New Mexico’s Assistance Dogs of the West Celebrate Graduation

Thanks to the Santa Fe New Mexican for this article. Spring graduation has gone to the dogs literally By MATTHEW ASHER | For The New...



Thanks to the Santa Fe New Mexican for this article.

Spring graduation has gone to the dogs literally

By MATTHEW ASHER | For The New Mexican
June 3, 2007

Canines at Assistance Dogs of the West mark the end of training

Graduation time isnt just for people; its for dogs, too. Every year at this time, students are celebrating their completion from school. No matter whether they are graduating from high school or college, the goal for humans is to become educated in order to better society.

The objective is similar but simpler for the Assistance Dogs of the West, who use their education to help specific people. Their graduation was last Tuesday at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.

Executive Director Carolyn Clark Beedle deals with ADWs general operations. It is challenging for a nonprofit organization to perform fundraising, program development and general business management. Although ADW has two full-time instructor/trainers and six part-time contractors, most of the help comes from volunteers from different aspects of the community who love working with dogs.

Alex Johansen is one student who has enjoyed his time with ADW. He started three years ago as a seventh-grader, and now works with his third dog, Melvin, a golden retriever puppy.

Alex got started with ADW through his high school, Desert Academy, which offers a course as a year-long elective.

This class was one of the main reasons I chose Desert Academy,” he said. I really wanted to be a part of this program.”

For one hour a day, four days a week, Alex works with Melvin on the 90 commands which an ADW dog must learn to graduate. Just like people, each dog has different attributes and a unique personality.

My first year, I had no idea what I was doing and my dog knew it,” Alex said. The dog took advantage of Alexs inexperience. Max didnt stay in one place for long periods of time and had trouble leaving things alone. Things were better with Alexs second dog, Dewey, who graduates Tuesday.

We formed a great pact,” Alex said of his relationship with Dewey. He was more outgoing and energetic. He never let anyone touch his head, but he let me touch his head. That was special.”

Melvins breed is of the two main breeds of canines which ADW uses; the other is Labrador retriever, because the dog lives up to its name. Many of the 90 commands have to do with helping people get things, such as lost or dropped items.

ADW also works with poodles and other breeds. The trick is matching a set of social expectations with skills that were expecting the dogs to do,” Beedle said. Rottweilers could be great service dogs, but they intimidate people. Youre not going to put a Rottweiler with a person in a wheelchair.”

ADW trains 25 dogs annually. Each graduating class has between 10 and 12 dogs. That does not mean more than half the dogs to not pass certification. The training itself takes the dogs 18-24 months. During this time, these dogs learn the 90 different commands and potentially additional commands if its deemed necessary for a particular client. From a developmental standpoint, the dogs are in mid-adolescence and ready to go to work.

When the dogs are 6 months old, they interview” with clients to see which dog fits best. The dogs pick the people they will be living with by responding more effectively to them.

Most dogs might not take note to someone with cerebral palsy but one dog will,” Beedle said. Hell be very interested as to sometimes saying Whats this? This is intriguing. “

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