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Category Archives: skilled companion dog

Wordless Wednesday: Please don’t eat the coneflowers

Brought out of the archives and dusted off, here we share one of my favorite photos of the lovely Inga

Our first CCI puppy on her first morning at our humble abode. Eating my fading coneflowers while looking directly into my eyes. And our first hint at the challenges to befall us as novice puppy raisers.

Friends and co-workers, would it surprise you to hear that Inga just celebrated her fourth birthday on July 9?  Four, y’all.  The lady’s been a Skilled Companion Dog for nearly two years now.

Time passes by so quickly, we know.  But sometimes it happens in a way that warms the heart, it truly does.

Working Dog face

At the tender age of five months, we slipped the working cape over Micron’s noggin and snapped the clip under his belly. You’re not a little puppy anymore, we tell him, it’s time to start acting like a big dog now.

The Mighty Micron at five months

I capture this momentous occasion with a snapshot. To the uninitiated, this may appear to be a pup taking things serious. I’m a big dog now!  See that look of focus on his adorable button-nosed face?  Ah, but look again. That wide legged stance, alert posture. Those brown eyes are indeed focused, but alas not on either of his handlers. Now people, what one word comes to mind when you look at this?  Right. Ok, let’s all say it together, shall we  . . .


Yep, the distraction factor, just one of the behaviors that makes Micron so charming.

As we were out and about to socialize this fluffy boy over the next year, we’d be asked, so, what do you think he’ll be doing?  A good question that. Of the four types of assistance dogs that Canine Companions for Independence trains and provides, where did we feel Micron would fit? As volunteer puppy raisers, we don’t socialize and train for any one specific purpose. We move forward with our eye on the horizon and try our best to get the pup ready for the Advanced Training program at CCI.  Once there the professional trainers work with the dogs for another six to nine months to determine how their skill sets and personalities best fit in the assistance dog world.

But sure, it’s fun to fantasize about the destiny of the pup in your charge. Of course, it turned out that thinking that Micron would make it through more than three months of Advanced Training was my own personal fantasy. But long before being faced with stark reality, I’d squint my eyes and picture him as a Service Dog or Skilled Companion Dog. Oh, that would be glorious!  But truth be told, that vision was a little blurry. Holding onto that warm thought was like nailing jello to a wall.  It just didn’t feel right. As a pup, Micron just never took anything seriously. Walking into a room, any room, it was like he would throw out his front paws and shout, That’s right, people! The party starts . . . NOW!

Ok then, so what about a Hearing Dog? Well, kinda the same thing I guess. Hey! Hey! he’d nudge to alert his person, didja see it? There’s a squirrel!  I’ll be right back.   No, I suspected CCI’s high value system wouldn’t be able to overlook this behavior. There’s a very specific personality that’s required to be a Hearing Dog and tree rat retrieval isn’t gonna be a required skill.

Even on matriculation day, Micron jokes
with Karsen about picking up chicks at college.

Which leaves the role of Facility Dog. Now, this one gave me a tinkling spark of hope. Micron loves people and basks in any attention he receives. It’s hard to describe really, but it’s kinda like he glows. No, not like emitting a light, but maybe more like an aura about him. People tell me they feel better being near him, by petting him. Now if I could just bottle this magical stuff he has, we could share it and make the world a better place.

When talking with folk about CCI dogs, it seems most have some understanding of the work of Service Dogs, Skilled Companion Dogs and Hearing Dogs. These are teams you come across in daily life in the public arena of the world. A Facility Dog, however, doesn’t get out as much into the public eye.  Not that they’re behind the scenes, mind you. These dogs earn their kibble.  From CCI’s website, we learn . . .

Facility Dogs are expertly trained dogs who partner with a facilitator working in a health care, visitation or education setting.

CCI Facility Dogs are trustworthy in professional environments and can perform over 40 commands designed to motivate and inspire clients with special needs.

