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Students learn to train service animals

May 7, 2019

The UW-River Falls Assistance Dog Education Program and Training (ADEPT) is a program where student interns learn how to train service dogs.

ADEPT is in partnership with the non-profit organization, Pawsitive Perspectives Assistance Dogs (PawPADS), and implements training methods used by PawPADS into the program on campus. This program is open to anyone regardless of their major, however, this it may be especially useful for Animal Science and Companion Animal majors in giving students the experience they may need for future careers within their fields.

Sully is a service dog on the UW-River Falls campus.
Sully is a service dog on the UW-River Falls campus. (Photo courtesy of Maddie Jensen)

Currently there are 13 interns that are involved in the program, with seven dogs in training on campus. ADEPT  will be growing to 17 interns next year. The dogs in training will eventually assist those with physical disabilities, or type one diabetes. Service dogs have public access rights to can legally almost anywhere, including stores, stadiums and restaurants.

PawPADS program manager, explained that there is a misunderstanding in some cases when it comes to service dogs. Jensen said, “Our biggest challenge is the public’s lack of knowledge, or misunderstanding around the differences between service dogs, therapy animals, and emotional support animals.”

The ADEPT program helps with the training of service dogs only. Jensen is a former intern of the program and continues to work closely with the ADEPT after graduating in December of 2018. “As an Animal Science major with a companion animal emphasis at UWRF, I found out that there was a service dog training program on campus at the same time I began volunteering at PawPADs. I knew that participating in the program would be an amazing opportunity to combine my passion for training dogs and helping others.”

The service dog trainers receive internship credits, along with skills needed to train the dogs.

Jensen said, “We strive to have our interns graduate having learned about running a nonprofit, laws that impact the industry, and the challenges that individuals with disabilities face.”

The training takes immense amounts of time and commitment from interns, which helps students achieve their goals after they leave the program. “Our dogs are in training for two to three years. During that time, PawPADs’ staff, volunteers and ADEPT interns spend over a thousand hours training and working with the dogs to give them the skills necessary to perform tasks related to their future partner’s disability,” said Jensen.

While dogs are in training through this program, they learn several cues and skills to help those who have a disability or type 2 diabetes. Jensen said, “The dogs learn over 80 cues by the time they are placed. In addition they need the time to develop the social skills to be able to handle a wide variety of public areas and events.”

Since this program takes interns through an entire process of training, there are challenges that trainers face. Jensen said, “Each dog presents different behavioral challenges throughout the maturation process. Behaviors we commonly see are barking and pulling on the leash. The trainers work quickly to give the dogs the skills to overcome those behaviors.”

After the completion of the program, interns may have the skills they will need, along with the added education that ADEPT provides them for future careers.