09 Feb The Life of a Service Dog
A Service dog is a truly amazing animal. Their single-minded devotion to their owner and the work they do exemplifies why dogs are man’s best friends.
What is a Service Dog?
The written definition of ‘service dog’ details the work they perform but fails to account for their devotion and motivation.
“A service dog is a type of assistance dog specifically trained to help people who have disabilities, such as visual impairment, hearing impairments, mental illnesses (such as post traumatic stress disorder), seizure disorder, mobility impairment, and diabetes.” – Wikipedia
Most service dogs endure months of training, followed by a lifetime of service, and they do it willingly. To give you a better idea of the time, training, and love that goes into building that type of relationship, we interviewed Stephanie Verdile about her dog Maggio.
Maggio the Service Dog
Stephanie is the owner of Maggio, a New Skete German Shepherd, who serves as both her companion and her service dog. Her dog is a 2-year old, neutered male and she’s had him since he was 8-weeks old.
What task is Maggio trained to perform?
He is trained to retrieve objects, perform certain tasks, and provide stability for me.
Can you describe the training he’s undergone to become a service dog?
I started basic commands and tasks with him right away when I got him at 8 weeks ( i.e. sitting at doors, “wait”, walking calmly on a leash) but his first official training was a Basic Obedience Course that his breeder put him through. This taught him the things all puppies need to learn.
- Good manners in public
- How to respond to basic commands.
- Walking on a leash.
- Learn how to focus and avoid distractions.
- Socialization skills with people and animals.
In particular, it was important for Maggio to learn to focus and avoid distractions if he was going to be a good service dog. I worked really hard bringing him everywhere and putting him in all kinds of situations as a puppy and as he was growing up, to get him used to noises, situations, people, city traffic, crowds (football games), apple picking, festivals, stores, hotels, restaurants, etc. He rode an elevator without hesitation at 7 months old.
What came after the Basic Obedience Courses?
The next step in Maggio’s training was the Canine Good Citizen Program. This course took his Basic Obedience skills to the next level and prepared him for the CGC Test. The Program is made up of two parts and stresses responsible pet ownership and good manners for dogs.
The dogs work on these 10 items.
- Accepting a friendly stranger
- Sitting politely for petting
- Appearance and grooming
- Walking on a loose lead
- Walking through a crowd
- Sit and Down on command and Staying in place
- Coming when called
- Reaction to another dog
- Reaction to distraction
- Supervised separation
Because I intended for Maggio to become my service dog, he also went through the Canine Good Citizen Advanced class before moving on to his service dog training.
Once Maggio was ready, I enrolled both of us in the Owner-Trained Service Dog Classes at College for Pets. Trainers guided me on how to teach Maggio to perform the tasks he needed to learn in order to be a help to me. By working together on his training, it made it easier for us to develop a special bond between us.
Apart from Service Dog Training, has Maggio taken other classes?
Yes! He also completed Therapy Dog Training at College for Pets. He is a Certified Therapy Dog with the Alliance for Therapy Dogs. The dogs that graduate from Therapy Dog Training can work with the Helping Paws Program that College for Pets supports.
What does a typical day look like for Maggio?
He comes to work with me every day and works M-F 8:00-4:30. He has a bed in my office and he accompanies me everywhere (i.e. the bathroom, to the copier, meetings, etc.) I also have nighttime meetings, so he comes to those with me as well. A few days a week he will do errands with me after work. We go to the grocery store or Wal-Mart.
When we get home its play time and dinner and downtime. A few days a week, I will brush him and spend quiet time with him. He has attended work conferences with me as well.
Are service dogs always working?
I have trained Maggio to be aware that when he has his vest on he “is working.” Ever since he was a puppy, I would put a harness on him and before we would go into stores or a public place I would call his name and have him look at me and I would say, “Maggio-it’s time to go to work” and we would walk in to any store or public building at a “heel” and he knows he is not there to socialize or visit. I have worked hard on training him to know when he has the vest on that he is working. He needs to walk calmly and avoid distractions. Now he still will get distracted by something, new sights or sounds or situations etc. but it takes very little reminding him to behave.
Do you have snuggle and playtime also?
Yes! We have playtime! He is VERY well socialized-LOL! Maggio is a VERY happy, goofy, young dog! He loves everyone and is still a very silly teenager! When I am on my lunch break, we go outside and he gets his “break.” I take his vest off and he runs around the town hall property and finds sticks to play with or I will play fetch with him. I believe he needs the break and deserves to be able to get out and get some fresh air and exercise; even it is only for about 15 minutes.
I think that play time and downtime is very important for him. He is a very intelligent dog that can bore easily and while he loves having a job, he needs to play and burn energy and we need our playtime together as well. At 4:30 his vest comes off and he runs around town hall to visit a few co-workers and he visits the Library staff. That is the highlight of his day! He LOVES going to visit people.
What is Maggio to you?
First and foremost I consider Maggio my family, as well as my, partner, protector, companion, and friend. He has such an amazing presence in my life, as my Service Dog, and as my companion. He not only helps me physically but his presence also helps me emotionally. It’s hard to imagine him not being in my life or worse, what my life would be like without him by my side.
Have you ever run into issues with public access?
I have not had any issues yet. However, I will say I have seen people with “Service Dogs” that are CLEARLY not properly trained service dogs. This infuriates me! And that’s coming from someone who has put A LOT of time into training my service dog and thousands of dollars for professional training in order for him to be a Certified Service Dog, because of my bona fide medical need for assistance. There are too many people who are abusing the system just so they can bring their dogs with them to public places.
What would you like people to know about service dogs?
PLEASE DO NOT TALK TO OR DISTRACT SERVICE DOGS. When you see a service dog with their vests on please ignore them! By talking to them, you are interfering with their training and their job, you are putting them and their owner at risk, and you are defeating their training. In addition, by training a service dog to be a service dog is in no way being “mean” to the dog.
Do you have a funny story about Maggio?
I have a cowbell that I used at my nephew’s high school football games (they went to the NY State Championship in November of 2015!) I rang the cowbell around Maggio so he could get used to loud noises. One day I put it on the floor and pointed to it and said, “Maggio-get”. And he picked up the cowbell and walked around a little with it in my house! He was about 4 months old. So then I began taking him to my nephew’s college football games for socialization and after a few of the games he would go to visit my nephew with the cowbell in his mouth! Maggio would walk around all proud with the cowbell in his mouth. All of my nephew’s teammates and coaches loved it!
“Training a service dog is an enjoyable experience with College for Pets. We work closely with you from start to finish to make sure that you and your new partner kindle the best relationship possible.”
MIKE ROBERTSON, OWNER
Since 1998, College for Pets has been helping owners train their dogs and other animals. They continue to be leading trainers of service dogs and therapy dogs in the states of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. If you would like more information on how your dog can become a Helping Paws therapy dog, contact College for Pets today.