The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

News Detail

Primary Learns about Service Dogs

In honor of Veterans Day, Primary School students welcomed Nova, a service dog in training, and service dog handler Erin Sullivan to their Primary Morning Meeting. Nova is a one-year-old puppy in training with America's VetDogs, an organization that 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 Nova is learning, Erin helped the students understand the challenges that some veterans face when they leave active service. For example, while Nova is learning to sit, lie down, and heel like most puppies, his requirements are often more precise. When Nova goes into the “down” position, his feet must be pointed outward so that if his person is in a wheelchair, they won’t run over his paws. Since Nova 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. Nova currently knows 45 of the 50 commands he needs to know. One of the skills that Nova is working on is the command “touch.” Eventually, he will be able to open automatic doors and turn on light switches for his owner by using his nose. Erin explained that Nova can also be trained to respond to certain behaviors and alert their owner when necessary. If a veteran has experienced a traumatic brain injury, Nova can be trained 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, Nova will learn to nudge them with his nose to let them know that there is a sound they need to pay attention to. Erin also explained why it's important not to pat or otherwise distract service dogs while they are working, even if they are very cute!

On the weekends, Nova’s handlers take him to stores, restaurants, and social situations so that he is comfortable in a variety of 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. After Erin’s presentation, she took questions from the Primary School students who were curious about all the skills that Nova has learned, his harness, and how he accomplishes certain tasks like reaching for high objects. Thank you Erin and Nova for everything you do for our Veterans and for educating out students about the important work that service dogs and their trainers do.
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