Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dogs in the Service Industry

By Anna Lee

There is an organization known as “Canine Companions for Independence,” or CCI. They provide and train assistance dogs. CCI provides an extremely valuable service and I would like to tell you about them. Their program is broken down into several categories as follows:

Service Dogs are partnered with adults with physical disabilities to assist with daily tasks and increase independence by reducing reliance on other people. Service Dogs can pull their partner in a manual wheelchair, push buttons for elevators or automatic doors, and even assist with business transactions by transferring money, receipts, and packages.

Skilled Companion Dogs are trained to work with an adult or child with a disability under the guidance of a facilitator. A facilitator is typically a parent, spouse or caregiver who handles and cares for the assistance dog, encourages a strong bond between the recipient and the Skilled Companion Dog, and is responsible for the customized training needs of the dog.

Facility Dogs are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting. You have probably seen segments on your local news where dogs visit senior centers or nursing homes.

Hearing Dogs are specially bred Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers who alert partners to key sounds by making physical contact such as nudging the leg or arm. Hearing Dogs are trained to recognize and respond to the sound of a doorbell, alarm clock, someone calling a name or a smoke alarm.

One special group that currently uses CCI dogs is disabled veterans. There are some requirements to be met before getting a dog including: recipient must have been disabled in combat, recipient must use a manual wheelchair, must have clear speech so the dog can understand commands, and have a fenced yard. CCI has a section of their website dedicated to the veterans program.

CCI is the largest assistance dog organization in the world. They were formed in 1975 and placed their first service dog in 1976. In the summer of 1984 they placed their 100th dog! They now have training centers throughout the U.S. They only use the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever, or a combination of those two breeds. Dogs are provided free of charge. The students must pay their own transportation to and from the centers plus the cost of meals and housing during training.

A ‘puppy raiser’ has the dog until age 15 months when it is returned to CCI where it goes into either a six month or nine month training program. Dogs also go through a vigorous health screening. At that point some may be released from the program due to a medical condition or temperament problems.

The first three-month semester reviews and builds upon the basic obedience commands the dogs learned as puppies. During this semester the dogs begin to work around the wheelchair and learn the retrieve command. Those that pass the first semester continue into their second semester of training.

The second three-month semester finishes the commands the dogs will need to know such as pull, and light-switch. They learn over 40 commands and practice working in different environments. During training the dogs are screened to see if they truly have what it takes to become a CCI assistance dog.

Next is Team Training, where the dogs are paired with a recipient and both human and dog are trained to work together. This two-week session teaches the recipients proper care and handling of the Canine Companion. After the training session and public access testing, they attend a graduation ceremony where the puppy raiser passes the leash to the Graduate and the Graduate officially receives the Canine Companions assistance dog.

Approximately six weeks after the two-week Team Training class, graduates return to CCI for final testing, certification and fine tuning if needed. Throughout the working life of the dogs, graduates periodically return to campus with their dogs for workshops, seminars and reunions.

CCI instructors remain in close touch with graduates through correspondence, reports and by providing advice via telephone and email. Instructors also travel into the field to conduct workshops and to resolve specific training or behavioral problems in the graduate's home and/or workplace environment.

If you or someone you know could benefit from a Service Dog, check the CCI website for more information and application forms. It is an excellent program and it is giving the recipients a better life all around.

Read more articles by Anna Lee

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