Facility Dogs are needed in educational settings, such as special education classrooms. And an amazing program that’s really been taking off over the past few months are the Courthouse Dogs, who promote a feeling of calm and security in a visitation setting. My fellow dog lovin’ friends, you can certainly see this, right? Imagine a child about to testify in a courtroom. A stressful situation for any of us, but for a kid with less life experience this can be downright terrifying. Now imagine being able to stroke a calm, friendly Labrador before you walk out there to take your place on the witness stand. No really, close your eyes and think about this. Can you feel the difference it makes? Absolutely incredible stuff, I think.

And in the healthcare setting, our CCI Facility Dogs are trained to assist with medical rehabilitation.  They are there to motivate and encourage folk to pull through otherwise difficult tasks. How so? you ask. Ah, another good question. Well, let me share something pretty darn cool with y’all.

The ruggedly handsome Jarvis was teamed with Margie Benge of Triangle Therapy Services in February, 2012.  For those of you out there on Facebook, I invite you to check out Triangle Therapy Service’s page, especially the photo album on Jarvis – First month at work. Margie’s photos tell the story of the important job of a dog involved with occupational therapy with children. Talk about the Wow factor.

If you’re not on Facebook, then what the heck are you doing with all your spare time anyway? Cleaning the house or something? No what I mean is, check out their website at Triangle Therapy Services to learn more about their pediatric occupational and speech therapy work.

After Micron’s turn in to CCI’s Advanced Training program, I held onto the Facility Dog dream for a while. Actually, for three whole months until The Phone Call.  But, I plead, he loves people!  He has an aura and everything! Can’t he be a Facility Dog?  To which Gwen replies, Yeah, it was a nice try, Donna. But there’s too much Microness there.   Too much Micron happening? Sure, I can see that.  Heck, I lived with it for eighteen months, so the news was not a shocker.

What? This is my Serious Look [snort]

What to do with this college dropout?  Well, that’s where the pet therapy training comes in.

At a glance, there could be some connection seen between a CCI Facility Dog and a dog involved in a Pet Therapy program. In the world of assistance dogs, there’s even some ambiguity with terms among different organizations just to keep us all a bit confused. Lessee if I can help with this without making things worse.

Both occupations require a calm, confident dog. A canine who is at their best around people. A good start, but let’s summarize the nitty gritty of things to see what’s really different here.

A Facility Dog’s work is goal oriented.  The dog is highly trained dog to guide an individual – adult or child – with a specific task. Such as physical rehabilitation, in which the dog is assisting an individual in improving a motor skill or relearning how to use certain muscles after an injury. This type of work is termed as Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), bringing the term therapy as another ingredient into the confusion soup. Some of CCI’s Facility Dogs are indeed assigned to AAT work in healthcare. But you recall that other Facility Dogs may be working in a courtroom environment or elementary classroom.  All assignments, however, are goal oriented.

How ’bout this? My mouth is closed.
Serious enuf for ya now?

Now a dog involved in Pet Therapy is pretty much what the title says. A person and their pet dog who goes out to make the world a happier place. A noble goal to be sure, but not the goal oriented work of a Facility Dog. What this team does is more recreational.  Showing up to bring a smile to someone. Ask anyone who’s had their day changed after a visit by a pet therapy team and you’ll understand the value of the program. I’m telling you from experience, the training is tough. No doubt there. But it is a different focus on skill sets for you and your dog.  In our pet therapy course, we’re reinforcing good behavior and basic obedience skills. We’re not doing anything especially fancy here. With me and Mike, our thing is encouraging party boy to show some self-control. Like not trying to take the yellow tennis balls off the feet of the walker.  While someone is using it.

So in the past I was telling Micron to stop it already with the goofy looks and put on your working dog face, because darn it, you’re wearing your cape and you’ve got to look serious, and well . . .

Today I can look into those sparkling brown eyes and smile back at his open mouthed doggie grin. I know now this is his working dog face.  His job is to bring happiness into a room. Any room.

raising a super dog
There it is. Micron’s working dog face.
The one we know and love so well.

Wish us luck, won’t you?  Four weeks down and six more to go in our pet therapy training. So far, so good, but we need plenty of positive thoughts sent our way.  This dog has a destiny, you know.

Wordless Wednesday: Why we do this (Reason #1)

Inga IV and Joseph
(photo used with permission by Trib Total Media)

Joseph’s mom says this expression on Inga’s face is her this is my job and I have a purpose look. The lovely Inga takes her job very seriously, it seems.  As her puppy raisers, we’re just bursting to full with pride. 

