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How I Became A Service Dog Trainer

I was first introduced to Canines for Service at a kennel club dog show in 1999. I talked with the folks there and knew I was interested in fostering a puppy, but it was not the right time in my life. Later that year, I received their newsletter that rekindled my interest and it got me to call. It was still not a good time for me to bring a puppy home as I was in the process of selling my house and moving into another, but I started to attend classes to learn more and see how the training was done. I was concerned about giving up the dog at the end of the training time and I already had a dog at home – I was unsure how it would react. Then, one day I received a call from Rick. He had a black Labrador puppy that needed a foster parent. Gideon came into my life after I drove to South Carolina to pick him up and it was love at first sight. My world changed and my purpose changed. For me, when I heard how just one little task that the dog can do can have a big impact on a person’s life, I knew this was something I could be a part of for a long time.

Gideon was my first and only puppy. He was with me for 18 months before he went to his advanced trainer. I learned a lot in that time and enjoyed working on his basic obedience skills with him, teaching the foundation tasks he would need for the future, and taking him on outings. Gideon was the most difficult for me to let go of, but one way to let go of him was to channel my emotions and newly found purpose into another dog. Because of my demanding job, taking another puppy would have been very challenging, but, thankfully, I was given the opportunity to train a dog moving into advanced training, Bekah. Since that time, I have worked with 10 dogs and only one was released from the program due to hip dysplasia at nearly two years old, a sad reality of working with these incredible animals.

I enjoy the opportunity to learn new things and to teach the dogs the skills. To work with the dogs and see their hidden potential be unlocked through positive reward and encouragement is a wonderful experience. I became really passionate about the training while working with Rapha. I had the opportunity to teach a new skill to Rapha that had not been taught before; a skill to help a person get into bed by scooping the person’s legs onto the bed. The first time we did it correctly generated an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. Since beginning with Gideon, I have worked with the puppies, tweeners (7 -18 months old), and advanced dogs. As a volunteer, I have been able to grow with the organization and teach the intermediate obedience and foundation skills to the foster families and tweeners.

Seeing a client meet their dog for the first time and watching the team in training is magical. While giving up the dogs does not get easier, I look forward to it with nervousness and excitement. Most of all, I look forward to the opportunity to start working with a new dog and unwrapping the gift they are capable of being. – Donna Sweetman