You know her, you love her, but what do you really know about her? Here’s the inside scoop from our own Andy Littmann on life with his four-legged Clover.
Clover came to live with Andy this year on January 6th at the age of eight weeks old. As a first-time dog dad, Andy says the experience has been just as much about training him as it has been about training Clover. As a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independents (CCI), Andy went through a rigorous application and vetting process over the course of a number of months that included a home assessment and a whole year of waiting once he was approved. With five days’ notice, he was informed that CCI finally had a dog who needed a trainer and a home. And that is how Regis’s puppy training program gained its eighth puppy.
The Regis puppy team is made up of four HES undergrads and two DPT second years, led by Andy and mentored by Shelene Thomas. The two SPTs, Erin Brown and Joseph Shaffer, have previous experience on the puppy team working with Nubbin when they were HES undergrads. Nubbin is one of Regis’s success stories – she has grown up to become part of the Fullerton County Police Department in California (look her up under K9 Nubbin). It may come as a surprise, but only about 40% of all the dogs who enter the CCI program are placed as fully trained professionals. After 18 months with a puppy raising team, each pup goes to the CCI facility where he or she trains with a professional for an additional six months prior to testing for placement. The dogs are placed into one of four categories based on temperament and ability: a companion dog (not the same as an emotional support dog) like one of Regis’s first dogs who was placed with a young man in a wheelchair; a facility dog, like Nubbin, who works with families undergoing trauma (she’s laid back and great for loving on); a hearing dog, who can alert a hearing-impaired owner to alarms, phones, or sirens; or a full-on service dog who can perform tasks for an owner with impaired function.
While Clover is here with the Regis puppy team, she spends her weekdays primarily with her undergraduate trainers either in class or lab, or helping with homework. Clover lives with Andy most weekends, but wherever she is, she has daily training sessions. Training can be done in as little as two-minute bursts throughout the day, randomizing what she works on. As she grows older and more accustomed to her training, she is exposed to more open environments with greater distractions and variables so that she will be ready to stay focused on her task when she is working. Recently, Clover has started accompanying Andy to the store and to businesses, as well as public parks. Andy maintains that the same tactics he teaches in Movement Science are applicable to training a puppy.
When the vest is off, Clover is just a regular puppy. Andy describes her as “a 35-pound bowling ball doing laps around my house.” Andy reports she is very friendly with other animals, doesn’t chase squirrels or bark at other dogs, but is very excitable and playful when she meets new people or pups. She often plays with Juliet, the puppy Shelene is training, and other dog friends of the PT school. Clover enjoys going to the park, playing fetch, and generally “crashing around” like puppies do. Clover has also been the catalyst for Andy meeting more people when they’re at the park or out for walks.
Have you ever wondered what the pink lead around Clover’s muzzle is? It’s called a Gentle Leader and is a training tool. If Clover is pulling or needs a physical cue, the Gentle Leader puts a little pressure on her nose and redirects her head back around so that she can focus on her handler. Clover has other standardized cues like “Don’t”, “Sit”, and “Down” which everyone on the team uses for uniformity of training. Others have picked up on her well-behaved nature – some hikers Andy encountered one weekend while out on the trails said Clover was the best behaved puppy they had ever seen. Granted, dogs in the CCI program are bread for their temperament, intelligence, and obedience, so if you’re going to train a dog, Clover is a good bet (she’s half golden retriever, half lab).
Now that you know more about her, say hi to Clover and the team when you see them in the hallways or around Claver, but do make sure that Clover sits before you pet her!
Special thanks to Andy Littmann for the photos and interview.