From Puppy to Service Dog

As a quad-amputee, I use a power wheelchair to get around. Recently I purchased a goldendoodle puppy who I've named Ollie. Contrary to what he may think, Ollie isn't merely a puppy. Eventually, he'll be my service dog. Though we are currently pretty far away from that phase in our lives, I'm already planning for that future. I'd like to offer a bit of insight into our experiences. Typically, service dogs are chosen for people. Since my approach is a bit different, I'd like to serve as a resource for other people with disabilities who may be in a similar situation.

Ollie the goldendoodle

To be honest, I didn't adopt Ollie with the intention that he'd become a service dog. In fact, it wasn't until I enlisted the help of our trainer, Lisa Skidd, that the idea even crossed my mind. At the beginning of our first session, Lisa asked me, "Are you intending for Ollie to be your service dog?" I sat there for a few seconds, mulling over her question. Did I? After the passing of my first service dog in high school, I didn't ever want another. Or so I thought. I began to run through some scenarios in my mind, like:

What if I'm ever alone and I drop my phone?
What if I can't reach a button to open an electric door?
What if I drop another object while home alone and can't reach it?

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. I told Lisa that I wanted Ollie to be my service dog. We began his puppy training with these goals in mind.

I know that not every dog is a good candidate to perform service actions, which is largely why I was so surprised by Lisa's suggestion. In reality, I should have known. Ollie has proven himself to be intelligent. In fact, he's extremely intelligent. I'm going to be frank: before Lisa, my family and I were at our wits' end. It had been at least 10 years since we had a puppy, and Ollie gave me a bit of culture shock. As my mom, dad, and I were attempting to tech this crazed puppy to sit, one thing became very clear. If Ollie was going to become the service dog that I needed, we were going to need help. The rest is history. Before I even knew what I was doing, I asked Ollie's vet to recommend an obedience trainer.

Kyle's dog, Ollie

Lisa has been nothing short of a godsend. After our first session, Ollie had a firm grasp of a few commends, including sit, come, off, and crate. He went from maybe knowing one command, to reliably performing four. Since then, we have been working on back, down, and out. We've also been working on Ollie's proficiency walking while tied to my wheelchair. He's starting to learn heel, and has shown great proficiency at sitting on command, all while tethered to my wheelchair. Per Lisa's request, Ollie uses what's called a "gentle leader." This leader rests over his snout, much like the bridle of a horse. Since he started walking with one, he has stopped pulling or walking and stopping in front of my wheelchair. That alone has made it an invaluable tool because it has helped both of us to remain as safe as possible.

We are continuing our training with Lisa, and are about halfway through his eight-week puppy training. After we finish this phase, Lisa will take him for about two weeks. During that time, she will train with him around-the-clock and begin teaching him service commands. When he has completed that portion of his training, we will be pursuing the certification for Ollie to become a registered therapy dog. My employer, Custom Mobility in Largo, Florida, runs a number of pediatric wheelchair seating clinics. I'd love to have the ability to take Ollie into those evaluations to help keep children who may be nervous calm. Throughout our journey, I'll be writing blog updates to keep track of our progress. Stay tuned for the next installment!

About the Author

Kyle

Around the age of one, I contracted bacterial meningitis. When I was three, I began using a power wheelchair. I've always embraced my disability and taken pride in knowing that I was different than my peers. My desire to learn more about disability led me to study critical disability theory both as an undergrad and a graduate student. I've always been passionate about gaming, which influenced me to write my Master's thesis on accessibility and video games as it relates to gamers with disabilities. In my spare time I love competing in local tournaments for Super Smash Bros., reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, and writing.

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Date: 11/5/2019 12:00:00 AM


Comments
Stacey Hart
Way to go Kyle. I look forward to reading more about your adventures with Ollie!
11/8/2019 5:37:03 AM
 

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11/8/2019 | Stacey Hart
Way to go Kyle. I look forward to reading more about your adventures with Ollie!

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Awesome!! Thank you for sharing your story!

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