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Program to train service dogs offered at UWRF

December 3, 2021

The Assistance Dog Education Program and Training (ADEPT) allows student interns to train and work with service dogs and make connections within the organization.

ADEPT is a program that allows students at UW-River Falls from any major, sophomore and up, to help train and place service dogs while learning concepts like teamwork, communication, and of course some parenting skills. Linda Ball, the program’s executive director, and Maddie Jensen, the program manager, work together to run the program.

In order to be an ADEPT intern, one has to go through the application process of submitting an essay and resume as well as being interviewed by either Ball or Jensen, according to Ball. The intern positions are competitive and usually the program is only able to accept a small portion of applicants. 

After the students get the internship they jump right in. The new interns pack their bags for a three-day stay at the ADEPT training center that the dogs stay at over the summer. This allows for the new interns to get to know each other and the dogs while staying in their very pink new home. Many of the interns in the room stated that they decided to enroll at UWRF because of the ADEPT program.

The ADEPT program works with many different types of dogs. They try to have a mix of different purpose-bred dogs from counterpart organizations. It is important to know the history of a dog and its genetics because the dogs are out in public so much with students.

ADEPT dogs go through about two years of training but will be constantly working all their lives as training is never truly complete. During the two years, the dogs mature and go through extensive health checks in addition to regular training. Interns are paired in either groups of two or three and work with one dog each semester. One of the bigger challenges of the program is to find housing for the dogs throughout the school year as students living on campus can not live with the dogs in their dorms. Over the long breaks, the dogs go home with either trainer who can take them. 

Jensen explained that all ADEPT dogs are dual-trained as diabetic alert dogs for type 1 diabetics and as service dogs for mobility assistance. The dogs will learn upward of 80 different behaviors. After the dogs have graduated from the program they get placed into many different homes or go into many different types of workplaces. 

Ball and Jensen try to schedule clients who are on the waitlist or have applied to come into one of the ADEPT meetings. This allows the organizers and interns to see how the clients interact with the dogs and ask questions. Dogs that have a more laid back personality are paired with a mobility assistance partner, as they are not going to be as active. Dogs who are more zealous are paired with a partner that has type one diabetes. Although those are what the dogs are trained for, they can take on many different jobs. One went to be a senior resource dog, another is Minnesota's first victim advocate dog, and many go to be school resource dogs. One of the more famous success stories of an ADEPT dog is Abby and Darby who have 1.6 million followers on Tiktok.

The topic of a recent ADEPT meeting was puppy socialization and the myths of puppy training, since the ADEPT program picked up two new 10-week-old puppies over Thanksgiving break. Other topics discussed throughout the program are ethics, disability laws, disability training methods, and nonprofit advocacy for service dogs. The beginning of the meeting was more like a class. Ball is very experienced and shared her knowledge about how socialization will be different with each puppy. She told stories and gave examples from her many years of experience. Next the class went through three activities with the puppies: introducing the puppies to harnesses, having their first session with the Trixie Trainer, and diabetic scent imprinting. 

The Trixie Trainer is a toy that teaches puppies how to press a button which rewards them with food. This is a good introduction to touch buttons which are used to open up doors. Next was diabetic scent imprint. People with type one diabetes would give their spit sample which then would get swabbed on a cotton pad. That sample would get frozen and then put into a tub. Ball would mix up the tub with the cotton sample in it and a clicker in her hands. Whenever the puppy would choose the tub with the sample in it they got rewarded. 

Ball stated, “This is a commitment that changes a college lifestyle and experience.” For many of the interns, the best part of the program is advocacy with the dogs. Last year, the group of interns banded together so that their dogs could walk across the stage for graduation.