A Skilled Friend
In honor of Veterans Day, Primary School students welcomed Frank, a service dog in training, and his handler Erin Sullivan. Frank is a one-year-old puppy in training with America’s VetDogs. This organization provides skilled service and guide dogs to veterans and first responders with physical injuries, PTSD, and hearing or vision loss.
By showing the Primary School students some of the skills that Frank is learning, Erin helped them understand the challenges some veterans face when they leave active service. For example, while Frank is learning to sit, lie down, and heel like most puppies, his requirements are often more precise. When Frank goes into the “down” position, his feet must point outward so that if his person is in a wheelchair, they won’t run over his paws. Since Frank will be accompanying his owner everywhere, he has also learned the command “under” so that in a restaurant or other public space, he can fit into small spaces like under a seat where he won’t be in the way. One of the skills that Frank is still working on is the command “touch.” Eventually, Frank will open automatic doors and turn on light switches for his owner by using his nose. Erin explained that Frank could also learn to respond to certain behaviors and alert their owner when necessary. If a veteran has experienced a traumatic brain injury, Frank could learn to turn on the light and jump on their bed to wake them from a bad dream. Similarly, if they have suffered hearing loss and the phone or doorbell rings, Frank will learn to nudge them with his nose to let them know that there is a sound they need to pay attention to. Erin explained that, unlike a regular pet, service dogs also have to practice a skill called active disobedience. If the dog’s owner is a person who is blind, and they give him the command to walk forward when there is a car coming, the service dog has to disobey that order.
Erin works with Frank on the weekends taking him to stores, restaurants, and social situations so that he is comfortable in various situations. When he is 18 months old, he will head off to “service dog college,” where he will learn the advanced skills he needs for his new owner, and Erin will train a new dog. After Erin’s presentation, she took questions from the Primary School students.
Thank you, Erin and Frank, for everything you do for our Veterans and for educating our students about the vital work that service dogs and their trainers do.