At my interview in January of 2015, my nervousness was mitigated by an adorable puppy named JJ who would influence my decision to choose Regis’ DPT program. As physical therapists, we serve people in incredible ways. Coming to Regis gave me the opportunity to serve people in an additional way: by raising a service dog to help future individuals become more independent in their lives. The puppy raiser team is made up of 8 students in each class, with first years joining the team late in their first year under the guidance of Associate Professor Wendy Anemaet, PT, DPT, Ph.D.
Meet Takia, a Labrador-Golden puppy who is currently 1 year and 4 months old. She is a Canine for Independence (CCI) assistance puppy-in-training. CCI is a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs to people with disabilities to enhance their lives. Volunteer puppy raisers—such as our team here at Regis—help to train the puppies before they go off to be paired with their person and learn more advanced commands when they are about 1.5 years old. She is NOT a therapy dog who provides emotional support; she is training to become a skilled assistance dog who can one day help her person open doors, get items, and even press elevator buttons.
Time flies: Takia and me in November 2016 and back in October 2015 when she was 2 months old—before I was on the team that trains her!
Takia is the third puppy to be raised by a team of students from the Regis University School of Physical Therapy. Just like her physical therapy student trainers, Takia has her own classes to attend. It is at these classes where we show off what she knows, teach her new commands, and learn tips for training a CCI puppy. One of the most important parts about her classes is letting others work with her (and us work with their puppies). Takia spends almost every hour of every day with us and she picks up on what we expect of her. At class, we can see if she understands the command–and not just our gestures–by working with new people.
What kind of commands does Takia know? A whole bunch! Puppy raisers are provided with a handbook that lists all of the commands and around what age the puppy should learn them and be proficient in them. Many of these commands will become part of more complex tasks that she will learn once we send her off for more training. Takia gets lots of positive reinforcement with treats when she is learning commands. As she gets older and has mastered some of the more basic commands, she gets fewer treats and simply “good girl” as a reward. When giving commands, it is important to stay tall and use a commanding voice without inflections.
In the first few months she was taught commands such as “sit,” “down,” and “here.” As she has gotten older, she has been learning more advanced commands that have very specific details to them. “Heel” tells Takia to sit on her handler’s left side facing forward. This does not mean slightly at a diagonal or facing her handler— the command means facing forward left of her handler. “Side” is a similar command, but on the right side of her handler.
Some of our favorite commands to get Takia’s love include “lap” and “visit.” With “lap,” she should place her front legs with elbows relaxed across your lap. “Visit” tells Takia to rest her head on your lap. When given a command, she should be able to maintain the positions until given a new command or given the commands “off” (of something) or “release” (from a position).
So what should you do if you see an assistance dog? I would say you should smile at them; they are such cuties! But, remember that they are also on duty—even the ones in training. If you really want to interact with the dog, talk to the person holding the leash. They can then tell you if it is okay or not to visit the dog. If you see Takia with her vest on around campus or in your class, know that it is okay to pet her as long as she is sitting or lying down. As tempting as it is to pet her when she comes walking by, we ask you kindly to please refrain; if you really want some puppy love, say “sit” or talk to one of the puppy raisers.
To learn more about Takia’s life as a CCI puppy and what she does in her free time, you can follow her on Instagram (@takiaregisdpt) or talk to one of the Class of 2018 puppy raisers: Tara Businski, Sophia Fuller, Kayla Jurrens, Chris Lew, Karlee Nordstrom, Zach Taillie, Ryan Tollis, or myself.