son's memory.
"We were looking for a way to keep Scott's memory alive and to do
things in his honor," Sue said. "It's just a great program. It's been a
nice way to channel our grief and give back."
The process of training service dogs begins with raising puppies bred
in California. The puppies are sent to CCI training centers and then
shipped to raisers for the first 18 months.
Jamila is the fourth dog Pete and Sue have raised for a year before
sending the dog off to CCI for advanced training.
The first dog Pete and Sue raised, named QT, was one of the 70 percent
of dogs that fail the advanced training - as was their second dog, Vander.
"Raising the first dog, I knew that even if QT didn't pass service
training, she did a service for me," Sue said. "It was good grief
Another dog Pete and Sue raised, named Curt, is currently a
skilled-companion dog to a girl living in Iowa.
Jamila is the latest puppy to come into the LeRoys' lives.
Jamila is mellow, smart and picks up on things quickly, Pete said.
So far, she has learned to visit (which is like giving someone a hug by
putting her head on the lap of the participant), sit, stay, wear her cape
(or coat), go to the bathroom on command and lay under tables to stay out
of the way.
As puppy raisers, the LeRoys' main duties are to socialize Jamila, get
her into different situations she may encounter someday as a service dog,
teach her basic obedience commands and teach her other simple commands to
get her ready for advanced training, Pete said.
But it's not all business.
When Jamila isn't wearing her cape, the LeRoys play with her just like
any other puppy.
Jamila will begin general obedience school in January. She will
officially be considered "a puppy in training" on Jan. 17 and will be able
to go into stores, malls and churches at the graciousness of the store's
owners, Sue said.
As raisers, the LeRoys do not have the same rights as a person with a
disability does with respect to taking a service dog into a store, but
most store owners are cooperative, she said.
Jamila will live with the LeRoys until November and then be sent off to
"college" in Ohio, where she will have a strict six-month regiment to
learn how to assist her future owner, Pete said.
So far Jamila is getting good grades on the monthly reports the LeRoys
send to CCI.
The reports document the puppy's behaviors. In return, CCI sends the
LeRoys monthly progress reports when the dogs are away at advanced
After advanced training, the dogs go through an additional two weeks of
training with the potential participants who will use the dogs. The dogs
are paired with different people for the first couple days and the
trainers at CCI evaluate the relationships between the dog and their
companion, Pete said. After the two weeks of additional training, the dogs
graduate and the raisers have the opportunity to go to the graduation and
hand the leash over to the dog's new owner, he said.
"People ask how we can give these dogs up after raising them for a
year," Pete said. "But just watching someone when they get their dog and
to see what the dog will do for them it is well worth it."
For more information about service dogs, visit Canine Companions for
Independence at www.caninecompanions.org.