She loves her job and just adores Joseph.

Good dog, Inga.


The photo above is by the courtesy of Trib Total Media (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sunday, Feb 26 2012). To read the entire related story, including photo gallery and video, go to:
Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving

Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving
Local heroes in action

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Full article link:   Service dogs provide aid for disabled, support for wounded, grieving


Here we have in this short video, just under four minutes, that covers .  . . 

  • Words from a family who volunteer for Canine Companions for Independence as puppy raisers. Fifteen year old Katie Weiss talks about what it means to raise CCI puppy Jaleen.
  • O’Shea, a facility dog that helps with the grieving process after a loss in a family.
  • The Skilled Companion team of Inga and Joseph.
  • Footage from the February 2012 CCI graduation in Delaware, OH.

CCI touches so many lives in positive ways.  And this particular video brings things even a little closer to home for us.  We have met, or are close friends with, so many of the amazing folk seen in the video. A glimpse of our heroes and mentors, the Amos’, who were our inspiration to be puppy raisers. The voice of Suzanne, CCI’s puppy program manager. We would surely go astray if not for her wise guidance. And we see a few of  the graduate teams that keep us grounded in this puppy raising business.  Why do I open my life and home to a dog that’s not mine?  Just to give the pup back after sixteen months?

Because there’s a chance we might become part of something bigger than ourselves.  Because of people like Joseph.

We brought Inga home at eight weeks old and said good-bye to her such a short time later. A kiss on the nose, a long hug and our wishes to go do good stuff.  And by God, did she. You know, all these dogs touch my heart in some way.  But the lovely Inga, my first CCI love, holds that special place. I’m so proud of her, so proud of Joseph.

Good girl, Inga. We love you.

Inga on the job: an update

Kiss the sky

As volunteer puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence, we are well aware of the high standards the organization has for the dogs they place. For many of us, it’s the very reason we choose CCI over other service dog organization. And while we do everything we can to ensure these fuzzies know all their basic commands and are solid in public, we know there is a chance that the dog may be released from the program.

And it may be that the dog has exhibited the most minor of behaviors, such as a hesitation around unfamiliar objects. Something we would tend to overlook in a pet, but is not acceptable for a service dog. A sobering fact is that less than 50% of the pups in training will graduate the program.

The rest?  Well, they may find another career, such as search and rescue, or change someone’s life as a loving family pet. A highly-trained, intelligent, healthy pet that is.

We hear, So that pup you’re raising, do you think he/she will make it? That’s a hard one. My answer?  I sure hope so.

When Inga, our first CCI pup, graduated as a skilled companion dog, we were jazzed beyond description. That she was placed with a young boy, her favorite kind of person, was perfect. Divine, in the purest sense of the word.

Also, as puppy raisers, we understand when it’s time to say good-bye. When we hand the leash over at graduation, our journey with this dog is done. Our dog, who is not our dog, has moved on to where they belong.

Working girl

On a very personal note, we are especially blessed that Inga’s family keeps us updated on their new life with her. We hear magic words like, she brings so much joy to our family.  It’s been a few months now that Joseph and Inga have been a team and they’re now hitting some milestones with her; birthday celebrations, family vacations and such.

Inga went on her first airplane ride, rode in taxis and stayed in hotels. Each experience was new to her as we didn’t expose her to these as her puppy raisers. But this dog is a professional now and she handled everything as a skilled companion dog should. A nod to her solid nature and the stellar training she received at CCI, as well as credit to her young handler, Joseph. He knows the dos and don’ts of traveling with his companion – how to work as a team.

Time for some R and R

Not a first for Inga, though, was a trip to the beach. We had traveled by RV to Myrtle Beach for her first experience snorting sand when she was a pup. We hear she is still true to her water dog nature. Inga enjoyed the seashore and ocean vacation time with her family.
For a fuzzy memory, here’s a couple of puppy photos from our beach trip during the summer of ’09. 
Thanks to Inga’s handler, Joseph, and his family for permitting me to share this update on her working life.

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